Dominicana (Dominican Students of the Province of St. Joseph)
There is a young woman in Jerusalem who makes her way through a bustling scene. A man in the middle of the street – beaten, bruised and bloodied – on his hands and knees. His cross lays beside him. He looks as if he has lost all strength. Between the soldiers who are fending off the frenzied crowd, she comes to the man with firm resolve. Who is this man? She knows. In her heart and mind, lifted by grace, she humbly kneels down and speaks, “Permit me, Lord?” as she offers to wipe his blood-stained face. With the slightest smile, he looks upon her as she raises the cloth to his face, the very cloth that will bear his face – the face of her savior. Continuing her loving care she offers some water to quench his parched thirst, but not before a soldier comes and chases her away.
We know this woman as Veronica from Catholic tradition – loving and compassionate Veronica. Few have had her experience: to touch the Lord, to touch his wounds, and to comfort him. Throughout the Gospels it has always been Jesus who has touched persons, either physically or spiritually by his power. But here, on this Friday, the Lord has permitted a young woman of Jerusalem to weep for him and come to his aid.
I can’t imagine that Veronica left the Lord’s company after such an experience. Perhaps, she followed Jesus as he continued through the streets of Jerusalem, tightly gripping her imaged cloth. As he made his way outside the city gates and began his ascent to Calvary, I can picture Veronica stopping at the gates and watching from a distance. Inscribed upon her heart and mind is the image of the face of her savior. In the distance her Lord is lifted up on Calvary, as she gazes intently upon the hill of salvation, venerating the true Cross. She looks upon the horror of the scene, but she does not dare to turn away.
So little is good on this day. We know how the story ends, but in the moments from the garden to the court, from the pillar to the hill, little but violence, mockery, and pain are found. Except there is Veronica. Good Veronica. A glimmer of good in the darkest of days. It is the draw of Christ, the grace of his zealous heart, that calls her to seek his face. Like the woman at the well from whom the Lord desires a drink (Jn 4), Veronica comes to offer the drink of true faith to her Lord – a faith she has shown him in the middle of the anger and hate of this day.
Today the world watches and looks upon the Cross. Some of us know its weight and the pierce of its nails. Some of us resent its presence or grapple with its difficulty. Some of us shudder in our hearts with fear at its immensity. Yet, there is a young woman in Jerusalem who works her way through the soldiers and the crowd, to come close to the face of her Lord. This is most remarkable, to seek his face precisely in his suffering and to see his gentle smile of love for her, somehow letting her know that he will make all things new. She waits and looks upon the hill of salvation with eyes of faith – faith in his goodness. She holds his face in the cloth of her hands. She holds his face in her heart. She does not dare to turn away.
Today we look upon the Cross, this Good Friday. We look with Veronica, the beholder of the true face. We look with her who was permitted to come so close. The Cross is fixed in our minds and hearts today, and Veronica helps us not dare to turn away.
Image: The Passion of the Christ
I hate those meals right before some event that you’re dreading. You know you need to eat, because if you don’t you’ll feel too weak to do anything. But at the same time, you’re too nervous to have any sort of appetite. It’s hard to engage in the mealtime conversation or laugh at the dinner table jokes.
But on the first Holy Thursday many years ago, at the Last Supper, it seems that Jesus was quite happy to be eating just such a meal – his last meal before his torture and death. I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, he tells his disciples (Lk 22:15). And after having the meal, he even sings a song with them all: Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Mk 14:26).
What was this hymn? Perhaps we can’t know for sure, but my Study Bible mentions that it was common to conclude the Jewish Passover meal with the thanksgiving songs which we know as Psalms 114-118. The final words of Psalm 118, therefore, are perhaps the last words which Jesus spoke before entering into his Passion. They read: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.
This is incredible to consider. Knowing the terrible events that were about to unfold – that the next day, in the midst of physical and psychological agony, he would take upon himself the terrible punishment for the world’s sins, crying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – the last thing Jesus said was, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.”
How do you do that? How do you look into a pit of suffering and horror and then say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good?”
But then, this has been the testimony of people who have known the Lord throughout the ages. Israel’s history, recounted in the Old Testament, is filled with defeats and tragedies and exiles. And yet, through it all, the message of the prophets remains the same: The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
And this testimony persists. I recently read a remarkable quote from Sr. Wendy Beckett, who said that, “Regarding the future, [the Lord] tells me nothing specific, but only this – that it is pure love.”
How can the Lord expect us to believe all this? How can he continually tell us that he is good, that he is kind and merciful, that the future holds nothing but love, when there seems to be so much evidence to the contrary? Considering all the suffering in the world, these claims press against the limits of belief.
And yet, somehow everything changes when this same Lord comes to us and personally dies a terrible death on a cross. All of the apparent evidence against the Lord’s goodness remains, lying there in the open daylight. But somehow it has lost its weight.
Because when someone dies for you on a cross, you realize that they meant what they said. You realize that they weren’t speaking in self-interest. You realize that they are worthy of your trust.
And when we realize that, we suddenly become capable of doing that crazy thing which Jesus did on that first Holy Thursday. We are suddenly able to sit with him at the Last Supper, looking at all the suffering and evil the world has to offer, and saying with the whole multitude of the saints, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Eclipse in Edinburgh
Amid the blazing fires of destruction and chaos currently scourging the Land of the Two Rivers, there are tiny oases that are extinguishing the flames of human cruelty and viciousness. From these oases, “rivers of living water flow” (Jn 7:38) and irrigate the parched lands, which are then transformed into patches of “green pastures” (Ps 23:2) where the “weary and burdened… find rest” (Mt 11:28).
The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq are an amazing group of women. After ISIS had taken over the city of Mosul, the Sisters refused to flee, insisting that their commitment to serve outweighs the dangers of a city where people are shot execution-style, women raped and sold into sex slavery, and non-conforming Muslims are mutilated or crucified. Finally, in August, after ISIS took over the churches, burning some and tearing down others, the Sisters were forced to leave to Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in Kurdistan. Three days later, ISIS seized the town when the Kurdish Peshmarga soldiers surrendered it to the terrorist group and fled for their lives, leaving the civilians to their doom. The Sisters then moved to Erbil, where they are currently carrying out their apostolate.
To this day, Herod is searching for the “Child to destroy him” (Mt 2:13). Considering the strength of the forces that are determined to eradicate Christianity in Iraq, it is unfathomable how the Faith has been able to remain in that region to this day. This new wave of persecution began in June of 2003, two months after the American forces invaded the country, when letters were sent out to Christians threatening them with murder if they did not pay jizya, convert to Islam, or leave the country. The Iraqi government has done absolutely nothing to aid these refugees (other than the rat-infested truckload of expired food; none of the English news sources have picked up on the incident). Meanwhile, the international community has busied itself with its ideological differences, each side concerned more about justifying its partisanship than making any real contribution to end the ordeal, while giving the outward appearance of engaging the situation with ineffectual air raids. To this attitude of indifference, Sr. Maria Hanna, O.P., the brave prioress who was named “Catholic of the Year” by Our Sunday Visitor, says:
We are surprised that some countries of the world are silent about what is happening. We hoped that there would be stronger international approach toward Iraq, and Christians in Iraq in general.
Sr. Maria recalled the tragic events of 1916 when the world powers at that time were converging on the area to decide its fate. After the genocide of 1915, in which approximately two thirds of the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac Christians were massacred by the Muslim Turks, Kurds and Iranians, the region was then mapped and divided into separate countries wherein the surviving Christians were left at the mercy of Muslim majorities. For Sr. Maria, history is repeating itself again: “Why are the events of dividing the Middle East, that happened in 1916, being repeated now?” She feels that the whole thing seems like a “political issue” for which “innocent people” pay with their lives.
Among the many services the Sisters are offering the refugees, education has been a main focus of their apostolate. In Mosul, the community had Sisters who were teaching at the University of Mosul; some Sisters were preparing children for First Communion in Sunday schools, while others were teaching at the local elementary and high schools. Since their arrival in Erbil, the situation has become unbearable, having to live in tents and caravans through the cold winter. In an email correspondence, Sr. Luma Khudher, O.P., who completed her doctorate at the University of Notre Dame in 2012, says that right now they “rented a house to open a kindergarten for the refugee children in Ankawa.” Other ministries the Sisters are currently involved with in Erbil include “working in the refugee camp’s clinic.”
The work of these Sisters is nothing short of the miraculous, drawing upon the hope that the Holy Spirit infuses into those who pledge their lives to be instruments of Christ on earth. When facing an evil of this magnitude, one can easily give up, surrendering to despair and hopelessness. Nonetheless, these Sisters are determined not to give up on the love of Christ, whose suffering body is scourged and in need of soothing care.
As the Holy Family fled Bethlehem to Egypt, likewise the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena have fled Mosul to Erbil. Nothing is mentioned in the Gospels about the Holy Family’s stay in Egypt; this flight is known only by a Christian tradition. Nonetheless, accepting this flight of Jesus, there can be no doubt that where Jesus was, there was also hope, consolation, and joy. In like manner, the Sisters in Iraq bring along with them the hope of Christ and His consolation and healing to the battered Christians of Iraq. When asked how the Church outside of Iraq can help, Sr. Luma said, “Pray for us please. We are hoping to open a school for refugee students.” In addition to prayers, financial help would be greatly appreciated.
Editor’s note: While the Dominican Sisters in Iraq do not have a means by which Westerners can give them financial aid directly, our readers may be interested to learn of the fundraising efforts of our American-based Chaldean Catholic brothers and sisters, who can properly steer gifts to the Catholic Christians in Iraq. The organization is entitled Help Iraq.
Holy Week is a privileged time of encounter with the grace of the Passion of our Lord, which is, through faith, the cause of the power and efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.
- Pray for the virtue of penance.
It might be helpful to think of penance as a counterpart to gratitude: just as we owe gratitude to God for the benefits He has given us, so too we owe God sorrow for the offenses we’ve committed against Him. This reasonable sorrow about our sins is called the virtue of penance, and it is at the heart of the Sacrament of Penance. The more deeply we are rooted in the virtue of penance, the more powerful our confessions will be.
- Memorize an Act of Contrition.
Being contrite is essential to making a good confession. Yes, simple versions of the Act of Contrition (like “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”) work perfectly well. But the long versions can also educate us about what we are doing. About 500 years ago the Church defined contrition as “a sorrow of mind, and a detestation for sin committed, with the purpose of not sinning for the future.” A typical, full version of the Act of Contrition includes these three elements. For instance, this version has the penitent say: “I detest my sins… I firmly resolve… to do penance, and to amend my life.” If we know what we are asking for, we can more easily start to instantiate the characteristics of contrition in our lives.
- Examine your conscience with the virtues.
When I first learned to go to Confession, I was taught to examine my conscience by using the Ten Commandments. This is very good. But there are other ways to do this. For instance, one could examine one’s conscience with reference to the virtues. The cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) are the basic blueprint for living a happy life—and by seeing how we fail in these, we can also offer ourselves back to God. Someone who was ambitious could even read over the Catechism passages linked above to launch a self-reflection.
- Pray before Confession.
One introduction which the priest may pray over you, before you begin your confession, says: “May the grace of the Holy Spirit fill your heart with light, that you may confess your sins with loving trust, and come to know that God is merciful.” I like this prayer, especially its focus on asking for light for our minds to know our sins, and trust in God’s mercy—two good things to ask for before Confession.
- Renew your sorrow for sins of your past life.
One possible way to finish one’s confession is with these words: “I am sorry for these sins, and all the sins of my past life.” The purpose isn’t to ask for the forgiveness of these sins of one’s “past life”—they’ve already been forgiven definitively by penance—but to root ourselves more deeply in the virtue of penance. One can even add: “for the sins of my past life, especially [of this sort].” This acknowledges both our continuing need for being healed more deeply from our sins and tendency to sin, and the objective power of the sacrament to convey this to us.
- Fulfill your penance attentively.
When we get a penance, its effectiveness isn’t just like a private prayer of ours. Rather, it shares in the objective power that Christ gives to the sacraments. This means that the penance—even a small one— can be much more powerful than even a favorite devotion of our own choosing. In this sense, a penance isn’t only a punishment, but also a gift.
All of the good effects of the Sacrament of Penance can only take effect, if you actually go.