Lenten Reflections

Reflections by Fr. Dave Timmerman, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Edgerton, Wis., and St. Pius X Catholic Church in Cambridge, Wis.

Happy Easter

Today we celebrate the holy day of Easter. After forty days of reflection on our past actions, our present priorities, and our future direction, we emerge into the light of a new day. It is so exciting to see that as our hearts burst forth with new life, so does our natural world around us. New buds are popping forth on the tree branches, green fingers of flowers are rising from the earth, and resurrection abounds. Take time to enjoy all the new life that is presenting itself and remember that death has no hold on us; Christ suffered, died, and has risen from the dead.

Daffodils by Coral Ayraud
Flowers are the smiles of God.
When daffodils are in bloom
They come to bring a glad surprise,
Joy after winter’s gloom.
Spring breezes waft them into dance,
Each wears a golden crown.
All seem to laugh in merriment
While nodding up and down.
Oh! I am glad for springtime,
The earth reborn again
And especially for daffodils
Smiling forth to say, “Amen.”

Holy Week

We now begin the final journey with Christ. A journey that will take us to an Upper Room, through a garden called Gethsemane, along the streets of Jerusalem, to a hill called Golgotha and into an empty tomb on Easter morning. All of these locations will in their own unique way help make this a Holy Week. I encourage all of you to step out of your ordinary routines this week and make the next seven days extraordinary. Walk the way of the cross and witness what Christ went through for us. Let prayers of gratitude usher from your lips as your hear the Passion story. This painful journey was endured so that all of us would have life and have it to the full. This is not something to be taken lightly or ignored. Take your palms and walk for the journey of our life begins.

Here is a beautiful meditation from the Padre Pio Foundation of America:

In his youth, Padre Pio would be the altar boy at Santa Anna in Pietrelcina. It was said that he was a handsome boy with profound dark eyes; and that devoted manner in which he folded his hands in prayer attracted the attention of all who came there. A few years later, those prayerful hands were marked with the wounds of the Holy Stigmata, and used to give thousands of blessings to those who called on him.

His life became the Way of the Cross, filled with suffering. Yet he advised those near to him: “Help Jesus to carry His Cross! You don’t have to carry the entire Cross, but just a little piece.”

Perhaps we can all carry a little piece of the Cross during Holy Week, for it is then that our Lord is closer to us and to our needs. Accompany Him along the way to Calvary to show your love, and he will return that love a thousand times and more.

Week 5 – Eyes

This week I focus my attention on the eyes of Christ. Imagine the wondrous events that these eyes beheld. The creation of the universe and the planet we call home: Earth. The development of new life in the womb and the last breath of the human body in death. But imagine the hideous events as well. The senseless taking of a human life, the ways that evil steals away the gift of innocence and the decay that develops with sin.

But his eyes are always locked on his creation. He never turns away or closes them in apathy. Jesus’ eyes can penetrate the human veneer and get straight to the heart of the matter. Jesus saw broken people who cried out for wholeness, the lost who were searching for direction.

Jesus saw that poor woman in John’s gospel that was caught in the sin of adultery and was hauled into the public square by her accusers.

Jesus also saw the crowd of elders and villagers who held stones and were waiting for their chance to stone this sinner. What he saw with his eyes was a beautiful creation of God who had lost her way and was in need of direction. But he also saw a crowd of cold hearts who had become blind to the fact that at any given time they could have been in her position. So Jesus spoke the simple words, “Let the man among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”

Like a knife, those words and that gaze from the eyes sliced through the holier-than-thou façade, and they were forced to look at their own actions. They dropped their stones and walked away when the mirror of righteousness was held up to them. His eyes then went back to the woman in the street. With great compassion and love, he looked at her and forgave her. It was then that he encouraged her to get up, go on her way and sin no more.

Christ’s vision is so different from that of the human race. He searches for faith and regret and humility. What do we see when we look at our world? Are our eyes focusing on the good or the bad, the sins or the penitent? When we look at the face of Jesus, we encounter the eyes of Love.

Week 4 – Arms

Go anywhere these days, and one can see people using their arms to carry things and people.  A woman at Piggly Wiggly was carrying an armful of groceries; a dad was carrying a sick child into the doctor’s office; a camper was carrying a load of wood to a roaring fire; an ice skater in the Olympics was carrying his partner through a segment of their routine. Our Savior Jesus Christ stretched his arms out on the cross and held the sins of the world. Sinewy and straining, our Lord knew the weight of the load, and with great courage and strength he bore this load for our sake. What an incredible sacrifice for us. It is humbling to think that someone would take on that burden so that we could all know the joy of eternal salvation.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The next time we pick something up, whether it be a pile of newspapers for the recycling or a grandchild who is in tears, let us give thought to the load that the Lord embraced in his arms — a load of sin, anger, resentment, self-centeredness, greed and countless other failings that we heaped on those sacred arms.  He carried them for us, and for that we will never be the same.

Week 3 – Feet

Here we are at the foot of the cross, and it is the early days of the Lenten season. I am looking at the bruised and bloodied feet of our Lord. These beautiful feet that walked so many miles in order that the Word could be spread. Imagine all the places these feet visited and the various terrains they walked. The dusty, pebble strewn roads of the Judean countryside. The cobblestone, garbage-filled streets of Jerusalem, the cool, refreshing waters of the Sea of Galilee. They carried our Lord to a variety of destinations: homes where loved ones had died, the temple area where Pharisees and scribes challenged him, to houses where people welcomed him for dinner, even into a tomb where he roused his friend Lazarus from the sleep of death. The feet of our Lord Jesus Christ may not always be seen, but they are crucial to the delivery of the Good News.

Where do your feet carry you?   What messages do you leave when you visit homes, or church, or your place of employment? In this season of Lent, will you walk with our Lord through his final days, or will you remain a detached spectator standing idly by the side of the road watching but not interacting.

Come sit again at the foot of the cross and focus on those lovely brutalized feet that carried our Lord through his ministry and to his eventual death and renewing resurrection.

Week 2 – Hands

In my office at St. Joseph’s parish in Edgerton I have a print of the Crucifixion of Christ that I found at an antique store years ago. While the depiction of Christ on the cross is a standard one, the unique portion of this picture is at the bottom of the cross. The artist, unfortunately unknown, has placed several sets of hands in different positions of prayer at the base of the cross. One set is clasped together suggesting that the person in prayer was in great anguish and stress. Another set of hands is open against the wooden surface. It is as if the person is acknowledging their part in this crucifixion and is attempting to soothe the crucified. Another set of hands is in a traditional prayer position indicating a sense of respect and reverence. As we begin this season of Lent, a time when in great humility and sadness we come to the foot of the cross, let us concentrate on our own hands. What blessings and curses have our hands bestowed on others? What prints do our fingers and hands leave on the lives of others?  Do our hands reflect the state of our heart? Are they closed, tight, and ready for a fight? Or are our hands open, accepting, and extended?  If they are closed and clenched, then maybe we need to use this season of Lent as a time to relax them and use them in ways that are generous and sacrificial.

Week 1 – Intro to Lent

We are once again just days from Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. The tone of this season is somber and penitential. As a Church we are encouraged to make sacrifices in our life that will draw our attention to the suffering, and death of Jesus Christ. We are invited to participate in three specific activities: PRAYER, FASTING, and ALMSGIVING.

In terms of prayer, we have a schedule of events that run throughout the course of Lent: daily mass, Stations of the Cross, reconciliation, and the rosary. We might not think to do these things in ordinary time because we have a full plate of other activities which keep us on the run. But this is the time when we make sacrifices and substitute prayer services for other activities.

It is also good to open the Bible at home and read the four gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. Make it part of meal prayers when the family is sitting around the dining room table. I would also suggest that families sacrifice television or internet time and rent one of the classic movies that depict the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Certainly Mel Gibson’s version of the Passion of Christ, or older movies like The King of Kings, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Godspell, or Jesus Christ Superstar. There are also movies which use Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection as a framework for other stories: Barrabas, The Robe, Ben Hur, and Spartacus.

In terms of fasting, people head right for the daily meals and think of ways to cut back on the amount they eat. We are encouraged to abstain from eating meat on Fridays and by fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It can be an appropriate time to cut back on snacks and unnecessary portions of food. If one should choose to do that they need to take it one step further and calculate how much money the portion skipped would come to. Then take that money and put it in the Rice Bowl or accumulate it and write a check to a favorite charity at the end of Lent. This last suggestion technically could also fall under almsgiving.

Almsgiving is also one of those activities that makes us stop and seriously think about how much any of us gives to a charity or a cause. In the end the point of any activity done during the Lenten season is done in an effort to stop and appreciate what wonders were made manifest when Christ endured great suffering and pain for us. This is a great opportunity for all of us to slow down and focus on the path that Christ walked so that our Lent will be fulfilling, and we will appreciate the new life of Easter morning.