Day of Waiting

Holy Saturday.

This is perhaps the strangest of days in the liturgical year.   The Catholic Churches are empty.  Jesus is absent from the tabernacles.  There’s no Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The only liturgy that is celebrated – the liturgy of the hours – even speaks of this strangeness.

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. (From the Office of Readings; An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday)

As I prayed the rosary this morning, I hesitated to do the usual Saturday mysteries – the Joyful.  What was fitting for this strange day?

Then I realized that the Joyful Mysteries were the perfect mysteries for this day of waiting, this day of silence.  As the Blessed Mother sat in silence, her heart still bleeding from the events of yesterday, surely she meditated on those joyful mysteries as well.

Her heart had been pierced again and again. But now she waited in the silence for her Son to come back to her.  Surely she knew; surely they had spoken.  Her grief and anguish on Friday were like none other-

All you who pass by… Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…

-but there was also the knowledge of the Resurrection, the confidence that her Son would only be in the grave but a short while, and would cheat death before the end of the third day.

And so she sat and waited.  Surely her thoughts and prayers went back to the events that brought her to this moment… the Annunciation… the Visitation… the night she gave birth to this little boy…  that prophecy of Simeon, foretelling the anguish that she could not even imagine as she held that little boy in her arms… the grief in the Temple of those three days of loss, a mere taste of the sorrow felt today.  Surely those mysteries, those memories which she kept in her heart, were the fruit of her meditation today.

We join her in this day of waiting.  We know the end of the story, we know the glory of the Resurrection. But we enter into the silence, into this day in between the grief of Friday and the joy of Sunday.  We wait until night, when the darkness will be shattered by the glory of the Lord, when death will be trampled by Love.

This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Great Suffering, Great Love

The Sunday Gospels in Lent for Year A are particularly poignant and reflective; there’s a reason they may be read at the weekday Masses as well, particularly during Years B and C when they aren’t proclaimed on Sunday. The Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite of Jesus’ encounters, and I would love to develop a retreat just around that reading. The story of the man born blind last week gives rise to many questions and points to ponder, especially as these Lenten days approach the darkness and light of the Triduum.

The drama of today’s Gospel seems to rush us even faster towards the holy days, as we experience a glimpse of the hope Jesus has come to give us, as the darkness gives way to light, the despair of death is conquered by the faith of the resurrection.

As I drove to Mass this morning, I was thinking about an aspect of the Lazarus story I had never really thought about before: that Jesus allows Lazarus to suffer. I had always known that Jesus delayed going to his friends at Bethany so that He could show the glory of the Father and do something far greater than heal Lazarus: He could bring him back from the grave. But I don’t think I had really stopped to think about what this meant. It meant He stood by and allowed Lazarus, Mary, and Martha to suffer.

He had the power to alleviate their suffering, and He did nothing.

We don’t know what caused Lazarus’ death – perhaps it was something particularly painful. His sisters had to watch him die. They had to bury him. They had to face life without their loved one.

Jesus could have stopped it. He could have prevented the pain.

Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?

It is not because He did not love Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were his closest friends outside of the Apostles.

He chose to allow their suffering so that He could show His love is even greater than death.

Suffering is a great mystery. We know that it is evil, it is a result of sin. But we also know that God allows us to suffer so that we can participate in the mystery of the Cross.

Sometimes we see God allowing people to suffer in our daily life, but we look at the Gospels and only see the healings, the exorcisms, the resurrections. Jesus walked this earth and gave men back their sight, gave women back their sons, healed lepers, raised paralytics from their mats. Why does He stand by and allow my loved ones to suffer?

Lazarus was one of his dearest friends. He allowed him to suffer because he loved him. It’s a great mystery, but one we will face every day.

With the greatest suffering comes the greatest love.