Fr. Bryan Howard
Palm Sunday – 14 April 2019
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Some people will tell you that Jesus of Nazareth is a character that the Church made up to give itself legitimacy, but if that’s true then how did the Church get started in the first place? All of the historical evidence we have agrees that Jesus of Nazareth really existed. So, other people will tell you either that He was a wise teacher or a revolutionary, or even that He was a prophet, a man sent by God with a special message for humanity. The Church takes a much more radical position. Jesus Christ is the God-man, at once true God and true man in the person of Jesus without compromising what it means to be God or what it means to be man. St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century, who was a student of St. Polycarp who was himself a student of St. John the Apostle, wrote in his work, Against Heresies, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” Jesus, the author and Creator of mankind, reveals in Himself who man is, and by contemplating who Jesus is we can learn who God made us to be.
Jesus is the Son of God, co-equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, all powerful, all knowing, having all majesty and glory, and yet He came among us as one who serves others. As St. Paul says, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.” Jesus was also fully human, subject to temptation, having to study and learn things, sometimes full of emotion, as when He wept at the grave of Lazarus, His friend, even knowing that He was about to raise him from the dead, or when He was filled with righteous anger and drove the merchants and money changers out of the Temple.
I’ve told you before that the three keys to growth in holiness, to growing closer to God and being filled with the Spirit of God, are staying close to the Eucharist, meaning going to Mass and adoring Christ in the Eucharist, either reserved in the tabernacle or exposed in the monstrance, daily prayer, both talking to Jesus and, in silence, allowing Jesus time to talk to you, and regular and frequent Confession(the Church asks us to Confess our serious sins at least once a year, but you should try to go at least once a month, and many of the saints went to Confession once a week). Why those three things? When we stay close to the Eucharist we stay close to Jesus, we gaze upon Him, and we think about Him and about His life and His death and Resurrection. In prayer, we go deeper, we look at Jesus, and then we take a closer look at ourselves, and compare the two. In prayer we can ask ourselves, “How is God working in my life? How is God challenging me to change? In what ways do I fail to live up to the example that Jesus gave me?” Then, in Confession, we admit those failures to God, promise to do penance (that is, to try to make up for those sins), and make a commitment to do better next time, to use the grace of the Sacrament of Confession to grow in virtue and holiness. Don’t be discouraged if God keeps bringing the same things up over and over again. Just go into it with the right intention, to grow in the love of God and not to use the Confessional as an excuse to keep doing the same things, and let God slowly work on your soul and bring about a conversion of your way of life.
Spend this week in a sort of retreat, paying closer attention to how God is working in your life than normal. Come to as many of the special liturgies this week as you can. The liturgies of Holy Week are both beautiful and powerful, but we’ll only get out of them what we put into them. If “the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God,” then ask God to help you to gaze on Jesus this week, not just with your eyes, but with your mind and with your soul, so that God can make you live to the full.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.