Rejoice! Gospel Meditations, by Louis Evely

Lent invites us to refresh our souls, to refocus our lives, to set things right. Rejoice! by Louis Evely, has a way of growing us out of our comfort zones into the light. It challenges us to lift our crosses and follow Jesus. Evely writes: “There were times when Jesus was frightening in his logic, frightening in his relentlessness. He went beyond what was said of him; beyond the half-measures at which the Law had reasonably stopped. Jesus allowed nothing to stop him. He knows only one law: love. And from that law, he draws consequences with logic, which must either electrify or repel his followers.”

Consider the tax collectors and harlots who flocked to the desert to see St. John the Baptist. They asked John, “What must we do?” To their surprise, John told them, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.” Luke 3:11.  To approach God who we cannot see; we must first approach our neighbors, especially those in need. The message of John and later Jesus electrified their followers. Imagine the joy among the penitents at finding the path to forgiveness and love. Imagine the community that benefits from their joyful giving.

Consider the Pharisees. Why instead of the Pharisees, did the likes of Matthew, Zacchaeus, other tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes flock to Jesus? Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and angels. They maintained their zeal for the Law and awaited the Messiah. “They should have been Jesus’ staunchest supporters.” On the contrary, many of them joined in the call for Jesus’ death. Evely explains that “The Pharisees were proud of their faith, their knowledge, their good works, and their religious observances. Therefore they were closed to God’s gifts and God’s forgiveness, for they did not believe that they were in need of either.” They believed that they had saved themselves through their rigorous observance of the Law. In their assumption of righteousness, they not only rejected God’s mercy, but they refused to extend mercy toward the unrighteous. Imagine their frustration when Jesus said that they had to change their whole approach to God and that their earlier efforts may have placed them behind the hated tax-collectors on the path to God. The message of Jesus repelled them.

Evely used the Parable of The Prodigal Son to compare the Pharisees to the tax collectors and sinners. The older son keeps the Law, but he does so, resentfully. The prodigal, like the tax collectors, rejects the discipline of the Law, but at least he realizes his sinfulness. He is willing to confess to his father and beg a place among his servants. The father, like God the Father is something of a prodigal in his mercy toward the younger son. God squanders love on sinners and reproves the cold-hearted legalists. God’s ways are not our ways.

Evely observes, “It is one of the paradoxes of human nature that we often find more generosity, compassion, and willingness to serve among libertines and loose women than among our moral rigorists.” To underscore his claim, he cites the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. Those who endured the heat of the day received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Evely writes that those who worked longer should have rejoiced at the good fortune of the last to arrive. The day-long workers grumbled at their fair wage, but Jesus made the point that the vineyard owner was free to do with his money as he wished, despite how it appeared to the workers. God’s ways are not our ways.

If we proclaim Jesus in our liturgy, we must live according to His teachings by radiating God’s love. “God is no more and no less visible than love itself,” Evely writes. “Other men see it and know that the Spirit of God is present. In the early church, only men ‘filled with the spirit’ were chosen for important missions. And the pagans said of the first Christians, ‘See how they love one another!’ The love of these Christians was such that, through it God Himself was made visible.” The lives of the early Christians proclaimed the Law of Love. In loving, they won the culture war against their pagan environment. Why today, have so many churches closed or serve only the elderly? Why today, do some Catholics fear the lure of the secular culture? Shouldn’t they be more concerned about cold-hearted Church members who lack the compelling love that denoted the early Christians and attracted new Christians?

Wishing you an invigorating Lent, one that brings rejoicing.

Louis Evely also wrote a collection of meditations focused on the Easter-Pentecost season: Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity.

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Joy: Meditations on the Joyful Heritage of Christianity, by Louis Evely

Tree hydranger September 11, 2013“We can understand Lent…we devote ourselves to penance, compassion and mortification, but how lax we are during the days that follow our sorrow. We do not even know how to rejoice…The day is coming when the Spirit of Truth will breathe upon us, and we do not joyfully await it.”

Louis Evely invites us to prepare for Pentecost by walking The Stations of Joy, meditations on the apparitions of Jesus to his disciples. With great tenderness, patience and affection, Jesus attempted “to awaken his apostles to his joy, to convince them of his resurrection, to transform their sorrows into joy.” The risen Jesus had to “un-set” their minds, open and rekindle their hearts, despite the fact that they barely recognized him.

Mary Magdalene thought that Jesus was the gardener because he had taken on his glorified form. It was only when he called her “Mary” that her heart knew him. He sent her to alert the apostles. “When God revealed himself, he tore every veil…he dazzled, he amazed…” Mary, the patroness of contemplatives was asked to leave her comfort zone and become the apostle to the apostles.

During each station, Jesus had to break through mind-sets and prejudices that prevented the acceptance of his death and eventual ascension, not as losses, but as reasons for hope and joy. The Disciples of Emmaus marveled at his hopeful words, but they couldn’t recognize him until the intimacy of the table and the breaking of the bread. They spontaneously shared the good news with the apostles.

Peter, filled with guilt, was ready to return to fishing, to walk away from his calling. He recognized Jesus preparing breakfast. He jumped into the water to meet Jesus and admitted his love. Forgiven, Peter accepted his vocation as the “fisher of men.”

Thomas doubted, standing in for the skeptics among us, in order to convince us of our reasons for joy. Why do we doubt? Why do we decline the invitation to joy?

Paul never doubted. As Saul, he viewed Jesus as an “absurd imposter,” a heretic. As a Pharisee, he scrupulously observed every aspect of the law, yet upon his conversion, he proved the most innovative and energetic of the apostles. He had seen Jesus and his disciples as an evil, until Jesus personally intervened, sending Paul to embrace the Gentiles, including us.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, mother of the apostles, our mother, mother of sorrows but also mother most joyful, knew that in spite of everything there was, and she was, a cause for our joy.

The Ascension: Jesus disappeared; he did not depart from us. He can be seen through the eyes of faith. Those who see him through faith, receive joy. Joy is a measure of faith. Joy leads us to the apostolate.

Let Louis Evely help you prepare for Pentecost. Each page of this short book will provoke the reader with Evely’s unique perspectives on the Season of Joy. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, your heart may burn within you. Be joyful. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit.

A private or community meditation for use during Lent.

Stations of the Cross

Leader:                                     Let Us Pray

Response:         Lord, you accepted this journey for our benefit and in our place. Help us to recognize the depth of your love for us so that we may set that love as the framework for our entire lives. Many see your journey as the ultimate foolishness. Help us to become fools in your image by recognizing the world, and our lives, through your eyes. Guide us; strengthen us to love the people of that world, as does your Sacred Heart.

Response: Amen.

Leader: First Station – Jesus is condemned.

Leader: Jesus, you stood in our place before the judgment seat.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector A:          Pontius Pilate, procurator and judge faced the crowds milling beyond the limit of the Praetorium.  His wife warned him she had suffered much in a dream because of this Jesus. Scourging Jesus did not satisfy the crowd and now they wanted Jesus dead. They seemed on the brink of riot. Pilate feared an embarrassing report would reach the Emperor. The crowds chanted their loyalty to Rome-We have no king but Caesar. This Jesus seemed harmless enough, but if Pilate lost favor with the Emperor, his career path would detour toward disaster. What was more important, the career of Pontius Pilate or the life of Jesus?

What is more important to us, our careers, worries, distractions, life-long habits, or the life of Jesus in us? Consider your thoughts on this question. (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Response: Have mercy on us.

Leader: Second Station – Jesus is made to carry the cross.

Leader: Jesus, you took upon yourself the painful burden that rightly belongs to us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector B:          Jesus, you told us, “Take up your cross and follow me.” The Father tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The boy carried on his shoulders the wood destined to feed the sacrificial fire that would consume him. You stopped Abraham and praised him for his willingness to lovingly obey you even to the point of sacrificing his son.

God our Father, you went beyond the love and fidelity of Abraham. You did not withhold your son Jesus as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. The wood of the cross consumed Jesus in the sacrifice of crucifixion. We must ask ourselves, “Has the sacrifice of Jesus convinced us of God’s intense love for us?” When we feel the weight of our own cross do we doubt God’s love for us? Reflect on several ways that we can strengthen our faith in God’s love for us. (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Our Father…

Response: Give us this day….

Leader: Third Station – Jesus falls for the first time.

Leader: Jesus, you fell to the street under the burden that rightly belongs to us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector C:          Jesus, as the foot of the cross dragged behind you through Jerusalem’s rough and the twisted cobblestone streets, it vibrated, hammering its rough mass upon your shoulders, neck, and back. Cuts and bruises already covered your skin, from your beating. The cross pushes against these wounds and the crown of thorns. Its splinters slid into your body. Suddenly, the shoving and whipping by the guards cause you to lose your balance. You fall on the stone paved street. The cross crashes onto your back and head. How can you regain your balance? The soldiers pull on the ropes around your waist and neck, roughly lifting you to your feet. No one shows mercy. Those who delighted in your sufferings added to them by mocking you, spitting on you and cursing you.

Jesus loves even those who torment him. Pause to consider how can we follow Jesus’ example of loving us, by our loving those who hurt us? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Christ, have mercy

Response: Christ, have mercy

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Fourth Station – Jesus meets Mary, his Mother.

Leader: Jesus, even in your pain you share your Mother Mary with us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector A:          Mary, our Blessed Mother kept her faith through trials, contradictions and now this dreadful sight. She shares the agony of the Son she knows to be the Messiah. Her faith tempers her profound sorrow. The Holy Spirit dwells in Mary, maintaining hope despite the tragedy about her. Even in this terrible moment and those moments soon to follow, Mary knows that the covenant with God’s people is about to be sealed with the Blood of the Lamb of God. This will be the Passover that joins the Old and New Covenants.

What it would take for us to remain joyful when our hearts are pierced and broken? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace…

Response: Holy Mary, mother of God….

Leader: Fifth Station – Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.

Leader: Dear Jesus, Simon shows us the way to share with you that burden that rightly belongs to us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector B:          By this time, Jesus looked as if he was no longer capable of carrying his cross to his place of execution. Roman law allowed the soldiers to command a by-stander, in this case Simon from Cyrene in North Africa, to carry the cross in place of Jesus. Simon found the cross to be heavy and rough. His shoulders, arms and hands filled with splinters, but something happened between Jesus and Simon on the rest of the climb to Calvary. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Simon’s sons were known within the early Christian community. How did Simon and Jesus form a lasting bond so quickly?

When circumstances force you to help a stranger, do you act as if you are helping Jesus?  (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Glory be to the Father…

Response: As it was in the beginning….

Leader: Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Leader: Jesus, Veronica shows us the way to share with you that burden that rightly belongs to us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector C:          Who was Veronica? The name Veronica means, “True Image” or “True Icon.” This woman’s compassion for the distressed Jesus left her with an imprint on her veil and upon her heart. It was a simple act, but under the circumstances it was an act that required courage, sacrifice and personal risk. Where were the apostles and disciples of Jesus at this time? Why, of all the people along the path to Golgotha did Veronica reach out in this way? What did it cost her? What did she gain? Did the image of Jesus on her veil then imprint within the soul of Veronica? Is this image truly reflected in your soul? When we see someone in distress, do we reach out as if that person was Jesus? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Christ, have mercy

Response: Christ, have mercy

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Seventh Station – Jesus falls the second time.

Leader: Jesus, you have fallen again despite the help along the way, but as you fall, you raise us up.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector A:          Jesus, even without the cross on his back, fell again. Although the morning was still young, because of the Passover, the executioners felt pressure to complete the crucifixion process before sundown. The Roman soldiers pulled and beat Jesus. Simon the Cyrenian likely set down the cross to lift Jesus to his feet. Sadness filled Simon’s eyes. Jesus reached out to touch Simon’s shoulder and healed his heart. Simon nodded and said, “Thank you.” Simon then picked up the heavy cross and began to walk ahead.

Jesus, even though you are the son of God, you can’t do it all. You need our help, as weak as we are. Even though we are far from perfect and have made so many mistakes, Lord we want to help you complete your mission.

Consider how we can stand in for Jesus among those we know and meet? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Christ, have mercy

Response: Christ, have mercy

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Eighth Station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

Leader: Jesus, you warn the daughters of Jerusalem, and warn us at the same time.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector B:          Women in the crowd followed Jesus and the other condemned men. They wept at the tragedy unfolding before them. Jesus in turn took pity on these women warning them that in their old age, they, their children and grandchildren in Jerusalem would fall to the Romans in a slaughter of unimaginable proportions.  Jesus would have gathered Jerusalem to himself, like a hen takes her chicks under her wings. It all could have come to a different conclusion had Jerusalem opened to the message of Jesus. How have we failed to recognize God’s plan for us?

What does God want us to do and how should we respond? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Christ, have mercy

Response: Christ, have mercy

Leader: Lord, have mercy

Response: Lord, have mercy

Leader: Ninth Station – Jesus falls the third time.

Leader: Jesus, you are exhausted. Let us come to your aid. In your exhaustion you give us strength.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector C:          The deterioration of Jesus concerns the Centurion. He has also noted the interactions of Jesus with Mary, Veronica, the group of crying women and especially Simon. Nevertheless, his soldiers have to bring Jesus to the top of Calvary just a hundred yards ahead. Rather than pulling Jesus by the rope around his waist and neck, the Centurion helps him to his feet. They make eye contact. The Centurion begins to wonder about this man. He is so different from the hundreds he has crucified-What is so unusual about this one?

What do we find most remarkable in the suffering Jesus? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: O Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Response: Have mercy on us.

Leader: Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped before his execution.

Leader: Jesus, you lost everything though crucifixion so that we could have everything.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector A:          Crucifixion was developed to completely degrade a human with pain and humiliation. The three prisoners were stripped and each was thrown down on his cross. Their executioners divided and even cast lots for whatever possessions remained. The condemned, in their nakedness were exposed to public humiliation, vulnerable to the biting insects and defenseless against the intense sunlight. Privacy, dignity and their last possessions vanished. They had nothing and in the eyes of their executioners, they were nothing. Jesus gave up every worldly possession, every comfort and freedom for us.

Do we have a limit to our generosity toward Jesus? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: O Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Response: Have mercy on us.

Leader: Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

Leader: Jesus, as you became helpless on the cross; you opened your arms to us.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector B:          By this time the two men condemned to be crucified with Jesus made their last desperate struggle to break free. The soldiers were ready for them, kneeling on their arms and legs as the nails were driven through their hands and feet. Then the soldiers could relax as they watched their victims writhe in pain. They all knew that the worst was yet to come. Jesus did not resist. He certainly reacted to the painful stabbing of his hands and feet, but he didn’t curse or plead. Instead he prayed a psalm beginning with the words: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The Centurion and his troops looked at each other. Their eyes asked, “Who is this man? Why is he so different? Does he seem like a criminal to you?”

Who is Jesus to us? What makes him so different from us? Is it God who abandoned Jesus, or did we? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the cross.

Leader: Jesus, you died for us so that we may live.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector C:          One by one the feet of the three crosses were dropped into their prepared sockets in the hill top and wedged in place. The body of Jesus and the other two dropped so that the nails tugged against their hands and feet. Over the next hours, their flesh pulled against the nails enlarging the wounds. Their muscles cramped. Breathing, actually any movement increased their pain. The three knew they would hang for hours. Their blood loss increased their thirst. The executioners offered vinegar flavored with gall so that the condemned experienced every possible misery.  In his bitterness, one of the condemned heaped insults on Jesus. The Centurion noticed that Jesus offered comfort to Dismas, the other condemned man. Jesus continued to pray the psalms until, after many hours, he breathed his last. Sadness and wonder struck the Centurion. He could not help but remark, “Truly, this Jesus was a good man.”

What are your thoughts when you look at the image of Jesus suspended on the large crucifix above the altar? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: O Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Response: Have mercy on us.

Leader: Thirteenth Station – Jesus is taken down from the cross.

Leader: Jesus, before you died you had given us your mother Mary as our Blessed Mother. Now, your mission completed, you came to rest in her arms.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector A:          Mary had followed the deadly procession through Jerusalem.  She had come close enough to walk beside Jesus and exchange glances and a few words. On Golgotha she moved ever closer to her dying son. Mother and Son suffered each other’s pain. And now, in the short time before sundown, she held the lifeless body of her Son. She was not surprised by what had happened, but still she could have never been prepared for this reality. During her life, her Immaculate Heart had been pierced by seven swords. The pain was unbearable, but her faith, hope and love undiminished. She knew that in spite of everything, Jesus would reign as Messiah and King. She was wise in the ways of the Lord. She had experienced God’s quiet power before. She knew it would act again.

When everything seems lost, do we still have faith in God? Do we call upon Mary to help us understand? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: O Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Response: Have mercy on us.

Leader: Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Response: Pray for us.

Leader: Fourteenth Station – Jesus is buried in the tomb.

Leader: Jesus has given his life for us and seems to have lost everything so that we may live.

Response: We thank you Lord.

Lector B:          The religious law was clear. Jesus had to be in the grave before sunset. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had worked behind the scenes to prepare Joseph’s own tomb for Jesus. The need to quickly bury Jesus added to the anxiety of separation. Soon his body was wrapped, but not properly covered with spices according to the customs. The stone was set in place at the entrance of the tomb and those very few, the several women and John the apostle who had followed Jesus through his sufferings on this day and had seen him die, now stood weeping in the fading daylight. They were ushered out of the cemetery as the sun slowly set. Painfully, they made their way toward the upper room where they would wait until the completion of Passover. Only then could they properly prepare their Lord for burial.

 

How do you keep your faith when Jesus seems to have completely vanished from your life? (Pause a minute for reflection.)

Leader: Glory be to the Father…

Response: As it was in the beginning….

Leader:                                     Let Us Pray

Response:         Lord, on your journey to the cross and the grave you continued to touch everyone around you, deeply affecting Simon the Cyrenian, the women you met, Dismas the thief and even your chief executioner, the Centurion. You gave us your blessed Mother as a comfort in our desolation. You forgave those who deserted, betrayed, condemned and executed you. You gave us hope through your mercy. You amazed us with your victory over death. Give us courage to set your example as the model for our behavior. Help us to live as your faithful disciples, sharing your love and compassion with friends and enemies alike so that all may come to see you as the Christ, our Messiah on this earth and our beloved brother throughout eternity.

Amen.

Second Edition Copyright © 2014 held by Saint Mary’s Church, 41 Harding Street, Fairhaven, MA 02719 USA. All rights reserved. Should you make copies for use in community prayer, please make a suitable donation to Saint Mary’s Church ($0.50/copy).

Thanks to Nancy Ward and Shirley France for their editorial contributions to the second edition.