One of Lent’s gifts to me is the painful realization that my default behavior is set on “Black Friday.” Here’s what I mean. It’s as if I’ve camped outside Target at 4:59 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving every day, poised and ready to run when the doors open at 5:00 a.m.—“Get out of my way”—into the store compulsively grabbing stuff to satisfy my undisciplined desires. And in the process, I’m perpetually and quite ironically elbowing the selfish people out of the way to make sure I get what I want.
Over dramatic? Perhaps. But all I know is that my compulsive business, my need to get everything on my daily checklist checked (that’s when you’ve got to get out of my way), being the star at work, and even praying hard that God would redeem my rookie sainthood: this is all so very exhausting.
I don’t know about you, but I like the sentimental idea of going into the desert with Jesus during Lent as long as I don’t have to stay there very long. As long as I don’t have to wait and be quiet, even when nothing seems to be happening, when—more than anything else—I don’t seem to be getting ahead and there’s nobody to force out of my way.
The desert, however, is no idea, but an interior place where desire and ambition slowly get tamed. And only there do the silent seeds of hope and peace have any chance at all of taking root. A good way to escape Black Friday to make room for Good Friday.
Today His Holiness of our Lord preached a sermon on the occasion of the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday. He spoke with eloquence about the priest and priesthood. He spoke especially about joy, departing from the “oil of gladness” which we speak of on this day. I am not happy with the English translation, nor in simply reading it. It is better in Italian and via listening and watching the video.
He spoke about how small a person the priest is. He is poor, useless, ignorant and frail unless…. The Holy Father also spoke of the Evil One.
We are anointed “to our bones”.
There are a few triples and a couple home runs herein.
Here are some samples:
Dear Brother Priests,
In the eternal “today” of Holy Thursday, when Christ showed his love for us to the end (cf. Jn 13:1), we recall the happy day of the institution of the priesthood, as well as the day of our own priestly ordination. The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness, and this anointing invites us to accept and appreciate this great gift: the gladness, the joy of being a priest. Priestly joy is a priceless treasure, not only for the priest himself but for the entire faithful people of God: that faithful people from which he is called to be anointed and which he, in turn, is sent to anoint. [I think we can legitimately add that ordination is also for the priest himself. But that is not the emphasis of this sermon.]
Anointed with the oil of gladness so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. Priestly joy has its source in the Father’s love, and the Lord wishes the joy of this Love to be “ours” and to be “complete” (Jn 15:11). I like to reflect on joy by contemplating Our Lady, for Mary, the “Mother of the living Gospel, is a wellspring of joy for God’s little ones” (Evangelii Gaudium, 288). I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that priest is very little indeed [il sacerdote è una persona molt piccolo...Literally: the priest is a very small person. The priest is very small.]: the incomparable grandeur of the gift granted us for the ministry sets us among the least of men. The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy. Joy in our littleness!
For me, there are three significant features of our priestly joy. It is a joy which anoints us (not one which “greases” us, making us unctuous, sumptuous and presumptuous), it is a joy which is imperishable and it is a missionary joy which spreads and attracts, starting backwards – with those farthest away from us. [It is common for Jesuits to take three points.]
A joy which anoints us. In a word: it has penetrated deep within our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally. The signs of the ordination liturgy speak to us of the Church’s maternal desire to pass on and share with others all that the Lord has given us: the laying on of hands, the anointing with sacred chrism, the clothing with sacred vestments, the first consecration which immediately follows… Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly and entirely in each priest. We are anointed down to our very bones… and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing. [Nice image. Yes... the outward signs are also important. They signal interior realities.]
An imperishable joy. The fullness of the Gift, which no one can take away or increase, is an unfailing source of joy: an imperishable joy which the Lord has promised no one can take from us (Jn 16:22). It can lie dormant, or be clogged by sin or by life’s troubles, yet deep down it remains intact, like the embers of a burnt log beneath the ashes, and it can always be renewed. [Nice.] Paul’s exhortation to Timothy remains ever timely: I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (cf. 2 Tim 1:6).
A missionary joy. I would like especially to share with you and to stress this third feature: priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people: for baptizing and confirming them, healing and sanctifying them, blessing, comforting and evangelizing them.
And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock (for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep), it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. Even in those gloomy moments when everything looks dark and a feeling of isolation takes hold of us, in those moments of listlessness and boredom which at times overcome us in our priestly life (and which I too have experienced), even in those moments God’s people are able to “guard” that joy; they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy. [This is profoundly true. Priests often find great strength and hope and reinforcement of courage and focus in the help of laypeople. We are, after all, oriented to each other. At the same time, and I would like to offer this as a point of reflection for some readers here, often priests find lay people pouring cold water on our flame and coals.]
A “guarded joy“: one guarded by the flock but also guarded by three sisters who surround it, tend it and defend it: sister poverty, sister fidelity and sister obedience.
The joy of priests is a joy which is sister to poverty. The priest is poor in terms of purely human joy. He has given up so much! And because he is poor, he, who gives so much to others, has to seek his joy from the Lord and from God’s faithful people. He doesn’t need to try to create it for himself. We know that our people are very generous in thanking priests for their slightest blessing and especially for the sacraments.
[... READ THE REST THERE...]
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to fidelity. Not primarily in the sense that we are all “immaculate” (would that by God’s grace we were!), for we are sinners, but in the sense of an ever renewed fidelity to the one Bride, to the Church. Here fruitfulness is key.
[... READ THE REST THERE...]
Priestly joy is a joy which is sister to obedience. An obedience to the Church in the hierarchy which gives us, as it were, not simply the external framework for our obedience: the parish to which I am sent, my ministerial assignments, my particular work … but also union with God the Father, the source of all fatherhood. It is likewise an obedience to the Church in service: in availability and readiness to serve everyone, always and as best I can, following the example of “Our Lady of Promptness” (cf. Lk 1:39, meta spoudes), who hastens to serve Elizabeth her kinswoman and is concerned for the kitchen of Cana when the wine runs out.
[... READ THE REST THERE... He speaks of new priests, veterans and now... this is great...]
Finally, on this Thursday of the priesthood, I ask the Lord Jesus to make better known the joy of elderly priests, whether healthy or infirm. It is the joy of the Cross, which springs from the knowledge that we possess an imperishable treasure in perishable earthen vessels. May these priests find happiness wherever they are; may they experience already, in the passage of the years, a taste of eternity (Guardini). May they know, Lord, the joy of handing on the torch, the joy of seeing new generations of their spiritual children, and of hailing the promises from afar, smiling and at peace, in that hope which does not disappoint.
An observations. His Holiness Benedict XVI also reflected deeply on the theme of joy and priesthood. He has a book called Ministers of Your Joy.
Now I know why I never really tackled Holy Saturday. For one thing, the faithful tend to just kind of ignore it. Everyone is cleaning the house for Easter, buying a ham and preparing casseroles and Easter baskets, and looking forward to doing whatever is was they gave up doing for Lent. I realize that many people do observe this holy day (it IS called HOLY Saturday), but really, I think there is some confusion about how we’re supposed to feel. And therefore some ambivalence.
Are we supposed to be sad? Or sad with joyful anticipation because we know how this story ends? Do we align ourselves with how the Apostles must have felt on this day, the confusion and grief they must have been experiencing? Or, since we know we’ve now been redeemed, are we joyfully picking an Easter hat? Yesterday I mentioned that many things have evolved, changed and been revisited by the Church. Holy Saturday traditions have changed over and over again.
In the early Church, the whole day was a sad vigil for the joy to come. It was the only Saturday where the faithful could (and did) fast all day. The service began in the evening and went on all night. The catechumens were baptized. The “Alleluia” which has not been sung all during Lent, was timed to be be sung as Easter dawned. Every one broke their day long fast with Holy Communion, including the new folks who were receiving it for the first time. That’s quite a big deal of a day and night.
But then the vigil was moved back to the afternoon and finally it was moved to the morning. The fasting stopped. The tone of the vigil itself changed from sadness with joyful anticipation to just joyful anticipation (and they weren’t even headed over to pick up a Honey Baked Ham back then).
Speaking of food and fasting (and Honey Baked Ham), during the middle ages meat, milk and eggs were forbidden throughout Lent. So on Holy Saturday, these foods were about to be back on the table (perhaps the true origin of the splendid Easter egg). They were being prepared for the Easter feast but they were brought to be blessed by the priest first. This tradition still goes on in some places around the globe.
That was then. So now?
Holy Saturday is the final day of Lent. There is no Mass offered. There is a Mass in the evening, so don’t be confused. The on the liturgical clock the new day begins at sundown on the previous day. So while you may believe you’re going to Mass on Holy Saturday, you’re actually attending the Easter Vigil Mass. Just to confuse you more…it’s not Easter until dawn, so there is no Communion at the Easter Vigil Mass (except for those in danger of death).
And the tone? Well, remember the day long fast of the first 7 centuries? That got moved back along with the Mass. Then the Mass went away. But for a very long time, the fast stayed. It also got moved to the morning and stayed that way until 1956. It is no longer required, but many people still fast all morning on Holy Saturday to commemorate and contemplate the sadness of the day, leaving the rest of the day for joyful anticipation of Easter and macaroni and cheese.
And that salad with tiny little marshmallows in it.
Here is what to expect for Holy Saturday. The altar, stripped bare for Good Friday, remains that way as we, the faithful, wait at the door of the tomb, contemplating Christ’s suffering and death. It should be the most calm and quiet day of the Church year. Jesus is in His grave and we mourn. During the rest of Lent we align ourselves with the suffering of Jesus. On Holy Saturday, we align ourselves with the suffering of Our Mother Mary.
And while you are melting cheese in a saucepan, we’ll be lining up the Easter lilies around the altar for Easter morning. The pews are done. The carpet is vacuumed. Chocolate bunnies are welcome.
I’m not a fan of feet. Oh, I’m thankful for mine, but I don’t generally find feet—with the exception of the Fred Flintstone feet of babies—appealing. So it makes sense to me that washing a guest’s feet was the task of a servant in Jesus’ time.
If washing feet was a dirty, smelly job for servants in the time of Jesus, I wonder what the modern-day equivalent of washing feet might be . . .
A deeper question is about Jesus’ motivation for washing his apostles’ feet at the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel, we read that “when [Jesus] had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them,
‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (13:12–15).
In our sanitized world of modern conveniences, we don’t have as much occasion to literally get our hands dirty as our ancestors did. Yet, we’re still called to “get our hands dirty” through sacrifice and service as Jesus modeled for us. It may involve patiently listening to and drying the tears of a friend who is struggling. Or it may mean slowing down and explaining the process yet one more time for a coworker, student, or child. Or it might be insisting that the one(s) who prepared the Easter feast remain seated while you (and your crew) clear the table and clean up the dishes and kitchen. Whatever “washing feet” translates into in your life, do it with love!
photo credit: iofoto / photoxpress.com
It’s Holy Week! Thank goodness we’ve covered everything you need to know in past posts.
Okay, not everything. I haven’t had much to say about Holy Saturday. Perhaps we’ll cover that tomorrow, at last. Plus, the Catholic Church is 2,014 years old so a lot of things have been added, streamlined, edited, expounded upon, re-visited, re re visited and ritualized. But at least we’ve provided a tutorial about what goes on and why over the next 4 days.
And by now, whatever you gave up, you’ve slogged through. I hope it was difficult. It was supposed to be difficult. Not ridiculously difficult, like having a broken leg or shingles or getting hit by a bus. But difficult enough to have had some growth down there in your soul. Like having an annoying old Auntie park herself at your house and hint that you do everything wrong and then tell you how much she loves you. That kind of difficult. Something that bothered you every single day of Lent. Something that you had to think about every single day of Lent.
You’re now a better person for it. Congratulations! And you have this opportunity every year! (Or every day, if you’re a nun.)
Here’s what I gave up for Lent: using two spaces after a period while typing. Using two spaces was beaten into me by Sister Mary Teresa, the high school typing nun. Typing away on ancient typewriters that you had to have the fingers of Thor and the dexterity of a Vegas card dealer to manipulate. I can still hear the clunk, clunk, clunk of the keys all going down in unison as we all typed and the grind of the carriage.
“What’s a carriage?” at least half of you ask. “What’s a typewriter?” your children query.
Of course, that is not what I gave up for Lent. It it, however, an example of the minutia with which we now occupy our minds. This is precisely why we have to challenge ourselves and shake things up.
So I hope you gave up something good. Made it count. Because you were trying to align yourself with the suffering of Jesus and He certainly made it count.
And you still have until Saturday to do it. Hooray for you!
I have been obsessed lately by the statement in Georges Bernanos’ book The Diary of a Country Priest, also found in a biography about Flannery O’Connor: “Everything is grace.”
It’s a challenge to see grace everywhere, especially in difficult times. Yet grace is everywhere, even in grime.
Note, for instance, how tragedy brings out the best in people. For example, last November’s typhoon that hit the Philippines. Think, too, how grace often brings families together.
On the other hand, family celebrations help us realize that God loves us. Everything is grace.
Today’s guest blogger is Nick Luken, a second-year student at The Ohio State University, majoring in English and minoring in professional writing. Nick graduated from Roger Bacon, a Franciscan high school in Cincinnati, in 2012.
Well, here we are: Holy Week! Our 40-day Lenten journey is nearly at an end. For me that means that now is a time for some self-reflection. We know that Lent is meant to be a time for growth, a time for us to make sacrifices so we can concentrate on our relationships with God. At the end of this season, I find myself wondering. How much have I grown? Did I really let God “change my heart this time?” And I’m sure a lot of people are asking themselves the same things.
I’ve had mixed feelings about how this Lent has gone for me. I decided to make one of my most challenging Lenten commitments yet this year: giving up video games. Like many college students, I spend a lot of time playing video games, often while I know I ought to be working on something more productive. I figured giving up video games would be a good way to start focusing on more important things like prayer and school. But even though I’ve played video games much less than I would have otherwise, I’ve been far from perfect in keeping my commitment. About four or five times this past month or so, I’ve broken down and played video games despite my Lenten sacrifice.
As you can probably guess, it really bothers me that I didn’t quite meet my commitments. Partly, it’s because I’m just a perfectionist by nature. But even more, it’s because of this verse from the Gospel of Matthew:
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -MT 5:48
This verse has always been both an inspiration and a burden for me. Like all of us, I always want to strive for perfection, but I’m haunted by the fact that, as a human being, I am naturally imperfect. God calls us to perfection, but we know we can’t get there because we’re human.
So, what do we do?
I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer, but the only one I can offer is that we just keep trying. We know that we can’t be perfect, but we need to remember that we ought to strive for perfection anyway. We need to trust that as long as we give our very best, God will take care of the rest, and will be the one to make us perfect.
Featured image: photoexpress.com/Alysta
I can’t believe so much time has passed. It’s seems like years since I’ve visited you all. It also seems like yesterday. I’m glad at least you could comb through some of our old posts for Lenten guidance. Heaven knows we’ve been prolific on the subject through our years here.
It’s just the two of us now, Sister St. Aloysuis and I. Sister Mary Fiacre has gone to Jesus.
One never knows how one is going to react to the death of a loved one, a sister, a Sister, a person for whom we cared intimately. She seemed to be our reason for living for such a long time, our schedule was built around her for many years now. What we ate or didn’t eat, fashioned to interest her appetite. Whether we were awake or asleep, depended on her. And finally, we slept with one eye open for many weeks.
I had an idea of how I would react. That feeling of emptiness when the person is no longer there to take up every waking thought. The sweet preciousness of caring for someone who needs so much care. At first there was a sense of relief, since we spent so much time on high alert, lest she be in distress. And then that hole that is left in your world.
But I didn’t expect this.
I’m jealous. Jealous! She’s in Heaven! Or at least in Purgatory, where Heaven is guaranteed!
I find myself saying things that jealous people say. “I’m happy for her!” That sort of thing. I’m not lying. I do feel that way. But always with that tinge of jealousy for what she now has and I do not.
Jealousy is, of course, a sin. It doesn’t feel sinful. I’d better beware.
There is so much to do after a person goes, that you don’t really think about. Forms to fill out, things to mail and places and people to call, arrangements to be made. So that’s why we haven’t been visiting with you here.
Our little household is up in the air a bit. We’re not sure yet whether someone new will join us or we will have to move ourselves, or whether things will just stay the same.
Well…not the same.
And here we are in Holy Week! It will seem so strange to get the church ready without Sister Mary Fiacre standing by…sitting by…in her wheelchair. Packing her snacks. Just the other day we realized when we went to the clinic that we could park far away! We always had to park as close as possible to the doors. No longer.
We’re packing up the Murphy’s Oil Soap. And just us two.
Today I saw on the front page of the Holy See’s daily that the Holy Father reconfirmed Msgr. Guido Marini as Master of Ceremonies for another term.
Pope Francis is keeping certain of Pope Benedict’s people pretty close.
Today the Pope spoke during his non-Magisterial, off-the-cuff fervorino at morning Mass in strong terms not just about generic, impersonal “evil”, but about the Enemy of your soul, the Devil.
“We too are tempted, we too are the target of attacks by the devil because the spirit of Evil does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ. And what does the Spirit of Evil do, through his temptations, to distance us from the path of Jesus? The temptation of the devil has three characteristics and we need to learn about them in order not to fall into the trap. What does Satan do to distance us from the path of Jesus? Firstly, his temptation begins gradually but grows and is always growing. Secondly, it grows and infects another person, it spreads to another and seeks to be part of the community. And in the end, in order to calm the soul, it justifies itself. It grows, it spreads and it justifies itself.”
“We are all tempted because the law of our spiritual life, our Christian life is a struggle: a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ ["But Father! But Father!..."] But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”
Also today, the Pope spoke about clerical sexual abuse, appropriate given how he started off the morning. VR:
Pope Francis also spoke about the need to reaffirm the rights of parents [NOT the state!] to decide “the moral and religious education of their children” and reject all forms of “educational experimentation with children and young people”.
He said that it is every child’s right to grow up in a family “with a father and a mother” [Get that? With a FATHER and a MOTHER. Not two mothers, not a father and three mothers.... and a goat....] capable of creating “a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity”. [Some other environments are less suitable, and some are just unsuitable.] The Pope also called for an end to what he termed as “educational experiments” with children and young people, pushing a “dictatorship of one form of thinking” on them in the name of a pretended “modernity”.
The Pope noted that the “horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; [Like Marxism and Nazism.] they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals”.
Moreover, the Pope gave a strong speech today about the sanctity of human life. HERE
A friend in Rome sent texts to me saying:
The pope gave two speeches today which are likely to be his most outspoken in favor of natural marriage, freedom of education and against abortion so far. Nice that he mentioned natural marriage and sexuality in the same address he mentioned sexual abuses by the clergy. I found his argument vs abortion to be bizarre in its merely socioeconomic implications but I’ll take it.
Now let’s see how MSM and ‘c’atholics react. Spin and evasion I suspect. ….
The pope basically called modern education an Orwellian social experiment like with the Nazi and the Soviet only w/out the uniforms.
I want to see MSW calling Francis a paranoid right winger now.
There’s a Catholic in the White House again! Well, not exactly. But in today’s media drenched culture, the news that Stephen Colbert, who is open about his Catholicism, will succeed David Letterman as host of the CBS late night show next year is a close equivalent to John F. Kennedy’s election as president.
Colbert’s faith is a regular part of his on air persona. Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, is often a guest on the show, answering questions about Catholicism and giving his perspective on current events in the Church. Several years ago, Colbert famously gave up being Catholic for Lent because as he said, during Lent we should give up something that means a lot to us, and his Catholic faith means a lot to him (a stretch, I know, but he does have a point). And the YouTube video of him dancing to the post-Vatican II classic hymn, “The King of Glory,” expressed what many of us felt when we sang this song at liturgy; it was parody, yes, but joyful.
It will be good to have a Catholic in a top position again (besides our numerous politicos like John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and six of the nine Supreme Court justices). Let’s face it, having practicing Catholics in government can be beneficial for policy and the greater good of the United States. But having a practicing Catholic in a top media position is priceless publicity.
You may argue with Colbert’s comedic depictions, but from many Catholics today his lighthearted yet serious approach says, ”It’s cool, even fun, to be a practicing Catholic.” This is evangelization today.
Photo of Stephen Colbert and his wife www.shutterstock.com
When we try to pray, God often beats us to the punch and prays in us, offering us gifts of quiet assurance, challenge, and consolations that appear to come out of nowhere. God recently gifted me with an image of saving grace that was born of God’s good Spirit touching my imagination and creating in my memory what I liked to call a “place with the Lord.”
I pray within sight of Cimabue’s crucifix, before which St. Francis received his call to rebuild the church. Nothing quite so dramatic came my way that morning, just an intimate sense of the crucified arms of Jesus reaching out to embrace me and hold me close and safe.
Later that day I listened to a Methodist pastor tell me about the sudden death of his nineteen-year-old nephew and his agreeing to conduct the funeral service despite the deep sadness and acute anger he felt about the death.
I had no words of comfort for him, and worked hard to resist the cheap temptation to say something to anesthetize his sorrow and make him feel better. All I had to offer was God’s gift to me in in that morning’s prayer, so I invited him also to spend time grieving in the arms of the crucified one, the one who knows all our heartache and in whose presence is the only sure path to healing.
Perhaps the clearest sign of grace is a willingness to give it away and discovering, quite miraculously, that we lose nothing in the process.
News from our friend
Shamiel of Lahore,
Growing up as a member of the Christian minority in Pakistan, I have often observed how the laws provide inadequate protection for our community, and those inadequacies have dramatically increased. Another incident of vandalism and madness against Christians over allegations of blasphemy has resulted in the burning of houses and more injured innocents. The list of persecutions against minorities in Pakistan is endless and horrible, as I have often witnessed first hand.
The Christian enclave called Joseph Colony.
One such ruthless incident happened in Joseph Colony, a Christian enclave southwest of Lahore, where a mob set fire to hundreds of homes and two churches on March 9 last year after rumors spread that a young Christian had insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Police officer Multan Khan said the incident started on a Friday when a young Muslim man accused Sawan Masih of committing blasphemy.
Sawan was booked under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, though it appeared that he had been falsely accused. Police were forced to register a case to placate the mob, a local police official said at the time.
a little more than a year after the mob violence in Joseph Colony,
a court sentenced Sawan to death.
Shortly after his arrest and detention in an undisclosed location, a mob of almost 3,000 people quickly descended on Joseph Colony – led by a barber named Shafiq Ahmed (a close friend of Sawan affectionately known as Bubby) – in search of the alleged blasphemer.
The mob pelted Sawan’s home with rocks before setting it on fire, and then they attacked other homes. Residents, including numerous women and children, abandoned their homes and possessions and fled for their lives. By the time the mob finished its ruthless work, two churches and nearly 200 homes were reduced to ashes.
Shamiel in a fire gutted house of Joseph Colony.
After hearing about the attack, I made my way with several friends to Joseph Colony near my home. When we entered the day after the attack, I was shocked to see the level of devastation. The sorrow and deprivation was so prominent in that atmosphere that anyone’s heart would have broken to pieces. My eyes filled with tears as I walked through the destruction.
Ashes clung to my clothing. Women, young girls and children sat in the streets mourning their loss – they lost everything from their life savings and homes to all of their everyday utensils, vehicles, everything.
Also among the ruins lay the dreams of parents for their young daughters as looters made off with dowries of jewelry and money saved over many years.
Consumed with rage over alleged disrespect for the Prophet Muhammad, the mob desecrated the sanctity of two Christian churches, burned Bibles and tore up religious books.
The victimised Catholics of Joseph Colony: homeless, in tents.
The terrified residents of Joseph Colony were now homeless and even more vulnerable as a hunted minority. Why all this carnage? Two egotistical men had an argument while drinking alcohol, which led to the charge of blasphemy.
An entire neighborhood of Pakistan’s second-largest city and cultural hub – full of people considered to be educated and civilized – was reduced largely to rubble in an act of mob violence that went beyond all imagination.
It reminded me of a previous and deadlier incident in 2009 in Gojra in Punjab province, when eight Christians – including women and children – were burned alive after being accused of blasphemy.
There is consensus among civil society and academics that if strict action had been taken at that time, then nobody would have dared repeat such unjust attacks. Instead, these attacks occur repeatedly and with impunity.
Sawan’s sister, Bushra, says her brother is innocent, and his sister-in-law Kiran said Imran Bashir – the man who accused him of blasphemy – was a trusted friend with whom she had never seen Sawan argue.
A federal minister speaking to the media after the attack in 2009 blamed the government in the Punjab, saying that all major incidents against minorities took place there. He further demanded the immediate arrest of all those involved in the killings and offered the services of Pakistani rangers to protect churches in the province.
Addressing a protest rally by Christians outside the Punjab Assembly building, the Minister said it was the need of the hour to be united against the common enemy of Muslims and Christians. Citing incidents in Gojra and Sialkot, he alleged that the Punjab government had “failed to protect minorities” and that “minorities are faithful to the country, and their services for the country especially in the fields of health and education could not be neglected”.
The Catholic youth of CYMD,
from their own poor wages,
bought and distributed plastic items for every day use
among the homeless of Joseph Colony, Lahore.
The General Secretary of CYDM has said: “History suggests that nothing compels authorities to action after such attacks. This boosts the confidence of extremist groups, but Christians are more loyal than others in the country and will remain peaceful.”
During a protest after the attack on Joseph Colony, one of the attendees named Johnson said: “We have no way but to protest in the present scenario because we feel insecure after the burning of our homes in Joseph Colony”. Another protester accused police of provoking the mob into violence.
I believe that the repeated attacks on Christians in Pakistan convince us that we are not equally treated or protected, and that our future is in danger. We face discrimination in the workplace and are among the most vulnerable and lowest paid workers.
Our women and children are not safe, and we are forced to live among inhuman people and within an intolerant society. And yet, we Christians have always played a positive role in the development of Pakistan and in all other sectors of life. We played a vital role in making Pakistan a separate and independent homeland.
But the burning of Joseph Colony – and all previous attacks – has damaged the basic ideology of Pakistan, and the failure to punish perpetrators of violence against minority groups has again left the Christian community in perpetual fear.
As violence continues to increase, Christians have to come up with better strategies and need rules and laws to secure their dignified survival in Pakistan. The government needs to look into more effectively providing this security. They need to protect minorities and afford them proper rights.
So far, they have failed to do so. Despite aggressive but peaceful protests in the wake of the Joseph Colony attack, and the closure of religious schools across the country, appeals, letters and petitions to eliminate the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, the government paid no attention, and it continues to ignore the needs of the Christian community and refuses to grant it the equality and protection that it so desperately needs.
I can’t believe Lent is coming to an end. In the Catholic publishing world, the season of Lent seems even longer than 40 days, as we are promoting Lenten books and resources to parishes and Catholics long before Lent actually begins.
As Holy Week approaches, I’ve been thinking about how to make the most of it—not simply in terms of getting my house ready for Easter baskets and a special meal—but, how to really push myself spiritually. In that respect, I am excited that Franciscan Media is hosting Fr. Dan Horan on April 16, to talk about The Last Words of Jesus.
For anyone who would like to join us, the event is free. If you’re not available at 2:00 p.m. ET that day, simply register and watch the archive at a later date. You’ll even be able to view a couple of our recent events and we’ll send you an email to let you know what new events are coming up. I do hope you’ll join us—not only for Holy Week, but each month, as you continue your spiritual journey.
***Photo: Shutterstock/Shots Studio
On a cold, winter Saturday morning I drove around a curve and was hit smack in the eyes by the very bright sunrise. I struggled to adjust to the light and saw that the upcoming light was green so I thought I was good to go. What I failed to notice in the blinding sun was the car stopped at the green light Smack! Although I was not driving very fast, it is amazing how easily cars crumple right before your eyes.
As we waited for the police officer to arrive I replayed the situation in my mind. It’s a bad intersection, the sun was exceedingly bright, that car shouldn’t have been stopped at a green light, the big snow piles didn’t give me enough room to merge. But no matter how I weighed the facts it came down to one gloomy conclusion. I was GUILTY. I hit a car and there was no way I could undo it. Nobody was hurt, but there was plenty of damage to both cars. The officer apologized that he had to give me a ticket, but I was the moving vehicle and I was responsible. I believe the word is GUILTY. I carried that word around for several weeks.
There was an option on the ticket to go to court and accept responsibility but possibly bargain down the charge to an infraction that did not carry points. Somehow paying the fine did not bother me as much as having those points follow me around on my previously clean driving record. Even so, I almost didn’t go to court because I kept adding up the facts and coming out GUILTY and there was no way to undo what I had done.
I arrived at court on the appointed day and waited in the crowded court room as many people pleaded their case and almost every one lost their case. Only the man whose wife was in the hospital dying received any mercy. Finally my name was called. I anxiously approached the bench, praying for grace. The judge looked down at me and said “The officer did not show up to testify so the case is dismissed.” Dismissed? No fine, no citation, no points, no nothing. Simply dismissed.
In that moment, and as I have thought about it since then, I have realized the amazing freedom from guilt that was given to me that day. I deserved punishment but I was given mercy instead. This past weekend I went to confession and I could not help but see the connection. Guilty of my sins, I was forgiven. My guilt is gone. It no longer hangs around my neck or weighs on my mind. Forgiven.
Traffic court took away my civil guilt because a schedule conflict kept that officer away from court that morning. Confession took away the deeper guilt of my sinfulness. Washed away. Free. Clean. Saved by the loving mercy of Jesus Christ. To have the case dismissed in traffic court was a great thing. To be forgiven is so much better. Gratitude for that loving mercy is on my mind as I observe these last days of Lent and the great events that made that forgiveness possible.