The Experience of Lent: A Time to Reflect

Looking back….

Ross Belle Balatbat

Days, weeks have passed since Holy Week. My question is: at this moment, has your Christian living improved or regressed or just stays the same as each year goes by?  Did we become “holier” during Holy Week? Or, were we so only during those “holy” days as dictated by tradition? Or because everybody was just doing Lenten rituals and observance – a practice from your childhood to present and you were just coerced into doing all of the church traditions?

MAUNDY THURSDAY.  Also called Holy Thursday, it is the beginning of the Paschal Triduum. In this context, Triduum means a three-day commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.

One of the most important Holy Week traditions in the Philippines is the “Visita Iglesia” (church visit).  The original intent of the custom was to adore the Blessed Sacrament in front of each church’s Altar of Repose.

At St. Augustine’s Church here in Macau, like in all other Catholic churches in the world, the main observance of the day was the Mass of The Lord’s Supper.  This included a re-enactment of the washing of the feet of the twelve apostles.

In the homily last April 2, the laity were challenged to reflect on the importance of the Easter Triduum.  The main celebrant shared three points for reflection, to wit:

First, the CATHOLIC FAITH. If we do not have faith, we will always have never ending frustrations; but with Catholic faith we know that after death there is possibility of eternal joy and never ending happiness. This is why we have a concrete sense of hope. 

Humanly speaking, as we advance in age, there is a narrowed or shorter time to earn the rewards; for those who are young, they are not bothered at all, for they still have a lot of time.  With the Catholic faith, age does not matter at all, because a person with faith has a future, he has the possibility of choosing and striving for a joy which never ends, and thus avoid eternal frustration.

Reflection. Let us be more reflective and ask ourselves with all honesty, “Do I truly believe and do I have a conscious awareness of the Catholic faith that I profess?”

Second, PRECIOUS GIFTS.  Jesus Christ gave us three precious gifts during the Last Supper: the commandment of CHARITY, the EUCHARIST and the PRIESTHOOD.  Jesus gives the commandment to love and shows it in the washing of the feet.  Pope Benedict reflected, “The Creator kneels before His creature in order to wash him; that is how he humbles Himself.” Jesus Christ is so humble that He is willing to put Himself down for us. Fr. Joey, the main celebrant, said, “Imagine that you are the one washing the feet of Judas, knowing that he will betray you, Peter will deny you and most of the apostles will abandon you – if you were in the place of Jesus, how would you react?”  Fr. Joey admitted that he would probably say, “Judas, self-service.” But still, Jesus washed their feet – bowed down, He gave it all – gave His life for another.  As humans, this seemed to be impossible, but with God, all is possible.  We ask for His grace for us to be patient and willing to forgive; then and only then, can we realize that those unlovable persons we encounter are those who are teaching us how to love our enemy.

Reflection.  Most often than not we find ourselves caught in the same humbling situation.  People can pass judgment on us as ministers or as we seriously do spiritual exercises in deepening our intimate relationship with the Lord.  Do we remain silent in the midst of persecution?  Or do we react without praying and reflecting? Do we unconsciously pass judgment too, maybe not in words or acts but deep in our mind?  Therefore, we are challenged to be more charitable, that is, to love the unlovable.     

Third, GRATITUDE.  Have we ever started our prayer thanking God? We are challenged every Eucharistic Prayer – when the priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and we respond “It is right and just.” Then the priest says, “It is truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.”  But in reality, what we do is “complaining always and everywhere.” REMEMBER:  gratitude attracts blessings, gratitude attracts graces.

Reflection.  Since God provides our daily bread, are we appreciative enough to give thanks to him in all circumstances? Not only with the blessings and graces … but in every blessing in disguise amidst our sufferings and faith challenges.  Do we pay gratitude by having a praise-filled attitude? Praising unlocks the gates of heaven.

GOOD FRIDAY. This was a busy long day for those connected with the Pastoral Care of Migrants, who for the first time held the Way of the Cross at the Penha Hill.  It was a reflective experience by the 200 Catholics who joined, to meditate on the Passion and  Death of Jesus Christ. In each station, Fr. Artemio Balana and Fr. Andy Vergara, SOLT priests, alternately read the Gospel while the lay faithful, represented by different communities, led the reflections and prayers.

The Good Friday Liturgy was concelebrated by priests from the different congregations.  The Liturgy of the Word recalled the Passion of Christ. The Veneration of the cross was done as a meditative experience to mourn the crucifixion and death of Christ. The Liturgy of the Holy Communion brought to mind the Last Supper.

At seven in the evening on April 3, the Catholic Pastoral Center was packed with avid listeners participating in the culminating activity – a reflective and solemn memento of Jesus’ Seven Last Words.

In the Philippines, the traditional Passion play called the “Senakulo” is a week-long affair, especially in Pampanga and Bulacan.  The processions include devotees who self-flagellate and some even have themselves nailed to crosses (a practice discouraged by the Catholic Church) to express penance, fulfill a vow, or offer thanksgiving for a prayer granted.  The “pabasa” or “pasyon” is a marathon chanting, the Filipino epic narrative of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

The “Santo Entierro” (Holy Burial) is the name of both the rite and the wooden or resin sculpture of the dead Christ lying supine.  In the town of Manito, Albay, the tradition dictated that the Virgin Mary (dressed as the mourning “Mater Dolorosa”) was always the last image in the procession regardless of the number of retinue of saints involved. In Lipa, Batangas, the Santo Entierro funeral procession was silent and held at midnight.  The image was interred in a chapel – simulating the Holy Sepulchre – and remained locked within, until the Easter vigil.

Reflection.  We do not need to be masochists, causing self-inflicted pains to make amends or penance of our sinfulness. May we develop a prayerful life to receive graces against temptations so as to always stand firm in our faith, committing ourselves to be stronger than our flesh. May we, by God’s grace, be convinced that as we think, say or do acts of sinfulness, we repetitively are premeditating the death of Jesus.

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