Monday, April 30, 2012

The Senior Promily

Saturday night was the "Prom Mass" at St. Cecilia's...but it was also the regular parish Mass for the 4th Sunday of Easter. does one preach about both the Good Shepherd and Prom?  My approach: start off by going as far away from either topic as possible.  After that, everything else seems closer.  And more sanitary.

Click here to download or listen. (9 min.)
On the download page, click the "2.2 MB" in the lower right corner.

"For love or money" becomes the key to understanding not merely what Jesus does as the Shepherd, but what he calls the flocks to do. We know in our hearts the difference between someone acting out of love vs. acting out of gain.

PS: I recently realized I failed to post last Sunday's homily.  I'll try to do that very soon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained...."

Quick!  Before you go any further, you can get bonus points for knowing whence the quote in the title comes (without using the Internet!)

In my mercy, I will let you continue even if you don't know the quote, but if you want to see in in context, look below the break. The quote actually doesn't come up at all in the homily; as I said, it's bonus material.  

Today is the second Sunday of Easter and the feast of divine mercy.  They go together.  For hundreds of years Christians have read on the Sabbath after Easter the story of the ten apostles meeting Jesus on Easter Sunday night.  In the last thirty years they've celebrated Divine Mercy on this same day.  But God's infinite timeless plan saw both in the same outside-of-time moment, and that's why they line up.  Come hear why they connect.

Click here to listen or download  (10 minutes)
On the download page, click the "2.5 MB" in the lower right corner.

Ok.  So, the quote is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.  When Portia, Antonio's brave and brilliant girlfriend, is trying to save him in court from getting a pound of his flesh excised by Shylock, she gives a beautiful description of mercy.  Antonio has just admitted that he made a deal with Shylock, by which he should have to give a pound of flesh if he didn't repay his loan by a set date.  I'll give their words then explain how perfect this is for any discussion of mercy.

Then must the Jew be merciful.


On what compulsion must I? tell me that.


The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. 

(credit: MIT's Shakespeare bounty.  Thanks!)

Shylock asks a great question: Why should he forgive the debt of flesh?  By what compulsion can he be made to do so?  And Portia's response is that mercy is by its definition not the kind of thing that can be "compulsed".  It's, by its nature, a gift freely given.  Think of "strained" here not like stretched or stressed, but as the root of "constrained" or "restrained".  Nothing holds, forces, makes, compels, or requires any mercy.  That's its beauty.  

It reminds me of a story about an emperor touring a village near his capitol.  He meets a woman who comes up begging for the life of her son who is in jail and sentenced to die.  The emperor is confused by the pushy, weepy woman, but when an official explains who her son is, he straightens up and sternly says,"I'll do no such thing.  I know this case!  His crime was heinous! "  She replied, "Yes.  Please, lord.  Mercy."  He thundered at her: "Never!  His crimes demand retribution."  And she begged again, "Mercy, lord!  Lock him up, banish him, but don't kill him."  To which he replied, "Not on my life.  He deserves death."  And from the ground she cried out, "I know, I know.  That's why I beg your mercy."  The emperor cursed and spat, and he said to her coldly, "He doesn't deserve mercy."  But at this her demeanor changed: she straightened up, looked him full in the face, and said steadily as if correcting a mistaken child, "Lord, if he deserved it,it wouldn't be mercy."

Dear Jesus, help me remember that too.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter—If It's False, We're So Dead. And I'm SO gone.

Yesterday I posted the three Steps for a foundation for a reasonable Christian faith. Today, Easter, is the Four Step.  If it's a lie, everything said previous is irrelevant.  If it's true, it verifies and solidifies the other parts.  But we have strong, solid reasons to believe that one Man did indeed rise from the death, and this, in turn, changes everything.  I will post a written version of the homily later on.

Click here to listen or download  (17.5 minutes)
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Easter is not just about blind faith.  Christians have real reasons to believe in the Resurrection, even if they have forgotten them or think that "just believing" is somehow more noble.  Likewise, non-believers ridicule believers as brainless, credulous, superstitious dolts.  The Resurrection is believable because its reasonable.  Everything hinges on the Apostles, and what we really believe men are likely to do in a series of crises.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012 Believe

Holy Week is mostly a time of faith. Because of that, some people think it's a season antithetical to reason.  So, as we do the Holy Week and Easter thing, maybe we should ask the question: "Just because I can believe in this religion, should I?  I mean, is it intellectually responsible of me to do so?"  Really, what I'm asking is, do we just have to take this Jesus/Christianity/Resurrection thing on faith only, or does it jive with reason too?  Are my only options to reject rationality or to reject Christianity?  

I can't make anybody assent to anything.  Frankly, I don't want to.  I really do have serious respect for people who have actually looked down the double-barrels of faith and reason and can walk away saying honestly they don't buy my religion.  I know I can't quite appreciate how hard of a decision that is: changing your worldview, knowing your Grandma will be confused by it and your parents will rant, and the certainty that Jesus-freaks will bug the crap out of you.  Seriously, I appreciate the honesty and courage.  I'm not here to proselytize to them.  
So this post is really about: 
A) reminding believers that they've got good reasons to believe, 
B) showing non-believers that we're not nuttier-than-squirrel-poo for believing this stuff, and 
C) telling Christians who say "you just have to believe it" to please go hang out with the Santa-believers elsewhere; you're making us look bad.  
Aristotle, Newton, Franklin, and Einstein are all great scientists who give pretty solid arguments for still believing there's some sort of "Uncaused Cause" behind the universe, so I'm not going to look at atheist vs. theist questions.  I just want to see whether a theist, deist, or soft agnostic could responsibly believe in Jesus as God.  These three categories cover most humans, including Gandhi, Madonna, Voltaire, and supposedly anybody in a foxhole.  

You've probably heard most of the objections before.  The 19th century "history of religions" school of thought is still prevalent.  You may know its three basic tenants: 1) all religions are basically bunk, 2) all religions are basically the same, and 3) all religions basically evolved out of each other.  This school added a framework to the earlier objections of guys named Spinoza and Reimarus, and the results are what you've already heard:
A) All of this is so old, so unreliable, so shrouded by centuries of superstition and myth, it's pointless.  All the people of that time were unenlightened and credulous.
B) Jesus, if he existed, was just a wise rabbi.  His message was distorted by Paul, who "made Jesus into God", and invented Christianity.
C) Our only real sources are the Christians' own writings, and they could have radically misrepresented Jesus and his first followers.
D) Maybe the real Jesus' story was unpopular with the early Church leaders, so they suppressed those other accounts, like the Gnostic gospels.  
E) The apostles just made up the story of the resurrection, either to further the cause of Jesus after his death or because they felt he had spiritually resurrected (gone to heaven) and they had now been forgiven by God because he died for them.
F) Whatever the original documents said, they've been recopied, translated, and distorted so many times we can't really know what the first Christians wrote down anyway.

So, I'm going to try to blow up three hundred years of rationalism and revisionism in four arguments within two blog posts.  
My Four Steps to a reasonable, responsible Christian foundation are:
1) Review the outside sources: the Roman and Jewish writings of the first two centuries.  These will give reliable testimony that Jesus existed, started a peculiar group, and detail enough of their beliefs to recognize it as Christianity.
2) Consider if the inside sources (the gospels) are reliable to tell the story, specifically the details in Steps 3 and 4.
3) Recognize that Jesus' claim to divinity eliminates options, namely, the possibility that he's just a "wise sage of ethics like Buddha, Zoroaster, or a Hindu sadhu".  Jesus forces you to accept him or denounce him.
4) Wrestle with the evidence for the Resurrection.  This is most often neglected because people think it's only a question of "I just have to believe!"  Yeah, it does require faith, but the leap is shorter than both secularists and fundamentalists think.

1. Outside Evidence

A. Roman Sources
We have four Roman writers (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Lucian of Samosata) writing about Christ and Christians between 110 and 120 A.D., at a distance of forty-five to ninety years from the events of which they write.  For some, that distance seems a problem, but let's realize that the most accurate books on WWII and Patton and Hitler were not written in the 1950s, they've been written in the last ten to twenty years.  There is a "sweet spot" of historical analysis: close enough to access witnesses, far enough to have gained critical distance.  Suetonius and Tacitus are actually reporting what happened in 49 and 64 A.D. respectively, but they do it with a calm aspect of historians a half century removed.  From these four unbiased, secular sources we can safely say: Christians were a thoroughly established group in Rome itself by the late 40s; their founder, "Christus", was a Jewish religious lawgiver or philosopher who was crucified as a criminal by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius, but the "pernicious superstition" immediately broke out again with his followers worshipping him as a god, claiming to all be brothers now, and swearing oaths to do no wicked deeds.  

B. Jewish Sources 

The two key sources for this are Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud.  I know that some scholars think the Jesus sections of Josephus are later interpolations, but I think they actually read more like a sophisticated Greco-Roman skeptic (which Josephus was) than an excited believer's forgeries.  Nevertheless, I'll focus on the Talmud, as a safer source. Compiled between 70-200 A.D., the "Yeshu" section gives more data to help us triangulate our knowledge of Jesus ("Yeshu").  Interestingly, it directly addresses his birth: there were scandalous accusations about the conditions of his conception and birth, including that the carpenter was not the father of Miriam's baby.  Most importantly, it records that Jesus became widely known for his amazing works (which were perceived as sorcery) and for "leading Israel astray", and while he should have been stoned for his blasphemy, he was "hanged on the eve of Passover".  These are mirror images of what the gospels claim—same story, different faith-angle.

St. Paul fits in here too.  The claim since Reimarus (late 1700s) has been that Paul hijacked the story of the dead Jesus and made him the Christ of his new religion.  Paul is definitely the earliest Christian writer; he begins before the first Greek gospels are promulgated.  The claim is: Jesus was a good, wise young rabbi, killed tragically; Paul divinized him; the gospel writers then took Paul's theological Christ and wrapped it into sayings of the historical Jesus.  But the Jewish sources thoroughly agree with Paul, just for opposite reasons.  If Paul "made up Christianity", then he and the Jews made up identical stories about what Jesus said and did at the exact same time, for two exactly opposite purposes: Paul, to inspire belief; the Jews, to discredit the blaspheming magic worker.  Whichever one is right, Paul was doing this within fifteen years of the Crucifixion, in front of people who heard Jesus speak—both Jesus' followers and enemies.  And no one argued that Jesus didn't say what Paul claimed or the Jews accused him to have said.   The only argument was whether Paul or the Jews were proved right.  

Think of the sources this way: The Romans writers are like drawing a circle and saying: "Your Jesus must be somewhere in this circle. Here's the basic time, place, and consequences of your dude."  The Jews are like lines running vertically and horizontally edge to edge within that circle, giving it greater stability, because now any Christian claim is going to have to account for the data they they also recorded in those first decades.  Finally, Paul is like big dots of detail, sometimes landing right on a Jewish accountability line, sometimes adding new data to the story.  Nothing is like a fleshed-out narrative yet, but that's what we're setting a framework for.  The narrative is Step 2.

2. Are The Gospels Reliable?

I don't mean: "Did miracles really take place?"  The questions of who Jesus is and what he could do are more proper to Steps 3 and 4.  If they are affirmed, then everything in the gospels could be believed, natural or supernatural.  The two things I mean here are: 
A) Are the gospels in out Bibles today faithful transmissions of those original gospels?
B) Did the original gospel accounts faithfully record what Jesus said and did on the natural level?

We don't possess the "autographs" of the gospels, meaning, we don't have the parchments or scrolls that Matthew, John, and Paul personally wrote on.  But then again, we don't have any first century document's autograph.  Let's put this in context: the oldest copy of the next most ancient complete manuscript we have is for The Iliad, and it's from the 10th century.  The Iliad has 647 known hand copies; the New Testament has 5,633.  The oldest scrap of part of The Iliad is from fifteen hundred years after it was probably first written down (500 A.D.); the oldest NT scrap is from John 18:31-38, from about 110 A.D., some twenty years after it was written, and found some 300+ miles from its likely source city.

What about accuracy after all these copyings?  Our 5,000 plus copies yield 200,000 "variants", but most of these are misspellings, doubled-up or inverted words.  Of the 20,000 lines of the NT, only 40 lines are seriously "up in the air" according to textual critics, and none touch on any significant doctrine.  Consider: You have no idea what the Gettysburg Address really said.  There is significantly more textual variance in the five official copies and the newspaper accounts of Lincoln's nine sentences (just 150 years ago and in the age of printing presses) than in the Letter to the Romans, which is the longest existing letter from the ancient world, and which has been transmitted across two thousand years.  

So, did the gospel writers tell Jesus' story accurately?  Nobody thinks that Matthew or Mark was written earlier than the 45, most think the first three were done before 64, and no one thinks John wrote any later than 100.  So, all the gospels were written in living memory of their events (50-70 years).  This means people can call you out if you misrepresent the historical events that they witnessed.  But neither Jesus' early followers nor his enemies are recorded anywhere as disagreeing with how the gospels (or Paul) represented Jesus.  No, Jesus' former followers plainly were not protesting, "Stop making him a blasphemer!", and the rabbinical Jews proudly were saying, "Yup, that's what he said, and that's why we turned him over to Pilate."

3. What Kind Of Guy Might Jesus Be?

I think we've reasonably put Objections A, C, D, and F to rest, and I've been setting up Obj. B for the sake of blowing it out of the water here.  Obj. E is the final determiner in my mind: if it's legit, it legitimizes all other data in gospels, and if it's not, then all the rest is bunk anyway.  That'll be the topic in Step 4, which I'll cover tomorrow on Easter.

If the gospels are accurate accounts of what Jesus said, and no contemporary of his objected to their portrayals of him, then we must deal with the fact that Jesus regularly claimed divinity and divine prerogatives for himself.  Mark supposedly has the "lowest Christology" of the gospels, but even in his second chapter we hear Jesus say: "Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home."  This is the specific moment the Jewish leaders turned against him.  All four gospels record these claims as the exact reason he was to be put to death.  The Jews —as was expected of them in Leviticus and is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud— wanted to stone him, but the Romans alone could execute in Palestine in 30 A.D., and they used crucifixion.  The fact that Stephen was stoned to death lines up exactly with an interregnum in the Roman governorship, which allowed the Jews to act unilateral against the blasphemer.  Heck, in John 8, the Jews nearly stone Jesus anyway because he claimed "Before Abraham was, I AM", and only Yahweh every called himself "I AM" (see Ex. 3:14).  

All this matters immensely because the constant refrain of the revisionists and rationalists is that "Jesus was just a good, charismatic, moral teacher.  He probably died tragically and then they divinized him and made him the religion, not his ethical message."  We hear this constantly.  "All religions are basically the same, right?  Just differences of details or circumstances."  Or "Look, I like Jesus, but I'm not sure he's God.  Didn't some Buddhists kind of divinize him after death too?  That's the same, right?"  

The problem is it wasn't his followers who made the claims, it was he.  All religions are not the same; my religion has a dude trying to push himself off as the Living God, and you seem to think that's a lot like Socrates, Confucius, or Buddha.  You think Jesus can just be a good guy.  No.  Sorry.  Either Jesus is the best thing that ever came down from heaven or he's the worst demon to come up from hell.  You decide.  This is your dilemma.  Or as C.S. Lewis calls it, your trilemma—a three-horned test.  If he claims divine prerogatives, he's either a Liar, or a Lunatic, or the Lord. No exceptions.  The one thing he cannot be is just a nice guy, a good ethical teacher.  

You and I aren't God, but we don't claim it, so no big deal.  If God was here but didn't claim divinity, that'd be weird, but hey, God can play humble if He wants.  But that is manifestly not what happened in Galilee and Judea from 28-30 A.D.  A country carpenter got a big following and told everybody, "The Father and I are one.  He who has seen me, has seen the Father."  If you say that, and you aren't the Lord, the God of Hosts, Adonai, the Prime Mover, the Uncaused Cause, Yahweh Elohim....well, then you're a big fat liar.  And lying kind of disqualifies you from being an ethical sage.  Realize, too, that little lies make you disreputable, big lies make you a scoundrel, and great lies make you a blasphemer.  The greater the claim, the greater the crime.  Granted, Jesus could've just been crazy—hence the Lunatic option.  But I think we all feel that Jesus doesn't give off the persona of a lunatic, psycho, or narcissist.  And whether he did or didn't, we still shouldn't listen to what he says.  His would still be a horrible religion to join.  

"Liar, Lunatic, Lord" is huge.  It puts the challenge to modern man as Jesus himself did in his life.  He is the "sign of contradiction", the line of which you must be on one side or the other; you cannot straddle this fence.  If you're okay saying Jesus is a great fraud or evil genius or a blithering sociopath, then please, man-up and do so.  People for three hundred plus years have feared to be honest and do this, and that's why they want a "nice, normal Jesus" and an "evil, plotting Paul".  But Steps 1 and 2 eliminated that.  The claim is his, the claim is public, the claim is yours to wrestle.  I, for one, am done wrestling.  I made my choice, and it's more reasonable that the other two choices.  

Your move.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday — Part III

This part always reminds me of the scene in The Passion of the Christ when Mary is on the ground grabbing and squeezing the rocks, and then, as they raise the cross, she squeezes them again hard and then lets them fall.

Her palms curved inward seeking for the nails
that might not be in them, and asking pain
she might not hold, and on her feet, a plea
for thrusted iron ached and spread within
a wholeness that was yearning unrelieved.
Her arms cried out for bracketing along
the wood that strained Him. She would take this pain,
this brace, this agony, she'd be His heart.
There was not ever sadness in His eyes,
or lonely striving; never hunger, thirst,
or any tear that she would not accept
and bear for Him in all the ended days,
nor any need. And could there now be run,
or race, or fired forking pain along
His flesh she'd not have taken eagerly
in full surrender, finding it a gladness
and relief? Oh, that had been to easy
joy, too generous and rich exchange
to wear the wounds for Him. She'd be His head
to bleed beneath the thorns and ask aloud
for longer moments she might keep them hers...
Except that in her heart she would not choose
this lesser gift of love, and found again
it was her chosen part to only stand
in silence, seeing Him, to be so strong
she could endure, not her wounds, but His own,
that she could bear His cross that was not hers.

And in another side of mystery
—made one in her— the exquisite and endless
knowing held: that He was God! She saw
the spittle wet upon His face, the bruise
still dark where they had struck Him; she could find
his tattered knees, and marked the soil and streak
of dirt upon Him, left there from the reeling
moment when He'd sprawled along the road.
She saw the scorn, the slime of all degrading,
the contempt, the loathsomeness of Him.
She heard them laughing at His twisted feet,
and quarreling about a robe they'd stripped
from Him, since they had dug Him past the use
or need of it. And calmly, certainly,
in simple knowledge as a mind might see
its thought: she knew that He was very God*.

(* This seems a strange phrase to us to today, but when Lynch wrote in 1941, his audience have been used to translations of the Creed saying: "God from God, light from light, very God from very God", using "very" in the meaning of "verily" or "truly".)

John W. Lynch, A Woman Wrapped in Silence, p. 231f.

Good Friday — Part II

His knees were twisted
drawn athwart the body, quivering
along the black beam laid upon the earth.
He was not still. They held Him, held Him there,
until the long first spasms died, and they
could tighten cords again and stretch His arm,
down to the hand that was not nailed, and pry
the fingers open. She could see. And then
the sound again! The iron, beating iron,
iron beating, and the twist and squirm
and shaken answering in all His form
that lay beneath them. He was nailed in hands.
Forever now. Past restoration. Nailed,
and nailed, and nailed. His hands that could not fall,
nor open. She could see them. Shut in iron,
useless, shattered in two pegs for hanging


She saw them rise and stand aside to look
on Him. Aye, He was nailed. He would not move
much from the brace He made against the wood.
They'd set Him well, and He was shod and gloved
with iron on His feet and on His hands
for the remaining time He might endure.
They were assured of that. And one of them
stooped down to post a writing over Him
that He might keep His claim and keep His crime.


She did not turn
away. The one thing that we know of her
is this: she did not turn away, not fail
before Him for an instant. It is not
recorded that she wept or asked a pity.
It has not been writ of her she languished,
crushed and broken, on a drawing length
of hours when He stared above their heads,
and felt His warm blood spurting at the nails.
She stood beside His cross. John tells us that.
She stood, and spoke no word. And He could find
her there, unflinching, statured by the long
preparing —grown to this— and strong enough
to meet His last need and to wear her last 
tremendous majesty.
She was His mother.
What she'd given Him was broken now,
and scourged, and spiked upon a beam; and soon
He'd be bereft of Bethlehem, and she
would see her life fade out of Him, and all
her giving move to darkness and an end.
He was her birth, but now no angels came,
nor shepherds climbed to find Him at her hands.
They'd gone away. But she'd not gone away.
She still was His —to bear Him unto death.
This was not time as she had waited Him,
and felt Him move within her as a burden
quickening to nearer infancy,
to lift her soul to awe and make of time
but sheltered song and quiet virgin prayer.
She was not trembling now in fragile gladness,
waiting life and dreaming to a day
when she might hold Him breathing at her breast.
He hung there, over her, outstretched, and stiffened
streaked in running red, and terrible
for wounds. His feet were held, and agonies 
of torsion moving down His body ended
helplessly. And she was waiting Him.
Oh, not the limpid song and eager praise,
oh, not for cries that living should be His:
she was a woman, cryless, wrapped in time
that in this dark expectancy would give
Him to His death.

John W. Lynch, A Woman Wrapped in Silence, p. 225f; 229-231

Good Friday — Part I

"When approaching the great feast days, don't go quoting your own thoughts.  People don't want your drivel.  Give them Classics, give them the Masters, give them real beauty."
—a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln

We have grown so used
to looking on a crucifix.  We’ve seen
so many crosses: delicate and cut
in ivory, and holding up the white
Christ placed in all proportion.  We have seen
so much of symmetry and carven wood,
and we have come so many times to find
Him in a shrine.  We’ve worn this on our breasts
and clung to it —have gone to sleep beneath
it for a prayer— and walked again.  And we
have know Him crucified.  His head is upright,
and He stands upon a solid ledge
with arms extended, and with dignity.
And it is good.  Aye, it is good for us
to shape Him thus in meaning, and to leave
the stark remembrance covered in the years—
as once the darkness closed upon a plainer
sight.  We could not bear to see, no more
than others, older, nearer to His day,
could bear the naked horror of a cross.
They could not look upon a crucifix
so easily —His first of followers—
they could not look: for in their lifetime, they
had seen men nailed.  Beyond a city’s gate,
along a road, they’d seen them; bodies broken,
stretched and drawn and taut upon a stake
and a crossbar; nailed to it, and reddened, writhing,
like a raw scar cut against the sky.
They’d seen them: twisted, sinking of their own
weight pulled upon the nails, with tongues extended,
heads that swung in torture side to side,
that lifted up and cried for death in babbled
spurts of sound.  They’d seen them.  They had seen
men nailed.  This was a death that Romans gave
to slaves.  This was a death that held contempt
and pain and shame — all fastened into one
great spreading gesture, set and bleeding there.
And this was His death, done to Him upon
a hill, and they could not be quick in looking…
even on a sign.

John W. Lynch, A Woman Wrapped in Silence, p. 223f.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Prepping for Holy Thursday's Quiet Prayer Time

So, you wanna spend some time with Jesus on Holy Thursday night?  Of course, unlike His loser buddies, the apostles, you intend to stay awake and pray.  But how should you spend that time?  Maybe this is the first year you've decided to check out this unique prayer opportunity.  Or maybe you “stop in for a visit” regularly but praying for an hour, a half hour, or even ten minutes solid is a situation where you don't quite feel like you're "doing it right".  Well, here are some ideas for meditations, right after a brief explanation of Holy Thursday night.

Holy Thursday is the memorial and re-presentation of the Last Supper and the events that followed for Jesus and the apostles. It has, since my teenage years, been my favorite Mass of the year.  When Mass begins, the tabernacle is empty and the sanctuary lamp is out.  The Eucharist has not yet come to be; Jesus will give it this night.  We are "in" the 13th day of the month of Nisan.  To this day, Jews speak of their being "in" the night of Passover and of "having passed through" the Red Sea.  So it is for us; we are "in" the Upper Room— confused and in awe as Jesus subtly re-writes the beginning third of the New Passover: the meal.  Friday, He will change the sacrifice.  And on the third day, He'll give new meaning to passing from slavery and death to freedom and life.  Tonight, He will wash the feet of the apostles, and so the priest washes the feet of twelve men.  Tonight, He will give out to us the Body that will be given up for us tomorrow.  He'll pass around the Blood that'll be poured out tomorrow.  But, within minutes of our receiving Communion, Jesus will be on the move, as He was that night too.  The Supper ended swiftly and they departed, singing a psalm of praise as they hiked to Gethsemane.  We process with the Eucharist through the church singing Pange Lingua (Thomas Aquinas' hymn whose last two verses are the hymn Down in Adoration Falling which we know from Benediction).  The one vessel of Jesus' Body is then taken elsewhere, usually downstairs, and nestled among flowers and greenery.  As He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested, so there we can pray until midnight, when the Bridegroom will be "taken away" as He was two thousand years ago.  

Meditation Ideas

1) Read one, or several, chapters of John 13-17.

These are the Last Supper discourses.  They begin with the foot washing and go through dinner and onto the road to Gethsemane.  They culminate in the “High Priestly Prayer”— John, chapter 17.  If you just want a sweet, one chapter sample, go with 14 or 15.

2) Read Pope Benedict’s homily from WYD 2005.

If you want B-16 depth and clarity with a “youth homily” touch, try: Pope Benedict's homily at WYD in Cologne

“What is happening? How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood?
  By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love.  What on the outside is simply brutal violence—the Crucifixion—from within, becomes an act of total self-giving love.”  
—Papa B.,WYD 2005

3) Read "A Meditation Before the Blessed Sacrament"

This beautiful dialogue of Jesus inviting the person in prayer to open up and speak familiarly to Him about her worries and intentions is one of the best introductions to prayer ever.  Fr. Tim Alkire introduced my friends and me to it in our youth.  Take your time.  Spend fifteen to thirty minutes on it.  Answer honestly.  You'll come out with a new sense of closeness to Jesus.  I don't know if anyone knows who wrote it, but I'm including the sources I've seen for its distribution.

MY CHILD, you need not know much in order to please Me; only love Me dearly.  Speak to Me as you would talk to your mother, if she had taken you in her arms.  Have you no one to recommend to Me?  Tell Me the names of your relations, of your friends; after each name, add what you wish Me to do for them.  Ask a great deal: I love generous hearts that forget themselves for others. 

TELL me about the poor whom you want to help, the sick whom you have seen suffer, the sinner whom you would convert, the persons who are alienated from you, and whose affections you wish to win back.  For all, recite a fervent prayer. Remind Me that I have promised to grant every prayer that comes from the heart; and surely the prayers are heartfelt which we say for those whom we love, and who love us. 

HAVE you no favors to ask for yourself?  Write, if you like, a long list of all your withes-- all the needs of your soul-- and come and read it to Me.  Tell Me simply how self-indulgent you are, how proud, how touchy, how selfish, how cowardly, how idle; ask Me to help you to improve.  Poor child I do not blush!  There are in heaven many saints who had the same faults as you; they prayed to Me, and, little by little, they were cured. 

DO not hesitate to ask for the goods of body and mind-- for health, for memory, for success, I can give everything, and I always give when the gifts would make souls more holy.  What do you want today, My child? Oh, if you knew how I long to do you good! 

HAVE you no plans to interest you!  Tell me all about them.  Do they concern your vocation! What do you think of!  What would you like? Are you planning some pleasure for your mother, for your family, for your guardian?  What do you wish to do for them! 

AND have you no thoughts of zeal for Me?  Are you not anxious to do a little good for the souls of your friends, for those whom you love, and who, perhaps, forget Me?  Tell Me who interests you, what motives urge you, what means you wish to take. 

CONFIDE to Me your failures, I will show you the cause.  Whom do you wish to see interested in your work?  I am the Master of all hearts, My child, and I lead them gently where I please.  I will place about you those who are necessary to you; never fear. 

HAVE you nothing to annoy you?  My child, tell Me your annoyances, with every detail.  Who has pained you?  Who has wounded your self-love?  Who has treated you contemptuously?  Tell Me all and then say that you forgive and forget; and I will give you My blessing. 

DO you dread something painful?  Is there in your soul a vague fear which seems unreasonable and yet torments you?  Trust fully in My providence.  I am here, I see everything; I will not leave you. 

ARE there about you friends who seem less kind than formerly, who neglect you through indifference or forgetfulness, without Your having consciously done anything to wound them?  Pray for them, and I will restore them to you, if their companionship is good for you. 

HAVE you no joys to tell Me?  Why not confide to Me your pleasures?  Tell Me what has happened since yesterday to console you, to make you look happy, to give you joy.  An unexpected visit has done you good; a fear has been suddenly dispelled; you have met with unlooked-for success; you have received some mark of affection-- a letter, a present; some trial has left you stronger than you supposed.  All these things, My child, I obtained for you.  Why are you not grateful?  Why do you not say "I thank you"?  Gratitude draws benefits, and the benefactor loves to be reminded of his bounty. 

HAVE you no promises to make Me?  You know I read the very bottom of your heart.  Men are deceived, but not God; be frank. 

ARE you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray-- not to read that book which wrongly excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul?  Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you! 

WELL, My child, go now and resume your daily work. Be silent, be honest, be patient, be charitable, love very much the Blessed Mother of Jesus; and tomorrow bring Me a heart even more devoted and loving.  Tomorrow I shall have new favors for you. 

Kingdom Press 
809 McPherson Ave. 
Cincinnati, OH 45205

4) Read some parts of Holy Thursday, by François Mauriac

It is entirely possible that Mauriac is the best writer I've ever read.  He writes prose that rolls like poetry.  He takes huge ideas and makes them reasonable to children.  He draws awe and wrings your heart.  He's a realist about life, but a romantic about love.  Here are some samples of his brief book about this beautiful night for your meditation benefit. 
[These are in book-order.  My personal favorites are: A, E, F, H, I, L.]

A.) The anniversary of that evening when the small Host arose on a world sleeping in darkness should fill us with joy. But that very night was the one when the Lord Jesus was delivered up. His best friends could still taste the Bread in their mouths and they were going to abandon Him, to deny Him, to betray Him. And we also, on Holy Thursday, can still taste in our mouths this Bread that is no longer bread; we have not finished adoring this Presence in our bodies, the inconceivable humility of the Son of God, when we have to rise hastily to follow Him to the garden of agony.

We should like to tarry, to see on His shoulder the place where St. John's forehead rested, to relive in spirit this moment in the history of the world when a piece of bread was broken in deep silence, when a few words sufficed to seal the new alliance of the Creator with His creature. […]

But the Mass is already finished; we must enter the darkness of the Garden; it is impossible to give joy a single minute more. For it pleased the Lord to institute the Eucharist on the very night He was betrayed. This mystery was accomplished at the very moment when His body was to be broken like the bread, when His blood was to be shed like the wine. Without doubt, it was necessary that the small Host should arise on the world at that moment, in those shadows in which the traitor had already betrayed, in which Caiaphas's people were plotting their crime.

B.) Only once during His public life had the Lord spoken openly of the marvel conceived from all eternity by His love. He remembered how much this revelation had cost Him and knew how many should had forsaken Him that day. At the synagogue, in Capernaum (St. John relates) had been uttered strange, scandalous words. Not only the Jews but also the disciples objected in these words: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" At first they had not understood, and when Jesus had said, "The bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world," they had interrupted Him, begging Him always to give them of this bread. At that moment, it seems that the Lord made so bold as to lift up a corner of the veil. "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst." Already the furious Jews murmured against Him because He dared to say that He was the living bread —this man, Joseph's son, whose father and mother they knew.

Everything then happened as if Christ, seeing that there was no longer any reason to spare them, would deliver His secret at once and throw the inconceivable challenge to human reason. "I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and have died. This is the bread that comes down from Heaven. If anyone eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

And as from the stupefied and divided crowd arose the question that reasonable people will keep on asking until the end of the world ("How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"), Jesus overwhelmed them with reiterated, insistent, irritating affirmations. It was necessary to shout it. The lukewarm people would leave; the timid ones would be troubled: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day."

The mystery of Holy Thursday had therefore been foretold that very day before the whole synagogue at Capernaum. And from that moment, according to the Gospel, several disciples withdrew and they no longer followed Jesus. Being for every man the touchstone of faith and love, the Eucharist, like the Cross, divided minds as soon as it was announced.

Jesus must have seen those who withdrew, and not only these few, poor, hard-hearted Jews, but with them all those who were to be scandalized by this mystery throughout the ages. Jesus must have numbered among them the philosophers and the scientists who believe only in what they see; and the mockers, the blasphemers who, from century to century, would fight, with unrelenting animosity, the small silent Host, the defenseless Lamb.

When the renegades had withdrawn, Jesus was left alone with the twelve apostles. Then He asked them this question, and it seems that our ears can still hear His supplicating tone: "Do you also wish to go away?"  Thus, until the end of time, the Creator will plead with His creatures.

C.) This explains the mysterious mingling of conflicting feelings in the man who is about to receive Holy Communion: fear and confidence, open-heartedness and remorse, shame and love.  The small Host which the sinner approaches throws an impartial and terrible light on irretrievable deeds: on that which he has done, on that which he should not have refrained from doing.  No man knows himself if he has not looked at his soul in the light of the Host lifted above the ciborium.  In that moment, the Church, sublimely inspired, puts on the lips of the priest and the faithful the words of the Centurion: "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" — a prayer that has been answered since the first day when Christ heard it in Capernaum.

D.) It is useless to know on which side peace is, for our miserable hearts love peace only when they are overcome by suffering.  Hardly has the Lord cured them when they long to avail themselves of their renewed strength to venture again on the high seas.  "The peace of God which surpasses all understanding": an incomprehensible text for young hearts ever eager for adventure, but a text that man meditates upon in his maturity without ever exhausting its substance."

E.) The twelve apostles are the first twelve priests; Judas is the first bad priest. They were themselves so keenly conscious of being no longer men like others that their first task, after Jesus had disappeared from their sight, was to replace the traitor, Judas: "Therefore, of these men who have been in our company all the time that the Lord Jesus moved among us, from John's baptism until the day that He was taken up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of His resurrection." "And the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."  

Now they are ordained, the first members of an innumerable family.  Holiness entered the world with Christ. The Church is holy and what matters to us the wretchedness of individuals, their falls, their betrayals? "The great glory of the Church," writes Jacques Maritain, "is to be holy with sinning members."

The grace of Holy Thursday will be transmitted unto the end of time, unto the last of the priests who will celebrate the last Mass in a shattered universe. Holy Thursday created these men; a mark was stamped on them; a sign was given to them. They are like to us, and yet so different—a fact never more surprising than in this pagan age.  People say that there is a scarcity of priests. In truth, what an adorable mystery it is that there still are any priests. They no longer have any human advantage. Celibacy, solitude, hatred very often, derision and, above all, the indifference of a world in which there seems to be no longer room for them-such is the portion they have chosen. They have no apparent power; their task sometimes seems to be centered about material things, identifying them, in the eyes of the masses, with the staffs of town halls and of funeral parlors. A pagan atmosphere prevails all around them. The people would laugh at their virtue if they believed in it, but they do not. They are spied upon. A thousand voices accuse those who fall. As for the others, the greater number, no one is surprised to see them toiling without any sort of recognition, without appreciable salary, bending over the bodies of the dying or ambling about the parish schoolyards.

F.) But if they did not find their joy even in this world, would they persevere?  "What are you going to do?" said Abbe Perreyve to Christ, the day before he was ordained, "You are delivering Yourself; You are abandoning Yourself to me. You surrender Your Body to me. I shall use it for my needs and for the needs of other souls.... I shall touch You, I shall carry You, I shall handle You and You will allow me to do it; I shall place You on the lips of whom I will; You will never refuse...." Indeed, priests, holy priests, are repaid by an immense love.  

[I put this quote on the back of the holy card for my Ordination in 2005.]

G.) Each verse which is chanted during the ceremony of the washing of the feet affirms the new law is to change the world, the law of love, unknown to antiquity: “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And furthermore: “So, there abide faith, hope, and charity, these three; and the greatest of these is charity.”  And finally: “Where charity and love are, God is also there.”  Nothing is less congenial than this love to the nature of man.  Since Holy Thursday, the charity of Christ has been making its way painfully against human cruelty.  Men used it for selfish purposes, even when they pretended to adopt it.  Love flourishes only in Christ.

Foolishness, St. Paul himself calls it.  Truly, it is a folly of love that Holy Thursday spreads in the world, but it meets with opposition that will end only with the world.  Paganism, apparently conquered (and even at that, only in one part of the planet), survives in its lowest forms in every living heart.  But it is, above all, limited human reason which struggles against the fire that Christ came to light during the night between Thursday and Friday.  Such reason fights against Him with all its might.  […]  The worshippers of he Sacred Heart claim that they rely on the reasons of the heart which reason ignores.  “The heart has its order; the mind has its.”  To Pilate who asks “What is truth?” Christ does not give any answer.  The state official, the serious and important man, could not understand.

H.) But even those who speak of this stumbling block with most hatred and fear do not know anything about it.  They are almost as puzzled by this enigmas the chief priests and rulers who ravaged the first little Galilean church.  The secret of Holy Thursday is spread over the whole world, but nevertheless it remains impenetrable to those outside.  One must be of it; one must be incorporated in it; one must be part of the vine; one must be among the branches.

Why do young girls accept the ascetic life of the Carmelites, of the Poor Clares?  Why do strong young men choose a scorned black robe, the sign of chastity and renunciation?  What motivates them?  Why do men and women suddenly stop in the midst of a dissipated life and turn from their evil ways?  And those who used to enjoy nothing but uncleanness become anxious to be pure in every one of their thoughts?

I.) Jacques Rivière says: “No other religion every used love as an intermediary between the faithful and his God; love with its tremendous disturbances, with its extravagant logic, with the confusion it puts in the soul.”  One should add, “love, with its flashing light, with the self-knowledge which suddenly awakens the soul and keeps it, as it were, standing on watch, on guard—love which compels one to remain armed, always ready, because the Bridegroom is at the door.”

Holy Thursday’s mystery of love gives strength to the weak, daring to cowards, freedom to slaves, nobility to vile individuals, purity to the debased, mercy to the implacable.  To all, it unveils both the wretchedness of human pride and the tremendous power of heroic humility.

J.) The blood of the paschal lamb was to be “put on both the side posts and on the upper door posts” in order that the death-dealing angel would recognize the houses of those who were to be spared.  In the same way, the blood of Jesus Christ is put upon us: after we have received Communion, the gate of our heart is dripping with the blood which wards off the evil spirit.

K.) [St. Thomas Aquinas said in his last words of adoration on receiving his last Communion:] “I receive Thee, price of my redemption, viaticum of my pilgrimage, for love of whom I have studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached, and taught.  Never have I said aught against Thee; if I have done so, it was through ignorance and I do not persist in my intention, and if I have done anything ill, I leave the whole to the correction of the Roman Church.  In that obedience, I depart from this life.”

L.) The God who, as the psalmist said, built His tabernacle in the sun, now establishes Himself in the very core of the flesh and the blood.  The ineffable union is nevertheless accomplished, and not only with the most holy souls but with the humblest sinners, when they are forgiven.  Thus the foolish demand of human desire is at once purified and satisfied.  “When enraptured by human love,” writes Bossuet, “who does not know that men consume themselves, that they waste themselves, that they wish they could mingle and embody their own substance in the very substance of the loved one?  As the poet said, they wish they could ravish even with their teeth what they love—in order to possess it, to feed on it, to unite with it, to live by it.”

M.) Just as the world makes us gradually men of the world, so, too, frequent Communion refashions our souls.  The Eagle hollows out in our being a nest commodious to Himself.  He impresses therein the shape He loves to repose in: the shape of His own body.  Thus shaped—or rather transformed—our heart will conform itself less and less to the demands of outward things.  But, irresolute a he may be, will not he who has known the ardent silence of the Eucharist conclude by leaving to God the final word?