Free E-Book Offer This Week Only

My Kindle book “The Way of The Cross” is on free offer from Amazon this week (8th February 2016 – 12 the February 2016) . Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.Here’s something to aid contemplation.

Find it here on the UK site

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00U1JYB9G?keywords=Joseph%20McGrath&qid=1454782879&ref_=sr_1_4&sr=8-4

 

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The Way of the Cross – Fourteenth Station

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb.

Jesus burial

The fourteenth station on the Way of The Cross marks the end of the journey in the traditional ‘Stations’. It has become common nowadays to have a fifteenth station, The Resurrection. That’s where we will finish our journey next month. The fourteenth station is when Jesus is laid in the tomb. There is nothing surprising about that. Being laid in a tomb or grave marks the end of human life, something we all have before us.

It is the manner in which Jesus is laid in the tomb that raises questions in my mind. As we saw last month, the fact that Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross rather than being left as a warning to others was unusual. Because of the oncoming Sabbath he was hurriedly placed in the tomb, but the Jewish authorities had a stone rolled in front of the tomb and a guard detachment placed there.

I assumed this was done to thwart any attempt of his followers to remove the body and claim that he had been resurrected. However, Jesus’ foretelling of his resurrection was worded as ‘this temple’ and the people assumed he meant the Temple in Jerusalem. This was used against him at his trial. I wondered what the Jewish attitude to resurrection was.

After some research I discovered that the Jewish religion was divided on the idea of resurrection. People could believe there would be life after death or not. The Pharisees believed in resurrection but the Sadducees did not. Some believed in some forms of reincarnation. Whatever version they subscribed to, the Jews believed that any resurrection would only be in the time of the Messiah.

Perhaps some in authority might have had second thoughts about Jesus and hoped to shut him in the tomb if he did come back to life as Lazarus did. Whatever the truth of this supposition, I believe Jesus focussed minds of the Jewish people on death and what comes after.

For us this station is a reminder that we will certainly leave this world. This has been a central part of Christian belief and practice. We are welcomed into the Church at our baptism. The ceremony of baptism has been modified and changed over the centuries. John the Baptist baptised in the river. Early Christians were also baptised by immersion. Early churches had a pool for an immersive baptism. I believe there are still some examples in existence today.

The immersion in the water represented death and rising out of the water represented rebirth. We died to our old life and were reborn into a new life with Christ. At baptism we reject Satan and dedicate ourselves to Christ. I was very young at my baptism and remember none of it. Most of us experienced baptism as an infant so we missed the significance.

It is as adults that we have to look again at baptism and realise what promises were made on our behalf. We are promised to Christ and the values he taught. We are required to renounce the values of the world and materialism. That’s a difficult thing to do. How do we know what we can accept and what to reject in today’s world? It can be difficult to reject values which are normally accepted in our society. The Church’s attitude to sexual behaviour was scorned in the sixties and seventies. We were stuck in the past and needed to get up to date.

The recent scandals where cases of historical sexual abuse have hit the headlines are really a symptom of the lax attitude to sexual behaviour our society accepted. When pop stars and celebrities come to trial you won’t hear any mention of the Church’s teaching but we know it was and is right. We have to live our lives according to Gospel values whether that brings us into conflict with wider society or not.

This new life in Christ does not last forever on earth. The time comes when we too will be laid in the tomb as we pass from this life to the next. This station is a reminder of that and the fact that it will happen all too soon. I was recently at a hospital for an MIR scan. The hospital in Clydebank was a beautiful place and the doctors and staff were friendly and welcoming. Pleasant as this was it did not really prepare you for going into the scanner.

I lay in the machine as it buzzed and clanked, classical music playing through the earphones. When the scan was completed and I opened my eyes all I saw was the top of the tube I was in. It reminded me of Sean Connery waking up in a coffin in a James Bond film. Just for an instant I looked at the ‘coffin lid’ and wondered, “Is this what it will be like?”

The fourteenth station reminds us that the end could be sooner than we think. I was once asked what I would do if I was told I only had a short time to live. It is a difficult question to answer. Some people say they would visit places they had never seen. Some would spend all their money. Others, more thoughtfully, would visit friends and relations they had not seen for a long time.

I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that if I’m really living a Christian life, using my time for the coming of the Kingdom, then that’s what I should continue to do. If you are doing what God wants you to do then get on with it. On the other hand if you are not doing what you think you should do at the end of your time here then perhaps it’s time to start.

I suppose we should live every day as if it might be our last. In our fourteen stations we have seen that Jesus was welcomed by the crowds into Jerusalem and before the week was out he was executed. It made me thing about what I do with my time. If I die tomorrow will I have regrets, things I’ve left undone or will I have the satisfaction of having tried to live my life as Christ expected?

Now this is traditionally the last station on the Way of the cross, but there are modern variations which regard the fourteenth station as unfinished business. There are churches where there is a fifteenth station. The Way only finished at fourteen for those who had missed the message. It is not the end of the road.

We are now all on our Lenten road, striving for spiritual growth by our sacrifices and prayer. I’m back to giving up drink because I found it impossible to give up coffee. I hope you are all finding something uplifting in your Lenten works and feel the benefit at Easter. The last station will be in the Easter edition of the paper, time to contemplate what we have achieved on our Lenten Way of The Cross.

Joseph McGrath

The Thirteenth Station Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

Christ on the cross

What’s so strange about removing a corpse?

 

This is the station I have been worried about. What is there to say about it? Of course Jesus is taken down from the cross, that’s what we would expect, isn’t it? What more is there to say? What message can we take from this station? Well actually there might be more to this than first appears. The Romans used crucifixion, not only as an execution but as a warning to others. The bodies were usually left to hang on the cross, visible to all who travelled into the city. This would terrify anybody who was thinking about opposing the mighty Roman army. Anybody seeing the decaying corpses would think twice and probably keep their thoughts to themselves.

In this case the body of Jesus was released that very afternoon. He was not to be left hanging as a warning to others. This seems to break the tradition of Roman crucifixion. According to the Gospel of John,

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night time.

John 19: 38, 39

 

I noticed that only John mentions Nicodemus in his account. The other three evangelists say nothing about him. I’ll come back to that later. If it was the custom to leave the bodies to rot on the cross why did Pilate readily agree to Joseph’s request? Why did the Jews not object? There’s more to this than meets the eye.

What happened at the death of Jesus that seems to have caused this change of heart? Looking back we see that when Jesus died on the cross there were great signs. Matthew recounts them.

At that, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked; the rocks were split; the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead.

Matthew 27: 51, 53

I think it is fair to say that people knew that something terrible had happened. The centurion is quoted as saying “In truth this was a son of God.” Even the heathens knew that this was no normal execution. I wonder how those responsible felt about their part in this when they saw those signs? Pilate of course had been warned by his wife and was reluctant to become involved. His hand washing at the pavement was his attempt to avoid any blame.

Have you ever had an instance of a child breaking an ornament and then hiding it under the sofa, pretending it had never happened? I think the authorities were behaving like that. The removal of the body, hiding it in the tomb was their denial. They were anxious to have the whole business forgotten, swept under the carpet. Of course we know now that that is not what happened. Things took an entirely different course altogether.

The apostles seem to have been in shock. This was not what they had expected. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before seemed to promise a great future for Jesus and for them. Now they were in hiding and everything seemed to have come to nothing. Peter, who had been made the head of the Church by Jesus had denied his master and was riven with guilt. The ‘Church’ was in disarray.

This is where Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus come in. We met Nicodemus earlier in the gospel story. He had come to Jesus in the night. He was a prominent Jew who came to believe in Jesus. He came out of darkness into light. Joseph of Arimathaea is said to be a secret believer. He was afraid to show his belief for fear of what the Jews might do to him. In the story so far they are nobodies. They have no prominence.

Now, when it all seems to be falling apart, it is these men who step forward and take charge of the body of Jesus. It is they who place Jesus in the tomb. This would normally be something a family would see to. In a sense we are seeing a new definition of family. Joseph and Nicodemus step up and ensure that God’s plan will proceed.

The authorities would have expected the execution of Jesus to scare off any followers of Jesus and, as we see in the case of the apostles, it worked. Strangely enough it was the people who had been afraid before who now acted. We see a transformation in those who, like Joseph and Nicodemus, had been afraid but now put their fear behind them. The crucifixion had strengthened their faith rather than destroy it.

This is something I had not realised before. When the Church was in its first crisis it was not the apostles who pulled it together but just ordinary followers. That rang a bell with me. The Church in Scotland found itself in a crisis again recently when the Cardinal admitted some wrongdoing. The media appeared outside the cathedral in Edinburgh to ask the Catholics coming out of mass how their faith had been affected by the revelations. I remember two Edinburgh ladies explaining that their faith had not been shaken at all. Their faith was in God, not in any of the priests, bishops or cardinals of the Church. In the days that followed ordinary Catholics rallied and showed that the Church is still the Church started by Jesus no matter what foolishness we humans bring to it.

So the message for me in this station is in the nature of a question. What kind of follower am I? When things get difficult and the Church is held up to ridicule what is my reaction? Am I tempted to shut myself away from it all? Perhaps I’m the kind of Catholic who might like to distance myself from it all. Perhaps I’ll find myself saying that I’ve always had my doubts and now I can see how wrong we were.

On the other hand I might be the kind of Catholic who sees the Church as my home. Am I the sort of Catholic who sees the Church as something made up of people rather than an organisation that I can join while it suits me? I hope I see myself as part of the family that is the Church. I hope I’m the sort of Catholic who smiles when he listens to people who say the Church should share out all its wealth with the poor; a smile because the wealth of the Church is the faith of its people. I’ve been lucky enough to witness that treasure being shared out to the poorest people in the world by priests, nuns and many lay people. It is those who give of themselves, not those who only give some money who are sharing out the treasure of the Church.

The message in this station is easy to ignore. We can just Look up at the image of Mary holding the lifeless body of her son, recite “I love you Jesus, my love above all things.” and then move on to the next station. Perhaps, though, we might pause and ask ourselves whether we would join with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea and keep God’s plan on track. They found themselves in the most difficult of times and found their faith strengthened. Perhaps these difficult times will strengthen our faith.

 

Joseph McGrath

The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The Sixth Station

Veronica Wipes The Face of Jesus

 

This month I’m looking at the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. This is a really puzzling station. In our story of Jesus men seem to get the main parts. Peter gets to be the head of the Church. John gets called the beloved. You can understand how people see the Church as a man’s world with women in the back ground. I’ll not get into the discussion on woman’s place in the Church, not today anyway.

 

This station gives us pause for thought if we think women have no prominence in our story. We have been considering the final journey of Jesus as he walked to his death. The scene is one of brutality, oppression and fear. Where are Jesus’ faithful companions? One of them has betrayed him and the others have run off. Jesus is struggling under the weight of the cross, his loss of blood so weakening him that Simon has been pressganged in to assist him. The crowd is shouting abuse and the guards are pushing them back. Into the middle of this Veronica forces her way through the crowd, ignores the guards and places a towel on the holy face. The face is streaked with blood from the wounds on his head. Veronica absorbs the blood on the towel to give a little comfort to Jesus. As she is pushed away she is left with the imprint of the holy face in blood.

 

I have no scriptural evidence for this but it is traditional. It is interesting to note that the name Veronica comes from the Greek icon meaning image and the Latin vero meaning true; the true image. The tradition seems to have come from the Eastern Church and became popular in the Roman rite about a thousand years ago. I’m more concerned about the message this story has for me than the history.

 

The first thing that strikes me is the courage displayed by Veronica. Many Jews had become followers of Jesus, some of them prominent like Nicodemus. Yet even prominent men were afraid to come forward to intercede. It was this lone woman who broke through the crowd and ignored the soldiers to bring some small relief to Jesus. The amazing thing is that she got away with it. Why did she act in this way?

 

I have no doubt that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There lies the first message. When the Holy Spirit moves you, you have nothing to fear. You will succeed. Now I had always imagined that the Holy Spirit would act through the Apostles, their successors in the Church and the saints. Veronica was just a wee wummin as they might say in Glasgow. She was not one of the elite; a bit like you and me. The message is clear. Be prepared to act as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As ordinary people we can and will be called upon to act.

 

It may not be in a dramatic way like Veronica but in a small way. It might be to give that kind word to a stranger that gives them encouragement to carry on in a difficult situation or you might be moved to speak out against an injustice. The words just come to you. I remember Magnus MacFarlane Barrow describing how he came to found Mary’s Meals. He was just an ordinary young man, too shy to continue his university course who found himself starting a charity. He didn’t recognise what was happening at first but when he did he followed the Spirit. You know the rest.

 

The second message I get from this station is about the role of women in the Church. Not just women but all of us ordinary people. Critics of the Church often point out that we are a church of men and women are only good for making the tea. I think that is to fail to see how the Church works. It is true that our priests are men and the hierarchy is exclusively male. However, the vast bulk of the Church is not comprised of clergy and religious.

 

The Spirit acts through all of us. I think of the hierarchy as the management, the priests as specialists who alone can bring us to Christ through the Eucharist and the rest of us as the workforce whose job it is to get on with the work. The Church is not a club we join, pay our dues and draw the benefits. The Church is a way of life, new life in Christ.

 

Now I can hear the voice of reason tut tutting in the background. That’s all very well but we have lives to lead, families to look after, work to go to. We live in this society and we must fit in. We go to mass; we say our prayers. What more do you want?

 

I’ll let Veronica answer that. I’m sure she prayed and fulfilled all the requirements of the Jewish faith. Veronica did not stop there and she certainly did not fit in. She didn’t just stand out from the crowd; she elbowed her way through it. Do I stand out from the crowd or do I just try to blend in so that nobody will notice me? Veronica has shown us a great example. What she did was just a simple thing, mopping the face of a man in pain. The thing is, she did it publicly, her actions in stark contrast to the baying of the crowd. We don’t need to fight the world, we just need to be seen to live as Christ taught us and be a living example for those who don’t share our values. It takes a little courage to stand out. Where could I find the strength to live like that? I’ll have to double my prayers to the Holy Spirit.

 

The last message I see in this station is about the image that was left on the cloth Veronica used. At school I learned that Jesus left this image of his face as a reward for Veronica’s kindness. As Christians we are all seeking the face of Jesus. There are all sorts of pictures made by great artists but none of them is the real face. It’s not uncommon for great leaders to have their face shown to everyone. Kings, queens and presidents all have their image in the newspapers and on television.

 

Jesus is not going to appear on the box one night as we sit down to watch the news. If we want to see his face we must seek it out. I feel I need to take a leaf out of her book. I should be living my life as a true follower of Christ. If Christ’s teaching is at odds with the norms of my society then my life should reflect his teaching and be seen to do so. Do I meet the beggar is the same way Christ did? Do I speak out against falsehood and wrongdoing?

 

Perhaps if I try to live more like Christ and see people as he did, not just strangers but fellow children of God, loved by God just as much as I am, then I might just reach my goal and see God, face to face as it were. I’m fairly sure that if I continue to ignore my responsibilities to my neighbour then I might end up seeing a face I’d rather avoid.