Some years ago, I read an article titled “Lord, Who Do You Say That I Am?” The author was asking God who she was. In Scripture Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” The reversal between a human asking God and Jesus asking humans struck me.

The question is a good one for me, because I am not who I was even three months ago. In early April I was a pastoral associate, but by Easter I had lost my job. Two weeks later I had a hip replacement, causing me to wonder “Am I really who I thought I was?” All my life I have been blessed with good health, and suddenly I was using a walker.

While our American culture identifies us by what do, my religious formation emphasizes who we are. Society’s pull often seems greater than that of spiritual writers and mentors. I’ve been a teacher, a liturgist-musician, a pastoral associate, and someone who worked in a retreat center. Now I am almost embarrassed to meet someone, because I can’t find an appropriate noun to complete “I’m ____.” It’s humbling, and humility is good for me. I must believe that this hiatus between jobs and time of recuperation blesses me with an opportunity to be more than I ever realized.

How will I identify myself? I am  ___.  The Blessed Virgin said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Whatever the future will bring I can say with Mary, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”

Mercy is God’s nature. God’s merciful love holds nothing back: “His mercy endures forever.” A wave of mercy is poured out over all humanity. As Saint Faustina quotes God in her diary, “I am love and Mercy itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My Mercy. . . . The soul that trusts in my mercy is most fortunate, because I myself take care of it” (Diary 1273). The Hebrew word that we might translate as “mercy” is hesed, which is best translated as “lovingkindness.”  (Yes, that’s one word.)

The Resurrection accounts show disciples not recognizing the Risen Lord. Thomas doesn’t want to recognize the Lord until he puts his hands into Jesus’ wounds. We know that Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Jesus Christ right away, having mistaken him for the gardener. And the two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize the Lord even after walking some miles with him. All of them unaware, for they were steeped in their own wounds—Thomas’ doubt, Mary Magdalene’s sorrow, and the two disciples’ self-pity.

Perhaps we, too, have wounds that don’t let the recognition of Christ’s presence flood our souls. What are your wounds, and what do you do with your nail marks? Our wounds may be grief, ridicule, failure, feeling used, anger, and so on. We’re feeling a lot of our wounds now, but we have choices about what we do with the nail marks.

Intrepidly Mary Magdalene stands at the empty tomb and asks the question which all of us have probably asked many times in our lives: “Where is the Lord?” But the Risen Lord is in no geographical space like a garden. The Bible account denotes an indwelling, that is, the communion between Jesus and the Father. What Mary Magdalene beholds is Jesus fully revealed as the eternal Christ in embodied form. Jesus’ historical presence has ended in his ascent into the presence of God through his glorification on the cross.             

The fact that the return to the Father has begun may explain why Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus is not so much forbidding touch, but Mary’s selection of the object to touch, namely, the Jesus who stands before her as an individual. What Mary is told not to do is try to continue to touch Jesus, that is, encounter him as if he were the earthly Jesus resuscitated. Jesus is redirecting Mary Magdalene’s desire for union with himself from his earthly body (which in any case no longer exists because it is the glorified Lord who stands before her in a temporary appearance) to the new place of his presence in the world, that is, the community of his brothers and sisters.        

Jesus then gives a commission to Mary Magdalene: “Go to my brothers and sisters and say to them: I ascend to my Father and [who is now] your Father, to my God and [who is now] your God” (20:17). The message is that Jesus’ Father is now truly Father of the disciples who have become Jesus’ sisters and brothers. The return to the Father shows that the Spirit is now handed over to the disciples. In short, the message Jesus entrusts to Mary Magdalene is that all is accomplished and that by his exaltation on the cross Jesus has become the source of the Spirit and of the new covenant to every one of his brothers and sisters, children of the Father and members of the same covenant.            

The line “I am not yet ascended to my Father” might be better translated as “Am I as yet not ascended?” The proper answer would be, “No, you are indeed ascended, that is glorified.” In effect, the Risen Lord is saying, “It is no longer in and through my earthly individuality that you can continue to relate to me. Rather go to the community, the new place of my earthly presence.” In other words, the main message of John’s gospel is not so much “I have risen” but that all has been accomplished. The work of the Word made flesh is completed, and its fruits are available to his disciples. He has returned as he promised to fill them with a joy no one can take from them: “I will not leave you orphans. I am coming to you….On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:18, 20). 

The promise is fulfilled. Alleluia!

Of all the liturgies of the Church Year, the ones that speak to us most dramatically are those of Holy Week. Have you missed waving your palm? How will it feel not to gather on Holy Thursday to witness the procession of oils and spend time at the altar of repose? How our hearts will ache when we cannot kiss the cross on Good Friday! Nor will we experience the thrill of the Easter fire and baptisms.  And Sunday morning…Well, we will sing our Alleluias along with those on our computers and TVs.

Although we won’t be in the church building, the grace of the Paschal Mystery (the whole life of Christ) is always available to us. The Mass we see on our screens is part of the liturgy eternally celebrated in heaven. Vatican II stated “In the earthly liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly liturgy.…” All we need to do is insert ourselves into the sacred mysteries, the heavenly liturgy.  Whether we’re in a church pew or on a couch in front of a TV we can offer ourselves with Jesus. For example, we might offer all our sacrifices of feeling isolated (or being too close) with the eternal sacrifice of Calvary. My metaphor is really bad, but inserting ourselves in the liturgy is something like jumping into a twirling jump rope. The rope (the Paschal Mystery) is always spinning; it’s an eternal reality of Jesus perpetually offering himself to the Father and interceding for us, along with the Father’s acceptance of that sacrifice.  The dying and rising of Jesus (as well as everything else Jesus did during his lifetime) is the Paschal Mystery celebrated and ritualized in every Mass and sacrament. Jump in. Die and rise with Jesus Christ. And receive grace.

Any moment of any day we can spiritually offer ourselves with Christ to the Father—and in turn be accepted by the Father as he accepts his Son. At any moment of any day we can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You’ve probably been making spiritual Communions as you watch Mass at home. Living the Paschal Mystery, inserting ourselves in the eternal, on-going heavenly banquet, can’t be stopped by a stay-home order. Of course, watching a Mass does not take the place of being with the community; however, it makes us aware of those thousands of Catholics around the world who are deprived of weekly Mass for many reasons. As we feel our own loss, let us remember them.

Make every day of Holy Week holy. Create a prayer space with crucifix and candles, read the Passion Narratives, discuss the Last Supper as you eat dinner on Holy Thursday, pray for those to be baptized now or later in the year, remember Jesus’ Easter message of peace and, above all, keep jumping in to the Paschal Mystery.

God doesn’t call us “Hey, you!” God calls each of us by name. To know the name God calls us is the greatest thing you can discover. Assured that there’s a glimpse of God in each of us, let’s start figuring out that name.

            One way to talk about God’s name for us is “personal vocation.” My personal vocation means how I am being a facet of God, how I’m living very particularly an aspect of Christ’s life. It’s a more individual vocation, deeper than Christian vocation or vocation as a married, single, or religious person. Yet my personal vocation animates these other vocations. Your personal vocation (whether you were aware or not) was working in you before, during, and after your vocation as married, single, or religious. It’s what made you discern that state of life as good for you; it’s how you live out that state of life day to day.

            Personal vocation is our motivation; it’s when we feel “all there” and most ourselves. Perhaps it’s when we feel closest to God. Personal vocation means that God calls each of us to be an unrepeatable reflection of God. Mother Teresa’s personal vocation was “Jesus to Jesus.” And we know she was Jesus to others, and she considered everyone to be Jesus. One man named William found his vocation in his name: Will I am, meaning he always aimed to do God’s will.  Jesus’ personal vocation was wrapped up in “Abba,” His Father, as he was continually in communion with his Father.

            In these remaining days of Lent take some significant time in solitude to get in touch with yourself and God’s vocation for you. Who or what am I when I am not producing, pretending, or filling up my day with noise? Might you discover the unique gift you can bestow on the world? You will become a more ardent disciple of Christ. You will encounter the very source of your being. 

Harold Ivan Smith wrote: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words . . . may get stuck in the corridors of my memory.” I bet every reader can recall words that challenged them to greatness. Maybe a coach or teacher said, “You’ll be great!”—just four words inspiring extra hours of practice or study resulting in future accomplishments. I can also bet that you remember hurtful words that still pain you to this day.

Whether you text, phone, email, or speak face-to-face today, choose your words wisely. Let their positive effects ripple out.  We are all extensions of the Risen Lord, members of his Body, followers of the Word of God, the Logos. What would Jesus Christ want us to say?

As we watch television, read news or hear from our friends and relatives, we know of persons who have recently died. The number of sick who have died from the virus without the comfort of family is staggering. Multiplied exponentially is the number of persons grieving the death of their loved ones. Multiply again, and we are aware of thousands of more persons for whom grief never completely leaves.

To all in grief, be aware that grief is not predictable. Grief may be a chronic pain, or it may occur unexpectedly. It has no beginning and no end date. Nor should we feel pressured to “get over it.”

Let us pray for those who have died in this pandemic, as well as their mourners. Let us offer the sacrifices of our isolation or inconvenience, as well as our own grief, for them. May the Sorrowful Mother intercede for all of us. She understands.

Joan Rivers said, “No matter how trapped in the Krazy Glue of life you may be feeling, you can get unstuck. My favorite way is to make a list of all that I have to be thankful for.”

Every night when I turn off the light I lay my head on the pillow and begin thinking about the happenings of the day for which I am grateful. I try to remember the one for which I am most grateful, a trick that reminds me of several other things. The list gets longer as I fall asleep in the process. I trust that gratitude is the Goo-Gone that wipes out the problems of the day.

    If you have read today’s Gospel for Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent, you saw Jesus’ life-saving forgiveness and kindness toward the woman caught in adultery. Her horror of facing death by stoning was transformed into grateful relief, as the accusers slunk away and Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”

     Have you noticed that during his journey to the cross, the only people whom Jesus addresses are women? Traditional stations suggest Jesus met his blessed Mother and Veronica. Although we have no recorded words, it’s easy to imagine the gazes of compassion between Jesus and his mother and with Veronica. As he meets the women of Jerusalem, Jesus feels the pain that will be theirs when Jerusalem is destroyed.

     Another story about a woman occurred two days before Passover when the chief priests were plotting to arrest Jesus. Jesus was at a meal at a house of Simon the leper. A woman poured an alabaster jar of nard on Jesus’ head. Though onlookers scolded the woman for the waste, Jesus appreciated her kindness. He said, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Mk. 14:8-9) Three paragraphs later in Mark’s gospel we read of the institution of the Eucharist. Unlike the institution of the Eucharist in Luke that includes “Do this in remembrance of me” there is no request about remembering Jesus in Mark’s gospel. Instead the reader is asked to remember the deed of the woman. Service and Eucharist are inseparable, as seen again in John’s gospel when there is no record of the institution of the Eucharist; instead we read about humble service in washing feet.

     You are probably missing the reception of the Eucharist, along with your parish family. As you pray a spiritual communion, consider ways to be of service today. Those acts are inseparable from the Eucharist, for you and the recipient are an extension of Jesus Chris the Lord. We are all the Body of Christ. Amen.

I live in a house with three other Sisters of Notre Dame. One is a teacher who right now is meeting a math group on line. Two other Sisters are making protective masks. I am sitting here hoping to send a blog that will keep up spirits in a time of isolation and buoy hope in a scary time.

In Tuesdays with Morrie Morrie Schwartz writes: “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you meaning and purpose.” This is the kind of devotion that surrounds me: dedicated teaching, protecting first-responders, and writing blogs that give me purpose. In addition, our small community meets daily for prayer and fun. 

In a book by Harold Ivan Smith titled A B C’s of Healthy Grieving one gentleman writes “I want, at least, to be in places where joy is happening. Then, if there are any extras, I can take a ‘doggybag’ full of joy home with me for tomorrow.” 

Give someone some joy today, so that they will have a doggy bag for tomorrow.