Holy Week by Joanne DeNovio

Today’s Lenten reflection is based on John 13:21-33,36-38, and comes to us from parishioner Joanne DeNovio.

HolyWeek_2014_BannerSo here we are at the end of this Lenten season. In a few days we can bring back the chocolate, the sweets, the alcohol and anything else we choose as our fast this Lenten season.

Holy Week was always a special time for me when I was child and I still look forward to this week each year. Not only because I am able to end my fast…and it typically is from something sweet …but because Holy Week and the season of Lent was always a memorable time growing up in my Italian Catholic family. This time of the year was filled with so many traditions and customs that I treasure to this day.

When I was a child, preparation for Easter usually started with the hunt for the prettiest spring dress, Easter hat and patent letter shoes. My sister and I looked forward to wearing our matching dresses and were always thrilled on Easter Saturday to receive a small corsage of flowers from my dad to wear to church the next day.

I recall the delight of visiting my grandmother house during Holy week to witness and taste test the many Italian recipes she made that were reserved just for Easter.

italian-easter-bread4The Ricotta pie, Easter bread, and trays of Italian cookies that filled her kitchen would definitely compete with what see today at Bella Napoli bakery.Easter time also included coloring easter eggs, Easter egg hunts, the Easter bunny and so many more great traditions. But as I look back years later, I am so grateful that in our family it wasn’t all about the food, the clothes and the easter bunny. My parents made sure that my sister and I learned the real meaning of this season by passing on the Easter traditions of their Catholic faith.

In our house, every Friday during Lent meant that we fasted from meat and went to stations of the cross after school. I attended a Catholic elementary school and our parish church was right across the street from our school. During lent, my mother started a tradition of taking my sister and I to mass in the morning before school at least one day during the week.

Now you might wonder how she could persuade us to get up early on a winter morning to go to mass before school. Well, my mom would lure us into saying yes by promising that we could have breakfast in the car after mass was over. See this was in the 50’s before drive thru McDonald’s so the thought of having hot chocolate from a thermos and Ritz cracker peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car was thrilling.

We continued this tradition for several years and after a while the motivation to get up and go to mass was not only breakfast in the car but it became the experience of going to morning mass with my mother and sister. I am often reminded of these times after mass on Sundays when I see the children run to the doughnut and juice table for a sweet treat.

During Holy Week, we started out on Palm Sunday visiting both sets of grandparents to spend the afternoon making palm crosses. On Holy Thursday my dad would take us to visit many catholic churches in the Schenectady area to say a prayer in the darkened church in front of the statues covered in purple cloths. Good Friday was a day off from school but during the hours of 12noon and 3pm there was no Tv and no play, it was time for prayer and reflection and of course, stations. And after mass on Easter Sunday, we gathered with our large extended family for the day to celebrate this sacred feast day.

And so I grew to love all the customs and traditions of this season and I do my best to continue many of them in my family today.

In addition to the faith formation I received from my family, I am also grateful to the St Joseph nuns at my school who brought Jesus to life for me on a daily basis.

As a young child, I was intrigued as I listened to the greatest story ever told…the life of Jesus. This week – Holy Week, we revisit and relive the final chapters in this great story. The more stories I heard and the more I learned about Jesus, the more I grew to know him and to love him at a very young age.

In the gospel reading tonight, we hear the story about two disciples that also knew and loved Jesus…
yet one betrayed him…
and one denied him.

I recall that as a child, I had difficulty understanding how Judas and Peter could turn their backs on Jesus. The one they loved.

Especially Not Peter.

He was a great man. He left everything to follow Jesus. In Jesus name he healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached the kingdom. And… for three faithful years he stood by the side of Jesus.

On this night, just a few hours earlier Jesus had washed his feet and Peter promised Jesus, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not disown you.“

When the soldiers took Jesus away, Peter stood up for Jesus… even when the others deserted him… and he followed him all the way to the temple courtyard.
So I never expected him to cower before the woman at the fire that night and deny His lord.

Peter_Denies_Christ_1012-AugThis night, he acts out of character. And when the rooster crowed, he realized that he had failed his Lord.

As an adult, I now understand that Peter had every intention of being true to Jesus even to the very end… but he let fear get in the way. I now know how easily that can happen …and I confess that I would not have made it that far even though I too grew to love Jesus…just like Peter.

We know that throughout the history of Christianity men and women have died for their faith rather than deny Jesus. Even today there are many parts of the world where members of our catholic family are politically prosecuted, physically tortured and sometimes executed because they are Catholic.
Fortunately, at least for today, we do not have to face this challenge living in America.

But Peter’s story is very important to us, because we all find ourselves in the place of failure from time to time even though we would like to think that we would never deny Jesus. But if we are courageous enough to look at our lives, we may find that we do in fact deny Jesus in our daily lives.

• When we are too busy to pray, we deny that Jesus is the center of our lives.

• When we worry, we deny that Jesus is Lord of all circumstances.

• When we turn our head from someone in need, we deny that we are here on earth to be His hands and his feet.

• When we steal from another, weather it be material goods or credit that is rightly due another and claim it for ourselves, we deny that Jesus is the source of all blessings.

• When we seek our own way we deny that Jesus is the way.

• When we fail to pick up our cross daily we deny that Jesus carried the cross for our sins.

• And when we fail to forgive, we forget that Jesus forgave Peter and asks that we too forgive.

There are times in our life when we may all feel the same shame and disappointment in ourselves that Peter felt when that rooster crowed. And we may wonder how Jesus could ever forgive us. But we are told that the moment the rooster crowed Jesus turned and looked into Peters eyes. It was not a look of anger, it was not an “I told you so” look. It was a look of pure love.

Jesus looked at him with such compassion that Peter could do nothing but melt before his gaze.

Peter broke and began to weep.

This story of Peter showcases the grace and forgiveness of Jesus. No matter what we do to deny Jesus, If we can look through the eyes of Peter we can see the forgiveness that he saw that night by the fire.

And we know the rest of the story…Not only is Peter forgiven on this night, but he is the one to enter the empty tomb where Jesus was laid. And just a few days later, He is the one that Jesus asks to feed my sheep and follow Me.

He is the one whom God uses to preach to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost.

He was restored, Peter becomes the rock.

What the Lord did for Peter, he has done and will always do for those who believe in the healing power of his love. This Holy Week as we relive the Greatest story ever told, let us remember that no matter how dark the Friday, how cold the tomb,
there is always hope of Easter morning with our Risen Savior.

One thing we can not deny is His love for us as evidenced whenever we look at the cross and see His outstretched arms.


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