Meeting At Bethany

The attentive reader will look at the calendar and realize that this coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. In Spain – and possibly in other places as well – today, the Friday shortly before Palm Sunday, has its own spiritual tradition, based partly on Scripture and partly on tradition. Whether or not one accepts the theory, I think you’ll find it an interesting point of reflection.

We know from the Gospels that prior to entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was staying with his close friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus in Bethany. Indeed, St. John’s Gospel places the raising of Lazarus from the dead before Palm Sunday. In Spain, it is commonly believed that on the Friday before Palm Sunday, Jesus’ Mother Mary was in Bethany as well. Moreover, pious belief is that He told her, on that Friday, what was going to happen to Him the following Friday.

There is a certain logic to this belief. Surely if the Virgin Mary had heard about the death of Lazarus, it would have been reasonable for her, as a Jewish matron, to go comfort Lazarus’ sisters. Her presence in Bethany at the time, and staying there to celebrate Passover rather than returning to Nazareth, would also explain why, within hours of Jesus’ arrest, she is present in Jerusalem to witness His execution. After all, Nazareth is about 90 miles from Jerusalem, whereas Bethany is only about a mile and a half away.

Even if Jesus did not get to see His Mother prior to entering into His Passion, she was of course there to witness His sacrifice on Calvary. Yet I rather fancy that He did see her. Perhaps they talked late into the night that Friday, or perhaps she simply accepted what He told her, much as she accepted the message of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, which we commemorated this week. She may not have been able to understand how God would bring about what she was told would happen, but once again she did not shy away. She believed, and put herself at His service.


Detail, "Virgin of Sorrows" by Murillo

The Hole Truth

I’ve always associated glazed donuts with Lent and Springtime. Not frosted donuts, which are a kids’ thing I continue to enjoy any season of the year. No, I mean just your standard donut, with the hole in the middle and plain icing slathered on top.

Now this may be because I grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, where glazed donuts known as “fasnachts” remain a tradition for Fat Tuesday. Or it may because Mom used to buy boxes of pretzel-shaped glazed Entenmann’s donuts for us when we were kids. Or it may because I remember eating a glazed donut at church for breakfast, before my First Communion, being sick in the bathroom before Mass, and not wanting to tell anyone for fear I wouldn’t be allowed to receive.

This is the final week of Lent before Holy Week begins this coming Palm Sunday. Being home in PA to visit, recuperate from recent illness, and of course eat donuts, has given me a much-needed change of scenery to reflect on how this Lent has gone. On the whole, it’s been successful in some areas; less so in others. Fortunately, there is still a bit of time left to try to get things sorted out.

One of the most important things to do, of course, is to make sure to get to confession before Easter Sunday. Truthfully, I could probably stand to go to confession every day, unfortunately for me. I am very cognisant of my being a work in progress, and often a total zero when it comes to following Christ. Circumstances being what they are, and possessing neither private chaplain nor private chapel (more’s the pity), I must schedule a time to go just like everyone else.

In her precepts the Church actually mandates, in case you had forgotten, that Catholics receive Holy Communion once a year, preferably during the Easter season. She also mandates that Catholics go to confession at least once a year. It’s only logical, then, that since you should be receiving Communion during Easter, you should be confessed of and absolved from your sins before doing so. Otherwise, presenting yourself in your Easter best for Communion on Easter Sunday when you haven’t first gone to confession is a bit like being a glazed donut: all shiny and sweet, with no center.

So go check your parish or diocesan website, and look for the confession schedule. My parish of St. Stephen’s here in DC for example, offers confession every day except Sundays, and is participating in “The Light Is On For You” campaign, offering Wednesday evening confessions during Lent. Your parish may be participating as well, for this season of penitence and reconciliation.

Once Holy Week begins, it’s very easy to get caught up in preparations for Easter Sunday, whether you have little ones expecting a visit from a giant rodent, or you have to travel to Grandma’s out of state for the weekend, or you have ten cousins coming over for Easter dinner. Take the time then, to block off an hour to get to confession, and make that a priority this week, rather than leaving it to the last second. Donuts may be great treats, but nutritionally empty of value: you don’t want to leave a hole where your heart ought to be, when Easter Sunday arrives.


Three Quick Reminders

1. Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Foster-Father of Jesus. Because it’s a Solemnity, if this was a Friday, my fellow Catholics would be allowed to eat meat. Moreover, if you gave up something for Lent, such as candy, then you’re allowed to have it today, because Solemnities – like Sundays – are not considered to be part of Lent. (We get another one next Wednesday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.) Of course, most people are probably going to stick to their “give-ups” but there you are.

If I was in Barcelona, today would be a day for eating “canelons de festa” or “feast day cannelloni”.  However, since Catalan-style cannelloni has not really made it big over here yet, and I don’t have the inclination to make canelons myself, I’ll have to come up with something else. Knowing that it’s more likely for the majority of my readers to understand Spanish rather than Catalan, here’s a video in Spanish giving you a quick overview of how to make this superb pasta dish.

2. Today is also your chance to pop along to the Catholic Information Center, should you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital, and hear Randy Boyagoda discussing his new book, “Richard John Neuhaus – A Life in the Public Square”, about the great conservative thinker, writer, and founder of “First Things”. The CIC is located on K Street between 15th and 16th, close to the White House as well as McPherson and Farragut Squares, so very easy to get to. Hope to see many of my DC readers there as, Catholic or not, Father Neuhaus was a hugely important influence on the public life of this country – among those who read and think about things, anyway – for many years.

3. As you make your weekend plans, don’t forget that Saturday night Passiontide with the Dominican Friars will take place at St. Dominic’s Church, located close to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro. I assure you that the magnificence of said church more than makes up for the horror that is starchitect I.M. Pei’s senseless destruction of the neighborhood around it. The evening should be absolutely beautiful, as will the Spring weather – mostly sunny and 63 degrees for the high on Saturday – so no excuses for sitting at home.