Holy Wednesday: “Transformation”
Mission in the Cloud. Whew! What a grace for all of us who participated in this early Holy Week mission. Last night, many of us went to bed thanking the Lord again for letting us be part of his team, his mission. We all were transformed further along in our missionary journey, some deeply, others gently, but everyone experienced Him in some way through the course of the evening. Here are my notes.
“Mary Magdalene Embarks on a Journey”
Georges de La Tour, The Penitent Magdalene, 1640, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The evening began with yet another dramatic masterpiece of Baroque art, this one from the French painter Georges de la Tour. This painting attracts viewers from all over the world to the Met, and folks of all shapes, sizes, and faiths seem drawn to it, to its quiet meditative mood. They’ve debated through the ages what is going in Mary’s mind here. We gave a missionary’s take last night.
Mary has just returned from her first encounter with Jesus. He’s driven out her demons, forgiven her. She’s decided to change, to take a new course in life. She’s still dressed in her “working clothes”. Notice the red skirt and unveiled long hair, both common fashion for “women of the night” in La Tour’s day. Yet, somehow, we sense she’s moving on; the pearls of her past have been tossed to the side. She’s determined to fix things, to follow Christ.
On her lap rests a symbol of her mortality, a skull. It no longer threatens her; her arms rest serenely on it. She’s put her hope in Jesus. He’s given her the water that lasts forever. She’s looking to the eternal. She’s heading out.
But the journey will not be easy. She senses that. The old habits that attracted her are still with her; those pearls are just an arm’s length away, tempting her to return to old sins. The skull may also refer to Golgatha, the place of the skull, where she will follow Jesus with his cross to his death there. She too will have crosses to bear. The journey to heaven will not be easy.
Instinctively, she turns to her right, where her gilded mirror rests. Untill now, it’s been one of her favorite possessions, where she can admire the reflection of her own external beauty. But as she turns, she gasps. She no longer sees just herself. There is a second candle there, walking side by side with her’s. He makes his presence known with just one word. “Mary.” (John 20:15) It’s Jesus, the light that the light that will guide her home.
As rich as all this is, there’s actually more, and that’s partly what draws so many into this masterwork.
WE are in this painting. Each of us.
You see, La Tour doesn’t actually show us all of Mary’s face. This was an artistic device of the day, meant to invite us into the scene, to put our face in place of Mary’s. Spend some time this weekend doing this.
Yes, we’ve met Christ. Yes, he’s “converted” us. Yes, we’ve promised to follow him. But conversion is not a single moment in time. It’s a journey. There will be joys, there will be sorrows. There will be spiritual high points, then low points. Old temptations will crop up, drawing us back to our old habits. The pearls of yesteryear are just an arm’s length away.
Transformation is a lifelong commitment and a daily struggle.
But we are not alone. In quiet moments, in prayer and in the sacraments, we can hear Him. Gently, he whispers our name. “Mary.”
“This is the time to begin the trip”
Fr. Jason gave us a all a riveting meditation on time and transformation. If you missed it, I highly recommend you check out the video above. It was so rich, my summary here just scratches the surface.
The time is now. We are called by Christ to be saints. That’s what he made us to be. But we won’t get there by getting on it “tomorrow.” The time to begin the journey is now. We can plan all our tomorrows if we like, but we don’t really know if we’ll have them. We only have today. We only have this moment. Like Mary of Magdala, we need to choose a course, today. And that course will not be easy. There will certainly be spiritual “pops”, highs when we feel very close to the Lord, when we are “all in.” And there will be lows too, “dark nights”. But he will always be with us on the journey. Don’t put it off. “Now is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15)
Only our Creator can fulfill US. All of humanity shares this in common. We are all looking for “fulfillment”; we all thirst for something. Often, popular culture distracts us, convinces us we can fulfill our thirst with things, riches, entertainment, nice houses, social media, one night stands. But the next morning, we’re left thirsty again. Unfulfilled. The human heart, the human soul, is profound. It is so big, and so complicated, that only one being can fill it. Our creator. God is the ONLY source of true fulfillment. Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, the Life.” (John 14:6) Only He has the water that will quench our thirst for all time. Only he can fulfill us.
Conversion, repentance, is the necessary predecessor to faith. Too many of us think we need to believe first, then once we do, we’ll convert. It’s the exact opposite. We need to repent first, we need to have our prodigal son moment, to get down on our knees and let the Lord love us. And that’s what converts us, that’s what gives us the gift of faith. The eternal, all fulfilling, all merciful love of God. We can’t “white knuckle” our way to Faith. Only God can give us that gift, in love.
Faith is a journey, not an end point. As La Tour’s painting of Mary Magdalene implies, conversion, faith, is not a single moment in time. It’s a journey, of highs and lows. We’ll fall back into old habits; we’ll have dark nights. In these moments, we cannot despair, give up on ourselves. We need to think about these falls along the journey as moments of blessing. Every time we’re tempted by old pearls, and we resist, we’ve had a chance to consciously renew our commitment to Christ, to the journey. And when we don’t resist and fall instead, we need to head back for reconciliation, for a power wash, where we can renew our commitment to the journey, and get recharged with another shot of the Father’s love.
“The Divine Mercy Chaplet”
Our prayer tonight was the divine mercy chaplet, a beautiful meditation on the merciful heart of Jesus, the heart that transforms us, the heart that lovingly and gently accompanies us in our journey of faith. This prayer is one of great power, and under appreciated by many. It’s available on our site here.
Our missionary challenge tonight was presented by fellow NY missionary Hope Hirshorn. Hope asked us to take a journey with Christ as he carries his cross, starting from our prayer corners that we set up on Monday, to transform ourselves with Tuesday’s challenge of going to confession, and then sometime on Good Friday to pray the Stations of the Cross with a friend. Let Him transform us through that prayer.
UPDATE: It was our last Challenge! To pray the Stations of the Cross before Easter! For those of us who were unable to go to Church to do the Stations of the Cross, below is Fr Eric Nielsen's Stations of the Cross. It is based on Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI 2004 lenten meditations. It runs 48 minutes. You can pray it alone or with your family.