The Game is Never Over, John: BBC’s “Sherlock” and the Common Human Experience

If you sign into Netflix, you’ll see a sad sight. More accurately, there’s something that you won’t see. As of last weekend, BBC’s Sherlock has gone away. Netflix is no longer 221 B Baker Street.

I’ll admit that I’m more Sherlocked than most. I don’t think many people were mourning its Reichenbach fall from Netflix like I did, drinking coffee at 2 am while hurriedly finishing the entire show for the umpteenth time before it departed early in the morning on May 15th. The show predates the excitement and publicity surrounding Netflix originals. Its nerdy fans mostly bonded and connected over Tumblr, the social media platform that hearkens back to the first societal hit of social media buzz. But despite its accelerating old age in an era of instant releases for streaming, Sherlock is still widely considered to be one of the best shows to grace Netflix and 21st century TV. Not only that, but it holds deep emotional value for the fans who grew up with the show. I started watching Sherlock in 8th grade, one of the hardest years of my life, and have loved the show ever since. When I saw that it was leaving Netflix, I experienced a sense of loss even though I hadn’t watched the show in ages. No matter what was happening in life, Sherlock was always available. It always brought comfort.

I don’t think those sentiments are wrong to have. TV can be used as a drug, something to numb out pain or stress and allow for separation from real life. But TV shows can also be a form of modern art. Modern art tends to use beauty to provoke and ask a question. Sherlock is no exception to this. At the heart of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ take on the legendary sleuth lies the question: What is it to be human?

The director of my high school Great Books program loves to probe the topic of the common human experience. Odysseus is really not so different from the 14-year old student first stumbling through the churning pages of Homer. When Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun”1 thousands of years ago, he was living in the same fallen world surrounded by the temptations, joys, and loves that we human souls experience even in the 21st century. That question of the common human experience is critical to anyone navigating life and earnestly seeking after virtue and authentic happiness. And it’s not just something we learn through Aristotle and Shakespeare, but also while tracking serial killers with Sherlock and John.

The way that Sherlock explores the common human experience2 is rather ingenious. In the pilot episode, Sherlock is true to his self-proclaimed identity as “a high functioning sociopath.” He seems like more of a robot than a man, “A bit of a weirdo, if you ask me.”3 Sherlock may be a consulting detective of the highest caliber, but the man is also a painfully awkward and sadistic loner who remains impenetrable to both the hatred and affection of others. But through his adventures and more importantly, his growth in friendship with John Watson, Sherlock slowly learns what it is to be human. The writers of the show are able to portray the facets of the human soul individually, as we see a previously cold man experience friendship, loyalty, passion, rage, betrayal, broken pride, heartbreak, and love for the first time that he can remember.

As a viewer, watching Sherlock develop can be conflicting. Yes, it’s deeply moving to watch him sacrifice himself in The Reichenbach Fall (well, when we learn it was a sacrifice and not an act of despair), but when we see just how much he adores John and Mary and endure his meltdown over Molly in The Final Problem, we find ourselves squirming because Sherlock isn’t supposed to be like that. He’s supposed to be the calculating machine that Scotland Yard resorts to, not a man who needs his friends and who is capable of romantic heartbreak. It’s argued that the show began to go downhill as soon as Mary, John’s wife, entered the story. And while it’s true in my opinion that the final series was far less polished than the previous series, I think that part of our collective criticism is that we didn’t like it when Sherlock became less of a computer and more flesh and blood. We don’t like things as much when they’re real, when they’re messy. “Love is a…vicious motivator,” Sherlock claims in A Study in Pink. That vicious quality of the human soul isn’t welcome in a society that is fixated on control.

But no matter how much we idolize control, it’s generally a facade within the common human experience. The audience can’t help but feel sorry for John, a man who is so desperate for a quiet ordinary life, but is surrounded by an ever-growing list of sociopaths, criminals, and special agents for comrades. His brilliant best friend also shares in his powerlessness to an extent. No matter how incandescent Sherlock is, he still can’t foresee every move of his adversaries. And he has no control over that East Wind that had unknowingly haunted him his whole life, the lost sister who killed his childhood best friend and left him shattered and unable to love.

Yes, the experience of crippling grief and broken trust is a central theme explored in Sherlock. The two unlikely flatmates would never have met if it wasn’t for the toll that trauma had inflicted on them both. Over and over we see John lose loved ones and feel our own hearts strain as he returns to his alert, soldierly stance in the cemeteries of Sherlock and then Mary. We witness horrible deeds committed not only by criminals, but in Mycroft’s betrayal of Sherlock, Sherlock’s forgetfulness or schadenfreude in not telling John about his fake suicide, and John’s infidelity to Mary.

But in those moments when control is lost and suffering is imminent, when Jim turns the gun on himself and Sherlock learns that he has lost to Magnussen, viewers are invited to contemplate the higher aspects of the common human experience. We see Sherlock risk his life and sacrifice his reputation to save John’s life. We are privileged to glimpse Molly’s steadfast charity and feminine genius, even in the face of ingratitude. We hear John forgive Mary for what most would deem unforgivable. We catch our breath at Mycroft’s instant willingness to die in the place of John during The Final Problem. We weep when Mary takes the bullet for Sherlock. Over and over, we see men and women lay down their lives for one another and demonstrate the fiercest loyalty and deepest friendship. We see heroism.

However, the final lesson of Sherlock is not merely about heroic deeds. It is about the vital need of all heroes for beauty. The final spoken words in the series4 come from Sherlock’s mother after she learns that Eurus is in fact alive, but physically and mentally unreachable. “What are we to do?” she asks Sherlock.

Sherlock – no longer a broken machine, but a man, a friend, and hero – responds by playing music. Through his violin and his invitation to Eurus to join him in experiencing and creating beauty, he gives both of them permission to heal. Sherlock’s deductions can solve a murder and John’s intuition and experience can save a life, but it is beauty that offers restoration. It is beauty that unlocks the innermost cells where scarred and scared prisoners hide.

Sherlock shows the ugliness of humanity. We take a glimpse into the most depraved criminal minds and are forced to be witnesses of heinous acts. But we also peek into broken hearts as they heal, are witnesses to the first genuine smiles of Sherlock and John, and see that love is not a passion, but the highest virtue. In Sherlock we are taught that while the game afoot may be dangerous, it is truly beautiful to be human.

The writers of Sherlock ask, “What is it to be human?” The answer that they offer is so intricate and so marvelous that only music is capable of whispering it.

1 – Ecclesiastes 1:9

2 – (which I started abbreviating as CHE in my high school notebooks because of how often we talked about it)

3 – Chief Superintendent, The Reichenbach Fall

4 – Not counting Mary’s voiceover

That Last Paragraph, That First Death

I’ve been preparing for this post for months now. Thinking about possible ways to open it, staring at a blank screen and aggressively blinking cursor, saving drafts that I’ll never reopen.

My favorite part of a book is always the end. It’s that final sentence or paragraph, the final goodbye from an author to his reader that leaves me breathless and yearning for the transcendent. I choreographed an entire dance to depict the ending of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I wept over the end of Jane Eyre and stomped my foot in confusion over the last paragraph of Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Even that last “I Do” in The Fault in Our Stars was enough to make me curl up in a ball and cry cathartic tears.

And that’s why we love a good ending to a story, don’t we? Our hearts are made for an end, for the “place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued (J.R.R. Tolkien).” But I rely on the masters like Waugh and Cather to weave breathtaking denouements. It’s one thing to muse on where Julia goes after Charles leaves Brideshead. It’s quite another to reach the end of a chapter in your own life.

And that’s what this post is about: This Fall, I’ll be attending the University of Dallas to double major in English and Theology. I’m setting my pre-professional ballet days behind me.

I could list a million reasons for why I’m going to school next year. Tell the stories from high school retreats, explain what was stirring in my soul while watching The Chosen, share the podcast episode that opened my eyes to what the Lord was doing in my heart, gush about the middle schoolers I got to work with this year who helped me to see that serving them is all I really want to do with my time. But none of those reasons or “pieces of data,” as Fr. Mike Schmitz would call them, are enough. Ultimately, there’s only one answer – the One who utters no answer, but is Himself the answer.1

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last fourteen months and through the profound, agonizing invitation to the Cross that I’ve experienced in so many ways, it’s a deeper confidence that He is so trustworthy. I look at all the doors that should have been closed to me and have been unlocked, all the little and big dreams that have been fulfilled (right down to teal blue kitchenware in my house), and even the doors that were slammed so excruciatingly, but have become vessels of mysterious grace. The author of life is not only faithful and wise – He is so gentle. And if He is ready to begin singing a new chapter of my life into creation, I’m ready to magnify that voice.

That voice knows me so intimately. During the Holy Hour when it was indescribably clear that I was going to go to college next year, I heard the Lord say, “Your heart cry is mine.” And what is my heart cry? It’s the cry of every artist who has set a brush to canvas, who has stepped onto a lit stage, who has choreographed movement or written a score. It’s the cry of the mystic, the song of John’s impassioned “nada,” Augustine and Monica’s draft at the fountain, Aquinas’ fingers holding straw. It’s the cry of the beloved who won’t settle for anything less than seeing the whole world set on fire for Jesus Christ. It’s the cry that Dostoevsky composes into words when he writes, “Beauty will save the world.”

The reason that I decided to spend this year in a trainee program was beauty. The reason that I’m leaving the trainee program is beauty. We need the arts. We need faithful Christians in the arts. But we also need artists to work for the Church, men and women who see the Host in the monstrance as unadulterated light and beauty, the fulfillment of every good and true dance, painting, and film.

At the moment, I want to go into youth ministry as a career, although that could certainly change. I’ll be spending the summer as a Totus Tuus missionary in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, teaching kids during the day and running teen nights in the evening. I’m so excited to hit the ground running this summer and my nerdy heart has honestly been pining to get back into the classroom this Fall. But Jesus has crafted my heart in the way that He has for a reason. He has made me an artist, and switching from an emphasis on the art of ballet to the art of writing isn’t going to change that.

That also means I’m reacting to this transition as an artist would (kudos to you if you’re still reading this overly long outpouring of thoughts and emotions). For the last several weeks, as the calendar ticks down the days to my last performance, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance:

A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.

How do you prepare to die? How do you dance when your days in the studio are numbered? You can feel peace and joy about a decision, but still catch your breath when, like Mary of Bethany, you see the oil of your offering spilled all over the floor at Christ’s feet and realize that there’s no turning back. Choosing between ballet and college has been the most difficult decision of my life. I was talking to a teacher about it the other day and began to tear up. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying,” I muttered.

“No,” she said so gently. “Let yourself cry, please. Let yourself grieve and feel whatever you need to feel. Because this has been your first love and of course it’s a big deal to walk away. But don’t walk away completely. Stay connected.”

She is so right. This isn’t the end. It’s only the close of a chapter, the step into a new act. Even though it’s going to look different, I will never stop dancing. My heavenly spouse will never stop wooing my heart with the beauty and faerie that He has always used to draw me to Himself. Ballet may be my first love, but He is the Love who was always whispering to me in the wings and at the barre. And I can’t wait to share His love with others through a new form of ministry.

He is the Love calling my name. His heart cry is mine. And with a beauty like His, “you can overturn the world.”2

1 – cf Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

2 – The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Hidden Worker

They have barely reached the peak of Golgotha when His clothes are violently torn off, leaving only open shreds where skin should be. Jesus staggers right and left as his hunched form is prodded towards the cross by clubs. He kneels beside the cross as one last time, His Sacred Body touches the dust that He created. Now is the moment for which He came to earth. Here is the wood for the sacrifice, and here is the lamb.

Surrounded by mockery, He lies down on that precious wood. Every movement is agony as the Victim and Priest stretches Himself out against the cross. Jesus’ left arm extends, His palm stretched open to heaven. “Here I am, Lord,” He breathes. “This is my Body,” He whispers to His Bride.

Jesus looks sideways, into the eyes of the soldier who will not look at Him. He feels the edge of the nail against His wrist. And then He feels what cannot be described.

He hears the hammer so close to His ear. Over and over it screams as it delivers its blows. But He has heard this sound before. “Father,” He cries in His torment.

In His moment of deepest pain, Jesus thinks of His foster father, Joseph. He brings to mind memories of His father at work, when Jesus’ little eyes were wide with awe at the strength of His dad who could haul giant pieces of wood and craft them into homes. He remembers the song of the hammer, the percussive score that played in the background of His entire childhood. He remembers watching Joseph drive the nails into the wood in swift and sure movements.

Jesus remembers when Joseph first taught Him. How He was so eager to place the two pieces of wood on top of each other. How Jesus had moved His thumb too quickly and felt the piercing pain of a nail for the first time. Tears had sprung to Jesus’ eyes, but they were wiped away so quickly by Joseph’s kind hands. The pain vanished as soon as Mary kissed that little thumb.

Mary and Joseph stood side by side that day to console their hurting child. But now Mary kneels alone. She is only able to watch as a wound is inflicted that will never close up, but will be glorified. Today however, there is no external glory. There is no comfort she can offer Jesus other than her presence and other than the hammer song that she and Jesus both know so intimately.

Joseph was there to hold Mary’s hand when Simeon foretold the revealing stab. But now as she feels that sword sink into her heart, there is nobody to help. The woman who watched her husband die now watches her son prepare to breathe His last.

They were both there when Joseph left this life. They both cradled him like a child, not letting go until his chest had stopped rising and falling and the fear had disappeared from his face. As their tears mingled in an embrace, Jesus had explained to Mary that they would see Joseph again, that He Himself would lead His foster father into the embrace of the heavenly Father. Here on the cross, that momentous occasion is only hours away.

The Son accepts the nails for the sake of the one who first taught him to hammer. Because of righteous Joseph, a man who was imperfect and yet a true son of David, the sound of the hammer blow becomes a consolation in the midst of unfathomable anguish.

In His humanity, Jesus has never tasted death. The dread of Gethsemane washes over Him once more as a nail is driven into His right wrist and His feet are shoved into position for theirs. But then He thinks of Joseph, the man who had protected and provided for and loved the Son of God as his own. This first teacher to Divine Wisdom Himself had known death. And aren’t sons willing to walk down any road, so long as they step where their father has trodden first?

“I will never abandon you,” Joseph had surely told Mary and the unborn Jesus the morning after the angel’s nocturnal visit. On Calvary, we can be sure that he never did.

Not for Pauline

There’s something enchanting about rereading books. Not all of them – if someone told me to reread The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson, a book the author himself found distasteful, I would rather contract leprosy. But there are some books that you grow up with and that shape your soul in a mysterious way. One of these books for me is The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Therese has always had her eye on me, so I’ve been intimately familiar with her story from a young age. When the illustrated biographies and comic books were my source of edification on her life, I was captivated by her childhood. When I finally read The Story of a Soul cover to cover at age fifteen, I was struck by the fact that I was the same age that Therese was when she entered the convent. As the years have progressed, there are small passages from her writings that always speak directly to my situation or to the desires and fears in my heart.

But when I reread The Story of a Soul over the span of about five days earlier this month, it wasn’t just Therese who stood out to me. The Lord really focused my attention on the woman who is responsible for sharing the Little Flower’s little way with the world: Her older Sister and eventual Prioress, Pauline.

As we encounter Therese’s childhood, it is made abundantly clear that environment matters. Therese spent the formative years of her childhood completely surrounded by souls who were madly in love with Jesus and who taught her live and think only in the light of eternity. She first saw Jesus’ countenance from watching her parents pray. She first learned the good news of the Gospel from her older sisters, who made it their first priority to educate their younger sisters in the Faith.

For many of us, Therese was the first friend to introduce us to the perfumes of Carmel and the riches of that Carmelite tradition in our faceted gem of a Church. But Therese first learned of this hidden way from her older sister Pauline, the first of the Martin sisters to enter Carmel (all five would enter contemplative religious life, four of them to the same Carmelite convent). Therese writes,

“Then you [Pauline] explained to me about the life at Carmel that seemed so beautiful to me. As I was going over in my mind everything that you had told me, I felt that Carmel was the desert where God wanted me as well to go and hide…I wanted to go to Carmel, not for Pauline, but for Jesus alone

The next day I confided my secret to Pauline, who viewing my desires as the will of heaven, told me that soon I would go with her to see the Prioress of the Carmelite convent, and that I would need to tell her what God was making me feel…”

The Story of a Soul, Chapter 3, Emphasis in original

Years after Pauline became the first to encourage Therese in her vocation, Pauline would become Mother Agnes of Jesus, the Prioress of Therese’s convent. Cognizant of the unique role the Father had reserved for Therese in reinvigorating and revolutionizing the spiritual life of the Universal Church, Mother Agnes asked her younger sister and spiritual daughter to write down her life story. This became the bulk of the text compiled in The Story of a Soul.

If it was not for Pauline being utterly captivated by Jesus Christ, Therese would not have found her home buried in the heart of the Church as a cloistered nun. If it was not for Pauline’s wisdom, the Church would not know her own heart like she does today through the legacy and intercession of the Little Flower.

But have you ever heard of Pauline before this? You probably know Therese had older sisters, but have you ever been able to remember their names or given them much thought?

My guess is that you haven’t. And that’s ok. Pauline reminds me of John the Baptist or the apostle Andrew. Her job was to introduce her sisters to Jesus and then disappear from the world’s eye. Perhaps one of the greatest models of Therese’s humble way is this woman who gave Therese first to Jesus and then to the world. For the Carmelite who is now surely dwelling in perfect union with her Bridegroom at His wedding feast, that is more than enough.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the Church’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It can seem overwhelming to hear about the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and then invites us to do the same. “Who are my sheep?” we ask. “Where is my pasture?”

These are big, overwhelming questions. They are far too big for you to answer. So instead, like Pauline and Therese, let us turn to the words of Jesus that are used as the title for the final chapter of Therese’s autobiography: Those Whom You Have Given Me.

Who has Jesus given you today? Not tomorrow, not five years down the road, but today. Who are the people directly in front of you? Get them to heaven. The way you do that is going to be different for each person. But Jesus has given you souls to nurture alongside Him. He does the difficult work of hoisting soil, bending over in the heat, and breathing life into the plants you forgot to water. But like a father first teaching his child to garden, He invites you to join Him. He compels you to join Him.

If you walk by His side in the garden, day by day, soul after soul, He will eventually lead you to the joy-filled home He has prepared for you in this life. But that’s on Him. Today, your vocation is to shepherd and garden those He has given you. There can be no greater call.

“Not for Pauline, but for Jesus.” May these words of Therese be our motto as we allow the Shepherd to lead us towards the distant mountains that will one day be home.1 Like Pauline, may we be concerned above all else with bringing those He has given us, most especially our families, to rest beneath His gentle crook.

1 – Shout out to Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien

My Watered Garden

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

Easter should be the feast most unclouded by grief and heartbreak. Even nature seems to break forth in an unmatched “Hallelujah” as the spring is gently unveiled through flowers, zephyr, and relentless birdsong. After all, this octave of Easter is “the day that the Lord has made (Psalm 118).” Today, death is utterly vanquished by the breath of God that runs through previously asphyxiated lungs. The sins that bored literal holes into the hands and feet of the Creator are rendered powerless by a love that goes to Hell and back for the beloved. Bitterness is washed up in the sweet water that flows from a pierced heart and into the ocean of mercy.

THIS is the day the Lord has made. Amen, Hallelujah! And yet, the first words to come from the mouth of the risen Christ in John’s Gospel are, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Of course, the answer is quite simple. Mary weeps because she believes that her Teacher, the one who she believed to be the Messiah, is now lost to her forever. She weeps because she doesn’t know that He is alive.

2000 years later, I hear the Lord asking me the same question more frequently than I care to admit. “Larisa, why are you weeping?” My reasons tend to be far less noble than Mary’s cause to cry. And yet, my tears tend to have the same source that Mary’s tears had as they watered the garden dirt on that first Easter Sunday. I don’t really know that He’s alive.

Of course, I believe in the Resurrection. I can rattle off every Catholic Answers Live proof for the Resurrection and walk you through a step-by-step analysis of the Shroud of Turin in under two minutes if I don’t come up for air (thank you, forensic science class in junior year, for the shroud project). And I also have enough Faith to supernaturally accept the ultimate mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and our salvation. 2000 years of Church history and intellectual tradition really should give me a step up on Mary Magdalen, who had no knowledge of the Resurrection when she was crying on Sunday. And yet, if I really grasped the Resurrection, if I lived every moment with the confidence that my redeemer lives, would I be so caught up in these little things? Would I be so afraid of myself and the decisions I make with prudence and proper discernment? Would I be crying in dread of the opinions of others? Would I be fixated on how I look and how I am perceived, stressed over scheduling and finances?

Life has taught me what Good Friday looks like. Life has definitely taught me what it is to live in Holy Saturday. But I am in need of deep conversion on Easter Sunday. I need to turn away from the empty tomb and into the eyes of the One who calls me by my true name. I need to be taught by Rabbouni.

Should I know better than to be so concerned with passing things? Yes! Jesus Christ is alive and because He lives, nothing else matters. But while I am so impatient with myself and my lack of trust, the risen Victor is still the tender physician that He was when He first exorcised the seven demons through the waters of my baptism. Teachers in the Church speak of the sacredness of tears and how they can actually be a gift. Even when my tears are imperfect, Jesus still meets me in those moments of sorrow. “Woman, why are you weeping?” He asks. Sometimes my reasons are silly. Other times, they are more like the tears of His mother, tears which come from a heart that knows that Resurrection is coming, but which still breaks over the suffering of those I love.

Regardless of my tears, regardless of my answers to His questions, His answer is always the same. He will always stoop down to my tear-streaked face, even when I should be happy. He will always wipe away those tears with His scarred hand. He will say my name with the same love and gentleness that He had when He placed me in my mother’s womb. He will teach me what it is to live as a resurrected creature until the night of this world breaks into endless dawn and the glory of Sunday is no longer mingled with the tears of Friday.

Until then, my vision of the eternal garden will be blurred. But even when my eyes are too full to recognize the new Adam, He will always see me as His own.

Daily Saturday

Before we start today’s post, I need you to stop and think about what the rest of your day holds. Is this the only thing you plan on reading today? If the answer is yes, I need you stop right here. Please click on this link for today’s Office of Readings and scroll down to what is titled, “Second Reading.” This reading is one of the most beautiful texts the Church offers us for the entire year. I would be ashamed if this blog post deprived you of the opportunity to let those words from an ancient homily penetrate your heart and fill you with awe. When you’re done reading, you can come back to this pithy post if you have time.

Do you have time for both? No? Get out of here and go read.

You do have time? Hi there! It’s lovely to chat again.

“There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.” Those words from the opening of that Second Reading are what make Holy Saturday so beautiful. Yesterday, we entered the noise and chaos of the sinful world that murdered its own Messiah. Today, that noise is replaced by a deep liturgical silence. The entire universe holds its breath as twilight nears and glory approaches. Glory approaches, but has not yet arrived. This is Holy Saturday: The increasing tension between victory and triumph, the flutter of the wind about to pull back the final page, the joyous dirge.

And isn’t this where most of us spend the majority of our lives? We’re no longer on Calvary at the height of our suffering. But we’re certainly not in Easter either. In some ways, the hush of Saturday is worse than the wail of Friday. At least on Good Friday, it’s obvious that you’re racked with sorrow. Holy Saturday brings a quiet anguish as you find yourself still reeling from the pain of Friday but without knowledge of when that pain will be healed.

I see Holy Saturday quite differently after being in lockdown last year. Last spring, we lived in the world that the apostles knew on Holy Saturday, a world separated from His presence. For months, we couldn’t feel Christ’s healing touch in the Eucharist or hear His tender words in the Confessional. I still remember how jarring the empty tabernacle used to be on Good Friday. In 2020, it was normal.

But my parish put their tabernacle in the window adjacent to the church parking lot. I would drive to that parking lot and get as close to the window as I could. I would genuflect on the cold muddy ground and find peace before the red candle that assured me of His Body’s presence even though I couldn’t see or receive Him.

Because nothing else was really going on in my life, I went almost every day. Every time a new piece of news re-shattered my heart and brain, I would go to the window and tell Jesus about it. I would go and feel the hot tears on my cheeks that expressed how desperately I wanted to receive Him and how desperately I wanted the pandemic to end. I would stare at the tabernacle for as long as I could and then drive away desperately praying, “Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”

He never did. He never has. Just as Christ spent Holy Saturday descending into Hell and leading the righteous into Paradise, He was using that time to draw me into a deeper love for the Eucharist and also for the body of Christ right in front of me, my family. And one day, I drove in for parking lot Adoration only to find the Tabernacle missing. It was missing because our parish was finally able to celebrate Mass once more. He was not there, for the Church had risen. That first Mass was the most beautiful one in my entire life.

Today is Holy Saturday. You can’t demand that the sun change its location and make it a different day. You can’t go into the past and change what has led you into this season of seemingly endless suffering. But while you can’t choose the calendar date, you can choose how to suffer. You can choose to be consumed by fear and by self-pity, hating the stagnant waters you wade in. Or you can choose to remember that Christ Himself promised to rise on the third day. You can remember that beneath these waters, the Lion of Judah’s paw is stirring a whirlpool as His roar wakes the dead and sends such a shudder through Satan that it forever undoes him.

And if that seems too good to be true, that’s ok. You can still be afraid. You can still be weak. As Mary Magdalen prepares to walk to the tomb, she’s not preparing to meet her risen Lord. She’s preparing to anoint a corpse. But she’s walking towards Jesus rather than keeping to herself. And that is the key to holiness. So long as we walk forward, Jericho will come crashing down.

Silent Friday

Tomorrow night’s Easter Vigil could be given the title, “Night of Music.” In the black of night, Christ’s glory will shine like the day and the world will be created anew. Music is one of the most perfect ways that humans can experience and enter into the harmony of the Trinity, the perfect balance for which the world was made. Tomorrow, the church walls will shake with the blare of trumpets and the sung proclamation of the Resurrection.

But we cannot know the glory of music if we have not first experienced its absence. Today we encounter the opposite of music, which is not silence, because silence is an invitation for created beings to step into the unending song of the Creator. The opposite of music is noise. Good Friday is the noisiest day of the year.

The mob roars for the crucifixion of an innocent man. The vulgarity of the soldiers ceaselessly stains the air of Jerusalem. Women wail, demons laugh, and the hammer screams against the nails.

So much noise, so much action. And yet there is one voice that remains so silent on Good Friday that your first instinct is to scream. That is the voice of the Father.

We can cover up Good Friday all we like with whitewashed crucifixes and shallow homilies and Filet O’Fish as our only meal of the day. But we cannot escape the gaping reality of evil, an evil which seems to win on this dark day. Perhaps more shockingly, we cannot escape the reality that the Father allows this evil. Over and over it is Jesus’ obedience to the Father that is emphasized in His death. The omniscient Father watches as His only begotten Son is betrayed, beaten, and mocked. He is there as Jesus is scourged until His entire body is an open wound. He hears the sound of the thorns seeping into His skin. He allows Him to carry a giant Cross, be stripped naked, bored through with nails, and left to suffocate to death.

Light watches light drain from Light’s eyes. The true God watches the true God breathe His last. A Father hears His child call out, “Why have you abandoned me?” And He does nothing.

Good Friday is precisely why I used to struggle to accept the love of the Father. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” is really niche on a coffee mug. It’s almost sickening when you watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and realize what giving the Son really entailed. How am I supposed to respond to that love? How can I receive what I can never repay? How does it make sense that God would become man and die at the hands of men for love of me?

It doesn’t make sense. But it doesn’t have to.

In the final paragraph of C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, the main character writes,

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?

The reason why I receive no answer to my questions is because the Father has already spoken His Word to me. That Word hangs on a tree, skin torn to shreds, life poured out, water pouring from His spear-stabbed heart. It doesn’t matter what I have done or failed to do. The Father has already given His own, His first love, to ransom me. It is finished.

Dear soul, the question today is not why the Father loves. The question is whether you will trust Him without putting limits on His mercy or His providence. Will you allow yourself and all your brokenness to be embraced and transfigured by the God who witnesses the murder of His Son and makes it into something good?

This Father of Christ’s, this Father of ours. He makes all things new. Tonight, the clang of the strepitus at Tenebrae will signal the close of today’s noise. A hush will fall over the earth, as God’s Word remains silenced by our sin. But keep going. For tomorrow night, that Word will roar.

Spousal Thursday

“Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine.”1

This opening verse of the Song of Songs is on the lips of Mother Church tonight. This is the night when the myth of Cupid and Psyche becomes the true myth that enters human history and frailty. In the story, the god Cupid visits the mortal Psyche in complete darkness so that she will not be struck dead from fear at his unfathomable beauty. Just so, Jesus Christ, the Godman, hides Himself in the form of bread and wine as He visits His beloved Bride, the Church. We are wounded creatures so afraid of marvelous light. Therefore light becomes so small that we hold Him in our hand and taste Him on our tongue. The strength that holds the universe taut becomes indescribably weak so that He can nurse us with His own power.

“Why is tonight different from all other nights?” This question sung at every Passover Seder is met with an even more glorious answer as the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood are presented to the human race. Tonight, the lies that enslaved you and left you believing that you are alone and unwanted are shattered by His perfect humility. Tonight, the weight that you carry is no longer yours to carry alone. Tonight, He becomes one with you.

Tonight, He begins to lead you out of Egypt. But you must give Him permission to fight for you and open the sea, that is, His very heart that will be torn open by a lance in mere hours. Tonight, you must heed Moses who urges you to choose life and not death. Because the kiss of Old Testament poetry is not the only kiss bestowed tonight. Judas will kiss his master and friend, but it is a kiss of betrayal. Satan will strike at the future head of the Church, Peter, the strong, fearless man made weak by a little girl. Every one of the feet washed by the Master’s hands will run away. Every friend embraced in the Eucharist will disappear. As he bolts through the trees, the young man’s nakedness lays bare our fickle, distrusting hearts. The One who offers His kiss to humanity is met with only spit from the lips of His creatures.

Tonight, we must come to terms with the fact that we are the ones who will mock and spit on Jesus before the High Priest. We are the ones who will condemn Him and forget His goodness. We are the ones who will beat Him, scourged Him, and crown Him with the thorns of our sin.

But we must not be like Judas and let our sorrowful, disgusting story end there. Tonight, we can kneel beside our Spouse in the garden, holding His hands that are stained red with bloody sweat. At the altar of repose, we can join our feeble surrender to His perfect offering to the Father. Tonight, as we enter the mystery of Gethsemane, Jesus will teach us what it is to be a Son fully alive in the Father. He will teach us perfect obedience. He will teach us perfect grief.

And as He stands to meet Judas, He will teach us perfect love.

Why is tonight different from all other nights? Because tonight God’s heart is broken by a kiss.

1- I’ve been writing a lot about Christ the Bridegroom over this last week. Because we live in a culture that is so confused about love and marriage, it can be strange and maybe even feel irreverent to read. But this is an aspect of Catholic spirituality known as bridal mysticism. It originates with God Himself, who through Old Testament passages in books like Isaiah, Hosea, and Jeremiah, as well as the words of Christ and the book of Revelation, reveals Himself to be the lover and spouse of the human race and therefore of each human soul. This spirituality is notably developed by St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, two men whose lives beautifully model Christ’s masculine soul and unrelenting sacrifice. This isn’t a form of prayer that brings God into human terms so we can make him sound like he’s a boyfriend we can write crappy love songs about and play on Christian radio as “art.” Rather, this is an ascent of the human soul to the bosom of the Trinity, the perfect communion of love that all human love points to.

Superspy Wednesday

*chugs espresso, slams down coffee cup*

Welcome to the Hump Day of all Hump Days. Today, as you know, is Wednesday of Holy Week. But we don’t just call today, “Wednesday of Holy Week.” The Catholic Church is too adept at nomenclature to settle for such a boring title. No, today is Spy Wednesday.

As fun as the name is, it’s also heartrending. Today, our Gospel tells of Judas’ furtive journey to the Pharisees and his schemes to betray Jesus. The human condition is on ugly display today as we witness the seduction of material wealth, a greed that we have all fallen prey to in some shape or form. We weep over the fickleness of friendship and gasp in horror at the atrocity that the demon of betrayal truly is. Today, our hearts must be convicted of our own stupidity when it comes to matters of the heart and worship. We too have been spies with Judas, willing to tear others down to reach happiness, and perhaps even willing to deny Christ, so long as that denial secures our own comfort and satisfaction.

But Judas is not the only spy at work on this Wednesday. It would be dangerous for us to only focus on Satan’s active role in humanity, lest we become overwhelmed by the filth experienced in the common human experience. Yes, the Deceiver is well aware of human weakness and is a master at exploiting our sickness for his own wily gain. But nobody knows the human heart better than the Son of God. In today’s Gospel He is the ultimate spy, as we read:

The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, My appointed time draws near; 
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

Matthew 26:17-19

We should be taken aback by the cryptic nature of Jesus’ instructions. Ok, maybe we shouldn’t be that shocked, because Jesus can be confusing at times. But the disciples have asked for a one word answer to a simple, geographic question, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover?” Rather than reply as they expect Him to, Jesus responds with these lengthy instructions to find a certain, unnamed man at a certain, unnamed house. In Mark’s account of the Gospel (The one read on Palm Sunday this year), we are told that Jesus only sends two disciples away with these instructions. Why all this secrecy?

The answer is simple and yet one that changes the entire course of Salvation: Judas can’t know ahead of time where the Passover will be held.

If he knows, he can have the guards come to the house where Jesus is staying. It is essential that that does not happen. Because it is at the Passover meal that Jesus will institute the Eucharist and give humanity the new covenant, the offering and consumption of His Body and Blood until the end of time. This has vital theological ramifications, because the flesh of the Passover lamb must be consumed in order for the sacrifice and covenant to be fulfilled. If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, slaughtered on the Cross during the twilight brought upon by a solar eclipse, therefore His flesh must be eaten for the act of salvation to be brought to completion. But I’ll let Scott Hahn or Dr. Sri break that down for you.

Covenant theology is crucial. Typology is a fun word to pronounce. But that’s not the only thing on Jesus’ mind as He delivers these instructions for the secret location of the Passover. He is thinking of you. He is thinking of how desperately He thirsts for profound union with you. So gnawing is His hunger that He can’t even wait until you are in heaven to enter into this communion with you. No, the Son of Man sees you in your weakness and pities you. Through the Eucharist, He brings heaven down to you.

The Eucharist is Christ’s final gift to His Bride, the Church, before He lays down His life for her. It is a gift so precious that He guards it at all costs, ensuring that His plans for the great apokalypsis, the precious unveiling of His plan for humanity, are not waylaid by human treachery.

Today, Judas the spy paces back and forth, completely undone by the demon of greed that gnaws all grace away from his soul. But his rage-filled scheming has nothing on the jealous love of your God, who goes to the greatest lengths in preparation for the gift He will give you tomorrow. Tomorrow, He will give you Himself.

Hidden Tuesday

Holy Week is so action-packed that it can almost feel overwhelming. On Sunday, we had our first memorial of the Passion. Yesterday, we anointed the feet of the Suffering Servant. Tomorrow we’ll lean into the grittiness of Spy Wednesday and on Thursday, step into the Triduum.

But nothing really happens on Tuesday.

Our Gospel is taken from the Last Supper, which won’t be celebrated for another couple of days. It’s almost as if the Church is offering us “a deep breath before the plunge,” as Gandalf would say, allowing the goodness of ordinary life to seep back into our hearts after a liturgical season that has been anything but ordinary. The word, “extraordinary,” pales as a description for these next days in Jesus’ life. He knows that He will surrender Himself to the Father with extraordinary trust and offer Himself to us with extraordinary love. These acts usher in an extraordinary beauty that creates the world anew. But Jesus also knows that these upcoming days will be ones of extraordinary pain. He knows that His days are numbered.

Which leads me to the question: What did the Son of God do on His last ordinary day?

In His perfect humanity, Christ saw the created world with an eye so unclouded that He marveled at every grain of sand for the intricate masterpiece that it is. I wonder if He walked alone through Jerusalem early that morning, taking in every palm branch and praising His Father for every breath of oxygen caught and embraced by His sacred lungs. Oh, to be a molecule swept up by the Creator to sustain His created body!

But maybe He wasn’t alone. Maybe He walked with Peter, James, and John, telling them funny stories to lighten their guarded moods, or discussing the trivial, yet precious things that are only understood by close friends. Maybe they went to the market to buy Jesus’ favorite food. During that transaction, He would have looked at the merchant with unmistakable love and sorrow as He pondered the far greater price that would be paid for this soul so soon.

All of this is pure conjecture of course. It’s equally plausible that Jesus withdrew that entire day to be alone with His Father. But something that I think is far less hypothetical is that the Lord would have sought out time with His Mother.

Mary is not written of profusely in the Passion narrative, quiet handmaid that she is. But her agony was unspeakable that week. Mary was no fool like the apostles frequently were. She knew that her Son was the suffering servant from the book of Isaiah1. She had heard from His own lips that He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. Mary had to stand there in the crowd on Palm Sunday, watching her Son march to His death. Even though He was surrounded by shouts of jubilee, she knew that those shouts would turn to jeers and those palms to clubs. As He entered the city gates, Jesus was entering the jaws of death. And there was nothing she could do about it.

None of this was without her permission of course. It was Mary’s “Fiat” that unleashed the light of the Holy Spirit to conceive the Word. At Cana, Jesus would not begin His public ministry, thus beginning the end of His life, without first receiving her approval. “My hour has not yet come,” He told her then. This week, Mary witnesses the climax of that hour. This week is the culmination of her surrender at the Annunciation as she must say, “Yes,” once more, not to life, but to death. The fruit once only known in the recesses of her very body and soul will be stripped naked and torn to shreds for the world to see. But it is in that unveiling that Her Son will draw the world to Himself.

Once more, the new Eve invites the new Adam, not to disobedience and mistrust, but to perfect obedience and surrender. Tonight, Mother and Son meet in private for the last time. The depth of every encounter between these immaculate souls is one we can only hope to witness in heaven. But it’s beautiful to imagine what this last night is like. Jesus holds her in his sinewy carpenter arms as she sings the lullabies she sang to Him in Egypt. They laugh at old stories and memories from Nazareth. He tells her more about the Father and she weeps with love and joy.

That weeping is one of sorrow too as Jesus confides in her that Judas is the one who will betray Him. He tells her that His heart is already racked with grief at the sins of mankind and with fear at the task to be accomplished. But He also tells her about the glory of Sunday. He promises to appear to her, urges her to be prepared and wait for Him. To which He adds, “As I know you will be.”

He declares to her the words of Isaiah2, “Do not fear…When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned….For I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.”

Tears fill His eyes as He kisses her cheek and murmurs, “Because you are precious in my eyes and honored.”

Her voice joins with His to finish the verse, “And I love you.”

Together, they walk outside beneath the moon so near its phase for Passover. The luminous moon that reflects the sun’s glory shines on the last moments of Jesus’ last ordinary day. And as Jesus walks back to His apostles and Mary watches until He has faded into the black night, we are urged to remember that the beauty of daily life is absolutely part of the beauty that saves the world.

1- Isaiah 53

2- Isaiah 43