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Good Friday – A Reflection

April 10, 2020
Saint Francis of Assisi – Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Louisville, KY

When Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ) on September 14th, 1224 he held them until his death two years later in 1226. The stigmata was a life changing experience for Francis. This experience in turn influenced so many others. There was a close relationship between the Franciscans and Thomas Merton. He first attempted to join the Franciscan Order after his conversion to Catholicism. They didn’t think he was suitable for that life and should become a diocesan priest. Later on he joined the Trappists (Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance – OCSO) in 1941. Merton always maintained a strong relationship with the friars minor and their patron.

On the first Sunday in Lent, 1942 Merton was accepted as a novice at the monastery (Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane) and thus began his journey as a monk/priest/poet/writer/mystic. During this season of Lent in 2020, I have been walking this Lenten journey with Merton and with our Lord in a way that I had never journeyed before in all of my years of ministry.

As we enter Holy Saturday, the day Jesus was in the garden tomb, it is a time of introspection, prayer, and silence. The day has been heavy with sorrow and grief. As Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body and laid it to rest in the tomb, tears surely flowed. For us, in this new reality created by COVID-19, we participate in this time in a new way.

Merton wrote the poem “Early Mass” during a stay in St Joseph’s Infirmary in Louisville. It speaks to this unusual time and the wait between the crucifixion and resurrection.

Gather us God in honeycombs,
My Israel, in the Ohio Valley!
For brightness falls upon our dark.

Death owns a wasted kingdom.
Bless and restore the blind, straighten the broken limb.
These mended stones shall build Jerusalem.

In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton (p. 64)

As I contemplate this time of waiting… as I contemplate the world’s new reality… as I pray for friends and family I have yet to meet who are struggling through this pandemic… I seek the Lord’s healing.

To adapt Merton’s poem… Wrap all of us in your honeycomb of protection… let your brightness fall upon the darkness covering this world… Bless and restore the victims of this pandemic… Bless and protect the workers who care for them… Bless and protect those who are infected and don’t know it… Keep all of us in the honeycomb of isolation for our protection and the protection of others… rebuild us into a community of caring and compassion… Lord in your mercy, hear this prayer…

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