If you have been to Rome, you probably have visited the catacombs. They are a very special place to visit because inside those underground cemeteries you can literally touch our early Christian history. The dark narrow trails that guide us around the tombs of the martyrs who were killed in the Roman Circus carry us back to the first four centuries of our faith. Every time I visit the catacombs I come away feeling energized as a Christian. Most of those catacombs are situated along an old Roman road known as the Via Appia Antica (Old Appian Way). There is an old legend associated with that road and I would like to share it with you as we begin this Season of Lent.
When Nero started persecuting the Church around 60 AD, in the Eternal City there lived a small Christian community whose head was Peter. As many Christians were being killed, the community was fearful that it would be destroyed. In trying to preserve it, the Christians persuade Peter to save himself for the sake of the Church. As Peter is running out of the city on the Old Appian Way, he sees Jesus coming towards him carrying the Cross. Peter is puzzled and asks Jesus, “Where are you going, Lord?” In reply, Jesus says, “I am going to Rome to suffer and die once again.” Peter realizes that Jesus is dying again along with His Christians. Convinced that he could not then run away, Peter goes back to Rome and is arrested by the Romans. He asks to be crucified upside down because he does not feel worthy to be crucified like the Master as he had denied Him three times. That is what happened to Peter. As he was being led away to be crucified, Peter probably remembered the words the Lord spoke to him after the resurrection. St John the Evangelist records those words for us in the final chapter of his gospel. Here are those memorable words:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)
The story of Peter is very relevant for us as we begin our Lenten season. By willingly dying for his Lord, Peter finally fulfilled Jesus’ call to follow Him. Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” As we begin Lent, we are also called upon to take up the cross and follow after Jesus.
In the gospels Jesus tells His disciples over and over again that He has to go to Jerusalem where He would be crucified and would die, but would rise again on the third day. The gospels indicate many times that “Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem.” He came into the world to fulfill the Father’s plan and He would do that by dying on the cross. Early in His public ministry, when Peter tried to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus would chide him for thinking like a human being.
The Lenten journey invites us to imitate the relentless journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem. We must take up our crosses and follow Him up the steep slope of Calvary. I encourage each and every one of us to dedicate time to meditate on the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord. Whatever we do – our prayer, our penance, and our almsgiving – we must ensure that we do it as an expression of our desire to follow the Lord on His painful journey. Let us join the parish for our Stations of the Cross that will take place every Friday of Lent. If we can, we will attend a weekday Mass and offer the sacrifice of Calvary once again. Let us unite our own everyday sufferings – be they small or big – with the suffering of Jesus and make them redemptive. Let us make of the inevitable sacrifices of our state in life – being a mom or a dad, a spouse or a friend, a child or a sibling – a fragrant oblation that will be pleasing to the Lord. Let us set aside time that we can spend in front of our Eucharistic Lord in the Adoration Chapel.
Let us then begin our journey. Yes, we walk towards the top of Mount Calvary where we will witness the ultimate sacrifice of our Master. But we will also journey with Him into the empty tomb where we will be filled with the hope and joy of the resurrection. With the Apostle Thomas let us then enthusiastically say, “Let us go with Him and die with Him!”
I offer my daily prayer that all of us will have a fruitful Lenten season. Please keep the parish in your prayers.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...