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 take 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 are fully into 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 persuaded Peter to save himself for the sake of the Church. As Peter was fleeing the city on the Old Appian Way, he saw Jesus coming towards him carrying the Cross. Peter was puzzled and asked Jesus, “Where are you going, Lord?” In reply, Jesus said, “I am going to Rome to suffer and die once again.” Peter realized then that Jesus was dying again along with His Christians. Convinced that he could not then run away, Peter went back to Rome and was arrested by the Romans. He asked to be crucified upside down because he did 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 continue 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.” During this 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 is 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 would try to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem, Jesus would chide him for thinking like a human being.
Our Lenten journey invites us to imitate the relentless march 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 – let us 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, let us attend a weekday Mass and offer the sacrifice of Calvary once again. Let is unite our everyday sufferings – be they small or big – with the suffering of Jesus and make them redemptive. Let us transform the inevitable sacrifices of our state in life – being a mom or a dad, a spouse or a friend, a child or a sibling – into 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 the 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!”
Let us not forget St Joseph whose feast falls this year on Monday, March 20th. In all our needs, both physical and spiritual, let us turn to him. He will take care of us just as he took care of Jesus and Mary.
I offer my daily prayer that all of us will have a fruitful Lenten season. Please keep the parish in your prayers. Invoking God’s abundant blessings on your Lenten sacrifice.
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...