I admit that I am a "cradle Catholic." The Church has been a part of my life since my earliest years. My parents were devout people who were daily communicants and both my brother and I became very used to being around the church and being involved in church activities. I served as an altar server in my youth, attended a Catholic high school (we did not have an elementary parochial school at that time) and then spent some time in the seminary.
My wife of 50+ years and I were married at a solemn high Mass celebrated by my uncle who was a priest of the diocese and we exchanged our vows with the officiating priest who was my brother. We were then blessed with three beautiful children. In 1994 I was ordained as a permanent deacon in my diocese and have served in a variety of ministries since then.
To say that Jesus was an important part of my life would be an understatement. But as with anyone of our friends, when our friend in not around we may not always think of him or her but we know that he or she would be there for us when needed. We are often challenged by our spiritual directors or in homilies we hear at church to develop a "personal relationship" with Jesus. I believe that I have that relationship but it can always be strengthened. There are times when the relationship is heightened by certain events in our lives. As I have moved through another Lenten season, I have had the opportunity to experience two events that I believe have strengthened my relationship with Jesus.
The first was the opportunity to read a remarkable book. It is entitled Jesus, a Pilgrimage and was written by a talented and prolific writer, Father James Martin, S.J., culture editor for America magazine. The book took me through a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that Father Martin experienced and was so well crafted that you could feel yourself at the various places where Jesus ministered in his time on earth. It was a great Lenten reading and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more about Jesus and how Jesus can affect our lives.
The second event took place this week and at first it may seem strange to some. It was a presentation of the Stations of the Cross in the company of clowns. Clowns, you say? Yes, clowns. Some at first may feel that this is diminishing the importance of the Way of the Cross or denigrating it in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth. A group in our diocese has been presenting this drama for the past twenty-eight years. Clowns have been a part of our Christian history for centuries. In the fourth century, there was a clown named Philemon who would not obey an imperial edict to worship the pagan gods of the emperor. For this he was executed - he had become a "clown for Christ."
The clown ministry in our diocese in their brochure present the question: Why use clowns for such a highly devotional setting as the Way of the Cross? One of the priests of our diocese gave this as a response to that question:
Certainly the clown is "an ageless reality...." A clown is that anonymous and yet very personal figure who has appeal to persons of every age. There's something about the figure of a clown that can draw us in, because that clown becomes the figure of everyone....If there is any way of helping us to identify, if there is any way to kind of pull us in to the full meaning, to the full celebration of the events of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection, then certainly there's a benefit...there's a value.
These two events have certainly drawn me closer to Jesus this Lent. My prayer is that you will find people and events in your lives that will continue to draw closer to him because there is no better friend that we can have. May you have a prayerful remainder of Lent and a glorious Easter to come.