Three Crosses Pixabay - Free for commercial use
Faith, Lent, Spirituality, Suffering

Longing and Loss on Good Friday


Good Friday is the one day of the year that there is no Mass. The tabernacle is empty. There is no Jesus.

Good Friday is the day of the Passion – the suffering and Death of Jesus on the Cross.

There are many years that Good Friday prompts us to dig deep and examine our own sinfulness. For it was sin, selfishness, self-righteousness, greed, and pride that brought Jesus to the Cross.

But that’s not where we are this year.

This year we are suffering. We are grieving. We are physically isolated from community.

Many are sick. Many are unemployed. Many are overworked. Many are mourning.

So many disappointments. So many heartaches. So much lost.

This is the year we need to look to the Cross and know that we are not alone in our suffering.

This is the year we need to hear Jesus Christ, the Son of God, give us permission to cry out, “My God, My God, Why have you abandoned me!”

Although Jesus wasn’t ever actually abandoned by God (nor are we), in the depths of human suffering, it can sometimes feel like it.

Jesus was praying with Scripture. Psalm 22 laments pain and frustration with tremendous detail… and it then shifts. Around verse 21, the Psalmist begins to praise God’s Glory with confidence. We, like Jesus, can lament to God with vivid description and still be People of Faith.

Unable to gather as a community, unable to receive the gift of God’s grace in the Sacraments, unable to pray together as the Body of Christ in our Churches… it does feels very alone.

Photos - 2 of 3

The tabernacle is empty. The Church is empty. This is our very uncomfortable reality, feeling the longing and loss on Good Friday.

If this – the suffering, longing, and loss of Good Friday – is where you are, know that you are not alone… nor are you weak in your faith. Look to the Cross and know that you are not alone.

The essence of our faith is trusting in the knowledge that the suffering and Death of Good Friday is not the end of the story. But it is where we are right now… at least for today.


Post-Script: A Neighborhood Stations of the Cross

On the morning this reflection was posted, inspired by an idea posted on the Guadalupe Radio Network‘s Houston Facebook Group, my friend and neighbor Coleen asked for help replicating a North Houston neighborhood’s Stations of the Cross. This beautiful idea would allow people to walk/bike/drive the 14 Stations and maintain social distancing while journeying in prayer. Propelled by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our neighborhood Stations in Nassau Bay came together quickly and easily. Mosaic for Blog

Following the directions given by a member of the North Houston’s neighborhood group Prestonwood Prays, around 8am Coleen set out to purchase supplies. At 9am she asked me to gather, print, and laminate the images of the Stations, and then called upon Brooke to coordinate the locations into a coherent path. Together, we quickly found 14 homeowners willing host the sign-post at the edge of their property, and Brooke mapped and organized the locations to form a walkable 3.25 mile loop. Since I had recently put together a simple, Scripture-based, Traditional Stations of the Cross for use on a retreat, I integrated those passages, along with the address of the next Station, onto a second laminated page to be attached to each sign. We announced the opportunity on FaceBook and text, and provided the links to a printable Worship Aid and Map of Locations. Everything was installed and folks were making their pilgrimages by 2pm. After sundown on Good Friday, the Stations were removed and disassembled. We received such an outpour of gratitude from prayerful pilgrims that we will do our best to continue this tradition in the years to come!

Here’s the basic instructions and supplies needed to construct these neighborhood Stations. 


The tabernacle at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church was designed with doors that open to the sanctuary on one side, and the stained glass image of the Last Supper on the other. With gratitude to Mark Evangelista for the photo of the empty tabernacle opening to the hand of Christ offering the bread, and Miriam Escobar for the photo open to the empty sanctuary.

Read More
Last Supper - Jen Norton 2
Lent, Passion, Scripture, Service, Suffering

A Holy Thursday without…


Did you know that the last party or social gathering that you attended would, in fact be the last one for the foreseeable future?

When reading the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s pretty evident that the Apostles had no idea it would be their last. Yet what happened while they shared the Passover meal with Jesus would be remembered and celebrated as the first: the Institution of the Eucharist.

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Lk 22:19-20)

The Last Supper is the focus of the Church’s celebration on Holy Thursday. Yet for almost all of us, this will be a Holy Thursday without the Eucharist.

For anyone planning to watch the liturgy at home, since it’s a Holy Thursday without the presence of the people, it’ll also be a Holy Thursday without the Rite of the Washing of Feet.

I always found it interesting that while the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke provide the details about the Last Supper, the Gospel of John does not. Instead, John cuts to the meaning of the Last Supper: humble service.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (Jn 13:14-15)

In the time of Covid-19, while we celebrate a Holy Thursday without so many things, let’s really turn our attention to humble service.

As a society, we’ve been doing a better job of recognizing and appreciating the humble service of so many of whom we’ve never even realized were essential employees! From health care, to supermarkets, to truckers and delivery persons, to police and first responders, to teachers…

How can you express gratitude for the humble service of others?

Amid so much grief and suffering that we cannot control, there are countless acts of humble service happening all around us, from making and donating reusable masks, to checking on and caring for neighbors, to finding ways to celebrate kids’ accomplishments and birthdays, to the sharing of musical talents, to the distribution of meals…

Where have you seen examples of humble service to others?

So on a Holy Thursday without so, so many things, perhaps you can find a way to be in communion with Christ through acts of humble service… (even if that service is a matter of reframing your interactions with those you are trapped at home with) …remember that Christ is present in these acts of service and sacrificial love.

Christ has given you an example; how will you humbly serve others?

Banner Artwork “Last Supper” ©Jen Norton. . Used with permission.  

Read More
Agony in the Garden
Lent, Passion, Scripture, Suffering

In the Garden with Jesus


The only thing worse than the actual struggle of going through a difficult time is feeling completely isolated in the struggle. Unless, of course, you like to also compare your struggling with others (who certainly have it worse than you) and minimize your own pain because it always helps to pile guilt onto the sense of isolation to reduce that suffering.

This is what is happening in Covid-19.

It honestly doesn’t matter how bad you do or don’t have it. We are all suffering right now. We are all grieving for normalcy.

So let’s just stop right there. Nowhere in Scripture does the God of Life and Redeemer of the World minimize or compare suffering. Instead, Scripture presents us with invitations and affirmations, especially in the Passion and Death of Christ.

Focus, for a moment, on the image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus knew what was happening, and he knew it was about to get a lot worse before it got better.

Let the very fact that “knowledge” caused Jesus grief affirm you; this is hard.

Jesus prays and asks his closest friends to pray, telling them: “I am deeply grieved,” and “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me” (Mt 26:38 NRSV and GNT).

Jesus models speaking truth to your closest friends… 

…gives permission to speak the truth of your heart to God… 

Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me…” (Lk 22:42).

…petitions God for the deepest longings of the heart…

…asks clearly and directly…

Jesus concludes,  “…yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).

…invites trust in God…

…models surrendering to God.

In our agony, in our suffering, in our frustrations, in our confusion, God sees us. God is with us. Angels are ministering to us. And God will redeem this.

Read More
Artwork ©Jen Norton. . Used with permission.
Lent, Life, Liturgy, Passion

Palm Sunday’s Highs and Lows


While listening to our Pastor proclaim the Gospel as we watched our Parish’s Palm Sunday Mass on YouTube, my 12-year-old asked, “But wait–why are we reading about the crucifixion and death now. Isn’t that what happens on Good Friday?”

Lego design by my 12 year old son, Max.

Yes. Yes, it is. Palm Sunday begins with Jesus’ Triumphant Entrance into Jerusalem as the crowds sing “Hosanna in the Highest” and wave their palm branches. And then we are plunged into the solemness of Holy Week.

That tension from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows is stark… it’s uncomfortable… and it’s exactly the point.

In light of the pandemic, take a moment to reflect on your experience of this stark contrast in your own life. Think back to February or early March… recall the events, activities, travels, and celebrations that you had on your calendar.

  • What were you looking forward to with joyful anticipation?

Think of the disciples watching the One they know to be the Messiah and Son of God entering the Holy City of Jerusalem surrounded by glory and praise… and within days, he is arrested and crucified.

Before stepping more deeply in to the Passion, realize that having joyful anticipation abruptly cut down—that very sense of disappointment—is a crucial part of our Palm Sunday liturgy. We are all feeling it; we have all felt it, including Jesus and his disciples.

Allow this jarring experience and sense of profound disappointment to be an entry point into the Passion as we begin Holy Week.

Let Jesus meet you where you are.

Banner Artwork ©Jen Norton. . Used with permission.  LEGO design and photograph by the same 12 year old son who asked the opening question

Read More
Jesus Calms the Sea Eugène_Delacroix_-_Christ_Endormi_pendant_la_Tempête
Faith, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering, Transformation, Virtue

Having Hope in a Time of Crisis


Having hope in a time of crisis is not easy. Hope is rooted in truth, and the truth is, things are not easy right now.

Let’s be clear: having hope is not foolish optimism detached from the reality at hand. Rather, it has to do with trusting in the promises of God… which is hard… which is why it’s called a virtue (and not a given).

Hope—trusting in the promises of God—is intertwined in trusting in God’s goodness. On Friday, Pope Francis spoke about this very dynamic in his meditation on the calming of the storm from Mark 4:35-41 (full text and video here). Caught in a violent storm, the disciples, who are experienced, life-long fishermen, fear for their lives while Jesus is lays sleeping.

They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”(Mark 4:38-40)

Pope Francis honed in on the spiritual struggle so many of us have in the midst of a storm like Coronavirus and quarantine: “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.” Like the disciples, our faith in God is evident in the way we call out to God. However, in the midst of a storm so violent that people fear for their lives, sometimes we question God’s goodness. We cannot understand it and question if God cares about us. Fear threatens our trust in God’s goodness.

Trusting in God’s goodness opens our hearts to hope. In a time of crisis and fear, we need to remind ourselves and each other that there is abundant evidence of God’s goodness at work.

How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.” (Pope Francis, Urbi et orbi blessing, March 27, 2020)

In the language of faith, this is the Paschal Mystery – God works with us, in us, and through us as vessels of grace to one another. Even in the midst of chaos and crisis, we can see goodness.

In the language of Mr. Roger’s Mom, “Look for the helpers.”

Mr Rogers Notice the Helpers

Name and claim the goodness and joy that you observe. Know that God is the source of all goodness. Believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us to be vessels of grace,

Recall the insight from the Raising of Lazarus: we have faith not in a God who rescues us; we have faith in a God who Redeems. We have faith in a God who is the source of all goodness; who respects our freedom enough to let things unfold… even difficult, painful, stressful things. Because our God Redeems.

God doesn’t do evil to achieve good (or to teach lessons). God doesn’t intend, rejoice in, or plan for suffering. God redeems it.

And we have faith in a God who Redeems.

Cultivating Hope

Trusting in a God who Redeems is at the root of the virtue of hope, and like all virtues, we can strengthen and grow in hope with practice.

Here one practice that we have been doing in our family to cultivate hope:

The Rose: Every night, when we gather for family dinner, we pray The Rose, which is a family-friendly, loose adaptation of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. I have always appreciated the way the Rose allows us to hear about aspects of each other’s day that we otherwise wouldn’t.

The Rose Handout(Note: if you cannot see the image above, and/or if you would like a printable copy of The Rose, click here.)

  • Rose: Naming the bits of laughter and joy, the successes (no matter how small), the connections… Naming goodness and grace is essential to the spiritual practice of gratitude. Do it every night while eating dinner. Share your gratitude for goodness with one another.
  • Bud: For my boys, anticipation of joyful experiences is just as (if not more) exciting than the experience itself. Naming our buds lifts our spirits. However. In the time of Covid-19, when all the things we usually look forward to have been cancelled, it’s becoming more and more difficult to identify things to look forward to. Which is why it’s becoming more and more crucial to our spiritual well-bring. Yes, most of our “buds” have looking forward to upcoming Zoom calls with friends… and getting to the other side of the Coronavirus! This is going to take some effort, but it’s also key to cultivating hope!
  • Thorn: As I wrote in How Are You, it’s also important to be real about the struggles in your day. Articulating your thorn is prayer when that lament is directed to God, trusting in His goodness. Need some guidance there? Check out the Psalms.
  • Root: As a family, we join together in specifically praying for people by name… and praying for an end to this pandemic.

What are you doing to cultivate hope today?

Read More
1 2 3 4 21