Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
Father Walter Schu, LC
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. People came to him and objected, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
Introductory Prayer: Jesus, what a joy and what a gift to have this time to be alone with you! I want to know you more deeply. I want to hope in you more firmly. I want to love you with greater constancy in my daily life. Only you can give me these gifts. Only you can make me a bold and joyful apostle of your Kingdom.
Petition: Lord, help me to experience the new joy that comes from carrying the cross alongside you.
- The Joy of the Bridegroom: The Old Testament prophets, especially Hosea and Isaiah, describe the relationship between Israel and Yahweh as a marriage covenant. Israel is the bride, often an unfaithful one, and Yahweh is the bridegroom. When Christ refers to himself as the bridegroom, he is appropriating a title that had been reserved to God alone. Clearly, Jesus is much more than an ordinary rabbi. What experience do we most associate with a bridegroom and the wedding feast? Joy! “Although it is true that the cross is never absent from an authentically Christian life, it is equally true that the God who meets us on that cross is the same God who created the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the mountains, laughter, sunlight, and every earthly delight” (John Bartunek, LC, The Better Part, p. 365). Christ came to bring us joy, a joy that would last into eternity.
- Should Christians Fast? Christ says that when the bridegroom is taken away, then his disciples will fast. This is his first reference in the Gospel of Mark to his coming passion. Fasting is a way of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Fasting, sacrifices, and acts of self-denial are also means to detach ourselves from earthly goods in order to cling more firmly to Christ himself. They make us aware of how much we need God. But these ways of sharing Christ’s cross should not make us glum followers. “Some Christians give the impression that following Christ is a somber affair, or that the Christian life consists above all of dour sacrifices and boring obligations. Joyless, dreary, dull. No wonder their friends want to stay as far away from Christianity as possible! If our friendship with Christ does not fill us with contagious enthusiasm, we’re probably being a half-hearted friend” (John Bartunek, LC, The Better Part, p. 365).
- “Behold, I Make All Things New”: The movie The Passion of the Christ puts this phrase from Revelation on Christ’s lips when he meets his mother Mary as he carries the cross to Calvary. Christ’s “narrow gate” of the cross leads to a radically new way of life. It brings an abundance of joy, a new vigor, interior peace. The new wine of the life of grace that Christ pours out on his followers must change not only their way of life, but even their internal attitudes and consciousness. As St. Teresa of Avila once put it, “A sad saint is a bad saint.” What obstacles in my life do I need to overcome in order to follow Christ with greater joy and to radiate that joy to others?
Conversation with Christ: Thank you, Lord, for the new life you came to bring — your own divine life of grace inside me and each of your followers who is faithful to you. Help me to share that joy with others. I long to be a true apostle of your joy.
Resolution: Today I will forget about myself and seek only to help make those around me joyful.