Tag Archives: cross

Exploring Tuscany

We drove south from Florence and made a stop at the Florence American Cemetery, where more than 4,000 Americans are buried. This cemetery is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Our guide, who was from New York, shared the history of the cemetery and told a few stories of the service people buried there. Then we had some time to walk through the grounds.

It was now the end of the day, and our guide asked if we would help her take down the flag. We walked to the flagpole as Taps played from a loudspeaker.


This happned to be on Veterans Day, November 11, 2022.

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross


In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

See the good

It is good that we are here, Peter said in the bright light,

on top of the mountain.

How easy to feel the rush of glory,

to bask in the glow and know our blessedness.

Joy overflowing.

But coming down the mountain,

would he say it in the dark valley?

In the ordinariness of everyday life?

When facing disease or distress?

Would he say it at the foot of the cross?

At all times, it is good that we are here, wherever we are.


Loving our enemies

The perfection of brotherly love lies in the love of one’s enemies –Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot

In college, my Christology professor asked the class, “Do you think you will see Hitler in heaven?”

It was a trick question, but a number of my fellow students fell for it. “No,” they shouted, indignant that he would suggest something so horrific.

“But what if Hitler, at the very end of his life, repented?” the professor asked.


If God is love (1 John 4:8), then God’s mercy is limitless and certainly not constrained by our sense of who is deserving of God’s love and who is not. No matter how heinous someone’s crimes were, there is always the opportunity to repent and receive God’s mercy.Vulnerability-forgiveness-Lent“Who could listen to that wonderful prayer, so full of warmth, of love, of unshakable serenity—Father, forgive them—and hesitate to embrace his enemies with overflowing love?” (Mirror of Love by Saint Aelred, abbot.) I think Saint Aelred was onto something when he encouraged his brothers to look at how Jesus forgave those who put him to death.The very night that Jesus was betrayed, he gave thanks—and the next day, he asked God to forgive those who did him harm.

Being grateful and forgiving in the face of betrayal might seem to be the kind of thing only the Son of God could do, but…

Who of us does not want to be forgiven when we betray someone we love? When we make a poor decision that has unintended negative consequences? Who of us wants to be separated from our communities? Unforgiven? Unforgivable?Vulnerability-forgiveness-LentI can tend to be more like Jonah than Jesus—wanting God to carry out his threats of punishment on people who are living in sin. Jonah was angry at God for relenting in his promised punishment of the people of Ninevah.  He felt betrayed by God; he was humiliated and he sulked. But he did not die from any of that.

Pamela Holderman

I wonder if Jonah ever came to a place where he gave thanks for God’s mercy. I wonder if he ever came to see his own betraying ways and was grateful that our God is merciful to everyone.

When Jesus was betrayed, it literally cost him his life, which makes my having been betrayed pale in comparison. I survived the times I have been betrayed and maybe even grew from them.

Lent invites me to reflect on my attitudes toward forgiveness.

Thinking of how quickly Jesus was able to let go of being betrayed, of how he could give thanks when he knew he was on his way to the cross, invites me to do the same—to turn around and give thanks and blessing when I have been hurt.

I imagine that Jesus had spent his life being grateful and forgiving—he had been practicing. The invitation to me is to practice letting go of betrayals, hurts and disappointments and readjusting my expectations of myself and others.



On Retreat with the Taize Brothers

“…and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”

(Numbers 21:9).

We celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross at Mass last Sunday, and I was assigned to read from Chapter 21 of the Book of Numbers. During the days leading up to Mass, I prayed with the reading, preparing to be the lector, and I was reminded of a retreat I had attended about thirty years ago.

At the time, I was working at a Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. One of the parishioners had visited the Taize community in France and when he returned to the States, he had connected with the Taize brothers living in New York City. He arranged for the brothers to lead a Palm Sunday weekend retreat at a retreat center in rural Maryland.

I had been to Taize prayer services in Philadelphia—one hour, once a week—and looked forward to spending an extended time in prayer with the brothers. It was a unique opportunity to spend three days with these prayerful men, and I was deeply grateful.

On Palm Sunday, we listened to the Passion of Jesus and then spent some time in prayer at the foot of a large, wooden cross. Each of us was then invited to approach and lay our burdens at the foot of the cross. We each had a symbol which represented our hurts, sins, regrets—whatever it was that kept us from responding to the love Jesus showed by dying on the cross—and we were to place that token at the foot of the cross.

We had no time constraints and were free to approach the cross when we were ready and in whatever way was comfortable for us. Some hugged the cross, some sat and cried. It was a compelling sight—these people I knew humbling themselves at the foot of the cross.

I, too, approached the cross and imagined myself leaving my burdens with Jesus, wanting to believe that he would pick them up and carry them for me.

The very act of laying down what had held power over me and then turning my back on it reminded me that I have a choice—I can continue to hold onto something, let it control me, or I can just drop it at Jesus’ feet and walk away.

The idea was freeing, and the action helped me experience that freedom.

That image has stayed with me, and at different times over the years, I have visualized myself leaving my burdens at the foot of the cross. Each time, I grow in trust that Jesus accepts them and accepts me.