Meditation #1 The Pietà – reflection written by Megan
Meditation #2 The Crossing of the Red Sea – reflection written by Giulia
The simultaneously beautiful and terrible image of the Pietà is located in the darkest corner of the church. There are no windows here; just images of death – a crucifixion, a lamentation over a dead body, a baptismal font and, behind it, the image of a baptism. All three scenes are related to the same person: Jesus Christ, who died – as the Gospels recount – to save mankind from its afflicted condition, from the loneliness and separation from God, from our home: the Promised Land. The Pietà before which you stand is a representation of a crisis. For the Christians, Jesus Christ was and is the Promise, the one whom the first disciples (and also today) believed would deliver them from their suffering and bring them precisely to this “new kingdom”, to the promised land. But he died. He was killed in the most humiliating way. You stand before a crisis; you stand before a decision, a separation of ways (crisis is derived from the Greek krinein – ‘judgement’ or ‘decision’).
This separation of ways is also recalled in a scene in the stained glass windows immediately to the right from the Pietà, on the counter facade of the church. Focus on the scenes in the upper section. At the very top is Moses, who prefigures Christ in the sense that he was the one who was “sent” to deliver the Israelites from their suppression under Pharaoh in Egypt where there is suffering and “gnashing of teeth”. To be in Egypt for the Israelites is to be away from their God, from their home, their Promised Land.
The scene represented beneath is lifted from the Old Testament (Exodus 14:21-30): the crossing of the Red Sea. After much persuasion, the Pharaoh had finally allowed Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but soon after had a change of heart, and began to pursue them. Meanwhile, ahead of the Israelites was an impossible barrier: the Red Sea. What they had earlier been thinking seemed truer still: “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex 14:12). This is a cry of the heart which would have rung true and loud in the cries of the Jews, of the Jewish community in Amsterdam during the period of the Second World War before the terror, cruelty, and inhumanity of the holocaust. People were driven out of their homes and homeland; families were torn apart, spirits broken, faith, too, and lives cruelly snatched from innocent people. These stained glass windows by Gisele van Waterschoot van der Gracht were installed in 1945, the year WWII came to an end.
This, therefore, is not a story of fear and abandonment. It is one which, against all odds, sheds light (literally!) on the loyalty of God, who – through Moses – causes the waters to pull back, turning “the sea into dry land”, and also to “return and cover the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them.” (Ex 14:28). It is a story that transforms death into life. In the Jewish tradition, the sea is often seen as a metaphor of death and uncertainty. To go into the sea is, therefore, to die. But here, in this story, the “sea was made into dry land”. It is, then, a story of liberation, of salvation. Here is an image that can only be seen in light; it brings us to look towards the light, towards hope, towards the land of “milk and honey”, however distant it may seem.
Now, turn right once again. Your journey which began in darkness, proceeds there, towards the light.
Meditation #3 The Last Judgement – reflection written by Alessandro
Here is the brightest spot; here is an explosion of light. The Last Judgement is depicted on the right stained glass window on the counter facade of the church, in the Eastern corner of the church. From here the light comes through to illuminate the magnificent designs depicted on this stained glass window. We see Jesus triumphant, not simply risen from the dead, but seated on a heavenly throne, surrounded by saints and the apostles. A faithful reproduction of the heavenly Jerusalem as described by the evangelist John in the Book of Revelation.
Here is the fulfilment of what happens in every celebration during the consecration of the Eucharist. The priest extends his hands over the bread and wine offered on the altar, and Christ becomes present again, transporting those present to the moment of salvation, beneath the cross, awaiting resurrection. Here, this window builds a bridge between the present and the future, the day of judgement. This expression can be understood in two ways: as a day to be dreaded, where it will be decided who is condemned and who is acquitted, living the anticipation of this day anxiously, like a defendant waiting for the jury’s verdict; or as a sweet expectation, which can be fulfilled every day, looking for the risen Christ in our lives who lifts us up and warms up the most profound corners of our hearts, which we do not dare to approach.
In fact, the heavenly Jerusalem is depicted in John’s Book of Revelation with four gates, indicating the possibility of entering it from whichever side or wherever one is in life. Perhaps, in order to enter it we do not need to be absolved, but to accept the invitation to do so; an invitation received every day. This is so that our life itself may become one of the gates of the holy city depicted here.
Meditation #4 Confessional of St Peter – reflection written by Fr Jean Claude
There are seven confessionals in this church (made by the Cuypers-Stoltzenberg studio between 1885 and 1889), positioned with a pedagogical aim to help us to recognise what goes on within our hearts and to give a name to what stops us from living the life we are called to live. On each confessional, as a matter of fact, there are three figures: a central one, the penitent, who is either a biblical figure or a saint, with whom we are called to identify and which recalls one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; two medallions on either side of this figure depict a diabolical figure representing a capital sin and a female figure representing the opposite virtue.
Taking the second confessional on the right upon entering the Church as an example, we see the figure of Saint Peter, recalling the gift of Understanding, flanked by a diabolical figure with arms crossed while holding a coxcomb – both symbols of the sin of Envy – and by a female figure holding a representation of a dove – a symbol of the virtue of Kindness. With this confessional, therefore, we have enfolding in front of our eyes but also within our very hearts the drama of the battle between Envy and Kindness, with Understanding being the gift one must learn to receive.
Saint Peter is an intriguing choice as a symbol of Understanding; he struggled to understand God’s plan in his life, to the point of even opposing Jesus, in more than one occasion (see Matthew 16:21-23 and Luke 22:31-34), yet he repents – and understands – to the extent that he is the one upon whom Jesus builds His Church (see John 21:15-19). Envy makes us set our mind not on divine things but on human things; we see our reality and others not as God sees us and them, but as we would have wanted them to be, and usually for worse. Kindness, on the other hand, is about seeing others for what they are – and as God sees them – and to make space for them in one’s life as they are. Only then are we truly kind and charitable to – and therefore understanding of – ourselves and one another.
Meditation #5 The three meals – reflection written by Chiara
The rail of the three communions welcome us in front of the high altar.
The middle, on the main altar, refers to the Last Supper, where the Eucharistic sacrifice is celebrated each day during Holy Mass. Below, set on the left side of the balustrade is a panel showing the Israelites eating the Paschal Lamb, during the Passover, on the eve before their liberation from Egypt. Meanwhile, on the right panel, you can observe the gathering of the manna in the desert. These two episodes are both prefigurations of the Last Supper and the Eucharist. They trace a line of remembrance throughout the history of the Israelites and convey these two episodes to the core event of the Last Supper. The manna and the Paschal Lamb, together, recall our attention to the Eucharist and the real presence of God, Jesus Christ, in it.
As you observe the panels, notice the decoration of oak leaves, ears of corn, vine tendrils, and ivy leaves. The oak, since it is a hard wood, symbolises the strength of faith; the evergreen ivy symbolises faithfulness and eternal life; the vine tendrils refer to our relationship with God as his sons. All these plants are also elements referring to the heavenly Jerusalem, the new heavenly garden, where all the plants will incarnate a love letter written by God.
Thus, we may focus on the beauty of creation and meditate on our actions and attitude to protect and take care of this garden.
Meditate on this point, and try to see it as a promise of the Heavenly Jerusalem, towards which we are oriented, and towards which we are walking.
Meditation #6 Frans van der Lugt – meditation by Benoit
The portrait of Frans van der Lugt is located next to the first confessional to the right of the altar. It was painted by André Bikker. Frans van der Lugt was shot twice on 7 April 2014 in Homs, Syria. He had chosen to stay in the besieged city to experience the daily life of Syrians with Christians and Muslims, caught up in this civil war.
Frans van der Lugt was born in The Hague on 10 April 1938. After his novitiate and studies in philosophy in Nijmegen, he went to the Middle East in 1964 to learn Arabic and teach religion and sports in Damascus. He returned to Europe in 1968 to study theology in Lyon and then psychology. In 1980, he returned to Syria to work with students and as a religion teacher. He regularly visited the churches and villages of the region. In 1993, he took up permanent residence in Homs, Syria. He founded a care centre for the handicapped and organised his famous walks for young people, thousands of whom participated from all ethnic backgrounds. In 2011, the civil war broke out and Frans chose to stay in the old Jesuit house in downtown Homs. He testified to the help of Muslims in preparing the church for Holy Week 2012. In January 2014, he launched an appeal to ask for food for the city’s inhabitants. He was murdered a few days before his 76th birthday, on 7 April. Many people regularly visit his grave.
A very important figure for the Christian community in Syria, he reminds us that saints are not heroic figures of the past but are still alive today. Frans chose to love God and his neighbour to the end, both Christians and Muslims,and people of all faiths. Not everyone is called to be a martyr like Frans, but everyone is called to holiness, that is to say, to refuse the darkness of obscurantism, of turning in on oneself, in order to walk towards the Light and the acceptance of others, even to the point of sharing their trials.
The great community of saints is a living community of those who have died and those who walk on this earth, each in his or her own way, incarnating a manifestation of God’s love.
Meditation #7 The Crucifix on the Triumphal Arch – reflection written by Maria Concetta
The wooden cross placed above the choir gate marks the beginning of the presbytery and it is the main focal point of the nave. Especially at night, when we cannot appreciate the colours and reflections of the stained glass windows, the cross becomes even more present and central, perhaps the first point where one’s eyes rest upon entering the church and a reference as one moves forward into the shaded space of the nave.
In De Krijtberg, so densely decorated with natural and floral motifs, the cross also blossoms in the middle of a forest of pillars/trees that close their branches over our heads. From this cross is a Christus patiens who welcomes us, not yet risen, still with his head bowed and a suffering expression. Despite his most prominent position he does not feel distant but present in the moment as we sit praying before him.
Along the wooden posts of this cross we see little golden sprouts growing and its ends open into flowers and leaves framing the four tetramorph symbols of the Evangelists.
This cross, then, becomes an image no longer just of death, but of a radical gift and promise. Like the tree of life at the centre of creation, we can imagine this cross growing in history and deep within ourselves and recognise its fruit of unity and light that is revealed in the very place we considered too divided and dark to be reached.
Meditation # 8 The Disbelief (and Belief) of St Thomas, St Joseph Chapel – reflection by Paola
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:14-16)
The same Thomas after the death and resurrection of Jesus said: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28)
This is the scene that you are seeing in this corner. Thomas was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. He was also known as Didymus, which means double, made of two parts, or twin. On one part he was completely captured by Jesus, he would have died so that Jesus would’ve come to him in the same way he was going to Lazarus. On the other part when Jesus died he was courageous (he was outside while others were hiding) but disenchanted, without Faith, cynical perhaps. He could have seen all the suffering of Jesus, all his pain. What was the purpose of that? Why did he have to die so brutally?
A week later the resurrected Jesus showed his wounds. Thomas was courageous and touched those very wounds. It was then, from that closeness, that Thomas recognised the power of God, for the glorified life does not entail the elimination of suffering and pain but to make peace with that pain and suffering, even if we do not always understand.
Through the suffering and the pain, Jesus became close to human beings that are in pain. Through the suffering and the pain, human beings can become close to Jesus.
Holy and faithful God, you have risen from the dead your only son, Jesus Christ, sent from heaven for us human beings and for our salvation; give peace and justice to the souls that left this world in pain, and to the ones that are still fighting against diseases, that they may find peace in their resemblance with Jesus. Amen.