New Catholic reflects on his experience of Holy Week

Timothy Terhaar is baptized by Father Steve Witt at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Iowa City. Terhaar received the sacraments of initiation of baptism, confirmation and Communion during the Easter Vigil April 8.

(Timothy Martin Terhaar, 34, a University of Iowa College of Law student who will graduate in May, entered the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church in Iowa City. After graduation, he and fiancée, Yvonne Hangsterfer, will marry. In July, he will take the bar exam and then travel with his wife to Austria before they move to New York in September.)

“Although I grew up largely without religion, I descend from Catholics on both sides of my family, so it’s in my blood,” he said, explaining why he chose to join the Church. “I did a lot of wandering in adolescence and early adulthood, and I came to understand that true freedom was possible only through submission to authority. There is no greater authority than God and God has no better representative on earth than the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

Terhaar shares this reflection from his experience of Holy Week:

I went to Mass on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The palm procession and washing of the feet made a strong impression on me visually. The addition of those elements to the usual liturgy

Timothy Terhaar and his fiancee Yvonne Hangsterfer.

transforms the whole experience. On Palm Sunday, the atmosphere felt almost festive, anticipatory, with children processing in. On Holy Thursday the church was solemn, the spectacle of the feet washing beautiful in lowliness. The changing of roles from washed to washer was an image for me of the Christian life. God gave us his Son as a model and savior. God washes us clean of sin that we might help others to be washed free, also.

The Easter Vigil was a profound experience. It is almost as difficult to speak about as being born might be if we were born self-conscious. A few things stick out in my memory as I write this. First, the readings spoke directly to my heart in a way that has only happened once or twice before. It recalls the conversion of my confirmation saint, Augustine, who heard a voice in the garden tell him to open the Bible and read, and what he read resolved his doubts and dilemmas. The Word broke open for me as the lectors spoke it and, in breaking open, it brought together the normally disparate parts of the world. To hear God’s Word truly is to understand the unity in the fragments of life. I experienced this true hearing twice.

Genesis 1.29: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’” I understood this as an image of faith, the mustard seed, the fig tree, the sower … we all are trees and now our fruit has seed in it. The baptism was seed and the confirmation, God willing, will bear fruit.

Genesis 22.8: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’” I smelled the incense burning when I heard this and I trembled because I know that God did provide the lamb. There can be nothing more powerful: God played Abraham and Isaac, the Father sacrificed the Son instead of placing a ram in his place. The burnt offering is God, God an offering to God because nothing less is enough. Fear and trembling at this because it is right and just.

It was amazing to see everyone light his candle at his neighbor’s flame. This is an image like the washing of the feet. I longed to be able to light my candle with the congregation. I felt the water wash me. I heard the bells. I held the candle and looked at the flame. I smelled the oil and felt the grip of Father Steve (Witt’s) hand. I looked into the faces of the priests and deacons, all different, all holy, like the carved faces of saints and prophets.

I ate the body of Christ, and felt light. I drank the blood of Christ, and felt strong. They were mine for food. It felt like a homecoming. Amen.

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