The Days Leading up to Easter, known as Holy Week, are a special time of year. Depending on whether Easter is “early or late” the weather can still have the cold dampness of winter, or the smell and sense of spring. Either way, every year Easter arrives, ready or not.
As you can imagine, for priests, it’s not only a busy time of the year, but one that “packs a lot of Church” into a few days. Oftentimes, after all the planning is done, and in between services, I take some time to reflect on my own spiritual life and that of our parish, reminding myself that it’s God’s Church, and at the end of the day, we are all in God’s hands.
Although a bit different this year than last, with some more hope on the horizon, these days always give me material for prayer, people and circumstances that I like to put before the Lord and listen to His guidance. We spend so much of our time talking. Holy Week gives us a chance to listen.
For some, these days are an opportunity to reflect on where we are broken in body and soul. Holy Week provides an occasion to spiritually enter into sacred space in our minds and hearts to meditate on just how fragile and hallowed all life is. And while this might sound a little sad and depressing, it is all preparation for healing and rebirth - all in the Resurrection of Jesus.
According to Gary Jansen, author of Life Everlasting: Catholic Devotions and Mysteries for the Everyday Seeker and Station to Station: A Journey through the Stations of the Cross, the most dramatic, and maybe the most spiritually challenging day of Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on the evening before Easter, is Good Friday. He notes that on this day hundreds of millions of people around the world will commemorate—through fasting, prayer, and attending church services—the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Yet, you don’t have to be Christian to observe this deeply solemn and reflective time.
On Good Friday, we encounter Jesus not as God or the leader of a religion, but as a simple, fragile and broken man. Nowhere in the accounts of His life is He more human. On this day, there are no miracles. No sermons. No parables. There’s no walking on water, no turning water into wine. No one is healed and no demons are cast out. The blind, listening to the commotion as Jesus drags His cross through the streets of Jerusalem, never regain their sight. On Good Friday, we find Jesus—once someone’s Son with scraped knees—raw and broken. He is, like all of us, vulnerable and subject to great pain.
Jansen adds, that regardless of the humiliation and the physical abuse that Jesus endures, He never behaves in typical human ways. When Roman soldiers beat Him, He doesn’t curse His tormentors. Jesus doesn’t fight back, doesn’t make a grandstand or charge His followers to riot on His behalf. After His friends abandon Him, including Peter, one of His closest allies, He doesn’t cast judgment. Instead, He accepts them for who they are.
In the midst of great loneliness, Jesus prays. Standing before His accusers, He remains calm. Bleeding from the brutal assault to His body, Jesus forgives His attackers. As He hangs from a cross, He doesn’t think about Himself. Instead, He turns His focus to His mother, brother, and sisters. In His endurance, courage, compassion and death, Jesus not only offers us the ultimate example of grace under pressure, but He shows us what it means to be truly human.
Oh that we could be more like Him, not only this Holy Week, but every week!
Given the division in our world, and some days, even in our Church, we might all do well to set aside time in these holy days to reflect on how we respond not just to our own suffering, but to the pain of everyone who falls and scrapes themselves against the rough concrete patches of life. We might do well to honestly assess how we react when people humiliate us, curse us, call us names, or make fun of us. We might internalize that pain, and struggle with that sense of abandonment, but in the end, can we join that suffering to His? Can we accept and love those who harm us for who they are? Can we entrust them to the loving arms of Mary, Most Holy, asking her intercession?
In the end, it seems to me that if we don’t yearn for and try to emulate the endurance, courage, and compassion of Jesus, who not only offers us the ultimate example of grace under pressure, but shows us what it means to be truly human, then these days are nothing more than a charade, devoid of meaning, absent true devotion and nothing more than an empty show.
It’s my prayer for you and for me too, that this Easter, perhaps unlike any other, that when the stone is rolled away from the place of darkness, and the light of new understanding and appreciation begins to shine in our hearts, that we will truly be transformed in His Resurrection!
Blessings, today and always!