From Sunday 5 till Saturday 11 April 2020 Holy Week has kicked off. In the Christian Church Holy Week falls between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Throughout this week we commemorate the Passion of Jesus Christ, his death, his descent into hell, and his Resurrection. In other words, his victory over sin and death.
While appreciating the mirabilia Dei, that is the concrete manifestations of the Word of revelation (Dt 26:5-10), as fully incarnated in the Logos of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour (see John 1:14), the saints can give us a helping hand to enjoy profoundly the beauty, healing and salvific effect of these holy days.
As I was reflecting on the powerful silence of these special days, some saints came to succour and release me from the fear and anxiety that is looming around us due to the current situation of Covid-19. The subsequent meditations on our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection caressed my heart and soul so much that I decided to share them with you so that you too can experience their soothing and motivating effect.
For St. Josemaria Escriva Holy Week is more than a simple commemoration. Indeed, it is a contemplation of the mystery of Jesus Christ, who is still living in and through us! The tragedy of the passion brings to fulfilment our own life and the whole of human history. We can’t let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.
Holy Week brings to the fore the essential importance of Christ’s Cross. The latter is, in fact, a school of love and tears that are used to care for Jesus’ wounds. Thus, St. Paul of the Cross develops this point: O souls! Seek a refuge, like pure doves, in the shadow of the crucifix. There, mourn the Passion of your divine Spouse, and drawing from your hearts flames of love and rivers of tears, make of them a precious balm with which to anoint the wounds of your Saviour.
What St. Paul of the Cross is saying gently reminding me of what Pope Francis, another living saint, said on Friday 27 March 2020 at the Sagrato of St. Peter’s Basilica. Mourning the Passion of Christ, drawing flames of love and rivers of tears from Him and anointing His wounds means showing solidarity to Him, personally, as He is suffering in the little ones.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
For St. Ephrem the Syrian Holy Week is the celebration of Christ’s victory over death by transforming it into a bridge on which people travel from this life to the eternal one. In his reflection, one can easily see how the persecuted good conquers the seemingly triumphant evil. We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living… You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.
In the view of St. Augustine Christ’s death is the reason for our hope since, thanks to His death, the Son of God gave us eternal life which we could not have by our own merits. The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.
The current coronavirus crisis brings to the fore what the philosopher Corine Pelluchon wrote on March 23 in Le Monde: “The Covid-19 epidemic … reminds us, first of all, of the deep human vulnerability in a world that has done everything to forget it.” Now if our shocking realisation of our vulnerability has opened us up for despair, the Holy Week offers us the reality that with the Resurrected Christ we win our despair by embracing His omnipotent joy! As St. John Paul II tells us: Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.
Pope St. Leo the Great regards the Holy Week as a big lesson in Christian anthropology, since the latter is the study of the human as it relates to God. As a matter of fact, for St. Leo it is by fixing our heart’s eyes on the Crucified Jesus that we can grow into our own real humanity. True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.
This point is a wonderful interpretation key of Pope Francis’ first General Audience which, incredibly, bears the same date of the speech he did some days ago, that is March 27 2013. In that catechesis he gave an interesting and challenging explanation of the Holy Week, through his habitual simple language style.
But what does living Holy Week mean to us? What does following Jesus on his journey to Calvary on his way to the Cross and the Resurrection mean? In his earthly mission Jesus walked the roads of the Holy Land; he called 12 simple people to stay with him, to share his journey and to continue his mission. He chose them from among the people full of faith in God’s promises. He spoke to all without distinction: the great and the lowly, the rich young man and the poor widow, the powerful and the weak; he brought God’s mercy and forgiveness; he healed, he comforted, he understood; he gave hope; he brought to all the presence of God who cares for every man and every woman, just as a good father and a good mother care for each one of their children…
What is the meaning of all this for us? It means that this is my, your and our road too. Living Holy Week, following Jesus not only with the emotion of the heart; living Holy Week, following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves — as I said last Sunday — in order to go to meet others, to go towards the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step towards our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help. There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!
May our staying at home in the Holy Week teach us to be closer to Jesus by showing solidarity to those who feel anguished and lost in our homes, communities and working places. May we use every means to understand, comfort and help the Crucified One in the suffering and needy around us. This is certainly the kernel of the saints reflections on Holy Week.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap