Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As I write this note, the news that it will not be possible to celebrate Holy Week together in person has just come in. Needless to say, I am beyond disappointed. Nevertheless, as this Lent turns into one of the most unusual experiences of the spiritual desert I can imagine, I think that the Lord is doing something for us that will be a source of real grace. Namely, we are invited to suffer with Him as He carries the Cross.
Palm Sunday brings us first to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He is welcomed, celebrated, and praised by the very people who will call for His crucifixion days later. How many of those who waved palm branches later denounced Him? How many of those would later hear the preaching of the Apostles and be converted? On the first anniversary of Jesus’ Crucifixion, did they reflect on their own actions during His trial? Surely such reflection would have brought them interior suffering, anguish for having called for the death of the Lord of Life! Yet now, as disciples, as believers, as those who had turned to Him, they would simultaneously know His victory. So for us. On Palm Sunday we welcome Jesus, celebrate His greatness, praise Him for miracles, teachings, and mercy. Yet we also recognize that we have denounced Him, like so many in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. We denounce Him by our sins, by our neglect of those in need, by our stubborn clinging to our own pride. This recognition hurts, and so we experience suffering and are reminded why Jesus takes the Cross for our salvation.
As we approach Holy Thursday, the Church turns our attention to the priesthood and the Eucharist. Jesus teaches the Apostles what it means to be a priest: to wash the feet of others, to serve, to lay down one’s life for others, and finally, to take bread and wine in hand and speak Jesus’ very words so that the whole community of disciples might be fed with the Body and Blood of their Lord. I do not know yet what my own experience of Holy Thursday will be this year. But I know that every year, I reflect on the fact that Jesus did all of this for the Twelve before Judas went out to betray Him. He did it knowing who would betray Him. He did it know that the successors of his Twelve Apostles would also fall and fail. And so every priest, though Holy Thursday is a moment to celebrate the beauty of our vocation, must also on Holy Thursday carry the weight of suffering our Lord endured, knowing who it was who would betray Him.
Good Friday lays the Cross bare before us. There is no avoiding the crucifixion on this day. No running from suffering, for it is placed starkly in our field of vision and we cannot look away. We see Jesus, despised, rejected, scourged, bloodied…and still offering love, and mercy, unafraid in the face of torture, strong in agonizing suffering. We cannot, this year, venerate the Cross as we usually do, with a kiss. But we can interiorly embrace the wood of the Cross as we meditate on Jesus’ Passion. We can physically grasp the cross we wear around our neck, or the crucifix that hangs in our home and gaze upon the Lord who for our sin, for our betrayal, suffers the indignity and horror of crucifixion.
Having gone to Calvary and the tomb in these days, the Church returns to the desert to wait. Holy Saturday, that great and silent day, often feels like a time of spiritual isolation. How familiar we are this year with that sense of isolation! And so we wait. In order to wait more fruitfully, we must use this forced quarantine as a school. Learn, in this time of being distant, what it means to be patient. Learn how to go without that which is normal or comfortable. Learn to accept the unknown while maintaining hope. And learn the suffering of unknowing, the suffering of uncertainty, the suffering of what if. There are many in our world who live with those sufferings every single day, quarantined or not. Our suffering almost needs quotation marks around it. Almost. For these days have truly been a form of suffering and the Lord invites us to unite that suffering to His in these days of Holy Week.
The Cross of Jesus Christ gives us hope in all things. The sadness of being kept away from the celebration of the Easter mysteries is genuinely painful. We are being offered in a unique, communal way, an opportunity to enter into the suffering of our Lord. So many greeted Him with joy, and then turned away. So often we praise Jesus and invite Him into our hearts, only to turn back to old ways of sin. The pain He endured as He carried the Cross is for us, to win us back. When we go with Him this week, however remotely we must go, we each carry a suffering that can be united to His. We each carry a burden that can be united to His. We each carry a hope for a day when this suffering, too, shall pass, and we can be united with Him around the altar once again, and not only at the altar, but with Him for eternity in His heavenly kingdom.