With the procession of palms and the reading of the Passion we begin the journey of Holy Week. Holy Week is a time for us to contemplate the Passion of our Lord as he comes to Jerusalem to offer himself as the Paschal Lamb of sacrifice, a propitiatory offering in atonement for our sins.
Holy Week has always been for me a week of special graces. This year we certainly could use some special graces. It is a time to draw near to the Lord Jesus and to the altar of his cross. It is a special time to realize and experience the love of God the Father, who in his mercy has given us his only son Jesus as an offering for our sins. From the time that I was a young boy I always had a sense that Holy Week was special and required special attention and intention. It is not something to rush through but we must slow our busy lives down for a bit and really see and meditate on the events that unfold for us in this week. This year we have certainly been forced to slow things down. I have always lived this week as a special time to consider what I have done with my life and to place that in the light of what Jesus has accomplished for us in his Passion. Has the sacrifice of Jesus, his love to the end, been fruitful in my life and been reflected in the choices that I have made with my life or was it all in vain? It has always touched me deeply when I take the time to fully realize that he suffered his Passion “for me” and not just for people in general. The love of Jesus on the cross is a personal love.
It has always been important in our faith and relationship to God to remember the saving events of the past, the ways in which God has provided for our salvation, just as it is important in any relationship to remember what someone has done for you in the past out of love. In this remembrance we actually enter into these events and become present to them once again, feeling and experiencing the love that is offered for us. We sit down at the table of the Last Supper and we experience the gift of love that Jesus gives to his disciples in his humble service of washing their feet and in the sacrifice of his body and blood that is the Eucharist. We watch and pray with him in the garden as he pours his heart out to the Father and receives the consolation of the angels, maybe catching ourselves growing sleepy too. We follow in the crowd as Peter did as Jesus is led away to be tortured and tried and think of the times that we have denied him. We stand among the crowd that calls out for the crucifixion of Jesus, preferring the insurrectionist and terrorist Barabbas over the meek, humble and silent Jesus. We walk the way of the cross with our Lord and maybe even help him carry the cross as Simon of Cyrene did, or wipe the sweat from his brow as Veronica did. We stand at the foot of the cross and listen to the last words of our Lord and see his Sacred Heart pierced for our offenses and the last breath escape from his lips as he dies for us, imploring the Father’s forgiveness. We watch where they laid him in the tomb and we return there later to be confronted with the empty tomb.
We witness the suffering and death of the Lord and see his life poured out on the altar of the cross, blood and water flowing from his side as Jesus loves us “to the end”. There is a true sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Only Son, this time not being spared at the last minute as was Isaac but given and completed as a total oblation of love. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others and so we are also called to love one another with that same love. The death of Jesus comes about because of our sins. He did this “for me”. This truth is not meant to cause us to hate ourselves in our guilt but rather to hate sin. We too often make light of sin today. It is just a little sin, no big deal…but the weight of those little sins bear down upon Jesus and cause his death. So can our “little sins” add up to be a heavy burden to bear in our lives. No sin should be acceptable to us in our lives as we witness the destruction of life that sin brings about.
It is time to open the eyes of our hearts and be witnesses to the love offering of God. St. Peter exhorts us in his letter to the Church, “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1Pt 4,8) Let us not run away from the Passion as the disciples did so long ago, but let us remain with him for a while and watch and pray and learn how to love. “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1Jn 3,18)