Holy Week, or Passion Week, ushers us into the very pinnacle of our Catholic faith. It gives us a new opportunity to immerse ourselves in the heart of the salvation story, and encounter the very essence of Jesus and his saving mission. It is an opportunity not to be missed! Now is the time to delve into the ocean of Scripture, tradition, sacrament and sacrifice which surrounds the center of the Gospel message: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not simply an interesting story to hold at arm’s length. This is the very lifeblood of our faith, into which we are called to enter with our whole heart, mind and soul.
We begin with an opening Gospel recounting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – which we commemorate today with the traditional procession with palms. Jesus has been resolute in his journey to the holy city, which he knows will culminate at the Cross. He is aware of every detail as he commands his disciples to prepare for his very public yet still humble arrival. Everything he does is deeply significant. Jesus is fully aware of his destiny, and he makes sure that every step of his journey to that destiny takes place according to the plan of the Father.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah, the second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, and the mournful Responsorial Psalm guide us along an ever-narrowing path, preparing us to walk with Jesus along his Way of the Cross. Isaiah’s prophecy reminds us that the call of every “servant of the Lord” is to submit courageously to the divine will. Together with Jesus we too are to “set our face like flint,” with steadfast and steely resolve to remain faithful no matter what the cost, confident that we “shall not be put to shame.” As disciples of Jesus, we face all sorts of trials in life – the “buffets and spitting” that come our way – but we are not alone: “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”
The perfect model of humble obedience in the face of suffering is Jesus Christ. St. Paul describes how Jesus’ humility leads to his exaltation. He “emptied himself.” He “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is a stark presentation of the path we too are following. We are called to empty ourselves, humble ourselves, take up our cross and follow in his footsteps, “obedient to the point of death.” When Jesus took this path, the Father “greatly exalted him.” Our own daily “way of the cross” is also the very way that leads to our being exalted with Christ in glory.
As we walk with Jesus through St. Mark’s account of the Passion, we are challenged to answer – perhaps for the first time or perhaps the hundredth – the “Jesus Question”: Who is this man who died on a cross, and what does his death have to do with me? The painfully detailed description of Jesus’ sufferings will bear no fruit in us unless we face this question and offer our personal answer. Our answer may start us on a lifelong commitment to Christ, or it may deepen a commitment we made long ago. We may struggle with darkness and with many more questions, and find ourselves on our knees at the foot of the Cross, but we cannot walk away from the Passion without an answer.
There is so much to ponder as we read the account: the plot to kill Jesus, the anointing at Bethany, the treachery of Judas, the Passover preparations, Jesus’ prophecy of his betrayal, his institution of the Eucharist, his agony in Gethsemane, his betrayal, arrest and trial, Peter’s denial, the judgment of Pilate, Jesus’ humiliation and torture, his crucifixion, death and burial. We could spend a lifetime mining the depths of the Passion narrative – and this would be a fruitful way to spend a lifetime – but the urgent issue is that we encounter Jesus through this story. We do not know how long our “lifetime” will be. We cannot wait. We cannot put off our answer till a tomorrow that may never come for us. No matter how many times we have walked the way of the cross with Jesus, watched him die, attended his burial, and dwelt in darkness at the tomb waiting for the light – it is time for us to face again, right now, the central question: Who is this man who died on a cross, and what does his death have to do with me?
How can I enter more deeply into Passion Week? Am I willing to share in the humility of Jesus? Do I ask the Lord to change my heart this week?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.