We have come to Holy Week, the high point of the Church’s liturgical year. We make every effort to enter fully into this week, during which our task may be described in Jesus’ words to Peter, James and John in the garden: “Remain here and keep watch.” We strive to “keep watch” with Jesus throughout this week, remaining close to him as he passes through all the stages of his Passion.
As Catholics we know that when we join in the sacrifice of the Mass, we are not simply remembering past events. We are entering into the one timeless sacrifice of Jesus. The Eucharist that we share is not merely a symbol – it truly is his Real Presence, his actual Body and Blood, being offered for us and with us. With this awareness we enter into the liturgies of Holy Week, understanding that we are not merely reading about something which happened in the past. We are being invited to walk with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem to make his complete offering of self to the Father out of love for the Father and for us. We are being asked to do what he does, to follow in his footsteps. Right here and now we are being invited to participate in the sacrificial offering of Jesus. We can join with him in offering ourselves to the Father for the redemption of the world. This is what St. Paul means when he says, “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24).
How does this happen? Isaiah gives us a clue in the first reading: “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” Morning after morning we open ourselves to God in prayer, asking him to enlighten us to know his will, and to strengthen us with his grace to act in love in all the situations of our day. We strive to remain faithful, not rebelling or turning back, even in the midst of difficulties and suffering. Generally, our sacrificial offering is not made in grand and noteworthy ways. It is made in the little, simple sacrifices of love we make moment by moment – being patient with a difficult person here, giving another preference over us there, offering a kind word even when we are mistreated, forgiving those who “trespass against us,” accepting each providential moment of the day as it unfolds, and doing our best to honor God in each circumstance.
As we begin this week, we can take inspiration from the woman with the alabaster jar of perfumed oil who is mentioned in the Gospel. She breaks the jar and pours out all the costly oil over Jesus’ head. This astounding action is something to ponder: the oil was worth more than three hundred days’ wages – a small fortune! And she simply pours it all out for Jesus, out of love for him. The onlookers (one of whom was Judas) are scandalized, even becoming infuriated with her. This action of hers is a such shameful waste of resources! It makes no sense! Such an extravagant, excessive display! Yes, it is. This is how love acts, not stopping to consider the cost, not looking to save something for self, giving all for the beloved to the point of emptying oneself completely.
Is this not exactly what Christ did, in pouring out his life for us on the Cross? St. Paul tells us in the second reading that it is, saying of Christ that, “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, … he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.” The woman with the perfumed oil poured out all her fortune for Christ. He, on the Cross, poured out his very life Blood for us. Surely this was not reasonable. It was not something that the world would ever expect or could ever understand. It was a pure act of total, generous, merciful, self-giving love.
This is the spirit with which we must enter into Holy Week – the generous love which pours itself out completely for the sake of the beloved. This is the love which is possible for us only by grace, and only through faith. It is not something that we arrive at by reason. It does not “make sense” from the world’s point of view. As the Lord tells us through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). So we need to let go of our thoughts and our ways, and seek to walk with Jesus this week, as he shows us the thoughts and ways of God, the way of total, self-emptying love.
We cannot expect that it will be easy to follow Jesus, through this week or throughout our lives. In the account of the Passion we see plenty of examples of those who betray Jesus, attack him, humiliate him, and ultimately put him to death. We also see the weakness of those who deny and abandon him. And we hear the awful cry of Jesus himself from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As our Lord and Master has suffered all these things, we can expect that we also will have to pass through betrayal, humiliation, abandonment and suffering. We will continually be tempted to run away. But let us cling to our Mother Mary, always faithful in her sorrows, asking her to strengthen us to walk in her faith as we follow the footsteps of Jesus this week.
Am I ready to let go of my thoughts, and my ways this week and walk with Jesus in self-emptying love? Do I love, completely, or do I consider the cost and look to save something for myself? Is my love for Jesus strong enough to pass through humiliations, betrayals, abandonment and suffering?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.