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The Catholic Moment: Experiencing Holy Week

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April 13, 2011

By Father Earl Fernandes

Each year the church calls us to remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in ritual, music and readings. We have all grown up with the long reading of the Passion of Christ from the Gospels, the carrying of the palm in processions, the Easter fire and the sprinkling on Easter Sunday morning at Mass. Many of these ceremonies can speak to us in different ways and in different years, but always the depth of the heritage or salvation is present in them.


Thinking about the involvement of the people of the Gospel can sometimes seems like an encounter with familiar characters whose story we take for granted. Maybe this year we can begin to think of the great events of Holy Week as our story, too. Maybe we can be part of the crowd welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, laying on Him our personal hopes and expectations, turning to Him as the answer to our problems and our doubts and being somewhat nervous that He might fail us. Have we ever come to the point of relying on the Lord and being bewildered by what seems to us as a lack of response? Maybe we have hailed Him as our hope and found ourselves right where we were when we began our prayers.


If this happens to us, think how the apostles must have felt when the joy of Palm Sunday turned into the disaster of Good Friday. They had put all their trust in the Lord and saw that trust destroyed and shattered on Good Friday. In fact, the Passion story tells us of Peter’s denial and the absence of the others. How many people do we know that have had Peter’s experience and have walked away? How many times have we been tempted to do the same? Why doesn’t Jesus hear me? Why did He disappoint me?  The apostles’ story can be very much our own at times it.


We can also identify with the fickleness of the crowd on Palm Sunday. When things were good, Catholics flocked to Mass and to the church’s call to a deeper devotional life. When we stumbled, seemed to have lost our way or simply when people thought there might be a good life to be found elsewhere, our crowds also started to disperse. Jesus easily became just another story in a many-story world. This happened certainly during the events of Holy Week. Barabbas seemed like a good alternative to a troubling Messiah who had ended up in great disfavor with the prevailing powers of His world. Pleasing Herod or the high priests seemed, for many of the crowd, a safer way to go in the quest for a more secure and comfortable life.


Maybe this year we could remember the story of our own early encounters with Jesus and the church. We can remember our great family celebrations of first Communions, confirmations, weddings and the comfort of a Mass for deceased family and friends. Maybe this could help us understand the intimacy and friendship of the Last Supper and the wonder of the apostles at the new and startling claims Jesus was making about himself and His relationship to them. What more could He give them than His life, His very self? They must have wondered what that might mean for them in the days and months to come. It was in trust that they followed Him to Gethsemane, and in trust they tried to protect Him. How confusing the turn of events must have been for them. How often have we found our discipleship confusing and even frightening? How often have we felt abandoned or forsaken?


This Holy Week maybe we could begin to enter into the whole story ourselves and see what the Gospels are telling us about our own lives, our own faith.


Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West.


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