Faith

Holiest Week for Christians: Heart and Foundation of Our Faith

Palm Sunday lies ahead — followed by a most sacred period of time to contemplate the meaning and gift of Jesus

Most people associate the beginning of spring with March Madness, a week of vacation while the kids are off, gardening preparations, the freshness of house cleaning — and so much more.

But Christians recognize one special week each year at the tail end of Lent, Holy Week, as a unique period of time in which to stop and prayerfully ponder some of the deepest truths of our faith.

These simple reflections will, I hope, help you and your family and friends better appreciate some of the spiritual richness coming up in the days ahead.

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Palm Sunday (March 25, 2018): This celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, on a donkey, as a foreshadowing of his imminent glorious entrance into heaven.

In September of 1987 in Cheshire, Connecticut, this author had just finished my week-long retreat and professed my vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a seminarian in the Legionaries of Christ. I wanted to thank the priest who had preached throughout the retreat, Fr. John Walsh LC.

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I told him how I wanted to conquer the world for Christ — and he replied, “Never forget that Christ is the protagonist and you are His donkey. He certainly needs your collaboration, but it will be the power of His grace that brings about and sustains your priestly fecundity. Never forget this fundamental truth.”

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Christ could have simply walked into Jerusalem — yet He chose to ride a donkey. This reminds us that in a mysterious way, He desires our collaboration. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, we are “pencils in his hands.”

Holy Thursday (March 29, 2018): On this day, we celebrate the Last Supper of Jesus with His Apostles. We reflect on Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet, one by one, and the tremendous example He leaves each one of us of humble service.

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“The ceremony of washing another’s feet is important, because it shows that the person who is most high among us must be at the service of the others,” noted Pope Francis.

Shortly after this act of extreme humility, Jesus gave us the tremendous gift of the Eucharist, and continues to give us this gift through His priests in every Mass celebrated throughout the world. He did not want to leave us abandoned — and so He continues to accompany us in thousands of churches, making it so easy for us to have access to His love and comfort.

When you feel disrespected, look at the crucifix. When you feel others humiliate or belittle you, look at the crucifix.

He is there in body and soul, humanity and divinity, just as He is in heaven, but under the form of a simple, white host. What a mystery — and a tremendous gift.

Good Friday (March 30, 2018): I have been asked countless times why we refer to the Friday on which Christ suffered and died as “Good Friday.” St. Paul provides a hint: “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Jesus was spat upon, crowned with thorns, tortured in so many ways, an innocent lamb led to the slaughter — and His response on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He displayed such goodness in the face of such incredible evil.

When you feel disrespected, look at the crucifix. When you feel others humiliate or belittle you, look at the crucifix. When you feel that you are a good person and your goodness is not acknowledged or rewarded — look at the crucifix. Offering up these hidden and painful sufferings for souls, carrying your cross with nobility and dignity, without complaining, can do so much good for those who know you.

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Jesus teaches us that suffering can be a tremendous opportunity to grow in love.

Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018): Only Christ claimed to be God — and only Christ proved to be God by resurrecting from the dead. This is the heart and foundation of our faith and the source of our hope in eternal happiness in heaven; Jesus did it, and so can we.

Christ reminds us that we are pilgrims here on earth, that this is not our permanent home. As a child, I remember hearing in a homily that when the saints die, they meet Christ up in heaven and He escorts them into a huge stadium filled with cheering fans, many of whom the saint will recognize.

Then Jesus will say with a smile, “They are cheering for you. Your example and your words brought them closer to me, and they are showing their gratitude for your helping them get here.” There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday — and there can be no heaven unless we, too, have walked in the humble and sacrificial footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Keep your eye on this goal.

Fr. Michael Sliney is a Catholic priest based in the New York City area and an adviser to the Lumen Institute, a professional business group. 

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