Spring cleaning, cherry blossom festivals, vacation travels and so much more seem to be the focus for many people during this time of year.
But for devout Christians, Holy Week has a unique significance.
It marks the pascal mystery of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On Palm Sunday, Holy Week began with Our Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, with the masses praising him and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9).
Yet sadly, many of the onlookers in this crowd would later be saying, “Crucify him, Crucify him!” when Pontius Pilate presented Jesus for judgment.
The takeaway for Christians. All good deeds are inspired by God and brought to fruition by the power of His grace, although our humble collaboration is certainly needed. God is the protagonist.
Jesus also teaches us not to trust too much or be overly dependent on public opinion — for as He learned, that can turn against even the most innocent and noble of individuals. The only totally honest and lasting opinion that truly matters is God’s.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus gathered with His beloved disciples for the Last Supper, leaving an example of tremendous humility through the washing of His disciples’ feet and making present His sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, in an unbloody manner, through the offering of His body and blood in the form of bread and wine.
The takeaway. Jesus came to serve, and He assumed the role of slave by washing and drying the feet of each one of His disciples. He also instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist by giving this power to His disciples to consecrate the bread and wine into His body and blood.
Jesus is fully present in every Catholic church around the world, becoming present during the moment of consecration in the Mass and within the confines of the tabernacle in the form of the consecrated Host. He is fully present, and He patiently waits and hopes for us to arrive for a heartfelt visit.
On Good Friday, after enduring a long night of trials and torture and three hours of agony and intense suffering on the cross — both moral (for carrying the weight of the sins of all humanity) and physical — Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19: 30).
The takeaway. Jesus teaches us the value of suffering with nobility and generosity.
In spite of the physical pain He endured and the radical injustice of His sentence, Christ finds the magnanimity to forgive all of His accusers — even Judas who betrayed him, though he did not accept the forgiveness of Jesus. He pardons the good thief, promising him paradise that same day, and He gave the greatest gift of all, His Blessed Mother, to St. John and all future disciples who are willing to follow in His footsteps.
Whatever one’s current state of suffering, this priest encourages all to hold a crucifix in your hands, look at it closely, and try to understand that He endured this out of love for all of us.
This brings us to Good Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday was a day of holy expectation. The stone by the tomb was firmly sealed, the guards had been placed to prevent the disciples or anyone else from stealing the body … but then Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, arrived at the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint the body.
“When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him” (Mark 16: 4-6).
He stands each day at the door of our hearts, gently knocking, even begging for us to invite Him into our lives.
The takeaway: The mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdalen, and the apostles in the upper room all saw the Risen Christ.
Jesus is alive!
He is alive and well — and He wants to walk with all of us and be at the center of our lives.
The greatest gift of being Christian is having Jesus as someone real and available — someone who desperately wants to accompany us on our life’s journey. He stands each day at the door of our hearts, gently knocking, even begging for us to invite Him into our lives.
His resurrection is also a sign of our future resurrection — if we, too, walk in these footsteps and imitate His example of total self giving and dedication the Father’s will: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
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.