Holy Week is an extraordinary week in the life of the Church, and it’s meant to be an extraordinary week in our personal and spiritual lives, too. But from waving our palms on Palm Sunday, to being splashed with holy water on Easter Sunday, sometimes it’s hard to get into the rich liturgies of Holy Week. We may get restless during the longer services or find it hard just to get to church an extra time during the week. Sometimes, we may find it uncomfortable or depressing to focus on Jesus’ suffering and death. It might be easiest to simply give in to the impulse to let Holy Week slide by practically unnoticed. Even for those of us who usually cherish Holy Week, the immensity of what we’re celebrating can sometimes be overwhelming. You can imagine that, in the convent, Holy Week has its own special intensity!
For the years when Holy Week has felt more like a challenge for me, I’ve come up with three things that I can personally do to make Holy Week one of my holiest weeks of the year:
1. Focus on love. Holy Week is the Church’s response to this dilemma: Jesus has laid down his life to save us. How do we thank him? How do we remember his sacrifice, while we go on with our lives?
Holy Week is all about love: God’s love in sending his only Son to save us. Words are never enough to respond to a love like this…but the Church has to try. All of the rituals and solemnity of Holy Week are the Church’s way of trying to acknowledge what happened: that Jesus died to save you and me.
Find your own way this week to say “Thank you” to Jesus for giving his life for you, for loving you so much. Maybe it will be through one of the Holy Week liturgies; or maybe it will be during a quiet moment in a garden on Good Friday. Whether you use words, silence, art, or another way, spending some time in gratitude for the great gift of our Redemption is what Holy Week is all about.
2. Choose one moment from Jesus’ suffering, passion, and death to focus on during the week. I find that this one moment or one event enables me to realize anew that Jesus’ dying for me really happened. It also makes it easier for me not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer richness of the Church’s reflections and offerings.
Every year, I choose something different. Some years I’ve focused on Jesus giving us the Holy Eucharist. One year, I focused on Jesus’ scraped knee on the Way of the Cross. Another year I stood with Mary under the foot of the cross.
Whatever moment or mystery you choose to stay with, allow yourself to really stay with it, to share it with Jesus, to deepen it throughout the week. Whatever you are undergoing in your own life, you can bring it to prayer in light of this one moment that you’ve chosen. This moment can become your way of connecting very personally with a Mystery that will take more than a lifetime to grasp.
3. Surrender to the power of his Love. The glory of the Cross is that Jesus’ absolute, loving surrender to the Father—where he is seemingly defeated in death—actually becomes the greatest victory for Jesus and us: Jesus rises to new life for us! As we experience the tremendous, life-giving love of God in Christ this Holy Week, we can let it change us. The power of Jesus’ love in his passion, death, and resurrection is transforming.
Honor Jesus’ great love for you by living in a spirit of greater love during Holy Week. Whether that means having more patience with a particular person, or bringing a loving attitude into a difficult situation, or reaching out in love to others in a new way, let Jesus’ saving love pass through you to others.
Marie Paul Curley, FSP