April 8, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

We celebrate the Passion of the Lord with both sorrow and joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

This Sunday, we begin the holiest week of the Church year.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord initiates our observance of Holy Week with great rejoicing as Jesus enters Jerusalem acclaimed by the crowds amidst shouts of “Hosannah! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38). As we know only too well, this joyous atmosphere will be short-lived, and in only a few days the triumphant cries of welcome will be replaced by the demand for his ignominious death: “Crucify him!”

We begin Holy Week this year by reading St. Luke’s account of the Passion of the Lord (Lk 22:14-23:56). This is a counterbalance to the Gospel story of the Lord’s triumphant entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. It is a reminder to us that Christian life is not all sweetness and light. There is darkness and death also—as the Passion narratives on the four Gospels recount in gruesome detail. In order to experience the joy of Easter, we must first relive Jesus’ bitter suffering and excruciatingly painful and humiliating death on a cross.

Holy Week invites us not only to remember the Lord’s Passion as if it were an unfortunate event that happened 2,000 years ago. We are challenged to relive this journey from the triumph of Palm Sunday to the tragedy of Good Friday as the experience of Christian life itself.

In fact, during this sacred time, the Church asks us to see—and experience—the truth that the Lord’s Passion is shared by millions of people throughout the world today. His suffering is shared by the victims of war and oppression, by those who are hungry and homeless, by our sisters and brothers who are ill without adequate health care, by all who are lost and lonely, by the unemployed, and by all who are sinners cut off from the tender mercy of God.

Holy Week provides us with concrete opportunities to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Equally important, Holy Week allows Jesus to walk with each of us and to share his Passion with our own passions—the countless trials and sufferings that we experience in our own daily lives.

The purpose of this shared journey (this “synodal” experience of mutual accompaniment) is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus, which he has promised to share with us.

We Christians celebrate the Passion of the Lord with both sorrow and joy. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, but we know that the only way to reach our ultimate goal is by taking up our crosses and following Jesus through the painful moments of life in the here and now.

Cardinal John O’Connor, the late archbishop of New York, once said that Holy Week is “not a stage show, not simply a memorial of something that took place 2,000 years ago. Our divine Lord spiritually and mysteriously is present once again in the power generated by his sufferings.”

We are invited to share in this presence, this divine, life-giving power. Through the miracle of Christ’s self-sacrificing love, which is present to us now, we can actually participate in the Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection. By our faithful observance of Holy Week, we can prepare ourselves for the joy of Easter and the healing power of life in Christ.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and continues until we celebrate the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. It is a journey from the short-lived joy of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the everlasting joy of his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven. This reminds us that joy is the ultimate goal of our synodal journey. But we dare not seek this joy through superficial means.

True joy is the fruit of pain and sorrow that are endured, and finally overcome, by the power of love. Jesus taught us this by his words and example 2,000 years ago. Now, he invites us to experience the power of God’s love by walking with him on the Way of the Cross this Holy Week.

Let’s celebrate Holy Week this year—not as a vague remembrance of past events, but as a vibrant experience of the suffering and passion we share with Jesus and all our sisters and brothers who are in pain right now. If we join our hands, and our hearts, with the Lord who loves us, and gives his life for us, we will arrive together at our ultimate destination—the everlasting joy of Easter!

Have a blessed Holy Week. †

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