Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Holiest Week of the Year…

Father John J. Lombardi

…is this week. Here are some things, from A to Z, to help you… A is for anamnesis, from the Greek, which means in modern-speak (I remember this from my seminary days/daze, believe it or not!) dynamic memory. Catholics do this in every Mass-dynamically remember the Lord's Passion, Death and Resurrection. So, recall, intensely-i.e., really, really try within, deeply!-to remember in a dynamic and enlivening way, the Lord's Passion throughout this entire Holy Week. To recall His Passion may be against your grain-"I'm not into suffering" or "That's old fashioned" or "I got things to do" or "I'm busy in the pursuit of pleasure-don't push your religion on me." In the midst of these worldly, whirling whatnot's: realize--dynamically remember just what He did for you, then it will become the holiest week of the year…Z is for zikron. No, it's not a new prescription drug. It means, from the Hebrew, "Keep in mind." That is, mystical memory re-collecting and cherishing the Lord's Love within the soul. Therefore, to keep in mind is not just a mechanical process, rote memorization, but a holy hearkening of the Divine Presence of Jesus as the "S.O.S-Salvation-of-souls," and that He enters a Solidarity of Suffering with us seekers. We all suffer and so, thus, does He: Emmanuel-God Who suffers and is with us: "In His atonement the Heart of the Father was being restored to sinners by the self-giving of the Son" (St John Chrysostom).

Look: people today are attracted to violence and drama and crime stories and social outreach and sumptuous meals and evil intrigues and loving and miracles. Catholics got it all right here in Holy Week. Violence? Vividly recall the Stations of the Cross with the nailing of Jesus to the Cross. Drama? Dramatically keep in mind Simon of Cyrene going out of his comfort zone to help Jesus carry His Cross (will you?). Crime story (CSI)? Spiritually recall Jesus hanging on the Cross: just who killed Him? Was it some of the Jewish leadership or the Romans or each of us? Social outreach? Jesus in His Passion still helps others by forgiving the Good Thief on the Cross and consoling the pious women of Jerusalem. Sumptuous meals? Christ institutes the Sacred Eucharist in the Last Supper to continue His memory and Magnanimous Love. Evil intrigues? Judas, a chosen Apostle, betrays the Lord. Love? Remember the holy woman who bathed the Lord's feet with precious ointment. St Jerome writes: "That woman freely poured out the ointment in honor of Christ and her heart's devotion was accepted." Miracles? The greatest One-He rises from the dead.

We enter the Holiest of weeks. How will you make it holy (which means, from the Hebrew, "set apart")? Try to attend Mass this week more frequently; spend more time in prayer and holy silence. Turn off the radio and tv; spend time with your family. Fast and sacrifice. Set the tone of this week early by making sure you make a difference by making it different.

So, just why is this the holiest week of the Year? Let's ponder the days that are holy…

Palm Sunday is the day when we recall our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal and enter fully into His Sacred Passion. This is the time when He will go to die for us---His "Final Entrance." The King of kings, Jesus Christ, becomes a "Fugitive Prince." How does this "King" enter? With bands of military cohorts, or in splendor? No, He comes rather riding on a donkey, humbly. He has come to die for each of us. How will you honor the Christ this week? Response: How will you welcome Him into your heart? How will you do penance for Him and His people? Begin now: make this week holy, set apart: Don't miss the opportunity!

Holy Thursday is the Memorial of the Lord Jesus' Last Supper and Institution of the Holy Eucharist. He says in the Gospels while celebrating the Supper, "Do this in memory of Me." We are taught that this command might be translated: "Keep doing this as a remembrance of Me," and the present imperative Greek word poeio as a command of continued practice, not just something remembered from the past (from "Sacra Pagina," St Luke). This is what we do at every Mass-we keep in mind His great love for us, His sacrifice, and the holy command to make present His Divine Presence in the Mass. Response: Make a vigil before the Eucharistic Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Include the Blessed Virgin Mary in your meditation and pray the Fifth Mystery of Light of the Rosary, the Institution of the Eucharist. Pray for priests: this is a Sacred Day when all priests recall in a special way their ordination, since Jesus also instituted this sacred ministry upon the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room-think of them, pray for them, fast and sacrifice for your priests! And, especially, try to go to Mass more-i.e., you are not only "going to Mass" or "church" but you are going to have a personal, intimate encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist: "He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood will abide in Me and I in him" (Jn 6:56).

Good Friday is the day He "took us off the hook." He took our place in the hook-punishment of death. He removed our sins by His saving death and by the shedding of His Blood upon the Holy Cross. This is the Day of Exchange: He exchanged His pure innocence to become a criminal. He exchanged His Glorious Divinity to share in our humanity by His Body and Blood, and now is "perpetually accessible" in all the chalices and Eucharistic Bread of the world. I just heard a sermon preached by Ben Jones at our Emmitsburg Ecumenical Symposium for Lent, and he spoke eloquently about the German painter Grunewald's Eisenstalt Altarpiece (which he showed us). It vividly depicts the tormented and tortured Jesus in Crucifixion. No sterilization here: up front with blood and cruelty and passion for all to see. Rev Jones said this piece was in a hospital in Germany. "Just who was in the hospital to gaze upon this now-treasured masterpiece," he asked? There were lepers, persons with leprosy we should say today. Rev Jones implied the leprous persons-those without noses or who had gnarled hands and bludgeoned bodies--said: "Yes, now we know that such a God loves us because He is like us. He is one of us." A Savior's Solidarity of Suffering: The Highest became lowest; the Most Beautiful One became uglified; the King became pauper; the Lord a criminal. How can we be indifferent? Recently at a luncheon I met "Tom," a lacrosse coach. He has a disease and his face is being literally torn, shorn, tarnished. I asked him how he is doing. He said, immediately, he is learning forgiveness, and that, via a priest's advice, he is also learning to "offer it up," to use his own suffering as a way to help others. Most men his age are concerned about looks and trophy wives and money and power and escaping suffering. Rather, Tom is entering fully the Lord's Passion. In a way, he is an image of Jesus' ongoing Passion today. So are the starving babies and broken families and struggling marriages and persecuted Christians in Darfur, Sudan. Jesus' Passion continues today in your drug addicted or alcoholic spouse or loved one; in those struggling with diseases, those who battle lukewarmness, and others who fight Satan: He-the Christ-is still going thru a Passion. Response: Do you have respect for the Lord's Passion especially thru devotion to His Most Precious Blood? Do you carry a Crucifix to "refer to" keep in mind His Sacrifice? Do you honor all the Friday's of the Year as our Holy Church commands by making a sacrifice of time, talent or treasure, or fast or abstinence to commemorate Friday as "good"? Holy Saturday is a time to remember the Lord's Death and also await the Savior's Resurrection. "Something strange is happening-there is a great silence on Earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silent because the King is asleep: God has died in the flesh and He trembles with fear…" (From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday: The Liturgy of Hours). Look, don't go on an Ester egg hunt-just yet-don't jump-start things. Now, on this day, more deeply realize the depths He entered to save and redeem us. Response: Spend time in holy Silence. Pray. Thank. Go to a church…Get your Easter food blessed. Read about the Passion again. Praise and thank Him! Easter Sunday: "To behold the Resurrection, the stone must be rolled away from our own hearts. The women at the tomb were the first to honor the risen Christ. The daily transformation of the early morning from darkness to dawn is forever hallowed by the Resurrection" (Augustine). The Resurrection was revealed gradually, respecting the frailty of beholders to grasp its significance (Bede). The apex moment of the diffusion of darkness is the time of the Resurrection. As the Virgin's womb had been sealed and yet He entered life, so also the sepulcher was firmly sealed and yet He raised to new Life." (source: Ancient Christian Commentary: St Mark)…He triumphed over sin, Hell and death. Nothing could keep Him down. As Fr Martin Field, pastor of St Joseph Church in Taneytown just reminded us at Mass this past Friday: "In all your troubles, recall that Easter is near: Jesus triumphs." Amen! Make this Week Holy!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi