Pope Francis began his meditation during his special Urbi et orbi blessing on March 27, 2020 with these words:
For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost.
Holy week is not the same this year. There is a thick darkness that is covering the world. We enter holy week lost and afraid. We walk the last week of Jesus’ life not only facing a global moment of suffering but also not able to gather in person with our faith communities.
Palm Sunday felt different yesterday. I missed tangibly holding the palms. I missed collectively hearing the words of the passion and pausing as a community to kneel when Jesus took his last breath. The rituals, sights, and smells of Holy Week, especially our Triduum, are missing. I have no idea what it will be like celebrating Holy Thursday without the ritual of feet washing and then later the darkening of the church (Tenebrae service) to mark the beginning of watching and praying with Jesus in his final hours. What will Good Friday be without the communal reading of the passion and the veneration of the cross? My body aches at the loss of the familiar. I long to move through the rhythms and routines of Holy Week that prepare not only my spirit and mind for what Jesus did for us, but also my body.
It is not only our communal celebrations of Holy Week that is different. I am struck by the stripping away we are facing right now globally. One by one we are losing many of the things that often give us a sense of security…. our control, our independence, our health, our finances, and our freedom. These things I feel we often cling to as false securities. We are faced this Holy Week with a deeper understanding of our spiritual poverty. It is a moment where we realize no amount of our own power, influence, money, or medicine can change the reality of our circumstances. Times like these force us to confront our thoughts: we are not quite as invincible as we sometimes feel we are. We cannot control all situations.
Experiences like the moment we are in can help us realize our utter dependence on God. It is in such moments, when we might feel helpless to change our situation, that we sense ourselves crying out. We are desperate for someone to bring hope and light into a dark situation, begging for someone to let what we are facing pass.
It is hard not to think of Jesus’ experience of Holy Week right now. How his passion and way to his cross included a stripping away of all worldly securities. How some of his closest relationships denied him, betrayed him, and abandoned him. How he encountered his own spiritual poverty in the garden of Gethsemane, begging God to let this moment pass from him. How his power was questioned. How his own body was physically stripped of clothing. How his dignity was taken away as he was exposed on the cross.
Jesus understands what it is like to encounter a stripping away moment. A moment of losing what is familiar and comfortable. A moment that challenges false securities in our lives.
Our Holy Week is different this year. As we face the stripping away of our familiarity of rituals, of sights, of smells and sounds, let us fix our eyes on Jesus. As we encounter suffering in our own lives, in our loved ones, and in our global community, may we bring this suffering to Jesus. May we, as Jesus did, bring our spiritual poverty we are facing to God.
Bringing our suffering and spiritual poverty to God can create the grace of compassion in us. We encounter Jesus’ compassion for us in our suffering, which can soften our heart and make it more compassionate for others.
I invite you to turn with me to the prayer tool given to us by St. Ignatius’ during the Third Week of the Exercises, the colloquy with Christ crucified. Here is a reflection that might help guide you:
Imagine Jesus on the cross. As you see him there, reflect on the fact that God became human, and went through death on behalf of us.
Lay your spiritual poverty at his feet.
As you talk to Jesus on the cross, reflect on these three questions:
What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I do for Christ?
Turn your sorrow towards Jesus. Turn your grief to the One who gets your mourning. Bring your burdens and worries and lay them at the foot of Jesus.
What might Jesus be calling you to in this moment? How might Jesus be inviting you to act?
Celebrating Holy Week at Home:
- Consider reading parts of Jesus’ passion each day this week. Let Jesus’ experience of suffering meet you in your own.
- On Holy Thursday, perform a foot washing in your home with your loved one or simply by yourself. Call to mind that this act that Jesus did for his disciples gives us our model to do for others. Ponder how might we be invited to wash other’s feet right now?
- Venerate the cross in your house on Good Friday. Pray the stations of the cross. Read the passion at 3pm.
- For Holy Saturday, perhaps this day might be a quiet day of reflection. Pondering what it means for Jesus to die for each one of us. Allowing our grief at Jesus’ death to echo in our grief of the current reality of our world. Where are we longing for the Resurrection to enter our lives?
- Prayer Tool Tuesday: The Colloquy – Each Tuesday at 4:30 pm Central via Zoom – Gather with my dear friend Stephanie Clouatre Davis and I this week, April 7, in learning the prayer tool I referenced above called the Colloquy. Follow my Facebook page for details.
- Wanting a directed retreat? Wanting more prayer support during this time? The retreat directors from the Online Busy Person’s Retreat are happy to extend the invitation of an online busy person’s retreat on your schedule – meeting online with a spiritual director for one hour a day for four-days. If interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the four days and timeframe you have available and we will work to match you with a director.
- Visit my Spiritual Support webpage with more resources during this unprecedented time of COVID-19 and follow me on Facebook & Instagram for daily scripture inspiration and for the latest resources.
The Inner Chapel: My New Book!
- My new book, The Inner Chapel: Embracing the Promises of God is coming out April 13, as in NEXT MONDAY. Y’all, what a time to release a book! As a sincere “Thank You!” to all of you for your support, my publisher has extended a 30% off code for orders and preorders through August 13. Simply go to Loyolapress.com/innerchapel and use promo code 5207. You can also pre-order from Barnes and Noble and on your Kindle from Amazon.
- Read an excerpt from The Inner Chapel: My chapter called Suffering Makes us Compassionate is perfect for Holy Week and all that is going on in the world currently.