In this photo from Good Friday last year, Cardinal Donald Wuerl lifts the cross for veneration during a liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)
In this photo from Good Friday last year, Cardinal Donald Wuerl lifts the cross for veneration during a liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. (CS FILE PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN)

The Holy Week liturgies invite us to enter into the heart of our redemption and appreciate who we are as Christ’s disciples and what he has accomplished for us.

This time is given us to open the doors of our heart, as our Holy Father Francis said in his first Holy Week as pope, following his election five years ago this month. We open these doors both to let in the Lord’s love and for us to come out of ourselves and bring others his light and joy. This is an opportune moment then to share with others the reason for our Christian hope (1 Peter 3:15) and for parents especially to help their children learn why this time is different from all others in the year.

The Mass readings this week tell of many signs manifesting who Jesus is in the events surrounding his death, just as there were epiphanies at his birth. His entry into Jerusalem, his anointing, his inauguration of a New Covenant and his trial, where Jesus said, “I am,” when asked if he was “the son of the Blessed One” – the same response Moses received when he asked God his name – all reveal Jesus to be the promised Messiah and king. But even more, he is God become man in the flesh.

We arrive at Palm Sunday aware that each of us is on our own personal faith journey that we hope leads us to the glory of Easter. Moreover, we recognize that we do not walk alone. Jesus accompanies us and the whole people of God as we make his path our path. Thus, instead of spending this week alone at home, we gather at church with the faith that it is precisely in the events of Jesus’ life that our redemption is achieved.  Our participation in the mystery of these events takes place in a community – in God’s family, the Church, which has handed down to us the word of God and witness of the Apostles.

Jesus’ ministry brought God’s presence and mercy to others through teaching, healing and comforting.  Now in Holy Week, Pope Francis has explained, “we live the crowning moment of this journey, of this plan of love that runs through the entire history of the relations between God and humanity. Jesus enters Jerusalem to take his last step with which he sums up the whole of his existence. He gives himself without reserve, he keeps nothing for himself, not even life” (General Audience, March 27, 2013).

We not only hear the story of those events, we relive them spiritually and enter into the mystery sacramentally. “Living Holy Week,” the Holy Father added, “means entering ever more deeply into the logic of God, into the logic of the Cross, which is not primarily that of suffering and death, but rather that of love and of the gift of self which brings life.” 

Reliving and participating in this drama, we encounter also the reality of our human condition, the reality of meeting God’s love with infidelity and sin. We recall Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and Peter’s three-time denial of the Lord. In each case, the Lord is willing to forgive.  But while Peter subsequently repents and seeks forgiveness, Judas does not, despite his regret. The repentant denier obtains eternal life, while the unrepentant betrayer takes his life.

For us today, this is our time constantly and more completely to turn to the Lord and be reconciled. In the words of Saint Richard of Chichester, this is our time to “see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.” 

As Isaiah the Prophet tells us, our sins, though they be like scarlet, shall be made white as snow by his divine love (Isaiah 1:18). God never hesitates or tires of forgiving, so we should never hesitate or tire of asking for forgiveness.

Jesus had entered the Holy City on Palm Sunday as king, but in humility, just as he was born in a lowly stable. He entered to receive a crown of thorns and take the wood of the Cross as his royal thrown, Pope Francis reminds us. There, “Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God” (Homily for Palm Sunday 2013).  Standing at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, we see the terrible and awful cost of our redemption.

Two millennia later, this central event of salvation continues to be re-presented. The sacrifice of the Lamb of God becomes truly present to us today in the Eucharist that Christ instituted on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper and the work of our redemption is carried out.

The week ends in silence and darkness, with Jesus’ body lying in the coldness of the tomb. But this night is different from all other nights. This night is to be our deliverance from slavery in sin and death to new life. As it was “in the beginning,” this new life, this new creation enters with “let there be light” in the fire of the Easter Vigil – a light which enkindles in our hearts the fire of God’s love and is passed from person to person to the renew the earth.