Introduction from Fr. Don Senior, CP
Pope Francis began his official announcement of the Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016) with these words: “Jesus is the Human Face of God’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” Nowhere is this fundamental Christian truth more evident than in Jesus’ giving of his life out of love and compassion for us. This is the fundamental message of John’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he sent his only son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
That unfathomable love and compassion is what we celebrate this Holy Week. If Holy Week is sacred for all of us as Christians, it surely is at the heart of the Passionist vocation. Our founder, St. Paul of the Cross declared: “Christ Crucified is a work of love. The miracle of miracles of love. The most stupendous work of the love of God. The bottomless sea of the love of God, where virtues are found, where one can lose oneself in love and sorrow. A sea and a fire or a sea of fire. The most beneficial means of abandoning sin and growing in virtue, and so in holiness.”
To help us absorb the love and compassion of the Crucified Christ, we will offer brief meditations on mercy and compassion for each day of Holy Week through to Easter Sunday, drawing our inspiration from the gospel passages the Church assigns for these days.
Easter Sunday, March 27
The gospel reading for this Easter Sunday brings us to the empty tomb again, this time through the account in John’s Gospel. Three of those closest to Jesus appear here: Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the “Beloved Disciple” (who is not named but may well be the apostle John or another disciple who was very close to Jesus and whose testimony underwrites this Gospel). Each of them are at first baffled by the empty tomb. Mary assumes someone has taken Jesus’ body away—later John will give us the beautiful account of how Jesus meets Mary near the tomb and she is overwhelmed with love when he says her name, “Mary.” When Mary tells them of the empty tomb, Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to see for themselves (the Beloved Disciple outruns Peter but waits at the entrance to the tomb until he arrives…). They see burial cloths there and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head neatly rolled up. Signs of order not chaos. There is a stirring of faith in these witnesses but it has not yet blossomed. That will come later when Mary Magdalene brings the news that Jesus is alive—earning for her the title in the early church of “apostle to the apostles.” What is the final Easter message here? Love is stronger than death. No tomb can hold Jesus; no violence can take away his life. The Risen Christ will appear to his disciples and commission them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Those who trust in the Risen Jesus will bring his message of unending life and compassion to the world.
The Easter Vigil, Saturday, March 26
Here on one of the most elaborate liturgical celebrations of the Church’s year, the stillness of the tomb gives way to exuberant Easter Joy. There is a long parade of beautiful readings taken from the Old Testament, beginning with the account of God’s creation of the universe. The Bible affirms from its very first pages that the created world is an act of God’s love, drawing out of chaos the order and beauty of creation. The summit of God’s creative love comes with the creation of the human being, male and female—a creature shaped in God’s own “image” and “likeness.” Thus the human is amazingly “like God”—able to respond to God, able to love as God’s loves. God declares that this work of creation is “very good”! And that beauty of creation, particularly the creation of the human being, would find its culmination in Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, the ultimate revelation of God’s love. Jesus is fully human and thus suffers death as we do, but through the power of God’s life-giving Spirit, Jesus will overcome death. The Gospel for this Easter Vigil is taken from Luke’s account. The faithful women who had never abandoned Jesus—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James—become the first witnesses to this triumph of life as they encounter the empty tomb and two heavenly messengers: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.” As Pope John Paul II declared, Christianity is not a “culture of death” but a “culture of life.” This is our destiny and our mission: to proclaim God’s life-giving and compassionate love to the world.
Good Friday March 25
As a sign of stark grief at the death of Jesus, there is no Eucharist celebrated today. At the Good Friday service, we listen to the Passion Narrative of John’s Gospel. John proclaims that the death of Jesus is, paradoxically, the ultimate sign of God’s love for the world. As Jesus told his disciples at the final Passover: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And that is how John introduces the account of Jesus’ Passion: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” At the very moment Jesus gives up his life, Jesus exclaims, “It is finished.” The love and compassion that had driven Jesus as God’s Word of love to the world would be expressed in the ultimate act of love—giving one’s life for another, and thus Jesus completed the mission given him by his father. Here is the very heart of the gospel and here is the example every disciple of Jesus is called to follow.
Holy Thursday, March 24
We now enter into the “Triduum,” the powerful three-day celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus that has been the focus of our Lenten observance. The gospel for this day is taken from John’s account of the final Passover, depicting Jesus’ vivid sign of tender mercy and compassion as he washes the feet of his disciples. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Who can forget the example of Pope Francis, only a few days after he was elected Pope, going to a Roman prison and washing the feet of the prisoners, including the feet of a Muslim woman! Here is the true face of the Church of Jesus Christ—one of humble service and merciful love.
Wednesday, March 23
This day of Holy Week has been traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” and the gospel reading for today explains why. Like the gospel reading for Tuesday, we are once again at the Last Supper but this time we experience it through the lens of Matthew’s Gospel. This will be the final Passover that Jesus will celebrate with his disciples—one of the most sacred of Jewish feasts, recalling their deliverance from slavery and their hope for the future. Once again the gospel notes that Jesus “is deeply distressed” because he knows his disciples will abandon him at his moment of greatest need and that one of them will betray him. God’s mercy is everlasting and will now be revealed in the steadfast love of Jesus even when he is surrounded by treachery. Jesus must face death but through the power of his Father he would overcome death and once again celebrate with his disciples in the kingdom of heaven.
Tuesday, March 22.
The dark clouds of Jesus’ Passion draw nearer. The gospel for today’s liturgy, taken from the Gospel of John, portrays Jesus at the Passover meal with his disciples. He is “deeply troubled” because he is aware that Judas, one of his chosen disciples, is about to betray him, and that Peter, one of the disciples he had first called, will deny that he even knows Jesus. The power of evil has a strong grip, even among those closest to Jesus. But even for these errant disciples the way of mercy is not closed. As we learn from the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles, Judas tragically despairs once he realizes the enormity of his sin and chooses to take his own life rather than trust in God’s compassionate mercy. Peter under questioning denies his discipleship, yet when he remembers Jesus’ words to him he began to weep tears of remorse. Later in John’s Gospel, while eating breakfast with Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus would heal Peter’s three-fold denial with a three-fold declaration of love and restore Peter to his role as leader. God’s mercy is stronger than death.
Monday, March 21
The gospel for Monday of Holy Week is the tender story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary in Bethany. Six days before the fateful Passover feast when Jesus would endure his Passion, he went to dinner at the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. During the meal, Mary took a flask of precious ointment and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair, a beautifully provocative sign of her deep love for her teacher and friend. The fragrance of the oil filled the house. But Judas, whom John’s Gospel brands as a thief who used to pilfer from the money used to support Jesus and his disciples, protests that this was a waste and that the precious ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But Jesus sees the deeper meaning of Mary’s gesture—she is aware that he faces death and she offers this anointing of his body as a sign of her enduring love at this moment of crisis. The cynicism of Judas the betrayer and the threats of the religious leaders are an ominous note as Holy Week unfolds, but the tender compassionate love shown by Mary is more powerful. Pope Francis has urged us during this Year of Mercy to do the “corporal and spiritual works of mercy”; “burying the dead” and “comforting the afflicted” are among those works of compassion.
Palm Sunday: March 20
Today we stand to hear the passion narrative of Luke. From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, Luke portrays Jesus as the Spirit-filled prophet who brings God’s mercy and justice to the world. Preaching in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus declares that God has anointed him “to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” (Luke 4:18). And, Luke’s Gospel illustrates, that is precisely what Jesus does throughout his ministry: healing the leper, restoring her son to the widow of Nain and their daughter to Jairus and his wife, feeding the multitudes, accepting the lavish and tender love of the woman in Simon’s house, dining with Levi and his friends, accepting the hospitality of Zacchaeus who was perched in the sycamore tree. And it is a message of mercy and forgiveness that the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel proclaims in his teaching: the parables of recovering the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son; the examples of the Good Samaritan who is the true neighbor and the humble publican in the temple who receives God’s forgiving mercy. And as we listen to Luke’s account of Jesus’ final hours, we discover this same merciful Jesus even as he faces death: healing the severed ear of one who came to arrest him in Gethsemane, turning a face of mercy and forgiveness to Peter even as he denies his master; consoling the women of Jerusalem who weep for him, forgiving those who nail him to the cross, and promising paradise to the repentant criminal who faced death alongside him.
Pray with us,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”