The Awe-Inspiring Lesson of Holy Week: Dying for Christ and Neighbor


At the beginning of Christianity, Christian communities celebrated the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ through one whole night, followed by an entire day. Not much later on, Christians realized they needed one week to celebrate the main dramatic and remarkable events of the great Paschal Mystery. Holy Week, the week the whole of Christianity goes on retreat, is the central week of our faith. It invites us to accompany Jesus from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, to the Easter Vigil/Sunday.

The proclamation of the Passion of Christ is the most important sacred reading on Palm Sunday and Good Friday – truly, through Holy Week.  On Palm Sunday, the great preacher Fray Luis de Granada, after having proclaimed the Passion, began his homily thus: “Dear brothers and sisters, the Passion of Christ according to St. Luke…” He could not continue. He began to cry. No more words, only tears. What a homily!

We firmly believe in Christ, God and man, in Christ crucified. Why was the Only Begotten Son of God crucified and allowed to die on the Cross? He could have delivered us through His divine will! Why the horrible death on a Cross? Because through His Passion and His Crucifixion, Jesus shows His infinite love for us: “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Strangely, “There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery than by the Passion of Christ” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

Moreover, Christ the Savior, by dying on the Cross, reveals to us the gravity of sin. Jesus dies on the Cross to show us the evilness of sin and thus teach us to refrain from committing sin: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, freed from sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24). Furthermore, by His Passion, Christ delivered us from sin, and merited divine grace and love for us.

Suffering – the Cross – is part of our earthly life. Through His Passion, Jesus gives us an example to follow. He is our Way, which includes the Way of the Cross: “…he suffered for our sakes, and left you his own example; you were to follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus did not desire suffering in itself, but assumed it nevertheless, and thus accompanies all the crucified of the world through the centuries. God chooses love, which gives meaning to suffering and makes it light. Jesus takes the Cross with love and thus exalts it.  In the glorious hymn in Philippians, Paul speaks first of the humiliation of Christ, and second, of His exaltation: humiliation is the way to exaltation (cf. Phil 2:5-11).

A simple piece of advice from the venerable Luis de Granada: from the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem, three lessons for daily living may be learned. First, prayer, which is due to God; second, mercy, which is due to the needy neighbor, and third, mortification of the flesh and despising of oneself. These three spiritual crosses are our duties from the moment we get up in the morning. Besides, Fray Granada invites us to reject the glory that the world offers. On Palm Sunday, Jesus is acclaimed by the people as the Messiah and the Son of God. Five days later, He is considered worse than that the great criminal Barabbas and the people asked for His crucifixion. And what of the “world”? “Today it says something, tomorrow it denies it; today it praises, tomorrow blasphemes; today it says that you are sons of David, and tomorrow that you are worse than Barabbas; it voices out wine and sells vinegar; it promises peace and has secretly prepared armed war” (Granada). Paul says that worldly people “live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18).

How may we respond to the Passion and Cross of Jesus? We know that we are authentic followers of Christ if we follow Him carrying our own cross (cf. Mt 16:24).  Hence, “none must be ashamed of the Cross of Christ by which He redeemed the world” (St. Leo the Great). We try hard to carry our own cross patiently, prayerfully and – if possible – joyfully. We also try to help others we meet on the road of life to carry their heavy cross.

We are disciples of Christ, who long to be intimately connected to Him and to those who are close to Him. Jesus identifies Himself with those crucified. Where are we when others are crucified today? Like Simon of Cyrene, we are asked to help the wounded on the road of life bear their heavy cross. We have to practice love for the needy and poor, who are for us Christ carrying His Cross today. Jesus, the Son of God, is the crucified Lord! “In the love of the crucified Lord is God himself identified with all who suffer, shouting against all the injustices and forgiving the executioners of all times” (J. A. Pagola). Like St. Paul, we preach by words and deeds a crucified Jesus who is also our Risen Lord. We are Easter people!

I close with the story of two young women: a Chinese Buddhist and a Filipina Catholic, both students in Manila. The two decide to visit together on Good Friday their respective temples. First, they visited the Buddhist temple in Binondo, and afterwards the popular Catholic church of Quiapo. Here, at the back of the church, the Catholic showed the Buddhist the large Cross with Christ crucified. The Buddhist asked, “Who is this?”  The Catholic answered: “He is Jesus Christ; He died for us.”  When they were leaving the church, the Buddhist asked, “What did you say? That He died for you?”  “Yes,” the Catholic replied. The Buddhist said, “What have you done for Him?”

Jesus died for us. What are we doing for Him?

(Photo: Bradiporap at Pixabay)