Each of us travels down familiar roads every day of our lives. We see familiar sights. And it is sometimes the case that the very familiarity of the sights we see every day blinds us to their nuances. There are things to do and deadlines to meet. The paths we trod become means to various ends. Indeed, the very routine of life may cause us to curse the paths which make possible the completion of the responsibilities of our freely chosen states in life.
Holy Week sees us walk down the same path year after year. We commemorate the same events we commemorated the year before - and the year before that. Its very familiarity can cause us to think that there is little need to do any more meditation one year than we had the year before. In reality, however, the very opposite is true: the older we get, the more we realize how much we have missed on our annual journey down the Via Dolorosa. For we can never exhaust the depths of the treasures found on the path our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ took to reconcile us to the Father in Spirit and in Truth on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Thus, although the events of Holy Week have been explored in Christ or Chaos for each of the past four years, I ask you to join with me once more as we prepare to walk down the path of Holy Week in the year 2001, the first year of the Third Millennium.
To Thirst for Souls
Our Lord told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well that He wanted to drink of her faith. Our Lord wants to drink of our faith. He thirsted for souls on the wood of the Holy Cross, and He thirsts for the deepening of our lives of faith as the holy season of Lent draws to its crescendo during its final two weeks: Passion Week and Holy Week (which are two distinctive weeks in the Traditional calendar). No matter how dilatory we may have been in our Lenten observances prior to that time, we have an opportunity to use the final two weeks of Lent to withdraw ourselves more and more from the world, focusing our attention on why our Lord became Incarnate in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb: to pay back to the Father in His own Sacred Humanity the blood debt of our own sins.
Thirst is a very important Biblical image. The Jews thirsted for water as they made their forty year journey in the desert. Indeed, they grumbled against God and Moses at Meribah and Massah, causing Moses to lose his patience and blaze with anger against the people he had been charged with leading from their enslavement to the Pharaoh to the Promised Land (itself symbolic of the enslavement of mankind to the devil prior to our Lord's New and Eternal Passover effected by the shedding of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross). The Chosen People thirsted for water to satisfy a need for one of life's basic necessities. What they did not understand, obviously, was that God thirsted for their faith in Him, Who had freed them from their cruel slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, just as God thirsts for our faith in Him today through His true Church.
When you think about it, however, only a handful of the Chosen People were ever given to see things clearly during the course of their Exodus, settlement in the Promised Land of Cana, the rise of the era of Kings (and the rise of the Davidic line), the division between the northern and southern kingdoms, the Babylonian Captivity, their rescue by Cyrus, the King of Persia, and their resettlement in Palestine prior to the Assyrian invasion and Roman conquest. Time after time after time, the Old Testament tells us that the Chosen People had to be reminded by the minor and major Prophets (Amoz, Hosea, Nathan, Gad, Nahum, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) that God was going to save them from their sins. Isaiah's Suffering Servant songs, which begin at Chapter 51, foretell of the exact way in which liberation from enslavement to sin would occur.
An innocent lamb would be sent to the slaughter, opening not his mouth. By his stripes we would be healed. He would be thought of as afflicted, as one smitten by the people, one in whom there was no stately bearing. The people did not understand. They went about their secular business, not too differently from how many contemporary Catholics go about their secular business today, giving the true Faith almost next to no thought as they do so. And Ezekiel was the instrument God chose to foretell the Resurrection: Oh, My people, "I will open your graves and have you rise from them" "I will turn your hearts of stone to hearts of flesh."
The eyes of most of the Chosen People in the period prior to our Lord's Incarnation in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb were closed to teach us a very pointed lesson: faith is a gift which must be cultivated, a gift we must thirst for with every beat of our hearts. "Like the deer pants for running water, so our hearts pant for You, O Lord," the psalmist tells us. Those who do not thirst for an increase in their level of faith-their level of trust in the Blessed Trinity as He has revealed Himself through His true Church - will have their faith atrophy and be replaced by a disordered trust in one's own self and/or the things, people, places, ideas, and allurements of this passing world. The Jews of the Old Testament, at least, had an excuse for their blindness in that their souls were still captive to the devil by means of Original Sin. We have no such excuse, do we?
Indeed, those of us who are baptized Catholics have been given true spiritual sight through no merits of our own. Each one of our sins, however, can blind us more and more to the extent to which we must thirst for an increase in faith, an increase in hope, and an increase in charity. Each one of our sins can lead us away from the Divine Lover who is with unsurpassed love in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church in the world, His Real Presence being signified by a red lamp, itself indicative of the ardor of His love for us. Our sins, though, oh, how our sins can make us as blind as the Jews who lived at the time of our Lord's Passion and Death. Indeed, it was our sins (having transcended time) which helped to keep most of the Chosen People from seeing the truth that Truth Himself had been made flesh and had come to earth to pay back in His own Sacred Humanity the blood debt of their own (and our own) sins.
Thus, we must truly thirst to look at the events of Holy Week with renewed faith, hope, and love. We must not trudge our way through the end of a six week period of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and mortification. We must enter deep into the mysteries contained within the week during which time the new Adam canceled out the sin of the old Adam, stretching out His arms on the wood of the Holy Cross to embrace the whole of humanity for all eternity to lift it up on the vertical beam to the Father in Spirit and in Truth.
Holy Week is a summary of the life story of each person. And we must thirst to see our life story contained in all of its events.
There are times we welcome the Lord with joy, just as the crowd welcomed Him with joy on Palm Sunday, shortly after Jesus of Nazareth had raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. It is so very easy to welcome the miracle worker, so very difficult to stand by the foot of the Cross and to be known as a friend and as a disciple of One hated and reviled by all of your friends. Yes, it is easy to praise the Name of the Lord. It is so much more difficult to embrace His cross, accept His Holy Truths in a spirit of humility and docility, and unite one's self fully to the Cross as the only means by which we can help to repair the damage we have done to our own spiritual sight by our sins.
There are times when we are Judas Iscariot. There are times we take the thirty pieces of silver (sometimes quite literally) to betray our Lord and to satisfy some longing of ours (illicit pleasure, job security, family peace, financial advancement, human respect). We just turn away, placing our trust in the things of this world (politics, political ideologies, politicians, programs, our own ingenuity and supposed cleverness, technology) to resolve the problems which are only remediable by means of the cooperation of individual souls with the graces won for them on the wood of the Holy Cross by the Theandric Person, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are times when we want to stay in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, soaking in the words of our Lord's last discourse (in which He pointedly told us that we would be hated by all on account of Him and His Holy Name), marveling at the wonder of how the simple elements of the earth can be transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the God-Man, Who promised that He would give us the True Manna come down from Heaven Which is His own Flesh and His own Blood. And then there are the times we want to flee from that Upper Room, preferring to hunger and to thirst for the food and drink of this world, treating those who serve us our sumptuous meals far better than we treat the priests (spiritual descendants of those ordained at the Last Supper) who make possible for us the nourishment of our souls with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation.
There are times when we are very much with Our Lord in His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. There are times when we do indeed meditate upon the fact that He suffered His Agony in the Garden because He feared in His Sacred Humanity coming into contact with the very antithesis of His Sacred Divinity: sin. However, there are the times when we are very much like Peter, James, and John, each of whom fell fast asleep as the Master sweated droplets of His Most Precious Blood, seeing each of the sins of every human being who had ever lived, lived contemporaneously during His life, and who would live until the end of time. Indeed, most of the time we are fast asleep when we should be vigilant and alert in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
There are times when we want to flee from Our Lord, just as all but one of the Apostles did. We do not want to profess His Holy Name publicly. We do not want to work for the establishment of His Social Kingship and to restore the primacy of the See of Peter as the ultimate arbiter on matters of faith and morals - and on matters of fundamental justice. We just want to keep our mouths shut and to keep out of trouble, just as the Apostles left our Lord to be manhandled by the Sanhedrin prior to the night He spent in prison, alone and abandoned.
Most of all, though, we live our lives in the crowd. For the same crowd which cried out "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord" on Palm Sunday called out for our Lord's Crucifixion just five days later. We human beings are pretty fickle. So quick to condemn, so slow to forgive, especially when it comes to our own family members and friends. Some grudge, real or imagined, causes us to denounce and reject a family member or friend, a fellow human being made in the image and likeness of the Triune God and redeemed by the God-Man on the heights of Golgotha. "Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me." How slow we are to see Him in the people are who closest to us.
In His ineffable mercy, however, God always wants to draw us close to Him. While it is true that our sins placed us on the wrong side of the Cross on Good Friday, Our Lord has given us a chance to be present with Him every day of our lives (except for Good Friday and Holy Saturday) as His One Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth is re-presented in an unbloody manner on an altar of Sacrifice in Holy Mass. Every Mass we hear affords us the opportunity to meditate upon the sufferings Our Lord endured in order to fulfill the Father's will that we might be reconciled to Him through the shedding of the Blood of the true Passover Lamb.
Our Lord thirsted for souls not only on Good Friday. He thirsts for souls yet. He thirsts for souls to be present at Holy Mass in a spirit of recollection and silence. He thirsts for souls to pray and to work for the restoration of the liturgy in the Latin rite which more perfectly and more beautifully conveys the sacredness of the events in which our redemption was wrought for us by Him. He thirsts for souls to meditate upon how He redeemed every single suffering of our lives through the suffering our sins imposed upon Him in His Sacred Humanity. There is nothing any of us can endure (no bodily pain, no terminal disease, no rejection, no failure, no loss of material goods) which is the equal of what one of our venial sins caused Him to suffer in His Passion and Death. He thirsts for us to realize this, interiorize it, and to live it out more fully with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to the Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother and to His own Most Sacred Heart. And He thirsts for us to be the administrators of the Divine Mercy He extended to us so freely as He made excuses for His executioners (namely, us): "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." He thirsts for us to do the same.
Our Lord also thirsts for us to be totally consecrated to His Mother, who stood so valiantly by the foot of the Cross as she watched the fruit of her virginal and immaculate womb suffer the ravages our sins imposed upon Him. Our Lord thirsts for us to go to Him through His Mother, just as He came into the world through her to effect our redemption. We cannot possibly understand the sorrows and the triumph of Holy Week if we are not totally consecrated to our Lady, placing ourselves completely under her maternal protection as we endeavor to cooperate with the graces won for us by her Divine Son as He re-created us on the wood of the Holy Cross. She was present at the foot of the Cross. She is present during every celebration of Holy Mass. She prays for us to have a thirst for the things of eternity, to thirst for the salvation of our souls, to thirst to grow in sanctity, and to thirst to be known proudly as the children she gave spiritual birth to in great pain and sorrow.
The Chosen People thirsted for water but died nevertheless. The Samaritan woman was told she would be given water and never be thirsty again. We know that our Lord has given us the Church, conceived out of the elements of Blood and Water that poured forth from His Wounded Side, to be the means by which our thirst for the truths of the Faith are always quenched. The Holy Ghost, Who is the Vivifier (the Lifegiver), means to thirst for a greater love of the Cross, being ever ready to embrace It, ever ready to see on It the One Who has liberated us from the power of sin and death - and to see beneath It the woman who wants us to rely upon her maternal intercession to thirst each day for a greater love for her Son through her as sons and daughters of the true Church.
"O death, where is thy victory? Death, where is Thy sting?" Our Lord's death on the Holy Cross, which seemed to the world His ultimate failure, is the means of our passageway to eternal life. It is also the means by which we come to know who we are - and how we are to treat all others in a spirit of mercy and true love for the welfare of their immortal souls.
A reflection on the Resurrection will be saved for the next issue, which should reach you during Holy Week. This reflection is aimed at providing some food for thought as we walk through the final weeks of Lent into Holy Week, being prepared to thirst to make it the best Holy Week of our lives.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives