NEXT week we celebrate Holy Week – seven days filled with religious symbolism and rituals, from washing feet to venerating the cross. Holy Week, is indeed a true gift to embrace. Holy Week tells the very hopeful story of Jesus’ great love and resilient compassion – a free love, given in an absolute fashion; a love told powerfully by a God who “laid down his life for his friends”.
For this reason, the days of Holy Week resonate with many emotions felt within all our hearts. The joy and intimacy at a family meal, the pain of not knowing our future, the emptiness because of a loved ones death and the transforming hope and joy on Easter Sunday: Jesus has risen from the dead. This is a powerful story – a story that through the symbol of a cross continues to offer hope.
We all have crosses. When we look at the call to take up our cross, we tend to think of the way God asks us to accept and embrace the sufferings and hardships that come from living in this fallen world. While we have a difficult time understanding why a good God allows his people to suffer, we all know what suffering feels like, and we can understand how it can be linked to the cross. This kind of suffering can be physical or spiritual or psychological. It can range from cancer to the inner wounds caused by someone who persecutes you because of your faith. It can come in the form of addiction, depression and anxiety. It can come from our standing up for innocent life in a culture of death, or it can come from having to endure the pain of a broken relationship. Whatever its source, we all have situations in our lives that we could honestly call “crosses” that we have to bear.
It is important to see, however, that before we accept or embrace any cross we may encounter, we should feel free to ask the Lord to remove it from us. Yes, Jesus told us to carry our crosses. But at the same time, he himself healed many people. He removed their crosses because of his love and compassion. Just as Jesus removed the crosses from these people, there are many instances where he wants to remove ours. He knows all about our suffering, and he is with us. He loves to heal us.
One of the great models of the Church in the Second Vatican Council is that of a living dynamic community of faith – “the people of God”. Here in our parish, I am so uplifted by the great sense of hope at our recent solemn novena – thousands who gathered to share hope and faith.
This week, Jesus reminds us all that, essentially, our Church is local – familiar places where we share meals, support and encourage. Our Church is not even about buildings or ceremonies. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you.” Jesus continues to wash our feet through the hands of parents, caring for their family, and voluntary organisations which support often the most vulnerable in our society.
Jesus in Gethsemane reminds us that we are not alone. His fragile and very vulnerable experience of doubt, frustration and extreme anxiety is a powerful solidarity with so many who are uncertain and overwhelmed.
Jesus dying on the cross is an invitation to new life. His kingdom is not for those who have it all; but firstly, for those who are in want of something greater. His word to a dying thief: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
His dying arms outstretched are an invitation to all people to turn to his love. Jesus on the cross embraces the depth of our humanity and in doing so makes us new and powerful. “By his wounds we are healed”. Without the cross we have no Easter. It is through suffering that Jesus gives us Easter – hope.
A warm welcome to you all to consider joining us on the Heath here in Portlaoise on Easter Sunday morning at 6am for our Easter Dawn Mass, surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation. Get up early, there’s a free ticket and there’s room for you!
God’s light is bright, His presence is real. May we begin again in renewed confidence that through faith “all will be well”.