We are about to enter Holy Week. Holy Week is the culmination of Lent, especially as we celebrate the Easter Triduum in which we enter into the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord in a most intimate manner.
The celebration of Holy Week this year will be very different from any that we have ever experienced. Because of the threat of the coronavirus and the necessary precautions that must be taken to counter it and protect ourselves and others, we will not be able to be in church for Holy Week and especially the celebration of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. While these celebrations will occur in the churches, celebrated by our priests, our inability to attend them will make Holy Week very different for all of us.
As we began the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday this year, we never expected that it would bring with it a penance that no one would have chosen to place upon themselves and from which God wants us to be delivered. However, it is only by drawing near to the Lord that we find the ultimate deliverance from all evil and the ultimate joy of life found in the Lord.
One of the things which has become a part of our lives at this time is an isolation from others. The inability to go to church as well as all the other restrictions of normal life in which we participate every day has caused us a silence with which most of us may not be familiar. We must proceed with caution and distance even with those in our families who are closest to us.
While this isolation is one that can cause a great deal of anxiety and pain, it is one from which the Lord wishes to deliver us. In fact, Jesus experienced such isolation during his 40 days in the desert before he began his public ministry. The Lord chose this isolation for himself precisely so he could be in union with his Father in a most intimate manner. It was in this union with the Father that the Lord was able to understand his mission more deeply and in which he found the joy of his very existence even in his divine nature. However, the self-isolation of the Lord included a misery in His human nature which came from the fierce temptations which Satan placed before Him. As we experience our isolation at this time, it is well for us to reflect upon the suffering the Lord freely undertook for us so that He might be with us in everything, including our deepest sufferings and deliver us from isolation. The Lord would not yield to the temptations of the devil which were temptations precisely to abandon us and to leave us on our own. His forty days in the desert are a prelude to His Cross freely accepted for us.
It is spiritually significant for us to realize that, even though we may be isolated, the silence which it may cause is not necessarily a bad thing. In order to come into union with God, there has to be a silence in our lives for us to speak with Him and for Him to speak with us. It is precisely in this silence that we experience the depth of His love as we cannot even begin to imagine. Pope Francis has mentioned a number of times during this Lenten season, that we live in a very noisy world and a good deal of that noise is not good. In his famous work, the “Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis said that noise is the music of hell. We must be careful that, even though we are isolated, this isolation does not bring a noise that is harmful, but a silence that is productive. Like the Lord, we can use this time of silence to grow in our relationship with Him, even though the ordinary means by which we do this are not present to us. The Lord uses every situation for our benefit. It is beneficial to dwell upon the words of the Lord to His Apostles at the Last Supper: “Remain in me, as I remain in you … Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing … I have said all these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete,” (Jn 15:4;5;11). It is in silence that we know this presence.
One of the greatest hardships of this time is the inability to be present for the celebration of the Mass. The Mass is the center of the life of the Church and it is here that we transcend time and space and enter into the saving action of the Lord where He feeds us with His very Body and Blood as He did at the Last Supper.
Even though we cannot be present for the celebration of Mass at this time and during Holy Week, it is so important for us to know that Mass and the Holy Week ceremonies are being celebrated in our churches and we can be joined to them in spiritual communion. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we participate in the Mass and are present to it in a mystical manner.
The two days of the year on which Mass is not celebrated are Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These days bring a special somberness to them and the lack of the celebration of Mass intensifies that somberness. Our present inability not to physically participate in the Mass is not the same as that on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. However, this year those days will bring a special reminder to us of our privilege to be able to celebrate the Mass.
During Holy Week, during these days of Lent and during the future days of the situation we find ourselves in because of the coronavirus, our relationship to God is still very much alive and can be kindled in an even deeper way. We still carry out practices of our prayer, our reading of the word of God, our praying of the Rosary, our making the Stations of the Cross even privately, our prayer for the suffering and needs of others, and our listening more deeply to the Lord who truly speaks within us, as they are still part of the fabric of our lives. As the Mass, the very action of Christ Himself, continues to be celebrated in our parish churches, we continue to grow in union with the Lord through the practice of prayer in silence in which we continue to be absorbed.
At this time, we must also continue to cultivate the virtue of hope. God did not send us this affliction. It is part of the broken nature of our world due to original sin. The Lord is with us to deliver us and it is only by joining ourselves to Him in prayer that we have hope in Him and hope in one another that will deliver us all from this evil. The coronavirus causes us an isolation not part of God’s plan for the world, but one that we can undertake in order to heal that world. We are grateful to so many in the medical field, the scientific field and those in leadership positions who are doing all they can to bring us together and not to isolate us. May the silence of Holy Week and our entering into its mystery be a source of that hope and healing for us and for others.
Please know of my special prayers for all of you at this time.