A Holy Week Message – Father Devdas
Lent is often a challenging time for us, as we struggle to stick to our Lenten commitments. We either commit to doing too much, fall weak or get caught up with our busy lives and forget what we promised to do during this season. This year the Lenten season has been a unique one and certainly one of the most difficult Lents that we have experienced, not only as individuals, but also as a universal Church.
I recently came across a phrase that summarizes this experience well, stating that this has been the “Lentiest Lent ever.” One parishioner even told me that they had no idea they would be giving up this much when Lent initially started. Who would have thought that all the churches in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica, would be closed? When I watched Pope Francis give the Urbi et Orbi blessing, I was shocked to see an empty audience at St. Peter’s Square, especially during such a profound moment. Due to this pandemic, the Holy Land also experienced closures. The last time that the Holy Sepulcher Church, which was built on the site of Golgotha as well as our Lord’s tomb, was closed was nearly 700 years ago during the Black Plague.
Then we have our churches in the United States and the rest of the world. One by one, bishops had to make the heartbreaking decision to cancel public Masses and most other activities to ensure the safety of the community. This was not an easy decision and as I have mentioned before, it feels strange and sad that I am not able to celebrate Mass and the sacraments with all of you. At the same time, we must not lose hope! Scripture tells us to “rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
We must remain strong during these challenges and recall that God has not abandoned us. People have been shaken in multiple ways and their plans have been forced to change. Some are experiencing financial hardships and have lost their jobs, others have fallen ill with no one to take care of them, still others have added obligations such as unexpectedly taking care of loved ones in addition to their personal obligations. We all have our own challenges, but this is an opportunity, especially during this Lenten season, to unite our suffering with that of our Lord.
As we enter Holy Week, take the opportunity to talk to Jesus openly and share your struggles. Be vulnerable with him and admit if you are afraid, feeling uncertain about the future, or worried about how you will be able to recover from your current situation. It is okay to feel down or express that you feel burdened. Even Jesus felt abandoned on the cross and cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). Jesus did not give up. He understands what we are going through. When he was in anguish, Scripture tells us that he retreated to a solitary place to pray, and we are reminded to do the same. This is the time when we need to pray more than usual. Practicing social distancing can be challenging, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to retreat from the things that normally keep us busy and to use that time to pray and grow closer to God.
We may not be able to gather in church, but we each have a domestic church in our own homes. Saint John Paul II said, “the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in faith” (Familiaris Consortio, 51). Let us use this time to focus on the domestic church, our own homes. Take time to pray with your family. Even those who normally would not want to join you may accept your invitation in the midst of current trials. Reach out to a family member whom you have not spoken to in a long time. Receiving your call might soften their heart and help them experience God’s loving embrace as they struggle to have hope. Our parish has dedicated this year to “Family Life & Spirituality,” and what better way to embrace it than to begin with our own families.
As difficult as this Lenten season has been for many of us, I think it has made many of us, myself included, appreciate our faith even more. In discussing the concept of fasting from the Eucharist, Pope Benedict XVI says “‘The bread I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world’ (Jn 6:51). In these words, the Lord reveals the true meaning of the gift of his life for all people. These words also reveal his deep compassion for every man and woman” (Behold the Pierced One, 97-98). Let us not grow distant in our faith. Instead, let us turn our hunger for God into an opportunity to spend more time with him by accompanying him through his passion and crucifixion.
God understands our pain and he does not want us to carry this burden on our own. Turn to him during this time of need and let him give you rest. Jesus conquered death and provides hope for all of us. Let us not be weighed down or fall to depression but let us take this opportunity to join our suffering with Christ’s passion, so that we too may glory in the joy of the resurrection next week and eventually rise with him in glory. Allow this season to not only be the Lentiest Lent ever, but seek to make it the most profound Lent of your life as we enter into Holy Week and follow Jesus through his suffering and death and his rising from the dead as glorious and victorious Lord.
– Father Devdas