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Holy Week invites us to unite our suffering with the paschal mystery

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The days of Lent are coming to a close. During Holy Week, we enter into the most important days of our liturgical year. The Triduum liturgies (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter) make it possible for us to encounter the events that rescued us from sin and death and gave us a share in the eternal life of God.

The death of Jesus on the cross was the result of human sin. Jesus, in accepting our human condition, made himself vulnerable to the cruel consequences of sin. Jesus became man so that, despite our sin, we could know the depth of God’s merciful love for us. 

In remaining faithful to the mission entrusted to him by his Father, even to the point of submitting to his passion and crucifixion, Jesus reversed the sin of Adam. Our Lord embraced the cross because of his absolute commitment to be faithful to the will of the Father. Jesus transformed the cross from a symbol of death into a source of life, from an instrument of cruel torture into a font of faithful love.

For the Christian, we see all of life through the prism of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our Lord’s merciful and compassionate love flowing from the cross provides us with the opportunity for the forgiveness of our sins, which in part were responsible for the cross. We witness — in the events of Good Friday and Easter — God’s ability to draw forth good from evil. In the dying and rising of Jesus, we encounter the ultimate victory of life over the forces of death.

The passion and crucifixion of Jesus were, humanly speaking, a great humiliation and the ultimate defeat. Yet, Jesus spoke of his imminent crucifixion as the purpose for which he came into the world. The mission entrusted to Jesus was to enter into our sin-fractured human condition and immerse himself into a broken world that had been contaminated by Adam’s disobedience, in order that Our Lord could reverse Adam’s rebellion by his humble submission to take upon himself the full effect of sin and liberate us from our slavery to it.

The devil hated and continues to hate humanity. He successfully corrupted our first parents by the temptation to distrust the God who had loved them into existence. Satan wanted to create a complete and impenetrable wall between God and humanity by enticing our first parents to disobey the one limitation that God had placed upon them.

Jesus vanquished the forces of evil and liberated us from the shackles of our sin by making the cross a throne of mercy from which he sought forgiveness for all those responsible for the cross, namely all of us. Jesus interceded for us by his request to the Father: Forgive them for they know not what they do.

On Easter, the risen Jesus vanquished death, the most terrible effect of our sin, by his resurrection and his offering to all who believe in him a share in his eternal and everlasting life. Satan, the author of sin, the Emperor of Evil, the Lord of Death, had been defeated.

Jesus gave himself as the lamb of sacrifice, the perfect offering to the Father, to establish the new covenant. The law of the new covenant would not be etched on stone tablets but rather written upon the human heart.

Jesus’ gift of himself, even unto death, resulted in the gift of eternal life. On the cross, Jesus was lifted up in offering to his Father, in order that his disciples, all who looked upon the crucified One, would be drawn to the Father.

It is this supreme sacrifice that is made present to us in the Mass. Our Lord beckons us to place on the altar whatever ways we have chosen to die to self, whatever sacrifices of love are required of us as his disciples, whatever sufferings we endure, whatever small deaths to self we embrace, to unite them with his great act of love and mercy on Calvary. By placing our small offerings with the enormous sacrifice of Jesus, God can make our sacrifices and suffering remarkably fruitful.

The new covenant makes us one with Jesus. It removes all barriers between ourselves and God. In holy Communion, we receive the Lamb of God, who gave his life for us, so that we could become one with him. The new covenant invites us to communion with God, to friendship with Jesus, to embrace our identity as the bride and to become one with the Bridegroom.

Holy Week is a special time for us to seek the grace to accept more fully the will of God in our lives, especially when doing so may require us to embrace a part of the cross with a faith that seeks to follow the amazing love exhibited by Jesus on Calvary. This season invites us to unite our own personal suffering with the paschal mystery — with the dying and rising of Jesus.

We should ask ourselves: What does it mean for me at this moment to unite myself with the crucified One?  What is being asked of me, in the unique and particular circumstances of my life, if I am going to follow Jesus, even to Calvary?

It is also a time for us to be renewed in the hope of the risen Lord. Our hope, as Christians, does not come from our ability to change and reform our world. Our hope comes from our conviction that Jesus can bring forth: 1) joy from our suffering; 2) good from evil; and 3) life from death.

With so many things wrong in our world that can discourage us, we need to pray during Holy Week that the Lord will renew in our hearts the hope of his Easter victory over sin and death. We are called to transform our culture and society but not by our own ingenuity and determined work. We are called to transform the world by allowing the Lord to use us to make his merciful and life-giving love accessible and tangible to others through us.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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