Holy Week during a pandemic

How can we meaningfully celebrate Holy Week in these troubled times, when all the churches are closed, public masses are canceled indefinitely, and when we cannot even physically attend Holy Week Celebrations in church like we used to do? This Holy Week is one for the books because never before have we been unable to celebrate Lenten Season to gather together as a Christian Community for prayer and worship.

This situation is, however, giving us a unique opportunity to celebrate Holy Week in a more real way as the domestic church, in our homes. As Cardinal Chito Tagle said in his Palm Sunday homily in the Coleggio Filipino in Rome, this is an opportunity to encounter the Word for priests, religious and the faithful; unencumbered by our usual busy schedule of masses, chanting the pasyon, processions and other rituals, we can live the paschal mystery of Jesus, his dying and rising, during these days of the pandemic.

Together with all the members of our families, which in normal times may be unable to gather together as a family because of our busy schedules, let us consider our relationship with Jesus as we face the life threatening coronavirus; to take stock of our lives in relation to God’s calling for holiness as we enter the final days of Lent and approach Holy Week.

In this time of anxiety, stress and fear, we can nurture a deeper relationship with Jesus through prayer for those who are suffering, for the lonely, the sick and the dying and their bereaved families, for our own survival; through acts of sacrifice in communion with the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ; and through acts of charity for those who are most affected by the pandemic­—the poor and the hungry.

Most especially, let us pray most fervently for those who are dying alone without being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. As Cardinal Chito exhorted, let us offer our palms and sing our silent hosannas to accompany those who have died alone as they enter the new Jerusalem.Cardinal Chito wisely reminds us that we do not deserve this pandemic in the same way that Jesus did not deserve to suffer and to die. That is why our Lord cried out in Calvary: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

In his own Palm Sunday homily, with an almost empty Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus experienced total abandonment. This was a situation our Messiah had never before experienced but He entered into it in order to be one with us in everything.  Jesus did it for me, for you, to say to us: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you.”

According to Pope Francis. Jesus did not hesitate to descend “into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment.” And today, in front of the tragedy of a pandemic, “in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts,” Jesus tells us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you.”

With this global drama still unfolding and intensifying, Jesus is passing by, calling and inviting each and every one of us to unite with his suffering in Calvary, remembering that Easter follows Good Friday.

As Pope Francis suggests—“in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve.”

Yes, we do not deserve this pandemic but as Cardinal Chito suggests, let’s own it as Jesus owned God’s plan for him—his passion, death, and resurrection. Let us embrace this cross by reaching out to those who are suffering and those most in need. Let us not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.We are assured, according to the Pope, that the Father, who sustained Jesus in his Passion also supports us in our efforts to serve: “Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: All this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a via crucis. But the path of service is the victorious and life-giving path by which we were saved.”

Pope Francis encourages us to look at the real heroes who come to light in these days of the pandemic: “they are not famous, rich, and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others.”

Finally, the Pope exhorts us: “Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.”

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