The images of Holy Week draw us into the drama of Christ’s last few days before Calvary. On Palm Sunday we hear the crowds shouting, “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem There’s a kind of frenzy in the air. Lots of people are following Jesus. Lots of soldiers are following Jesus. He’s coming to celebrate the Passover feast with his friends. He’s coming to suffer and to die, betrayed by a friend and denied by a friend. And He’s coming to rise from the grave on Easter morning.
We’re so familiar with the story that sometimes we gloss over the uncomfortable images in our haste to roll the stone away and cry, “Alleluia! He is risen!” It’s a common human mistake. In fact, it’s the core of the prosperity Gospel fad. But here’s the truth: Jesus said, “If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up His cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). He never tells us that if we follow Him we’ll be rich and powerful and healthy. Or even, happy. The saints have always known this. They view suffering and sacrifice as the doorway to an intimate relationship with Jesus.
In Jerusalem, the path that Jesus walked from His condemnation to Golgotha is called the “Via Dolorosa” or “Way of Sorrows.” This recalls the prophet Isaiah’s description of our Savior: “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…”(Isaiah 53:3). Pilgrims today retrace His footsteps, stopping to pray and to remember His passion and suffering for our sake. The Stations of the Cross, these same instances as on the Jerusalem “way,” are in every Catholic Church and we pray them often during Lent. We recall how Christ was arrested, beaten, stripped, and burdened to carry His Cross. At each fall, at every humiliation and torture, we kneel and pray these words: “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.” Christ performed many miracles of healing, and yet His miracles didn’t save us. He taught beautiful parables of mercy and forgiveness, yet His preaching didn’t save us. What saves us? His death on the Cross. And that’s what this week is about.
Last summer at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis prayed the Stations of the Cross with more than a million young people. He asked them 3 questions. This week is a good time for us to ask ourselves these same questions: What have I left at the Cross? What has the Cross of Jesus left for me? What does the Cross teach me?
We pray to be more like Jesus. We beg Him to hold us close to His Sacred Heart. Yet it can be hard for us to accept the fact that suffering comes with that embrace. To be more like Him, we must walk the Via Dolorosa, too. We’re beaten down, spat upon, kicked and left alone with no one to stand up for us or defend us or make a case for us. We fall down. We get up. We fall down again. We get up again. Through our blood and sweat we can see that hill ahead of us, two crosses already there. Two thieves hang in agony and we know that soon, we’ll take our place between them. Each one of us bears a cross of suffering, just at the Church does. She is maligned, accused of every wrongdoing and shortcoming and sin. She will suffer because Her Spouse suffers. And She wouldn’t have it any other way. Her very life is in Him, and apart from His Cross, she is nothing but a social club: well-meaning but not life-giving. The glory and power of the Resurrection are bought at the terrible price of His suffering and death. On Good Friday, on the Cross, Easter looks a million miles away. But without suffering, without the power of His Blood, the stone of the tomb is impossibly heavy, unable to be rolled away. In these days of Holy Week, we walk with Jesus, and we weep.
“He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was on Him. And by His wounds we are healed.”