We have come to the last stretch of Lent. Now we begin our journey through Holy Week, the most sacred week of the year, culminating in the magnificent celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So how fruitful has your Lent been thus far? Have you taken this time to repent of your sins and wring your soul of all its wretched ugliness? Have you purified your intentions, discarded your attachment to the material and focused your eyes on the goal of heaven? Have you taken additional time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving? For some additional spiritual reading? Or do you sit on the cusp of Holy Week wishing you’d given just a bit more of yourself over the past several weeks?
Often we begin our Lenten journey with great intentions, full of courage regarding the road ahead. We are determined to tackle that narrow path. We seek God’s grace and we truly believe that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). We set our sights far before us, planning to thrust off the world and claim our inheritance as children of God. But as the journey takes its toll, temptations stand tall and our view of heaven is obstructed once again. Earthly commitments tend to get in the way, and our resolve fades as the days grow long and the light at the end looms dim.
But Holy Week is a new beginning. Regardless of how we’ve faired in the desert, Christ asks us to walk with Him as He makes his way through Jerusalem and enters into His paschal mystery. What a privilege to solemnly unite ourselves to His Way for the final trek of his journey.
Why not make this Holy Week the greatest one yet? Don’t worry. You needn’t drop everything and spend the week in a monastery (lovely thought, but not practical for most of us). Instead, spend some time meditating on the seven last words of Christ. Easter is seven days from now – just enough time to contemplate each. But if you read this later in the week, begin wherever you find yourself. In the interest of space, my words are few, meant only to inspire further contemplation on The Word.
Sunday: “Father, Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” — Luke 23:24
Like Christ, who forgave the most evil of actions and actually prayed for His persecutors, take some time today to pray for someone who has persecuted you. Perhaps you don’t hold a grudge on the surface; but somewhere deep in your heart have you hardened yourself toward someone who just keeps on pushing – your spouse? Your teenager? Your best friend? Today is the day to release those who continue to sin toward you.
Action: Consider all the sins you’ve committed. Acknowledge that you would be lost without Christ’s grace. Go to Confession if at all possible; and regardless, pray an Act of Contrition. Then offer a penance today by denying yourself one of your favorite daily habits.
Monday: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” —Luke 23:43
Remember that Christ showed mercy to even the most lost of souls. Extend yourself to someone who does not deserve it. And remember that before God, we are not more deserving than the lowest of the low who stands before us. We must love like Christ loves, that (like the good thief on the cross), we, too, might join Him in Paradise.
Action: Contemplate heaven. Think of your absolute favorite thing on this earth; and then consider it as nothing compared to the eternal joy of our Heavenly Father’s house. For others – pray for the poor souls in Purgatory. Consider adding the Saint Gertrude Prayer to your daily routine. For yourself or for a loved one – take the steps necessary today to obtain a plenary indulgence.
Tuesday: Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “This is your mother.” — John 19:26-27
Mary is your mother. Just stop and inhale that thought for a moment. The Mother of God is your mother too! And just as your earthly mother desires only what’s best for you, your heavenly mother desires only to unite you to her Son, and will do whatever it takes to lead you to Him.
Action: Pray the rosary today. Contemplate the Sorrowful mysteries and spend time thinking both of Christ’s suffering for us, and also of the Sorrows of Mary that are part and parcel of her perfect motherhood.
Wednesday: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
Sometimes we feel completely abandoned by God. But even in your darkest hour, you can rest assured that “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). There is no greater obedience than that which stems from trust. And we have God’s word that we can trust Him, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Action: Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet today. If you haven’t already done so, consider making it part of your daily routine, . For a great discussion on God’s gift of Divine Mercy and how it is playing itself out in our world today, read The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Father Michael Gaitley.
Thursday: I thirst. — John 19:28
As Blessed Mother Teresa often said, Christ’s greatest thirst is for souls. He doesn’t long for just any soul. He longs for your soul. He desires nothing more than to be united with you forever in His heavenly kingdom. And the most beautiful part? At your innermost core, you long to quench His thirst, for “As the heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God” (Psalms 42:1). Christ longs for us. We long for Him. A perfect match, disparaged only by the brokenness and obscurity of sin.
Action: When Mother Teresa was young, the very poor would knock on her family’s door asking for food. Her mother used to say, “Teresa, go and make a sandwich for Jesus.” Quench His thirst as did Blessed Mother Teresa. Today, offer your time, talent and or treasure to serve the poorest of the poor in your community. Also, deny yourself a meal today and offer your sacrifice for the poor among us. Do not simply give. Give with absolute joy and thanksgiving, recognizing those whom you serve for who they are – Christ, in your midst.
Friday: They put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished;” and he bowed his head and handed over the spirit. Gospel of John 19:29-30
Oh, the thousands of pages that have been written to analyze these three words. Yes. It is finished. At the most simple level, His job is complete. We have been redeemed. Now, the question – as we force ourselves to contemplate his blood-soaked body, hanging helplessly upon the cross – How are we going to respond to His gift?
Action: Attend The Stations of the Cross today, on this, the saddest and yet most beautiful day of the year. The Bible tells us that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Is there someone you would like to bring back to Christ? In addition to your Lenten fast, offer a particularly difficult sacrifice today for that person’s soul. Whether it be giving up coffee, complaining, or something else that reminds you of your sacrifice several times today, you will never regret offering such a loving gift. God hears your prayers and will not leave you alone. Elisabeth Leseur spent years offering prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of her atheist husband, even offering her life in the end. Her sacrifices were rewarded when her husband became a practicing Catholic, and then a Dominican priest.
Saturday: Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Gospel of Luke 23:46
At the end of your earthly life, we, too, will commend our spirits into God’s hands. It should be our greatest desire to do this with peace and joy, rather than fear and trepidation. Choosing daily to unite our wills to God’s, will bring great comfort, for we will never be unsure about what to expect when our time comes.
In handing your life over to God, you can be confident that upon your death, you will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23). For you, Easter Sunday will be a reminder of the Hope that gives us the power to trust without fear.
Action: Spend an hour in adoration today. Contemplate His will. Know that in your sacrifice, you are uniting yourself to Him. Prepare yourself for the Resurrection that is to come, and think of the joy that will surpass all words when, upon leaving this earthly life, you find yourself in the arms of your Heavenly Father.
The root of all good works is the hope of the resurrection; for the expectation of the reward [moves] the soul to good works. – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
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