We must pass through the cross to share in new life

Patricia Irvine, theology teacher at O’Gorman High School and parishioner at St. Lambert Parish, Sioux Falls.

One year, I told my students that Easter is the Solemnity of Solemnities. It is the grandest feast of the year, even bigger than Christmas. The joy of Easter is so magnificent that for an entire week we celebrate as though it is still Easter Sunday. A student looked at me and said, “Then how come we don’t get more time off of school?” Of course, the measuring stick for significance as a student is the number of days one gets away from school.

The joy of Christmas is much easier to enter into than the Easter Sunday glory that comes from passing through the grave. The world isn’t very good at Advent, but it is pretty good at impressing upon us the significance of Christmas, even if more materialistic than desired. Between a long break from school and numerous gatherings with family and friends, Christmas holds a certain place in our memories. The birth of a child is an easy and obvious thing to celebrate.

The same is not true for Lent, Holy Week and the Easter season. Lent is something our culture struggles to understand. Grocery stores and fast food chains comprehend fish sells better on Lenten Fridays. The additional prayer, fasting and almsgiving, though, isn’t very marketable. Instead, the world around us leaps from fish sandwiches to Easter bunnies, Easter lilies, and a large Easter Sunday meal.

The Catholic perspective is extraordinarily different. These days of Lent are preparation for the joy that arrives at Easter. The sacrifices are meant to create space for Christ to reign more fully in our hearts.

Holy Week comprises the final leg of the yearly purgative race. Instead of jumping ahead to the resurrection, we are asked to linger in the present and to move through the Lord’s Passion with intentionality. We can’t skip the cross in favor of the resurrection, or we risk sacrificing some of the true joy that comes with walking the Via Dolorosa.

I frequently direct my students’ attention to the tangibility of the Catholic faith. From being marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday to the palms we hold on Palm Sunday, our faith is one that is embedded in the concrete world. God entered into creation and thus He baptized the material world into an avenue of grace—a means to meet Him. The Sacraments embody this and during Holy Week, we lean even more into the tangible signs of God’s invisible grace.

I don’t do it every year, but one year in particular I encouraged my students to live the events of Holy Week and Easter as though they were happening for the first time. Imagine gathering with the disciples to celebrate the Passover and finding yourself at the first Mass.

Instead of being bored by the routine, enter into Good Friday as though Jesus just died and it caused great confusion in your heart. Participate in the Passion narrative, saying with the crowd words we too often live with our lives. Allow yourself to be moved in a new way by the emptiness of the tabernacle and the nakedness of the altar.

Live Holy Saturday uncertain of what will happen as we wait near the tomb. Recall God’s providence throughout salvation history as the darkened church becomes filled with light.

Gather at Easter with indescribable joy to rejoice with the One who conquered death forever. These moments of salvation are so deep and so real that we can always find new graces in them.

Sadly, this Holy Week may be one that we experience like none other. While it makes my heart ache to think that I might have no option to gather for the sacred days of the Triduum or to enter into the joy of Easter in the darkened nave of St. Lambert, I am certain that the Lord still has something new to offer me this year. If He asks of me the great sacrifice of not living the holiest days of the year as I desire, it is because He desires to give an even greater joy, born of suffering I didn’t ask to bear.

After passing through the cross, we will share in a new life, a new joy, a new hope undimmed by anything the world can muster. Deo gratias!