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NOTE: The following letter was published in the April 6, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My dear brothers and sisters,
A fourth century pilgrim nun from Spain, Egeria, visited the Holy Land and was in the Holy City of Jerusalem for Holy Week in 381 AD. Fortunately for us, she wrote her sisters at home about her visit and hence we have a wonderful record of how Holy Week was celebrated in the early Church. Since at least that time, we know that the faithful in Jerusalem observed Holy Week in a very similar way as we still do today, retracing the journey of Our Lord from the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday to the celebration of the Last Supper to His Passion of Good Friday, then remaining in vigil prayer for Easter, Our Lord’s resurrection.
So we are privileged to join the long line of faithful disciples of the Lord who for two millennia have marked this Holy Week in a similar way to how we are invited to spend this week. During these next seven days, the Church beckons us to listen, pray and think. It asks us to break out of our normal routine and to pay extra attention to God. During Holy Week, God reaches out in love to us in an extraordinary way, in a wonderful way, through some beautiful liturgies. The Church shares with us the very story of our salvation. This Holy Week I pray we all will enter into the solemnity and sacredness of Christ’s passion and death with the hope that we too will share in His resurrection.
We begin Holy Week journeying with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem. We hear the triumphal entry of Jesus into the city. But the joyful singing of hosannas and the loving action of the faithful waving palms and spreading them under Jesus’ feet will not last as fear, confusion and anger boil up, and we witness Jesus’ trial, His torture, His carrying of the Cross and His crucifixion. Holy week is the unfolding of the mystery of salvation before our eyes.
Now is the time to break out of our normal routine and spend extra time with God. The Sacred Triduum is a moving effort by God and the Church to break into our lives. Yes, Lent is over and our time of preparation for Easter is finished. Now God wants to break anew into our lives with love and the choice is ours. We just need to open our hearts wider to Him and so fully enter into the week, and think and pray as disciples of Jesus, not just as observers of the events unfolding. So throughout this Holy Week, let us open our hearts and prepare ourselves for the great celebration of Easter. God never forces Himself on us, but gently offers Himself to us. He is reaching out in love to share the story of salvation history with us. He is reaching out anew to save us.
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter with our Lord’s Resurrection brings great joy as we, with the disciples, realize Jesus has offered Himself as the Paschal Lamb for us and indeed, rises from the dead. In the first written account of the Resurrection we possess, St. Paul writes to his fellow believers in Corinth. “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3-5). What has happened to Christ is also our destiny. God wills to do the same for each of us.
The message of Easter is to never lose hope. God so loves us that He sent His only Son to redeem us. Our faith in the Resurrection brings us liberation, life, joy and gives meaning to everything we do all year long. The Resurrection is the central dogma of our faith. We celebrate because we know that, through Christ, all our trials transform into grace, all our sadness into joy, all death into resurrection. I pray that your own Easter is an especially joyful one, and I want you to know how deeply grateful I am to celebrate my first Easter with you as your Bishop.
This year during Holy Week, I invite you spend time with family and those we love and make extra time for the Lord enjoying the beautiful liturgies the Church provides for our nourishment along the way. They have been nourishing the faithful disciples of the Lord for two millennia; now they will do so for us, if we are willing. You will all be in my prayers in a special way and I ask you to please remember me in your prayers.
Blessed Holy Week and Happy Easter!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen