Sharing in the Suffering of Jesus During Holy Week

Sharing in the Suffering of Jesus During Holy Week March 18, 2024

Holy Week is about contemplating and sharing the suffering of Jesus. We do not do this as an exercise in masochism, but as an expression of our love for the one who loved us first. In a world so hyper-focused on comfort and pleasure, it feels counter-cultural to turn our gaze to suffering. Yet, if we want to appreciate fully what our Lord did to save us, we must undertake this, no matter how demanding it may prove.

Sad During Holy Week?

This does not mean that we must be sad or depressed during Holy Week. We are contemplating the mysteries of Christ’s life that lead to our redemption. St. Paul had the Passion of the Christ continually before the eyes of his imagination and yet he continually communicated hope, enthusiasm, and passion in his letters

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church (Col. 1:24)

For the first six years of my priesthood, I spent every Holy Week in the mountains of El Salvador, engaging in evangelization missions with rural communities where the faithful did not regularly have Sunday Mass since there was one priest for seven communities. It was a powerful experience to spend Holy Week with them. I would celebrate the religious service of the day in two different places and spend a good amount of time hearing confessions. It was beautiful to see how over the course of the years, we increased the number of people participating in the liturgy during Holy Week.

Uniting Our Sufferings to the Passion of Christ

During my time in El Salvador, the house calls to the sick were always powerful to experience. The missionaries would go door to door, inviting the people to the services at the church. Often, they would come across members of the community who needed a priest to come to them. It is a humbling experience to enter the home of the poor. I remember that the furniture was most often plastic chairs, something we might expect to find stacked up out back for picnics. Often, the floors were clean-swept dirt. Sometimes, we had to fight a losing battle with the flies that were coming in from the fields and the cattle.

The people’s suffering was palpable and it was poignant to visit them with Holy Week as the backdrop. Their sufferings recalled to mind the sufferings of Jesus. They lived in such humble conditions, and on top of that, they were sick. The sick person laid often in the main room of the house. Somehow, the whole family revolved around their suffering. We would come with a message of hope and consolation but leave with a deeper understanding of what it means to accompany Jesus in his suffering.

Holy Week Procession
Through processions during Holy Week, we seek to share the suffering of Christ | Courtesy:

God’s Will

As Christians, it can often be difficult to figure out what God desires of us. When we are invited to suffer, we know more clearly God’s will and can do our best to fulfill it. Especially during Holy Week, it is touching to unite our suffering to Christ.

If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One that loves you. (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth)

To unite our sufferings to the Passion of the Christ, it is important to understand the role of God’s will in our lives. God is not directing our lives in the same way that a child plays video games. He does not direct us to or desire that we become sick. However, we are always within the context of his loving Providence. He wants to heal us. He wants to guide us. Most of all, he wants to love us.

Strive for Holiness

It is God’s will that we strive for holiness. He does not micro-manage our life, but he does give us an opportunity to look for holiness in the everyday details of our life. He does not want suffering for us, but he recognizes that suffering can make us nobler and help us along the path to holiness. This is part of the mystery we contemplate during Holy Week.

Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain. When we know that the way of love — this exodus, this going out of oneself — is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature (Pope Benedict XVI, God and the World)

When we graciously receive suffering in our lives, we become grateful to receive God’s show of love. He does not want to isolate us but rather to draw us into the warmth of his love. Holy Week is a time to share in the suffering of Jesus so that we may become stronger and grow in appreciation for all that he has done for us.

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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