Sunday, April 04, 2004

How to Have a Successful Holy Week

(Palm Sunday 2001 (C): This homily was given on April 4, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22:14- 23:56.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2004]

Is it spiritual, or is it just emotional?

There is a difference.

We just heard Luke’s account of the Passion of our Lord. Next year Matthew’s version will be read on Palm Sunday, and the following year we will hear Mark’s account. (John’s Passion narrative, of course, is read every year on Good Friday.)

I think it’s safe to say that many Catholics will hear the story of Jesus’ suffering and death a little differently this year, after seeing Mel Gibson’s new film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Because of what they saw in the movie theater in recent weeks, a better connection has now been established for them between the printed words of Scripture and the historical events they speak of. Thus it’s easier for these men and women to imagine what actually happened 2,000 years ago.

I’ll bet that many of you who have seen the film had images from the movie pass through your minds as we were reading the text from Luke’s Gospel a few moments ago.

I certainly did.

The emotional effect of this movie is obvious to anyone who sees it: some cry (probably most do); some sit motionless and speechless even after the credits have finished rolling at the end of it all; some walk to their cars in total silence.

And that’s good.

The Passion of the Son of God, the Savior of the world, should affect us deeply on the emotional level, since we were all personally involved in it! Lest we forget, our sins made his sacrifice necessary.

But if that’s where its effect on us stops, then there is a problem!

Which is why I began my homily with the question: Is it spiritual, or is it just emotional?

We contemplate the Passion every Holy Week, not only so that we will be affected emotionally; we contemplate the Passion for a spiritual reason: so that we will be brought to a deeper level of conversion to Christ and his Gospel!

This is why the liturgies and ceremonies of Holy Week are so important: they are opportunities to reflect on the greatest of all love stories—the story of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ—so that we will be motivated to change our lives for the better!

“Greater love nobody has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

If we go to Gibson’s movie, or come to Mass on Palm Sunday, or go to a Good Friday service or the Stations of the Cross, and our only thought is, “Oh, wasn’t that awful what they did to Jesus?,” we’ve missed the point! That is to say, if our response is purely on the emotional level, we’ve somehow missed the deeper meaning of the events.

But if we leave saying, “Thank you Lord for loving me that much; thank you for dying for me; help me to love you more. Give me the desire to turn away from my sins, and to go to Confession regularly, and to be faithful to Mass, and to overcome my character flaws, and to love you above all things, and to love my neighbor as myself”—if we leave thinking thoughts like those, then we’re on the right track!

Then the effect within us has been spiritual as well as emotional.

The true success of Mel Gibson’s movie will not be measured by how much money it takes in at the box office (despite what the economists might say). It will be measured by how many conversions it makes, and by how many conversions it deepens.

The success of this Holy Week will be measured for each of us by the same standard.

Let’s resolve, therefore, to make some extra time for the Lord during these next 7 days, and to allow ourselves to be transformed inwardly in the process, so that it will be a very “successful” Holy Week for us all.