Living Holy Week through the prism of total self-giving

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

As many of you will recall, I invite us at the beginning of each Holy Week to reflect on the life-giving events of this week through a specific prism or lens. Doing that can give us a tangible and concrete way to experience more personally and more deeply the grace-filled events of this week called Holy.

This year, I propose for us a prism or lens rooted in the Passion account selected for proclamation in Year B, which is found in the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Only Saint Mark's version begins with an incident that took place two days before the Passover Feast.

Recall that incident which we just heard. Jesus was a dinner guest in Bethany when an anonymous woman entered the dining room with an alabaster jar of precious and expensive ointment. She broke open the jar, in fact, she shattered it, and poured out on the head of Jesus every bit of the costly perfumed ointment within the jar. Why did she do that? Moreover, why does Saint Mark regard this incident, linking it so closely to the Lord's Passion and Death? Even more to the point for us, what significance or lesson does the woman's action hold for us?

The anonymous woman actually shattered the jar, so that it could never be used again. Her gesture proclaims "All gone!" But why? Her gesture reflects authentic love: love that is grateful, love that does lovely things. Jesus' very words: "She has done a good thing for me" in the original Greek means "a lovely thing." This anonymous woman reflects in her gesture a love that is extravagant, a true love that is reckless, a love that is total self-giving.

Moreover, what is also instructive for us is that this incident is sandwiched in between two other incidents: the plotting of the chief priests and scribes to kill Jesus and the plotting of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' chosen apostles, to betray Him. The religious leaders in Christ's time and one of His own apostles: Each was treacherous in their action. But, an anonymous disciple was loyal, faithful and self-giving. Whom do we resemble as we enter into Holy Week? Whom do we wish to imitate as we take part in the prayer and liturgies of this week called Holy?

Yes, today, we, disciples of Jesus Christ begin the holiest week of the year! With what attitude or mind-set will we reflect on the sacred events made present through the liturgies, especially those of the Easter Triduum, that is, the liturgies beginning with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Thursday evening, continuing with the Celebration of the Lord's Passion on Friday, moving on to the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, and concluding with the Solemnity of Easter Sunday? What attitude or mindset will be ours as we enter into prayer this week: personal prayer, Lectio Divina on the Lord's sufferings, prayerful retracing of the Lord's journey to Calvary through the Way of the Cross or Stations, and the reliving of His Life and Death through the mysteries of the Rosary? What will be the attitude or mind-set we bring to encountering Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and to being embraced by the Lord Himself in the Holy Eucharist?

So, here is the prism or lens I propose for each one of us this Holy Week: the total self-giving love of Jesus Christ, Who suffered, died and rose again for love of us and the total self-giving love modeled by that anonymous woman, the kind of love we ought to be giving back to Jesus Christ. No, we cannot plead that we are not able to love this way because God sends the Holy Spirit to transform our response of love. We cannot plead that we are weak and prone to sin. The Lord Jesus already knows our feeble, frail and limited conditions, even as He thirsts for our response of love!

In conclusion, this year's prism or lens for Holy Week is framed by two persons: the anonymous woman recorded in Saint Mark's Gospel, who gave her all and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Whose total self-offering in love has won the salvation of the all the world! Let us go beyond the prism or lens, reaching out to be grasped by the saving love of Jesus Christ and responding to both the Lord Jesus and to all our brothers and sisters with love that is truly self-giving, in imitation of the anonymous woman and, above all, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, the One Savior of the world!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015