Holy Week – A World Transformed
March 28, 2018
Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P., Promoter of Social Justice for the Province of St. Joseph, offers these reflections on Holy Week as part of his Catholic Social Teaching series.
The Church’s social teaching is a division of moral teaching. While Christ came to save souls, He also willed transformation for society as a whole. The Christian message thus can always be looked at in terms of personal morality and social responsibility, justification and the coming of the Kingdom. Using this prism, we can ask what the events of Holy Week teach us about social justice. The celebrations of the Triduum have a message about the redemption of our broken society.
The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, besides commemorating the institution of the ministerial priesthood, brings two other themes to the fore: Eucharist and service. There is an intimate tie between Jesus’ giving of Himself to us in the Mass and His washing the feet of the apostles. Today as we worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament we are thus challenged to serve Him in the least of His brothers and sisters. Vatican II brought a keen appreciation that the Eucharist, worshiped in church, must be lived outside the church as well. As Pope Francis has shone by his dramatic Holy Thursday gestures – this year he will be washing the feet of inmates in a jail – to worship Christ means to be concerned for those on the margins.
Behind the central event of the Crucifixion on Good Friday is a political drama, so vividly portrayed in St. John’s Gospel. Various parties – religious in nature but also crassly political – join forces with the morally indifferent imperial power. The Sadducees and the Pharisees are opposed to each other but have little trouble uniting in their contempt for Christ. The chief priests spread propaganda through the crowds. The cry “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15) is both manipulative and powerless at the same time – an attempt tp force Pilate’s hand with a debased claim of loyalty. From the stories of the early martyrs down to Blesseds Jerzy Popieluszko and Stanley Rother of more recent times, the same drama of lies, violence and mass connivance play out in a vain conspiracy to silence the Gospel.
Easter Sunday too is about social redemption. All aspects of society are touched by the Resurrection: the stunned and overwhelmed Roman guards; the wealthy Jewish man whose tomb was donated and transformed to the holiest of shrines; most of all the poor and marginalized Mary Magdalene and the fishermen who become the privileged witnesses. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” (Luke 1:52) The Resurrection turned the world upside down. Jesus, who had joined the ranks of the lowly, rose up above death and oppression taking with Him all who would believe. The power of that transformation is relived whenever justice and truth prevail in society.
Christians enter the celebration of Holy Week with the intention of deepening their individual spiritual lives. We who serve in parishes pray that our congregations grow in number and the depth of their faith. But we also acknowledge that Christ the King of the Universe, in His passion, death and resurrection, has and will transform the world. May His light and goodness touch all the places that cry our for peace, dignity and the common good.