There is a story about my patron and favorite saint, the great female doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, which centered on her encouraging her fellow Carmelites after they received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The story goes that as the sisters would come out of the confessional she would tell them, one after the other, “Begin again.”
Those words are comforting not only after Confession but also during Lent. In itself, the liturgical season of Lent is often associated with new beginnings. We go into that dirty, cluttered spiritual closet of the soul, seeking to purge it of all the junk that’s piling up—the sin and stuff that’s putting more space between us and Jesus. As we move through these 40 days, we are hopefully beginning again and also moving closer to Christ.
But have we ever thought about beginning again during Holy Week? I hadn’t until this past weekend. The thought came to mind, along with the story of St. Teresa of Avila, as I listened to the homily of our associate pastor during Palm Sunday Mass. The homily hit home because, frankly, I’ve had quite the “ho hum” Lent. The idea of some simple steps to “begin again”, so to speak, really gave me some needed encouragement.
The main point of his homily was to make this Holy Week really count. Fr. Brian had three suggestions—or, as he likes to call them, homework assignments—to help make that happen:
• Attend as many of the Holy Week liturgies as possible.
• Watch the blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ.
• And read the account of Christ’s Passion, specifically the version in St. John’s Gospel, chapters 18 and 19, that is read during the Good Friday liturgy.
Maybe my Lent wasn’t completely lost after all. “I can do this”, I thought to myself as my husband and I headed home. I’ll admit the first assignment was to me was the most doable for several reasons. I have always loved Holy Week. Even when I was in my fallen-away Catholic stage I somehow made it to at least one of the Holy Week liturgies, in addition to Easter Sunday Mass. The Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday still grabs my heart, not to mention the significance of Holy Thursday Mass and The Easter Vigil. They take us back to the early days of the Church and give us a glimpse of the Church’s rich history and her proclamation of salvation.
I’ll admit that now being a deacon’s wife, in addition to loving the powerful liturgies, it’s also beautiful to watch my husband serving on the altar during the holiest of weeks. It is a reminder for for both of us of how good God is, how far we’ve come in our relationship with each other and Him, and the fact that He does allow us to return home—not just once, but again and again. So, I have that first homework assignment covered.
Moving on to The Passion of the Christ, it’s incredible to think that this film came out in 2004. The first few years after its release, we watched The Passion as a couple or with friends each Holy Week. I don’t know why, maybe just because of the busyness of Holy Week, but we had gotten away from that tradition. This crossed my mind as I was to review the newly released film The Case for Christ, which is based on the best-selling book by former atheist and investigative reporter turned prominent Protestant minister Lee Strobel. There is a scene in which Strobel’s character is interviewing a medical expert about the physical suffering of Jesus. As I was watching, almost immediately images of the scourging scene from The Passion popped into my mind and the tears welled up.
Those emotions and thoughts were actually the reasons for Fr. Brian putting it on his “Holy Week Homework List.” Watching what is probably a very realistic rendition of what our Lord’s suffering must have been like, should move us to tears as well as to a deeper appreciation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It was, I thought, time to grab the DVD again. Fr. Brian’s second homework assignment was just the reminder and affirmation I needed.
Finally, reading the Passion account in St. John’s Gospel will help me fulfill one of my Lenten goals of spending more time in Scripture as well as being great preparation for Good Friday. It wasn’t too late after all. Go figure! This is not exactly brain surgery given I’ve been in the habit of following the daily Mass Readings with my Magnificat for years. I have enough books on Scripture and Catholic spirituality in my home to fill several libraries and, for crying out loud, I’m a Catholic talk show host who encourages daily Scripture reading! But we all fall short, as St. Paul reminds us, and the last few weeks, for whatever reason, I feel like the old lady in that wellknown Life Alert infomercial shouting (at least on the inside), “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
But we can and will, with God’s help, get up no matter how many times we’ve fallen. Somehow, I feel that Fr. Brian’s homily was just for me. Three practical homework assignments reassuring me, that Jesus, our crucified Lord and Savior, always allows us, as St. Teresa of Avila told her sisters, to begin again. Happy Holy Week and Happy Easter!
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