Living Holy Week: A message from the Jesuit Institute
At the beginning of Holy Week, we want to reach out and connect with you. Thank you for your feedback over the last few days and for your ongoing support, we appreciate hearing from you!
Our staff, working remotely, have been thinking creatively of how we can reach out and accompany you at this time, how we can stay connected.
Holy Week began yesterday and was, for many of us, very strange. History is in the making. Might this be the first time in many of our lives that there are simply no Holy Week services? This has caused anxiety and sadness. We lament that we cannot gather to celebrate what is at the heart of our faith, we feel that loss too.
There are two ways we can live this Holy Week: by being frustrated, feeling restricted and perhaps even angry with the situation we are in. We might be desperately searching online for the Triduum services to fill the void we feel.
But there is another approach: we can embrace this as a time of solitude, a time that offers a great gift, the gift of being able to enter into the passion, death and resurrection in a way that we have not before with the special people around us. God may be giving us the most unexpected gift this Holy Week in the form of lockdown itself! Like all gifts, let us treasure it by using this time well. Don’t be worried and anxious about not doing things in the ‘normal’ way.
The best way that we can live in this time is with the Word of God. Let us read and reread and share our reflections and insights with each other. In the absence of the nourishment we are traditionally accustomed to in this week, let us allow God to nourish us in the pages of Scripture. Maybe that is all we need, maybe that is God’s gift to us, maybe this change will benefit us in ways we never envisioned.
St Ignatius offers two wonderful pieces of advice at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises: that we come before God in a magnanimous way and, he assures us, that God deals with us directly and we too are invited to talk to God directly. God will nourish us if we are generous, if we give God time. We can also rest assured that God will speak to our fragile hearts in different ways.
At the beginning of this Holy Week decide how you will live the week. You could set aside prayer times each day, have personal quiet times and have a time of sharing with your family – or those you locked down with. You could take turns to prepare a ritual for each day of the Triduum. If you are alone, you could form a small community with other believers and have a time of sharing daily online. Turn off the TV, cell phones and switch off the computer. Mute the outside noise for a while each day and enter into Jesus’ life at this time.
We are aware that many children are in lockdown and, for parents, this is a time of blessing – being able to spend precious time with your kids. But it can be hard – especially when cabin fever sets in! On Wednesday we will release a few activities for children, ways that can help them enter into the Scriptures and live through the Triduum.
The Institute is hosting an online directed Triduum retreat. At a specific agreed upon time each day, you will have 30 minutes with a trained spiritual director who will accompany you as you stay and pray with the Lord. Free audio reflections for each of the days of the Triduum and Easter Sunday will be available to guide you during Holy Week.
Remember too: send any prayer requests you have via our website; we bring those to the Lord – with you – each day of the week.
The reality of the COVID-19 spread is beginning to settle in as we start to hear that some people have died. We hear too of people we know, in our own circles, who have been infected.
One of my confreres is regularly in touch with a family who have three members infected. In the last few days I have spoken to two people who have sick loved ones – one is in hospital on a ventilator. Their anguish is palpable as they find it hard to even get updates from the hospital. They cannot go to see their loved one. And, so, they sit at home, terrified, and wait for any news. The silence hurts. One said to me that the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, have never been so real.
In this Holy Week, we are conscious of the sufferings of our loved ones, our neighbours and our friends. We feel their suffering and the suffering of the world. We contemplate the suffering of Jesus and, like him, pray earnestly to God: “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, your will be done” (Matthew 26:39).
If you are infected or affected, we want to assure you that we are holding you in prayer.
We know that the pandemic goes beyond infection. The poorest of the poor, those in informal settlements, feel the pain of impoverishment, many have no food. Many have lost their livelihoods. Poverty crushes people, it literally kills in every way. We must not and cannot forget the poor and destitute at this time. If we can reach out, through feeding schemes, donations etc. we should feel obligated to do so. Look for ways to do that. That is the best way you can actively live this Holy Week
Last week Pope Francis, in a very moving and powerful prayer service alone in a dark, wet and deserted St Peter’s Square, reflected on the account of Jesus sleeping in the boat when a storm struck (Mark 4:35-41). He said that like the disciples we have been caught off guard by an unexpectant and turbulent storm and that we find ourselves afraid and lost. Looking over the dark and empty Square he said, “a thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by.”
Then Pope Francis said something powerful and, striking. He said that we have now realised that we are all in the same boat “fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.”
We need each other. Our care and mutual concern is what we need to be cultivating most of all this Holy Week. We are invited, like Simon of Cyrene, to lift the burden of the cross that others carry by accompanying one another, by being accompanied, spiritually and physically – where we can.
If we can help you, if you need to speak to a trained spiritual director, please contact us. We have directors who are available. We are all in the same boat.
Let’s pray for and with one another during this Sacred Time.
We are invited, now more than ever, to be more intentional in our patience, compassion, kindness and love towards each other. If we do that then, indeed, we are living the grace of Holy Week.
May God bless you all, may he bless your loved ones. May God grant us, even if different and unusual, a grace-filled Holy Week. And may the risen Lord remind us of our hope which always endures.
In the Lord,
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
Director: Jesuit Institute South Africa
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.
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