Holy Week 2022 is drawing near and for some it will coincide with Spring Break. Some of our neighbors will seek a warmer climate in hopes of finding green grass and blossoms a-blooming. Others of us will hope for the miracle of a beautiful spring day on which to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.
No matter where one finds oneself this Holy Week, I hope it will give us pause for reflection for why this week is so special to us. Our celebration of the Sacred Triduum leading to Easter coincides as well with the great Jewish feast of Passover and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. I see this as a convergence of the sacred in our world, where the believers in God are called to a renewal of faith, hope and love in their daily living and witness.
Dr. Brad Pitre in his work, Introduction to the Spiritual Life, would see this moment as an invitation to the “Examination of the Heart.” All three faith traditions ascribe to the days ahead the practice of “the regular examination of the inclination to vice or virtue in our hearts.”
An image that Dr. Pitre uses and that we heard of in the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Lent (see Lk 13:6-9) is the image of a tree and its fruits or lack thereof. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his listeners, “You will know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). So spiritual writers down through the ages, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, have used the images of “Two Trees” as source for the Examination of Conscience.
In diagramming the trees, if we begin with “The Evil Tree” one observes “Pride” at its root. From its trunk one finds the limbs of a) Lust of the Flesh; b) Lust of the Eyes; and c) Pride of Life. It is from these limbs that branches forth: a) Lust, Gluttony and Sloth; b) Avarice and Sorrow; and c) Envy, Pride and Anger. In contrast, “The Good Tree” has “Charity” at its root and the limbs of a) Fasting; b) Prayer; and c) Almsgiving to support its branches. From these three then emanate: a) Chastity, Temperance and Diligence; b) Mercy, Humility and Meekness; and c) Generosity and Patience.
St. John of the Cross in his own meditation on these trees would state: “Through the practice of one virtue all the virtues grow, and similarly, through an increase of one vice, all the vices and their effects grow.” Thus, as you and I enter into the holiest week of the year and have the opportunity to participate in the Sacrament of Penance through “The Light Is On For You” in our Diocese on Monday of Holy Week, April 11th —I invite us to take some time to sit back and gaze upon the “Two Trees” to see what kind of fruit or lack thereof we are observing.
A meditation I used this morning from the Word Among Us invited the reader to consider what one saw when raising one’s eyes to the tree of the cross and the face of Jesus. It spoke of the harshness and conviction of the moment before our eyes, but then it went on to advise: “Don’t stop there. Continue to gaze at the crucifix, and you’ll find more than the effects of your sin. … You’ll see that punishment is not God’s final word. … What you see on this cross is God’s solution to our rebellion. God refuses to give up on us. … You realize there is no limit to his compassion and forgiveness.”
This time of reflection and examination of heart and conscience leads me to another form of prayer that can be very helpful during Holy Week, especially if out and about. It is the practice of lectio divina or sacred reading. This week, I invite each one of us to take up the Passion account of St. Luke or St. John or of our favorite evangelist (which leaves Mark and Matthew) and to spend time reading and reflecting upon it.
In order to assist in this prayer, let me share with you the four steps of lectio divina:
Reading slowly and carefully. Maybe take a part of the Passion narrative each day or repeatedly read it throughout the week.
Ponder what you have read. Put yourself into the scene. One of my favorite things to do is to make myself one of the “characters” in the Passion event.
Prayer is the next step. Take time to talk with God about what you read. What is God’s Word saying to you?
Contemplation, just sitting with God and being present to God. It is a moment for you and me to let God speak and for us to humbly listen and take it all in.
In the end, like other religious believers I hope this coming week will be a transformative moment for all believers and men and women of goodwill. In the midst of all that is going on in the world, what is most important is not to leave religion behind, but to make it a daily part of our journey.
So, to all the inhabitants of Central New York and the Southern Tier, I wish peace and blessings to all who observe Passover, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Easter feast! Shalom, Salaam, Peace!