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  • Fr. John Jennings

Holy Week: A Pilgrimage through Death to Life

This Sunday we begin what we call Holy Week, that sacred season from Passion Sunday to Easter. As we bless the palms and listen to the Passion story once more, we enter upon a pilgrimage, a journey of faith which calls us to reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus. Our trek will take us to Easter when we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

We take this pilgrimage personally and alone – as we look inwardly at our own life. In another way, we embark on this pilgrimage with the whole Christian community and indeed with our world, as we look outwardly at the world of our experience. In both cases, we are called to reflection, prayer and a movement of heart, mind and action through the experience of evil and death, to new and transformed life.

We begin our journey at a high point, on a mountain of acclamation and celebration – as we hear the story of Jesus` entry into Jerusalem to the cheers and accolades of the crowd.(Matt.21:1-9) We will end our pilgrimage on another high point – as we acclaim and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with Easter. From one mountain to another, this will be our pilgrimage through this sacred week.

As we journey from one high point to the next, however, we must descend into the valley, a valley of challenge, of struggle, of suffering, of pain. It is a valley where we journey with Jesus through his Passion and ultimately his death. It is a valley of evil and the reality of our human experience with evil. This experience of evil is something we all face in life. We encounter it in ourselves and we encounter it in our world.

Where have we encountered evil in our world? In our own experience? Facing evil is a common challenge to all humanity. It is a question that has challenged reason and religious faith down through the centuries. Despite all efforts to ``explain`` evil in our human experience, it defies rational explanation. No one has identified the ultimate cause of evil. The principal religious traditions of the world: Buddism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have all noted some reasons for evil, but no clear ultimate cause.

Although, these religious traditions can identify no ultimate cause, they do aid us with the challenge. What helps us is how these traditions present the divine – i.e. the God of faith. In particular, Christianity, Judaism and Islam present us with an image of God who is above all else, compassionate. That is, we do not know why there is evil in our world. It is a question no one can answer. Our faith tradition, however, does offer us a response to evil. It is the response of Jesus – to be compassionate as our God is compassionate. In other words, the challenge of evil is not addressed by discovering who caused it or why it is in our experience. It is addressed by how we respond to the experience – by compassion and care, for one another and for our world.

This Holy Week is an opportunity to reflect on our encounters with evil in our own personal lives and in the world in which we live. As we walk through the stories of our faith in the next week, we discover the compassionate love of God expressed in the person of Jesus. His suffering, death and resurrection reveal this compassionate love. This pilgrimage helps us to see the response we can make in the face of evil in our world and in ourselves – compassionate love and with it, constant hope.

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