The timing of Holy Week this year couldn’t be better.
With the resignation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the subsequent conclave and the election of Pope Francis, Holy Week is the perfect opportunity to prayerfully consider what it means to be a Church in transition. After all, what better example of transition do Catholics have than the three sacred days of the Easter Triduum?
The word “transition” literally means to “go across” or “to pass through.” During that first Holy Week, Jesus passes through death into eternal life, leaving behind a set of believers who are, to put it mildly, confused. To put it not mildly, they are crippled with fear following their leader’s execution, huddled away in an upper room trying to avoid detection.
In response, Jesus appears to his disciples offering words of peace. “Why are you troubled?” he asks them. “And why do questions arise in your hearts?” (Lk 24:38). In other words, Jesus is asking those who promised to follow him: Why didn’t you trust me? Didn’t you believe I had a plan?
The gentle words of Jesus, and the peace he offers, strike a relevant chord 2,000 years later as the modern-day Church grapples with its first papal resignation in six centuries and the installation of a new Successor of Peter. Change, even for the good, naturally breeds uncertainty and anxiety.
The Church’s modern-day transition, too, doesn’t end with the papal election. In some ways — though perhaps the cardinal electors would disagree — picking a pope is the easy part. Moving forward, Pope Francis, together with all Catholics, faces a slew of complex, and often fear-inducing, issues.
The Church — leaders and lay faithful together — must respond to continued scandal and allegations of clergy sexual abuse. It must fight for religious liberty. It must stand up to persecution. It must continue to be a beacon of truth in an increasingly secular world.
These are big issues, and they require a big response. A response that, for Catholics, requires yet another transition: a shifting from fear to trust. For that shift to become a reality, we must listen to Jesus’ words even more carefully and put our own fears to rest. “Why are you troubled?” he is whispering. “Trust in me, trust in my plan for you.” This trust only can come from a total abandonment of self to the will of the Father — and for that we need prayer.
As the Church enters into Holy Week, take advantage of all the richness it has to offer. Go to confession. Make time for the Chrism Mass. Attend the Triduum in its entirety, beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Linger afterward to pray before the Blessed Sacrament or to watch the altar stripped bare in a visible sign of mourning.
On Good Friday, walk the Via Crucis and imagine yourself as Simon, carrying Jesus’ cross. Or as Veronica, wiping his face. Spread the light of Christ at the Easter Vigil and joyously welcome home the newly baptized and confirmed.
And set aside time to pray specifically for our new spiritual leader, Pope Francis.
Treat this Holy Week as an opportunity to exchange transition for transformation — both as individual Catholics and as a community of believers. In a world that can be troubling and uncertain, remember always to trust in God’s plan for your lives. Accept Jesus’ offer of peace, let him soothe your troubled hearts, and do not be afraid.