Light in Holy Week

Jesuit Retreat Center, Sevenhill, Australia

Today is unofficially known as “Spy Wednesday” on the Church calendar because the Gospel reading recounts the story of Judas’s betrayal. I spent this Lent doing the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, and, for me, the most moving part of the retreat was contemplating the Lord’s Passion, in which, through the liturgy, we participate during Holy Week.

There is much to say about the retreat and much to say about Holy Week–but having been away for over a month, I also have a fair bit of catching up to do. So for now, I’ll share just one thought.

Until we reach Easter Sunday, this week is incredibly dark. Judas is present at the Last Supper and his impending betrayal colors everything else. Even before the Lord’s arrest, Jesus suffers because of his disciple’s mendacity. Peter’s courage and good intentions fail. The physical torture–scourging, beating, the nails, exposure and slow suffocation on the cross–is inhuman, enough to turn one’s stomach just thinking about it. And then, the cravenness of Pilate, the calculated cruelty of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, the callous and fickle crowd. What is most sobering of all is the realization that there is some of Judas and Pilate and Peter in each one of us. The Lord suffers for our sins.

Jesuit Retreat Center, Sevenhill, Australia

But there is light even in the Passion’s darkest moments–Veronica’s kind gesture, the Good Thief’s defiant prayer, the decency of Joseph of Arimathea, the Lord’s towering integrity and invincible love. In my own way of imagining the scene, the silent presence of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, present and faithful even at the foot of her son’s cross, was a faint, but sure, light. From the cross, Jesus himself seems to realize our need for a mother’s love, giving Mary to John and, by extension, the whole family of the Church. “Woman, behold, your son!” And to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19:26-27). When all else is chaos and violence and cruelty, Mary’s light still shines.

In my reading during the retreat, I also came upon these lines from a poem by St. John Henry Newman, which I think are a fine guide for the darker parts of Holy Week–and for those times of suffering and confusion we all inevitably face. Newman did not originally apply these words to Mary, but they aptly summarize the role she plays for me during these days when the Son of God is betrayed into the hands of evil men.

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home,

Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene; one step enough for me.

St. John Henry Newman
Our Lady of the Vines, Jesuit Retreat Center, Sevenhill, Australia

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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