By Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Holy Week puts us in the mood to watch movies about our Lord Jesus Christ. One such movie, often replayed on television and in movie houses, is The Passion of the Christ. It was a big hit when it was first shown in the country because it fits perfectly into our guilt-laden culture. After more than two hours of indulging in an orgy of remorse, many of us emerged from the movie house with a firm resolution to change for the better.
But, as usually happens, once our guilt feelings subside, our strong resolve wanes, and we start to rationalize: “How could I blame myself for anything done to Jesus two thousand years ago? Besides, there are many more people worse than I am!” Guilt is a poor motivation for renewal.
This vicious cycle is repeated during Holy Week. We recall the passion and death of Jesus, we feel guilty, we undergo many penitential rituals, promise to avoid our favorite sins, but once the week is over, we go back to our usual routines as though nothing had happened.
Actually, Holy Week is not about us feeling guilty. In fact, it is not about us. It is about God and the unique way that He chose to achieve our redemption. Omnipotent that He is, God could have simply said “I forgive you!” and all of us would revert to that state of innocence before sin came into the world. But God chose to save us not by making a spectacle of His power, but precisely by giving it up, and freely accepting all the hurt and suffering human beings can inflict on Him.
The lengthy gospel reading on Palm Sunday makes this clear. God’s way of powerlessness and suffering is the only way towards real change. This is in stark contrast with our current obsession with brute power and our utter disregard for the collateral damage it may cause others.
Holy Week invites us to be participants, not mere spectators, in that unique way that God chose to save us. The question of Jesus to his apathetic disciples at Gethsemane is addressed to us as well: “Could you not watch one hour with me?” Would you be willing to suffer with me, by giving up those things that are destroying you and others?
Holy week succeeds in its intent, not when we feel sentimental about the sufferings of Christ. It succeeds when, for instance, a greedy politician acknowledges: “I am the cause of the suffering of millions of Filipinos because I have enriched myself at their expense.” Or, when a priest realizes: “There are many people who are losing their faith because of my pharisaic way of life.” Or when parents beat their breast and say: “We failed to make our home a place where our children feel they belong.” Or, when trigger-happy policemen confess: “We are sorry for having killed people suspected of being drug addicts.”
Holy Week becomes truly effective when a teenager admits: “I ended up like this because I keep blaming others for my failures and mistakes, instead of taking responsibility for my decisions and actions. I need to change. No more excuses.” Or when a drug pusher says: “My greed for easy money makes me destroy many young people. I must stop doing this.”
Unless we feel in our bones the hurt suffered by others because of our neglect, apathy, or cold-heartedness, Holy Week will just be another guilt trip.