Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo By Michael Alexander
Like the new blooms of the red maple tree in spring, during Lent we die to our old lives and become renewed people of faith at Easter.

Holy Week: A Week To Remember

By FATHER JOSEPH J SHAUTE, Commentary | Published April 1, 2010

Each Holy Week is always the same as far as its structure and order. Despite its regularity, my experience of Holy Week is never the same.

As we relive (live again) and remember the events of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, they affect us differently and they reveal to us new insights every year. Christ knows where we are in our spiritual journey and what we need. He reminds us of familiar truths while leading us deeper into the mystery and the message of His Passion.

Sometimes it is the Masses and the Good Friday services that touch our hearts and “speak” to us. Sometimes it is the people around us and how they experience Holy Week. It may be eyes full of tears or what they share with us—they become messengers as the evangelists were who wrote the Gospels. Sometimes it is what else is going on during Holy Week that makes an impact.

Good Friday 1997 featured the sale of a house—a house I had almost lost to the bank seven months before. On that day I heard the voice of God say to me: “Now do you trust me?”

When I entered the seminary in August 1996, my house was two weeks from foreclosure. Twelve months before I had lost my job due to a RIF (reduction-in-force) in the company I worked for. Over the course of that year I had a few freelance writing opportunities, but no steady income. I was a finalist for four positions when I applied to the seminary (still on the fence). From the moment I placed my application in the vocation director’s hands, I never heard from those companies again.

Running out of money as I was accepted to the seminary, I tried to sell my house for more than four months. As my first day of seminary approached, I was not sure what to do. Finally I said, “If it takes losing my house to follow you, Lord, then take my house. I will not make this an obstacle to following your plans for my life. No more excuses.” I put my house in God’s hands and went off to seminary.

Four days later a single mom called my parents about renting the house. She had a son starting high school and needed a place in walking distance to school. Mine was not even two blocks away. She was referred to us through four other people who did not know each other until I put everything in God’s hands. All of a sudden the networking started. She wanted to buy but needed to rent till she had enough money.

She bought the house seven months later on Good Friday. God intentionally arranged that date so I would clearly know who sold my house. On that day I was financially debt free. Which reminded me how Christ “paid the debt of sin” by dying on the cross.

Because of that I have a lot more trust in God.

An interesting spiritual footnote involves meeting a public notary who had a Good Friday miracle herself. On Christmas Day 1992, she gave birth to a firstborn son. Two months later on Ash Wednesday, doctors discovered that she had terminal cancer and had only a few weeks to live. Six weeks later on Good Friday, the doctors could find no trace of the cancer—it was gone! She was healed sometime during Holy Week, possibly at that moment on Good Friday.

When I met her, she was cancer free for four years. The doctors said there was no medical explanation. They had compared the results from the original tests and the Good Friday tests and were amazed. Her last name is Glorioso. “Glory to God in the highest.”

In my first priestly assignment at St. Joseph’s in Marietta, one RCIA candidate had an extra special Holy Week. She was on bed rest expecting twins all of Lent. Her sponsor faithfully prepared her to come into the Church at Easter, but it all depended on the babies (and Christ’s plan).

Identical girls were born on Monday of Holy Week (March 25, 2002, the Solemnity of the Annunciation). The next evening I was privileged to hold Colleen, who opened her eyes and showed me anew what it means to trust and depend on God. Her instant acceptance of me I have experienced with many babies at baptisms or hospital or home visits, but with her it was Holy Week and had a different level of meaning. A newborn baby’s total reliance and total belief that she would be loved and cared for helped add a new dimension to all that Easter is.

The stained glass window at St. Paul the Apostle Church, Cleveland, depicts the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The stained glass is the work of the White Stained Glass Studio, Sarasota, Fla. Photo By Michael Alexander

It reminds me of the Prayer of St. Francis that “it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” Colleen received eternal life a couple months later at her baptism along with her sister Maggie. Their March 25 birth gave new meaning to the good news of the Angel Gabriel to Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (Lk 1:31). It also made the connection of Christmas and Easter more profound.

The new mom came into the Church four days later on Holy Saturday, making a Profession of Faith and receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist. Seeing her joy that night was the highlight of that Easter. What a Holy Week: new mom and new Catholic all in six days! Easter indeed is a day we celebrate life.

Ordained a transitional deacon in May 2000, Holy Week 2001 took on a special significance as it was my first Easter as an ordained minister. Among the blessings and privileges of that week were serving as a deacon at the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King and singing the Exsultet (the Song of Exultation) on Holy Saturday night. Among the challenges were carrying the oil containers at the Chrism Mass and the Easter candle.

God has blessed me with a good voice so singing the Gospel at both Masses helped me share my joy and excitement. The compliments said this added to the Easter experience of others.

Going from being an active parishioner in the pews to a priest at the altar has allowed me to experience Holy Week from different perspectives. From having my feet washed to washing the feet of others. From being a sponsor to being the one through whom Christ offers the sacraments. From hearing the Gospel to proclaiming and preaching the Good News. Each of these actions shapes my faith and expands it as well. Each year I get more of the complete picture of Holy Week—the total array of images, viewpoints, insights, and moments of salvation.

One hidden aspect in the celebration of Holy Week is that we have a number of elaborate liturgies that we only do once a year and that involve a lot of organization and a lot of people behind the scenes. You see that a lot more when you are involved in the planning and bringing about of all of the Holy Week liturgies. Having been part of this activity in many different parishes, the “pulling off” of these liturgies is one of the most unrecognized miracles. Only by the grace of God do they go smoothly and sometimes even perfectly.

Holy Week 2009 is one I will never forget, especially Good Friday. The weather of Holy Week is always fascinating. Another way Christ speaks to us.

Last year’s Good Friday Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) was interrupted by a massive rain, wind, and hail storm. We took shelter in the main building of the fairgrounds and spent a few minutes reorganizing as the hailstones bounced off the tin roof above.

The drama began inside and as they moved around the room, everyone was pulled into the unfolding events. The actors playing Christ and the soldiers passed within three feet of me and I could feel the whips hitting Jesus’ back.

The weather calmed down, and the drama moved outside as three men were put up on the crosses. Suddenly a double rainbow came through the clouds directly behind them. At the moment of Jesus’ death, there was a profound silence. As the body was placed into the arms of the woman playing St. Mary, the sky darkened and the rain began again. “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54).

Two days later the sun was shining and the flowing fountain of water in the Church spoke of life, hope, and the Holy Spirit flowing inside us. “But whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

Father Shaute is pastor of St. Clement Church in Calhoun and has been a priest for eight years.