As we come to the culmination of our Lenten journey, it is my prayer that among the graces you have received, you have grown at least a little (if not a lot) in your appreciation for and love of the Holy Eucharist. Holy Week is overwhelmingly Eucharistic. Recall a few weeks ago when I reflected on the words in the consecration: “for you.” We see on full display this week the offering Jesus made of His life for you. In a particular way, we recall the institution of this great gift of His Body and Blood when as we begin the Sacred Paschal Triduum with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening.
As we prepare for Holy Thursday this year, I note that this marks the 25th anniversary of a very powerful moment that happened to me on this night. I was a freshman at Eastern Illinois University at the time and I had attended the Holy Thursday Mass at the Newman Center. Returning back to my dorm room, I did some homework and a friend asked if I was interested in going to a party with him. As an aside, I’m not sure why he asked, I NEVER went to parties. I politely declined and decided instead to head back to the Newman Center to pray before the Blessed Sacrament at the Altar of Repose, a tradition on Holy Thursday evening which recalls Jesus’s prayer to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. At that point in my life, I did not know what adoration was, and I did not even have a clear understanding why I was even going back to church, but I felt drawn to do so. I think a part of it was from having gone to Holy Thursday Mass growing up and how interesting it was for us to do a solemn procession to the Altar of Repose, then departing in silence. Again, I can’t say that I really understood what was happening, but something about it stuck with me.
As I knelt in adoration that night in 2008, I do not remember the exact content of my prayer, but I remember that it moved me profoundly. It could very well be one of the first times in my life that I realized Jesus’s personal love for me, that the suffering and death we would recall on Good Friday was for me. I can’t say that my life changed drastically after that, but years later, probably sometime after I was ordained a priest, the memory of that night came back to me, and it occurred to me that that moment would prove to be a pivotal moment in my relationship with the Lord. A seed was planted that would grow in a hidden way for several years before breaking through the surface and grow into the vocation that I have been blessed to live as a priest.
Much can be said about my experience, but perhaps we can leave it as an encouragement to anybody who, while showing up week after week to Mass, or who goes through the Triduum each year, may not walk away totally changed. We should never doubt the value of our showing up. The Lord is planting seeds, seeds which may take months if not years to grow hidden under the surface, but in God’s providential timing, will bring about a bud that will break through the surface and blossom into a new experience of God’s love, resulting in our realizing that because He has died for you, you will now resolve to live more fully for Him.
This week, instead of a reflection question, I will offer a spiritual challenge: I am challenging us to commit to fully immersing ourselves into Holy Week. This would include, to the extent possible, attending the Chrism Mass on Tuesday at 6:30 pm, and the Paschal Triduum liturgies. As an added challenge, I invite you to spend some time in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Atrium following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday evening. The Atrium will remain open until 11 pm that evening.