Holy Week 2020: Affirming Hope and Life in Spite of Plague

COMMENTARY: Our Lord’s submission to death and his subsequent resurrection, even if they do not explain fully or answer all our questions concerning the suffering of the innocent, do comfort and encourage us.

(photo: Unsplash.)

Without a doubt, Holy Week of 2020 is tragically historic in this time of COVID-19, a true global plague. Since the end of World War II, humanity has not been subjected to a situation so grave and mortal as this. However, in spite of this inescapable reality, the Christian Holy Week comes providentially to give us encouragement, strength and hope for our life and happiness.

We are all prey to the fear and sadness which this pandemic represents and for the pain and suffering which it has already produced, not only because of the deaths caused, but for the restrictions and consequences of the necessary quarantine. These present to each and every one of us the enigma, the overwhelming mystery of human suffering. Why so many deaths and the anguish of millions of people? Why does God allow this tragic pandemic?

We Christians assert with a firm and vibrant faith that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In spite of the reality of pain, death and physical and moral evils, we proclaim that God loves us, and that he created us to be happy. So, why then do we suffer? Why this pandemic? It is without doubt a mystery.

However, the enigma of pain becomes a little clearer, can be somewhat understood — although not completely — in the light of our Christian faith in Christ, Son of God made man for our redemption, our salvation and eternal happiness. He, being God, took on our human reality in all, except in sin (Hebrews 4:15), so as to accompany us, to give us the example of strength in suffering and how to convert it into a source of redemption, and to assure us of our resurrection by his own resurrection.

Physical ills and among them, death, are the effect of Original Sin and the sin of the world, the sins of human beings. This we are told by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (5:12-17). Moral evil, wickedness, has brought into the world disorder, passions and vices, sadness and anguish. Suffering is the result of sin, the sin of Adam, first of all, and the sins of human beings throughout history and today — of our sins, which cause so much damage to others.

And our Christian faith teaches us that the mystery of pain is made clear and bearable in the light of Christ Crucified, of Christ the Nazarene who carries his cross, bears suffering as we do; who dies offering his life to God as expiation for the sins of humankind. And then arises in glory! Yes! He arose from the dead and thus defeated evil, sin, Satan and death.

Certainly, Our Lord’s submission to death and his subsequent resurrection, even if they do not explain fully or answer all our questions concerning the suffering of the innocent, do comfort and encourage us. He, who is God, became one of us, shared our suffering, conquering it and overcoming it with the resurrection.

Thus, the Catholic Holy Week, the liturgical celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, comfort and hearten us, strengthen us and fill us with hope. We are called to life, to salvation, to happiness. Christ on the cross, and then arisen from the tomb, thus tells us again and reassures us. And so, in the midst of this cruel world plague, we can strengthen our faith — as Pope Francis exhorted us on March 27 in St. Peter’s — and go forward with hope. In union with Christ we can defeat all difficulties!

Let us take advantage, then, of this collective quarantine to read with serenity the New Testament, and particularly all that relates to the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. I particularly recommend the passages of St. Matthew, chapters 26 to 28. And St. John, chapters 18 to 20.

Yes, it is true — we do not have answers to all the questions concerning human suffering, especially of the suffering of the innocent. But we have the assurance of the love of God for each of us, in Jesus, the Nazarene. He, being God, came down to our humble human condition, faced death on the cross, but then arose, gloriously (Philippians 2:5-11). He accompanies us and shows us the way to peace, salvation and happiness: by the cross of our problems and all the difficulties of life, pain and death, we go toward the joy of the resurrection and eternal life.

Let us take full advantage of this Holy Week by reading the Gospels, with more family prayer, and following the liturgical celebrations on TV, radio and internet. And let us invoke with confidence our loving mother, Mary most holy, queen and Mother of Mercy. God is love, and he is with us!(Caracas, April 3, 2020)

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino is the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, Venezuela.

This essay was translated into English from the original Spanish by Christine Vollmer.