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by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

Fans do it with celebrities. If you’ve never been a fan, or if your theology tilts more on the sophisticated side, you might never really understand why people line up to the Nazareno and wipe a part of the image with their handkerchief. A few days ago, I found myself in such an unsophisticated state, lining up with people to touch the worn and darkened mantle at the foot of our Lady of Manaoag.

I did a similar touching-the-touchable-holy a long time ago when, as a Jesuit novice, I was assigned to do menial labor as an apprentice truck mechanic. The work was so strenuous physically and tough psychologically that I eventually repaired to Quiapo, seeking and finding solace not only in that strange image of a reclining Christ, but also in that serene and patient queue of a suffering people.

If you could amplify the sound of their souls, you would hear perhaps so much seeking. Yes, there would be promises or panatas made in vain as if faith were a transaction in favors to be earned. On the whole, you would hear the sound of wounds and so much wanting, the sound life makes when it is lacerated and lanced with unspeakable grief or loneliness or fear.

The cross is a people whisperer, with power to speak to us and gather us to its shade. When it summons us, the sound that you hear gathering at the foot of the cross is none other than the sound of our humanity.

If we’re not careful, we can miss listening to the sound of our humanity this holy week. We will go on leave and take a break, and in between resting, for some moments, we will go to church to do the annual rituals that mark our redemption. It would be a pity if in our summer getaway, we think we can get away from the mystery of who we are as it rushes and unfolds before us during these holy days.

The mystery of our humanity unfolds as we welcome Goodness with open arms, hailing Christ the Anointed One of God as our life and savior on Palm Sunday. We begin holy week on the high notes of our hosannas, ushering Jesus like a celebrity, and attaching ourselves to him and his power. We begin holy week the way we begin many things in our lives, with optimism and hope and so much promise.

Within the week, that same power is taken from him by those who would betray and abandon him, and by those in power who would be threatened by his power. Not even an intimate Passover meal with his friends or an agonizing prayer in the Garden can stave off the gathering darkness of betrayal and death. We endure the darkness of Friday the way we endure many hurtful things in this valley of tears, with doubt and fear and so much unsettling.

On Easter morning, the mystery of our humanity is crowned with Goodness risen and quietly triumphant. We end holy week on glorious notes of alleluia, humbled and pleasantly surprised that he our Lord should come back to us even as we had all gone astray. Before this new and glorious reality, we open our lives (even if tentatively at times) to his presence and true power, now come home to abide in our hearts. We end holy week the way we emerge from the many things we have had to bear, with renewed strength and a deeper faith and with much interior confirmation of who we are as beloved of God.

So you can say holy week is holy because it is real. It is densely packed with all that is promising and disheartening and inspiring in our humanity. In the events that span the Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem all the way to his resurrection and ascension into the new Jerusalem, we are given glimpses of the joyful and sorrowful and glorious ways we treat one another and the Lord who bears for us the grace of redemption.

Ultimately, holy week is holy because these days are not only true of us but true of God as well. Because of these holy days, we see the joyful and sorrowful and glorious ways in which God redeems and recreates us. Through these holy days, we come to see how that grace of redemption is offered to us through us. Once more, with dust, we are created and fashioned in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ the anointed One of God.

By his wounds, we are healed. Whether we find ourselves at the foot of the cross or lose our souls away from God, by his cross, we are redeemed.

You see, the cross that we bear in discipleship is also a God whisperer, with power to speak to God and gather him to our side. When it summons God, the sound that is heard in heaven comes from nowhere else but from the sound of our souls, the sound that life makes when it seeks to be found and held with unspeakable love.

About Jet Villarin, SJ

Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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