Despair & Hope in Holy Week - Word&Way

Despair & Hope in Holy Week

(RNS) — If you are a news junkie, like me, it is easy to despair.

An assault on the Capitol. Mass shootings. Violence targeting racial minorities. Police violence. Another uptick in COVID cases. Tornadoes and flooding in the South. Renters evicted from their homes. Gridlock on Capitol Hill. More politicians and religious leaders accused of sexual assault.

That’s just the domestic troubles. There is continued fighting and deaths in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Soldiers shooting demonstrators in Myanmar. Financial scandals in the Vatican. Human rights advocates imprisoned in Hong Kong and China. Disinformation in social media. Immigrants and refugees trying to find a safe home for their families. And climate change continues.

Wearing a face mask, a woman a cross during Holy Week commemorations in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 8, 2020. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

It’s enough to make you wish that you gave up news for Lent. It’s enough to make you binge on Netflix and other streaming services.

Holy Week, too, is filled with bad news.

Disciples fall asleep. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Apostles run away and hide. Peter denies he knows Jesus. Jealous religious leaders plot against Jesus. An unjust arrest in the night. A kangaroo trial. False witnesses. A lynch mob crying for blood. A fearful governor executes an innocent man rather than risk his political future. Torture by prison guards. A slow and gruesome death by the state. A suicide.

But in the midst of all this evil, there are flashes of goodness.

A meal with friends. Nicodemus argues for due process in the Sanhedrin. Pilate’s wife warns Pilate. Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. The good thief and the Roman centurion believe. Mary, the women, and John stand at the foot of the cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bury Jesus.

And throughout the passion, the goodness of Jesus shines forth.

But ultimately, what gets us through Holy Week is that we know that the resurrection is coming.

Likewise, today we have to have hope if we are going to get through all of the bad news of the day. But we also have to look for flashes of goodness in the midst of evil. We have to see the Spirit trying to bloom like spring flowers.

We see this in the goodness of health care workers risking their lives while caring for the sick. We see it in the bravery of police defending the Capitol. We see it in those who came out for peaceful demonstrations chanting, “Black lives matter!” We see it in the scientists trying to find solutions to the climate crisis. We see it in environmentalists defending Mother Earth from desecration. We see it in parents who work two or three jobs to provide for their children. We see it in defenders of human rights and religious freedom.

All, like Christ, light up the world with their lives.

As Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”:

the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

In the midst of today’s bad news, as in the midst of Holy Week, to avoid despair we must see flashes of goodness as we hope in the victory of Christ’s resurrection.


Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, is a Senior Analyst at Religion News Service.