Being holy on Holy Week

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Tita C. Valderama

IN this era of “alternative facts” in which competing explanations are offered to mislead and spread falsehood, perhaps it is time to think of other options to observe the Holy Week.

We are aware that simply visiting seven or more churches during Holy Week does not make one holy. Even if you recite the Stations of the Cross, it is nothing if you simply follow traditions without reflecting and living on their meaning.

It is lamentable that some of us do religious things for show, or just out of tradition. But we keep hurting others at the slightest provocation.

A few days ago, I encountered a middle-aged woman who was going to attend the midday mass at the Quiapo Church. But before getting off the jeepney, she cursed the driver for refusing to stop at the exact spot where she wanted to get off.


The driver shot back with a curse, saying he did not stop because a traffic enforcer standing a few meters ahead was waving at motorists to keep going to avoid traffic congestion. In a split second, the driver made the sign of the cross.

In that one quick instance, I witnessed two persons doing religious traditions by force of habit but apparently without taking their meaning to heart.

Catholics began the final week of Lent yesterday, PalmSunday, ushering in the Holy Week—the time to take stock of our lives, beliefs and values.

As Catholics, we observe PalmSundayin celebration of the day Jesus entered Jerusalem before he was crucified and then resurrected.

During Lent, starting on AshWednesdaywith a tradition to have a cross of ashes marked on our forehead, reminding us to repent and believe in the gospel. Many of us commit to fast and abstain not only from red meat and other food but also from bad habits and evil deeds.

It looks good to see many people taking time to visit churches and perform the Stations of the Cross devotional act during Lent, particularly during the Holy Week. But should we feel good about doing these traditions simply by force of habit?

I subscribe to the suggestions of Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), of “alternative traditions” we could engage in during the Holy Week.

“Holy Week is not what men and women do to make these days holy. It is not about what Catholics must do, nor is it about religious traditions and pious practices done to ‘feel good’ after,” the bishop said in an article published on PalmSunday.

“Fasting is good, but without malasakit (concern) for others, it is nothing. Prayer is good, but without remembering others and laying aside personal comfort, it is just an ego trip. Helping the poor and giving alms are good, but if you do it for show or to get a ‘feel good’ reward later, it is just a noisy bell,” Villegas continued.

In other words, it is good to follow the traditions we grew up with, but it is completely another to make these traditions count and meaningful to others.

This brings to mind my Lola who prayed the Holy Rosary and the Angelus every day. And in the middle of a prayer, she would call out to check if the rice she left on the stove was cooked, or if someone had fallen asleep while reciting the prayer.

A couple of days ago, a friend asked me what sacrifice I was making for Holy Week. I said it is refraining from speaking and thinking ill of others. And then I realized it is something I should be doing not only on Holy Week but throughout the year.

Consciously being forgiving, understanding, patient, and kind will probably count. That is aside from staying away from meat and other favorite foods. That would indeed be a sacrifice for someone with a big appetite like myself.

Instead of going through the old traditions during Holy Week like visiting churches, Archbishop Villegas said a visit to seven patients in a hospital’s charity ward to bring them some food would have a bigger impact.

To those scourging their backs until blood spills on the street, he suggested donating blood to the Red Cross. “Choose to share life. Share your blood,” he said.

Instead of walking barefoot and getting blisters as a form of penance for our sins, it would be better to buy a pair of slippers and give it to a child who goes to school dragging his torn footwear, he added.

How about you?

After PalmSunday, are you ready to further reflect on the Holy Week? Or are you looking forward to the long break from school and work to spend time with family or friends on the beach?

There is nothing wrong in taking time during the Holy Week to go on family vacations or picnics, but we should also reflect on the Passion of Christ and do good to others. It won’t take much to follow Holy Week traditions while bonding with family and friends for as long as we don’t lose sight of the meaning of the season and the sacrifices we can do for others.

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