By: Rick Hernandez
One time, during my childhood years, our Bishop declared a pilgrimage of penitence to visit the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Montserrat in Hormigueros, PR. Visiting the Basilica, with its Holy Door opened for all of us, was a grand occasion. From my hometown of Peñuelas, the trip was about 33 miles. I was but a child, but I remember clearly how amazing this was for our community of believers. A large number of people from all over our diocese joined in this march towards the basilica. If you could imagine thousands of people, walking together down the sides of major roads for 14 hours straight, old and young, healthy and sick, people of all colors and shapes, all in a mindful, sorrowful silence, only broken by the praying of the rosary... The group took care of each other; if someone faltered, there were people there to help them carry on. We had buses ready to help the ones that could not walk anymore. Our Bishop walked with us. Our priests walked with us. Religious Sisters and Brothers walked with us. And us, the lay people, rejoiced in the opportunity to do this for the love of our Lord and under the care of our Lady.
I walked the 33 miles with my family, but especially with my maternal grandmother, Rafaela, who held my hand most of the way. Grandma whispered to me for most of the trip, explaining to me what we were doing and why. I remember that my feet hurt and I was so tired, but Grandma kept telling me that it was good to be tired. "You have something to offer now", she said. That "long walk" was my introduction to the concepts of sacrifice, repentance and penance as expressions of love. It is true that penitence was the main purpose of the journey, but I understood clearly that what fueled everything in the end was love. As such, for our penitence to be real, love has to be our offering. Christ's march on the Via Dolorosa, with all its falls, full of pain and humiliation, while carrying the Cross for us, was a gift of love.
Think of the moment Our Lord's journey to Golgotha ended, all that pain and suffering inflicted upon Him. There was nothing else for Christ to give physically, but more was asked of Him, and love compelled. Christ once more summoned the strength to continue, to go through with the Crucifixion, completing then the great work of redemption. We know now that there is no Cross without love. Following His example, we have to be willing to suffer for the ones we love, for the suffering is in fact an offering of love. But then, when we think that we have suffered enough, that we have nothing else to give, more is asked of us, and love compels us once more to dig deep and find what is needed.
After our pilgrimage journey ended at the steep steps of the basilica, my Grandma asked me to join her in completing a traditional penance at the steps to the church. We were to go up the 72 steps, on our knees while praying, intention fully in mind to offer this action for the healing of the world. I thought I could not give more that day. I was tired and just a kid. I had just walked 33 miles and prayed more than I had ever prayed before. How would anyone expect me to also go up these stairs on my knees after all I had already done? But love compels, so up we went, each step on our knees. I had never before felt more elated to have finished a task. That day, many miracles happened, and they happened because of sacrifice and penance, offerings of love.
We are here today, commemorating the long silence of Holy Saturday. This is a day perfectly suited to sacrifice, penance and silence. Let us take the time to meditate upon the great sacrifice of Christ and His gift of love to us on the Cross. Let us bring our own pain and suffering, our crosses, as offerings of love, and unite them to His. May this union transform our hearts, that we may say, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
May our Good Lord bless us all. Happy Easter!
We are Ivonne Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.