By: Rick Hernandez
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 paralleling major roads for 14 hours straight, old and young, healthy and sick, people of all colors and shapes, all in 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 and many priests and religious sisters accompanied us along the way.
We all 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, by the side of my maternal grandmother, Rafaela, who held my hand most of the way. Grandma kept whispering to me for most of the trip, gently explaining 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.
Penitence was indeed the primary purpose of our journey that day, but I clearly understood that what fueled our efforts, in the end, was love. Love allowed us to be penitent. Love has to be our offering for our penitence to be genuine.
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 basilica’s steep steps, 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 to heal the world. I thought I could not give more that day. I was tired to the point of exhaustion. I had just walked 33 miles and prayed more than I had ever prayed before. How would anyone expect me to go up these stairs on my knees after all I had already done? But love compels us, so up we went, each step on our knees. I had never before felt more elated to have finished a task. That day, many wondrous things 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 quiet. 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, 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. Amen