This week in his Wednesday Angelus address Pope Benedict focused on the importance of Holy Week for us Christians:

“Holy Week, which for us Christians is the most important week of the year, offers us the opportunity to be immersed in the central events of Redemption, to relive the Paschal Mystery, the great mystery of the faith. Beginning tomorrow afternoon, with the Mass “In Coena Domini,” the solemn liturgical rites will help us to meditate in a more lively manner on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord in the days of the Holy Paschal Triduum, fulcrum of the entire liturgical year. May divine grace open our hearts to comprehend the inestimable gift that salvation is, obtained for us by Christ’s sacrifice.”

While we celebrate these days as a Church and in union with the whole Church throughout the world, yet as we read and reflect on the Gospels Jesus has a personal message for each of us if we open our hearts to listen to His word of love addressed to each of us. Above all it is an invitation to watch and pray with him – the same invitation extended to the apostles in the garden: “wait here and stay awake” and “stay awake and pray not to be put to the test” (Mt 26).

This is the heart of our Dominican contemplative vocation – to watch and pray – always seeking the glory of God and the salvation of all our brothers and sisters.

The following quotation from Jean Corbon challenged me when I first read it:

“The Cross of his Son is the place from which God seems most absent but in which He in fact gives Himself most completely. The place where His Christ is crucified is the place where His compassion is poured out, for it is the place where man is most deeply wounded by death. People today are surprised at the deep silence of God, but who is willing to enter into the silence of the compassion of Jesus, to follow him that far? It is only a stone’s throw between the slumber of the disciples and the agony of their Lord – to cross that space is to enter the struggle of prayer, intercession and compassion.” (Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship, pg 247)

I asked myself how often do I stay comfortably in slumber heedless of the Lord’s invitation to cross the boundary line and engage in the struggle – for we do not come apart only to find a space of peace and quiet for contemplation, but in order to engage in the “struggle of prayer, intercession and compassion” –and thus to “perpetuate that singular gift which St Dominic had of bearing sinners, the down trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion.” As we struggle with our own weakness, sinfulness and wounds of sin we are united in a more profound manner with our brothers and sisters wherever they may be. As our hearts ache while we helplessly watch so many lose faith and walk away from the Church we feel the pressing need to seek solutions. Yet our vocation does not lie in engaging in apostolic works.

Contemplation of the Cross teaches us that Jesus conquered sin by becoming sin for us. “He lived the reality of the other to the point where he carries the whole ‘baggage’ of the other”. (Thomas J Norris, Living a Spirituality of Communion, pg 81) In the cloister perhaps, we today are called to experience the “loneliness, meaninglessness, abandonment, anguish and despair” of our contemporaries to the point of the darkness and forsakenness of the Cross. We need to encourage each other not to be afraid to go to that forsaken place within our own heart and there wait for the Lord’s mercy and healing for ourselves and others.

It is when we have the courage to make this journey into silence, to the lonely place of our heart where we experience our own poverty and sinfulness, that we are most profoundly united to our brothers and sisters. It is here too that we experience the Risen Jesus calling us by name and we can say with Paul: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20) – our prayer becomes the prayer of Christ before the Father asking that all be gathered into unity: “Father may they be one in us”.(Jn 17:21)