[authors note: From my time of preparation and deployment to Iraq with the Army.]
March 28, 2010 Palm Sunday
As I’m writing this my unit is receiving training in the M9 weapon. This is military speak for the 9mm automatic handgun. Three of us are chaplains and we are forbidden from touching weapons by the Chief of Chaplains policy. We are not even allowed to take combative training since we are classified as “noncombatants.” How do you protect yourself then in a dangerous situation? It is simple, I have a chaplain assistant who is a combatant. He carries a rifle and protects both of our lives. Bottom line—chaplains get some free time while other Soldiers are learning about weapons. Unfortunately that free time does not extend to Holy Week.
Holy Week is my favorite time of the Church year, beginning with Palm Sunday. It never fails each year to inspire and deepen the spirituality that is the Catholic Church. The procession with the palms, the reading of the crucifixion narrative, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the great Easter Vigil are liturgical and ritual observances that put the Christian in the footsteps of Christ during His passion, death and resurrection. There is a sense of mystery and holiness that surrounds and permeates the entire week. So how do you celebrate a Holy Week when you’re training in convoy operations and basic Soldier tasks? But again how do you celebrate such a week when you’re raising a family, trying to work for a living, going to school or simply going about daily tasks?
Holy Week is not holy because it is titled so; Holy Week is holy insofar as WE make it holy. We can be doing the most routine tasks, having a busy or a dull day but we are the ones who must look beyond and see the mystery and love with which Jesus gave His life for us. This transforms the commonness of the week into the Holy Week. If we cannot appreciate what Jesus has done for us; if we fail to realize what His suffering, death and resurrection gained for us, no week can be holy. Our Catholic Church provides us with sacraments and liturgical observances that aid us in making the week sacred. Please be a part of these rituals on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. For my part, I’ll be praying for your Holy Week here in the high desert of California, wearing 50 lbs. of gear and hoping my assistant is a good shot.