Following in His Footprints: Accompanying the Lord through Holy Week
“Don’t you see? We have to learn from Jesus, who is our only model. If you want to go forward without stumbling or wandering off the path, then all you have to do is walk the road he walked, placing your feet in his footprints and entering into his humble and patient Heart…. In a word, you must identify yourself with Jesus Christ.”
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Friends of God, no. 128
“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Mt 21:9). The spirit of Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week is well summed up in this verse recounting the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. The humble Messiah mounted atop a lowly donkey is at the center of jubilant praise and acclamation.
Even though our Lord is fully aware of every detail of the coming week, He is pleased with the praise of those who accompany Him, especially the spontaneous cries of the simple children, whom He defends before the chief priests: “Have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise?” (Mt 21:16).
It is our role to follow the Lord very closely during these days, accompanying Him with prayer and praise, even as the sorrowful events of His betrayal and Passion unfold. Not one day of Holy Week, and especially of the Sacred Triduum, will pass without the Church giving voice to her close accompaniment by expressions of praise and thanksgiving, however subdued. The Church is watching her Lord, going before and following after Him, filling the air about Him with songs that, while somber, yet proclaim the Lord’s triumph.
We too pay close attention to everything He does and says. We observe Him closely, but for an entirely different purpose than the Pharisees were said to “observe” Him–for the sake of imitation, of matching our footprints to His: “You must identify yourself with Jesus Christ and try to become really and truly another Christ among your fellow men” (Friends of God, no. 128). This week is certainly not about us; it is about what the Lord has done for us, how He did it, why He did it, and what our response should be.
Saint Peter tells us emphatically that our response is nothing short of vocational: “For to this you have been called, because Christ… suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt 2:21). Holy Week reinforces the truth that in following Christ we have nothing else to motivate us except Christ Himself. When we see Him mistreated, insulted, and killed, we see plainly that we are not following for the sake of any earthly advantage. Nothing is clearer than that.
From the time that we are children, we learn how to walk in the footsteps of others. We learn how to follow the footsteps of those who are more sure of their way. Sometimes this takes the concrete form of following another in the sand of a beach or through a snowy field or hiking along a narrow trail. For us, it is always a matter of not knowing the way or of feeling uncertain about our steps, or sometimes it is simply the honor of imitating our leader. We trust and admire the one whom we follow.
The Apostles had been following Jesus for roughly three years when, at the Last Supper, He told them: “Where I am going, you know the way.” Whereupon “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’” (Jn 14:4-5). He implies that their experience in His company should have taught them something essential about following Him: that they were following a Person, not a map.
Thomas and the other Apostles received a direct answer that is as directly aimed at us. The Lord does not provide us with a map, exactly. Even though we have Sacred Scripture itself, the teachings of the Church, the witness and example of the Saints, their purpose is essentially to facilitate our following of the Person of Christ throughout all of the variables of our earthly sojourn. They teach us to walk as He walked, in our own time and place.
When Jesus gives instructions about following Him, He offers mostly general things to expect: You must pick up your cross and follow, leave behind family and home, expect persecutions and privations, but I will be with you always. He does not mention anything more particular. Future trials there will be, but not when and where. We will have crosses to bear, but not know exactly which ones ahead of time.
His last words before His Ascension into the Father’s house, at a time when the Apostles were full of questions about “times and seasons” were not more explicit: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses …unto the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).
But on this “uncertain” path, where we walk by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us, we must make up our mind, as St Josemaria says, “to follow the way of self-surrender: the Cross on your shoulders, with a smile on your lips, and a light in your soul” (Way of the Cross, no. 23). This is the unmapped path that only we as disciples can follow, because it is unique to the particular way that He has chosen for each of us.
As we follow closely in His steps during Holy Week, we will realize how troubled is our own path, how much we need Jesus to be our guide. He asks a generosity of us which is beyond our strength, yet the fact that He has called us to follow is a clear sign that He intends to share His power with us. May we go forward confidently in the Lord’s steps, blessing Him all the while, trusting that if we accompany Him in His sufferings, His victory will be ours as well.