The greatest feast day in the Catholic Church is not Christmas, not Three Kings, and, although some might wish otherwise, not even St. Patrick’s Day. No, the three highest Holy Days in the Church span across 72 hours that begin with the Last Supper Liturgy on Holy Thursday evening, continue with the passion, death and burial of Christ in the afternoon of Good Friday, reach their pinnacle with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, and conclude with vespers on the greatest feast day of all, Easter Sunday. Over this long weekend, we celebrate Jesus’ body and blood, first given to us as food, then sacrificed for us on Calvary, and finally risen for us on the Sabbath as the glorified body of our Savior, our liberator from the chains of sin so that we can be free to love God and love our neighbor as our Creator intended.
These saving events, which occurred 2000 years ago, are the evangelization accounts of the well-known Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah from Bethlehem. Not as well known are the saving events, which occurred 76 years ago by the Jewish Messiah from Brooklyn. To date, nearly 3 million people have heard of him and we can watch his story unfold rather quickly over a powerful, seven-minute, free public broadcast on YouTube. The film, released last year, features elderly men and women, rescued from the Nazi death camps, recounting what happened to them when they were children and the excruciating suffering they endured. This documentary is called: Auschwitz Untold in Colour: What Happened Right Before Jewish Concentration Camps Were Liberated.
Here is a sample of what three of these survivors have to say.
The first man, Irving Ruth, speaks deliberately, almost sounding like a history professor. “On April 11, 1945 at 3 PM, two soldiers walked into our barracks.” Then he pauses and adds softly, “The Messiah just arrived.”
Next a lady with a careworn expression remembers, “We could hear the sound of Church bells ringing and see people looking out from their widows. A little girl came up to me,” says Iby Knill, “with her tiny hands cupped together holding a painted egg. She told me, ‘It’s Easter Sunday,’ and she gave me that colored gift. Can you believe it? We were Jewish children who had been 40 days and 40 nights in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and we were liberated on Easter Sunday. You can’t make this up, can you?”
Finally, we hear the terror in Judah Samet’s voice as he recalls, “A tank arrived, and we thought we would all die. But the gun wasn’t pointed at us. A young man emerged from inside and my father yelled, ‘He’s an American. He’s an American.’ He was, in fact, a Jewish fellow from Brooklyn. And he was our Messiah. I was eight years old.”
Most of us will never know the excruciating torment that happened to God’s chosen people during the Holocaust, especially to the children. But Christ knows. In fact, our word “excruciating” comes from the Latin words “ex cruce” meaning “from the cross.” Have we ever been so wounded that it felt as if our heart had been pierced with a lance? Or do we know someone who has been hurt so deeply? Is that pain gone now or is it ongoing even to this day? Do we place our sorrows in the bleeding hands of Jesus’ outstretched arms, nailed to the cross?
For Holy Homework: Let’s arrange two eating utensils in the middle of the kitchen table to form a cross. Two butter knives positioned on top of each other will do nicely. We can leave this “silverware symbol” in plain sight from Good Friday afternoon until Easter Sunday morning. Let’s allow this silent image to remind us that we should join our bitter sufferings with the agony Christ suffered for us, just as we should celebrate our exuberant joys in union with His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven where He eagerly waits, again with outstretched arms, but this time to welcome us home.
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