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Bishop Paul Sirba: Fill the seats for our holiest celebrations of the year

Why are there empty seats at the Olympics? Don’t you wonder? After spending billions of dollars on new venues for the premier event in amateur sports, how is it that there are so many empty seats? It seems the price of Super Bowl tickets always skyrockets, March Madness looks packed for the Big Dance, and even our high school basketball and hockey tournaments seem to do better with attendance. What’s up with the Olympics?

Organizers say they have sold more than 90 percent of available seats. Some blame weather and transportation snafus, and some people would rather watch things on TV. A spokeswoman said: “We can’t control the people who don’t show up.” Also, for an Olympic movement that still makes billions of dollars in revenue, does attendance really matter?

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

In the realm of the spiritual, we are about to enter into the holiest of the celebrations in our liturgical year. Olympic athletes deny themselves many things in order to win a medal or just for the glory of participating in the Olympic Games. We are shooting for eternal life with Jesus. Shouldn’t we be marking our calendars for participating in the most important and amazing encounter with Jesus Christ in the world?

Holy Week is ordered to the commemoration of Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection, what we call the Paschal Mystery. To use the language of Pope Francis, we accompany Jesus Christ in the mystery. We enter into the scandal of the cross with Jesus, and we experience a foretaste of heaven at Easter.

As clergy we have the privilege of shepherding the faithful into the sobriety of the Eucharist these holy days. An antidote to the sense of noise in the culture is silence. Silence bears communion. “Silence mediates the kiss of the Holy Spirit,” said St. Bernard of Clairvaux. We unplug and meditate on the love of God for us sinners.

How do we get people to the empty seats in our churches if they have no desire? The mystery of pain is a possible door for the Gospel to enter. While pain can lead people to hate God — curse God and die — pain can also be a vehicle for leading people to God. “Where pain is, pastoral ministry should be lodging,” Deacon James Keating has argued. Instead of a deeper retreat into technology, drugs, pornography, or whatever else, our invitation, witness, encouragement, and accompaniment can lead our brothers and sisters to Jesus.

If our training for our spiritual Olympics includes prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Lenten missions, confessions, acts of mercy, Stations of the Cross, and fish fries, our Holy Week is the finish line and goal. It is the celebration of victory!

The Mass of Chrism is celebrated on Monday, March 26, at the Cathedral at 5:30 p.m. The Mass is a sign of unity and communion of priests with their bishop. All of the faithful are invited. Check your parish schedules for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. These celebrations offer us a real experience of the work Christ accomplished of human redemption and the perfect glorification of God the Father through His Paschal Mystery. All are invited, and please God every seat will be filled for the banquet of the Lamb of God!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.