The Invitation of Holy Saturday: Patient Trust

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Holy Week, Spirituality

Often in life, we find ourselves in periods of waiting. While enduring a difficult situation or holding out hope, sometimes all we can do is wait. When these times come, we want to tell ourselves that the waiting will be worth it in the end – but it’s so difficult when that payoff hasn’t come yet. The reality is that waiting can be painful. Until it’s over, it can seem senseless. Our prayers are sometimes met with silence.

Holy Saturday is one such time of waiting. We have fasted with the Lord in the desert through Lent and have followed him all the way to the cross. But the meaning of this journey hasn’t yet been revealed in the glory of the Resurrection. Like the first disciples, we are in this liminal state, caught between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, on the cusp of rejoicing but with the cross still on our minds. We’re simply waiting for the Lord.

While one cannot fully explain this profound Christian mystery, my hike in Guatemala last summer taught me how the Lord can transform these times of difficult waiting.  Last summer, I spent six weeks with other Jesuits at a school in Guatemala to learn Spanish.  The school routinely offered extra-curricular activities to immerse the students in the local culture.  When presented with the chance to hike a volcano, I figured that could use the exercise and that the view of Guatemala would be phenomenal. Our teachers assured us that the hike is “moderate difficulty.”

It would be quite an understatement to say that my teachers undersold the difficulty of the climb. And I do mean “climb”. I was expecting a slow hike up a mountain trail. Instead, I found myself at times on all fours, literally climbing up rocks. At first it wasn’t so bad. It was tough, but I didn’t mind pushing myself to keep up with the pack. But as the hours passed, my pace slowed, my feet dragged, my friends began to pass me, my water started to diminish, and as for snacks…shucks, I realized, my two yogurt bars aren’t going to be enough.

Even worse, western Guatemala is surprisingly far above sea level, so every extra foot climbed meant less oxygen. As the air got thinner, so did our conversations – not that I was in the mood to talk anyway. It’ll be worth it when I’m at the top, I thought. I was holding out, waiting for the payoff. Then, after hours of Mount Purgatory, I began to hear music ahead. Either I’m dying or I’m at the top. Thankfully, the ground leveled, and I stepped out onto the summit.

Oh, you’ve got to be joking. I looked around in disbelief. There’s nothing here. Absolutely nothing. The volcano culminated not in a majestic crater, but in dirt, rocks, and litter. I could have seen that at sea level! Just trash and filth and two…cows? What on earth? How did cows get up here? There they were: two cows on the summit of a volcano, staring back at me, contentedly chewing on cud.  I didn’t spend four hours exhausting myself on the side of a volcano just to see this, I thought.

The rolling hills of Guatemala were a sight to behold – for the ten minutes that we could see them. Before we had any time to recuperate from the climb to appreciate the view fully, a massive cloud washed over us and plunged us into fog for the next hour. We couldn’t see anything.

I slumped down on a rock and gave my screaming legs a rest, with my gaze turning to the one last attraction of the summit: a giant cross. Just a giant, wooden cross, standing tall, dragged to the summit by Lord knows who, Lord knows when. I had no energy to meditate on the profundity. I closed my eyes and tried to rest.

As we began the trip down, I thought, At least the worst of it is over. In a divine prank, God answered with a clap of thunder. The cloud we had been trapped in turned out to be a gathering storm, about to burst. No, Lord, please, don’t let it rain. And miraculously…it didn’t rain.

It hailed. On the side of a volcano it hailed. And then it rained.

If I hadn’t laughed, I would have cried. As the rain poured the dirt path turned into mud, and then into flowing rivers. The steep drops and jagged rocks meant that one slip could be a broken ankle (or worse). It was another three hours of soggy clothes and wipe-outs before we finally escaped the volcano’s wrath. When I finally emerged from the volcano trail, I was somehow limping on both legs, broken in body and spirit.

My one consolation was that my friends were miserable too. As we sat around the dinner table that night, we vented about how absurd the whole thing was. “Moderate difficulty.” One of my friends put it well: “We went through all that, and what do we have to show for it?” We chuckled. We knew we had nothing at all to show for it.

With my legs still throbbing at Sunday Mass the next day, I asked the Lord to show me some grace of that whole experience – make it worth it, Lord, I prayed. And my mind turned to that lone cross at the summit. Suddenly, I was with Christ’s friends on Holy Saturday after the crucifixion, meditating over their last 24 hours with them.

Despite all their suffering and confusion, it would be made right soon. Christ has to come through for us, I suspected they were thinking on their way to Calvary. And when they finally reached the peak, all they found was the cross and their Messiah crucified. They waited, and waited, and nothing happened. With Christ’s broken body in their arms, they returned down the hill. They buried him, and that night they sat around their own dinner table. “After all that,” they asked, “all our time with him, all our faith, all our sufferings, all his sufferings…what do we have to show for it? Nothing. Nothing at all.”

How could they have known how the story would end? How could they have known that one day later, in a way they couldn’t possibly anticipate or understand, Christ would give the whole journey, with all its sufferings, meaning through the joy of the Resurrection? They watched him die, after all. All they could do was wait on that Holy Saturday, with patient trust that in some mysterious way God was still in control and that Good Friday would not be the last word.

As I sat in the Church contemplating this mystery, I felt the temptation of Holy Saturday: to get stuck, to see everything through the lens of mourning, as all suffering and no triumph. I could fixate on all the things that went wrong and chalk it up as a disaster. Or I could reject the temptation of Holy Saturday and instead embrace its invitation: an invitation to wait patiently for Easter Sunday, with the faith that God is still at work, even when the waiting makes no sense.

In this moment of prayer, I began to think less about my exhaustion, my frustration, and the mocking cows. Instead, I began to think about the teacher who refused to pass me on the trail out of compassion, the friend who offered me a handful of chocolate granola at the summit, and the feeling of finally getting home and washing off the mud. I began to accept the invitation of Holy Saturday: to look ahead in the quiet expectation of mysterious joy and to trust that somehow…somehow…suffering does not have the final word.

I’m not going to pretend my volcano hike was some great achievement. It was just a tough climb; plenty of people endure far greater challenges over far longer periods. Still, we will all experience Holy Saturdays, whether big or small: those times when we have no choice but to wait, even beyond the point of reason or sense, with trust that God somehow in His own time is working out our salvation. If for a time our crosses make no sense or seem meaningless, then let’s embrace the invitation of Holy Saturday. Let’s pray for the grace of patient waiting, so that one day we may see all our sufferings and trials as worth it in the light of Christ’s Resurrection.


Jason Britsch, SJ   /   All posts by Jason