Holy Saturday: Love is stronger than death

A reflection for Holy Saturday

It could never be said of Jesus that ‘he was so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly good!’ The Scriptures attest, and therefore the Church teaches, that while the body of Jesus lay bound by death in the tomb, He visited the righteous in hell who were also bound by death so that they might be released from the grip of hell by power of the Resurrection. As the Apostles’ Creed puts it, “he descended into hell.”

This is part of the story of someone who lived in a modern-day hell but who had the Spirit of the Lord deep within her soul:

“Dear God, these are anxious times. Tonight for the first time I lay in the dark with burning eyes as scene after scene of human suffering passed before me. I shall promise you one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself.

“I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us, that we must help you to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves.

“And perhaps we can help revive you in the ruined hearts of others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. Later you will declare us responsible. And with almost every beat of my heart, my certainty grows: you cannot help us, but we must help you and defend our dwelling place inside us to the last.

“[…] I am beginning to feel a little more peaceful, God, thanks to this conversation with you. I shall have many more conversations with you, and in this I shall forbid you to abandon me. you are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for you and remain faithful to you and I shall never drive you from my presence.

“For the great and heroic pain I have enough strength, my God, but it is rather the thousand small daily worries that leap upon me and bite me as a thousand insects. So I scratch myself desperately for a while and repeat every day: for today you are ok, the protective walls of a welcoming house rest on your shoulders like a suit you have often worn and that has taken the shape of your body, and there is enough food for today and your bed with white sheets and warm covers is still there, ready for the night and so, today you have no right to lose even a second of your energy in small material worries. Use and employ well every minute of this day and make it fruitful, make another strong stone on which our poor and anxious future can rest.

“The jasmine in the garden is completely destroyed by the rain and storms these last days, its white flowers floating here and there in the dark and slimy puddles formed on the low garage roof. But somewhere inside me continues to flower undisturbed, exuberant and tender as always, spreading perfume all around my house, my God. See how I look after you. I bring you not just my tears and fears, but on this grey and stormy Sunday morning I bring you perfumed jasmine.

“I will bring you all the flowers that I meet on the way and there are so many. I want you to be well with me. And just to make one example: if I were to find myself enclosed in a small cell and saw a cloud passing before the bars, then I would bring you that cloud, my God, as long as I have the strength.”

– Taken from: Esther Hillesum, known as Etty, (Diary from: Middleburg, 15 January 1914 – Auschwitz, 30 November 1943) She was a Dutch writer, born into an intellectual Jewish family who died in a Nazi concentration camp. Her Diary 1941-1943 was published for the first time in 1981.

Almighty God,

grant that we who are constantly 

betrayed by our own weaknesses

may draw the breath of new life

even in the moments of overwhelming darkness


the passion and death of your Only-Begotten Son,

who lives and reigns for ever and ever.