As we are about to enter Holy Week, we may begin with a prayer that the Holy Spirit will give us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ. It would be good to pause for a moment to ask for this grace.

We cannot fully understand the meaning of Easter unless we enter into the reality of Christ's passion and death on the cross. In fact, the Mass itself, which brings us, more than any other sacrament or sign, to Calvary, will always seem to be something distant from our everyday lives unless we recognize that all that we suffer, fear, lose sleep over, curse and angst about are somehow connected to the cross.

Yes, when we participate at Mass, we should bring our sins, troubles, political outrage, cynicism and disappointment with anyone or anything in this world and pin them to the cross. Jesus is truly present, pouring out His life for us, to absorb our sinful brokenness. We are at Calvary.

If we would then take this one step further and admit our complicity in the sad, sinful and often chaotic state in which we find our lives in this world, we will in turn render our hearts less resistant to the healing graces of the Mass that brings the real Jesus into our lives.

Denial and self-justification will do none of us any good. God is trying so hard to get through to us.

Our distractions, fears, attitudes, opinions and prejudices so often blind us to the inexhaustible richness of God's mercy, poured out from that glorious cross.

I am borrowing from St. John the Evangelist here, for he always sees the glorification of Jesus most vividly reflected when He is "lifted up" on the cross. Jesus' love is never more visible than when He takes upon Himself all of the awful things the world throws at Him -- and us -- so that He can free us from their evil power to enslave us and beat us down.

To paraphrase what Christian writers have observed over the centuries, Jesus took up Himself the penalty that we deserved so that we could have the reward that He deserved.

Isn't it comforting, though humbling, to bask in the glory of this realization? Our salvation is free -- for us, at least -- because our loving Savior has paid its painful price.

Though we all look forward, quite naturally, to a joyful celebration of Easter, it is spiritually fruitful and, quite frankly, only honest, to let the reality of Christ's thirst for our hearts and passion for our growth in holiness sink in. Like children, who often want our dessert before we eat our vegetables, we do well to chew our spiritual food reverently and reflectively, with grateful minds and hearts.

Take time to enjoy the spiritual banquet that God has prepared for us, which is a foretaste of heaven. This is what the Mass really is, the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary, where we on Earth are never closer to heaven.

Before every Easter Sunday, there has to be a Good Friday. It is well that we bear this in mind, not only as it formed the reality of Christ's life and our salvation, but also because it is a pattern that must be expected in our own lives if we are to grow spiritually.

We cannot stand still, holding on to our old ways of living, which are often laced with addictive and sinful behaviors that we often cling to in the name of preserving our self-styled identities or asserting our rights. Letting Jesus look at us as we gaze upon His cross is the surest and safest way to know who we really are and who God is.

A timely examination of conscience, followed by a good sacramental confession, would be an excellent way to prepare our hearts for the blessings of this Holy Week. We need the grace of the sacrament of penance to break the spell of our fear of admitting that our egos are not the best arbiters of our spiritual or even emotional health. It is okay to let go of our fear and our pride.

So, when we celebrate the glory of Christ, we are not just commemorating His Easter resurrection. This is certainly the affirmation of the effectiveness of the His sacrifice on the cross -- for Him and for us. But Jesus could only say, "It is accomplished" -- not just "finished," as in "over it" -- if His death on the cross did not in itself mean that our salvation has been signed and sealed.

The resurrection is to assure us also that our salvation had been delivered and, if we accept it in faith, credited to us now and for all eternity.

Like any gift sent, our salvation must be received. We have to open it. The sacrifice of the Mass is the re-presentation of the saving action of Christ on the cross. It enables us to consume the very life of Christ Himself so that we may have eternal life.

Perhaps it is even more accurate to say that the Mass re-presents us to Calvary: It brings us to the one and unrepeatable sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is the glory of all believers and the completion of Christ's mission on Earth to save us all.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)