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Homily for Sunday, 13 April 2013

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion:

Procession Mt 21:1-11.

Mass: Is 50:4-7. Phil 2:6-11. Mt 26:14-27:66.

This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, called Palm or Passion Sunday.

I love the humility of 'the King of heaven and earth'. When eventually welcomed by the people of Jerusalem. He arrives on a borrowed donkey! And it wasn't by chance. With Zechariah in 520 B.C. begins the messianic vision of the coming of the Prince of Peace on a donkey (Zech 9:9). The verses describing the triumphant appearance of the humble king are taken up by the Gospels to describe the entry of Christ into Jerusalem today. Zech 12 is introduced by an oracle proclaiming the victory of God's people amd it closes by describing the final assault on Jerusalem, after which the messianic age will begin.

I think that today isn't just a time of recalling what Jesus went through, like a cold history lesson, but it's a time to feel the passion along with him. Let's place ourselves 'in his shoes'... and really appreciate the fact that he was barefoot! He was barefoot, scourged, crowned with thorns, insulted, mocked, and ended up nailed to a cross. Of course, that's not where he ends, as we will be recalling at Easter, but in many ways mankind hasn't taken their God seriously, and He's still going through his passion.

The reason for making it 'palm Sunday' is because that was the traditional Jewish way of welcoming an important arrival. It's how Jesus was welcomed on arrival at the entrance to Jerusalem. We soon see how superficial that welcome was. But is there a lot of superficiality in the way we attend our churches on Sundays throughout the year? ...and even at Easter? But we can change that!

The palm is referred to as a token of peace, beauty and prosperity (Psalm 92:13, Songs 7:7-8). Therefore, ornamental figures of palms were carved into the walls of the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:29, 32, 35). Palm branches were also used in celebrating the feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:40, Neh. 8:15) and in the last book of the Bible, the saints in heaven bear palm leaves as a symbol of victory (Apoc 7:9).

Excuse me if I'm taking the focus off the passion of Christ 2000 years ago, but I can't help thinking of the fact that God wants us all to play some role in the Resurrection of Christ nowadays. One such role, which is the one that I was given, is to communicate the Good News to others. The short readings today actually back that up. As the disciples are criticized for the noise of their joyful procession, Jesus replies that if they keep quiet, then even the stones will cry out! (Lk 19:40). But will we cry out? Perhaps we do, but only when it suits us. Look at how even our first Pope (Peter) denied Jesus three times when things got 'sticky'.

With regard to death again, of course I would like the process to be free of physical pain, and in that sense, I can see the advantages of 'euthanasia'. Terminal care is important in medicine, but I really think that if we have life, then God wants us to use it well to the very end. In that sense, I think that outright euthanasia is very wrong. It's actually practiced legally now by doctors in some places in Europe. But I wouldn't approve. We're not God! Jesus Christ went through the door before us many years ago in Jerusalem, and he did so in great physical pain. And he put up with it voluntarily in order to convince us that love is stronger than physical death! He convinces me. I long for life after death, but I don't want to be impatient! A gunshot in the brain would be an easy 'way out' (History tells us that Adolf Hitler wasn't very loving but I suppose his suicide was 'intelligent'!). Even the 'guillotine' after the French revolution, seems to have been an easy way to 'exit'. But the thing to which I really want to die, is to my selfishness. Hopefully, I'm not being selfish in tapping this keyboard!

It's good to humbly remember the fact that we ourselves have had a part to play in inflicting the suffering on Christ. It may be for what we've done, or 'for what we've failed to do'! So lets be humble. When mother Teresa of Calcutta was applauded once, on a visit to Rome, she said "I'm not Jesus, but the donkey!". To quote St Andrew of Crete: 'Let's not put palms beneath his feet but put our-selves'.

Maybe I shouldn't add much to the readings of mass this Sunday. I mightn't finish by nightfall! I'd just recommend that in a private hour, we contemplate the scripture. It's much more than a simple newspaper account of some happening. As you read of X happening, stop and ask in your mind: “Lord, why did X happen? And you went through it voluntarily! What's it saying to me about you and I ... and the whole human family? Pilate washed his hands as a gesture to acquit himself of blame (Mt 27:24), but don’t many of us conceal our sins and act as Catholics just so that we’ll appear well to people and we’ll maintain their respect? Are those happenings describing something of what's still happening today? What kind of 'almighty' are you?! What kind of ugly, cowardly, selfish family are we?!".

It's good to spend time today before a crucifix just contemplating … “Do those nails hurt? The crown of thorns? Really you 'set your face like flint' like Isaiah describes, and mankind didn't carve a nice picture on you. They flogged you with a whip! And your close friend, Peter, denies you three times! Why do you put up with the insult and derision of your own people? And I'm one of 'your own people' today! What's it leading to?".

I'm looking forward to Easter Sunday… not for the holiday and the chocolate! … but for the great news that whatever sinful pits we've mistakenly fallen into, Christ keeps asking "Father, forgive them, for they don't realize what they are doing".

Even besides our own mistaken falls during these few years on earth, some kind of problems or 'passions' are going to pass us by... including physical death! But there's a solution: We're not alone… ours is the God of 'com-passion'.

Hopefully, one day, as Paul writes: 'every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord' (Phil 2:11). And as I sit in my wheelchair, I really think that we'll all eventually be dancing for joy in Heaven!

I think that this isn't just a matter of remembering what Jesus went through, like a cold history lesson, but it's a time to feel the passion along with him. Let's place ourselves 'in his shoes'... and really appreciate the fact that he was barefoot! Yet even on that 'vía dolorosa' (painful path), Jesus was concerned for the women crying and said "Cry not for me but for your children". He was barefoot, scourged, crowned with thorns, insulted, mocked, and ended up nailed to a cross. Of course, that's not where he ends, as we will be recalling at Easter, but in many ways mankind hasn't taken their God seriously, and He's still going through his passion. People romantically in love sometimes say “We're passionately in love” and that adverb 'passionately' actually links with the tremendous 'motivation' that moved Jesus on 'good Friday' carrying the cross to Calvary.

As I wrote above, the reason for making it 'palm Sunday' is because that was the traditional Jewish way of welcoming an important arrival. It's how Jesus was welcomed on arrival at the entrance to Jerusalem. We soon see how superficial that welcome was. But is there a lot of superficiality in the way we attend our churches on Sundays throughout the year? ...and at Easter? We can change that!

In the reading for the procession, 'Hosanna' means 'open up the door', so let's open the door of our hearts! As St Andrew of Crete proposed: Let’s not put just palms beneath his feet but put also our own selves.

..... Dara.

 
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