For the words of a priest to be true, authoritative, fruitful and give life, it simply has to be the Word of the Lord, but in a very distinctive way this day Palm or Passion Sunday in which all of Christendom enters the sanctuary of Holy Week, a better word to describe this is that we are entering into the Word of the Lord. We have listened to three readings, all three have painted the same thing for us: Jesus, the servant of the Father who gives his life to save men; the mystery of death, the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus. We now enter into this festive celebration. Above all, I would like us to reflect upon the reading of the Passion and allow it to resonate within everyone of us today hopefully for the rest of the week; I have no desire to diminish or simplify the Gospel story in the slightest, yet, I would like for the Holy Spirit to make us feel just as deeply what we have listened to in the Readings of the Word. I would like us to listen, and to be moved by it within, and above all that it will make us more committed than we have ever been. Committed to one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Because of this, and so that we may fraternally commit ourselves to respond to the Word of Jesus, I would like to ask you all to consider these three questions:
- What does this Passion or Palm Sunday mean, and how does it occupy us?
- How should we truly live this holy and definitive week for ourselves?
- What does the Passion of Jesus mean to me when taking into account any of the characters that appear in the story of the Passion?
First of all, what does Palm or Passion Sunday actually mean to each one of us? We have the palm sprig in our hands, they have been blessed and they also have a double meaning. It is an expression that Jesus is the only one that should matter, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is King, that he is the keeper of our hearts, of our family, our home, of all of history and of the whole world. As Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly, knowing however, that this triumph will be cut short and end with his crucifixion, Christ teaches us that He must be the only one that matters, and that only through Him will our lives be enduring joy, but only if our lives are for Christ alone. He is our only option. Whether you are bishop, priest or religious, a lay person, it doesn’t matter who you are, whatever your path is, whatever the specific tasks you have to undertake, the imperative is, that we all remember that the only thing that ultimately matters is Christ.
Secondly, the sprig, the palm, that we all clasp in our hands; we will take them home later, I will put it in my room, as a sign of the blessing and the particular protection I receive from the Lord. I will remember that God is always there with me, at my side and that God goes with me wherever I go. He is there when I undertake my daily tasks, He comes to my home, He comes to my family, He comes to my aid when I need succour, He comes to help me bear my cross and calm’s me, when it becomes too much for me He comes to be the joy I need to balance and centre me. I know that HIs coming to my life and gives it meaning. It is a sign of the Lord’s protection. It’s a sign that God is here. And that God is not there as an absent guest but as a Father who intervenes, guides, leads. Its a sign of tranquility, of security, not one of passivity as if discharging all of our responsibilities unto God, but as a sign that God is there.
So, the palm sprig simply means that: on the one hand, we sing the triumph of Christ our Lord, we accompany him as the King that He is, yet at the same time we say: Christ is the only thing that matters, and my life has no meaning whatsoever unless it is Christo-centric. Secondly, I take the palm sprig to my home, and this bouquet assures me of His protection, a very special blessing indeed from God the Father of Mercy.
That is what we are celebrating today. But at the same time, with Palm Sunday we are entering a truly holy week of the year, will reach its pinnacle of the Eve of the Easter Vigil. Everything is aimed toward our living this deep joy of the Easter Vigil. What will happen on that eve of the Easter Vigil? A pristine light, a fresh water, a freshly baked bread, the Risen Christ, a reinvigorated Man, above all, we will be renewed in Christ Jesus. We have to be born again, this pristine light will have to be born within us, a light radiating with faith, the light of hope and one of love. Incandescent faith which helps us to discover Christ who continues to live throughout history reflected in the faces of our sisters and brothers. An unwavering hope which knows that Jesus is with us until the very end. With this knowledge I never have to be fearful, anxious or intimidated again. And this fervent love for Him can only lead us to humbly give ourselves to the service of our sisters brothers. We will be revived women and men on the eve of Easter Vigil, when faith will be at it strongest, granting us with new hope, joy and stronger love.
So, how should we live during this week, as a preparation on the Eve of the Easter Vigil? How do we prepare? Surrendering to the Christ whom glorifies the Father in prayer, the Christ who redeems the world on the cross, the Christ who gives his life for others. That is, an attitude of great silence and prayer, an attitude of great joy on the cross and an attitude of great generosity in love and in charity.
With an approach of profound quietude and peace when we enter into prayer. Today we remembered Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go yonder and pray.” Taking with Him Peter, James, and John, He went deep into the garden, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then, He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with Me.” And going a little farther, he fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt”. This is the most beautiful, shortest, most profound, most affectionate and serene prayer I’ve ever heard! Father, if possible, let Your will be done, and not my will. Therefore, this week, live more in an atmosphere of silence and prayer. Life, of course, will continue as usual. We still have to work or keep home or talk to others. But interiorly we need to practice a deeper silence so that we can hear the word of the Lord. How great and aid would it be, if every day we were to read a verse of the bible on the Passion of Christ! Today we have read parts of it. How good would it be if we took a verse for each day during the Passion and for us to meditate upon what has been said and then for us to make it our own! We have to live in the spirit of Jesus’ prayer to the Father almighty.
If so, we have to get on the cross and we need to savour it. How good it is to savour the cup of the Lord! Each one of certainly has their own suffering, a cross we must bear. If not our life would be an extremely pointless and empty one, the Father would not have guided us with His influence toward Jesus His Son. That is a step we need to take. Each one has a cross to bear, that cross will be an extremely firm cross, even when outwardly, it may viewed by others as superficial or an easy thing for us to bear; whilst for those who are living it, it can be extremely agonising. Our consolation is that this cross of ours is also a small piece of the true cross of Jesus, as a consequence of Jesus’s prolonged Passion throughout human history, He therefore perpetuates it upon our own cross, in the suffering of my sisters and brother, in the pain that His people endure: through these Christ prolongs his passion in us.
We must delight in His cross whilst determining its paschal meaning for ourselves. So that the true meaning of the cross does not begin to dishearten us, so that we are not overcome by its immense weight, so that the meaning of the cross is never extinguished within us. We need only know that only through the cross will we be resurrected, the cross is the fountain-source of both hope and life. We need to ascend upon the cross of the Lord, savouring the mystery of Jesus’ death upon the cross in silence throughout this week, we have to live our own cross with a discernment and understanding of its paschal meaning, with a sense of hope. We need to recollect many things this week but without sadness, sadness is something that I consider not to be Christian. You may be at great pains, yet everything has to be rationalised with a firm assurance of hope.
And finally this week, we also need be conscious of surrender, that is, Christ surrenders himself. We have heard how Christ takes the bread, takes the wine and gives it up and says: ‘This is my body which is given for you’, and ‘for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. The Passion of Christ accomplishes His complete surrender of self. What a great act of sacrifice on His part, for us! How wise it is to completely surrender to God alone, the Father of all humanity, of our brothers and sisters. To Jesus: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Someone who gives himself up for others.
For us to live Holy Week well, with an attitude of complete surrender, of offering, of our total departure from life in order to give life to others, we need to accomplish three things:
- profound silence of prayer,
- savour the cross, and
- surrendering ourselves.
My third and the easiest question is: what does the Passion mean to me personally and how do I recognise myself in any of the protagonists of the Passion event? We are used to seeing the Passion as something that is a long way away, in the past; or something that comes across as bizarre… even when I had just finished reading the verses on the Passion I thought to myself: it is not a novel, it is not just a story we tell our children? No, this really happened. It happened once two thousand years ago in a modest Roman province, a land just like ours, in poverty-stricken Judea, in Palestine, in the land we now call the Holy Land because Jesus walked throughout this land. We know that there lived someone called Jesus of Nazareth, we know that men crucified Him and that the Father gave him back His life and for his glory made him Lord. We also know that there lived a simple village woman, a woman who every day went to draw water from the well and we know that her name was Mary. We all know that this happened. And then I wondered to myself: although this happened a very long time ago, it is not something that we should think of as strange, that this happened is part of our historical inheritance. Yet at the same time it does happen again, that is, the Passion is prolonged once again. Christ continues to live within history. He tells us to live in his pain, live in the pain of Christendom, live in the suffering of the world’s history, in the suffering of humanity. So what does the Passion actually mean to us now? Just to meditate upon and verbalise just how much Jesus actually suffered? Or our discover ing Jesus who continues to suffer within our own brother’s, in our sister’s, in Christendom, within humanity, in each one of us? I have the ability to discover our Lord who suffers and therefore I truly need to surrender myself.
Sometime later I recognise myself in one of the protagonists of the Passion. I don’t know if any of the original protagonists ever thought of the events as I have done: what if I had lived in the time of Jesus? Would I have liked to live during the time of the Lord. My answer would have to be that we had no choice in when we lived then or now; Or lives are of God’s own design. But what is certain, is that if we did not live with Jesus in His time, He certainly lives with us then and now. You know this to be true. He continues to live with us. Now what if we had seen Him in the flesh with our own eyes, what if we had actually had a conversation with Him, we had visited Him, if we had accompanied Him, then what would have happen? Which one of the many characters would we be? Would we be the same as the Ever Blessed Virgin Mary, would we be made flesh in Mary Magdalene, in Mary the mother of James and John? Or would we be made flesh in Peter’s courage, the Peter who had lacked both poverty and challenged too much, a Peter who had to test his own breaking point and the extent of his own wretchedness? Would I recognise myself —I’m certain that I would not be able to do so— could I perhaps recognise myself in Pilate’s weakness or within Judas’ fatalistic spirit? Which one of the Passion characters would I be? Or would we simply be within all of the disciples who said: ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away’ —yet when the moment came for Peter to stand up and be counted, he was found wanting? So which one of the characters are we?
I would hope that the Lord would give me the privilege of being just like John, to be allowed to lay my head on his side? I don’t know. But each one of us should take upon ourselves the Passion and try to discover what our standpoint would have been. What our actions would have been.
Yet we know what our ultimate position has to be, there is only one. We would need to take Mary’s standpoint. We need to feel the emotions that Mary felt, a Mary who had to remain both serene and strong for her Son at the foot of His cross, without crumbling and falling apart undignified. She was soo close she could see Him, hear Him, touch Him. Mary, extremely hurt yet at the same time remaining serene. She remembers that Jesus Christ was God manifested in the flesh, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ dwells within each one whom the Father has called, enabling each believer to overcome death and to receive eternal life at the resurrection.
I wish you all an extremely fruitful Holy Week, miraculously fruitful so that you will all have a very happy Easter, so that the Eve of the Holy Vigil will be exceptionally bright: for you, for me, and for the whole of Christendom and for the entire world. If that is the will of God, so be it.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.