March 24th – Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

My Dear Friends,

We begin the liturgy on this Palm Sunday with Christ’s grand entrance into Jerusalem. We sing Christ’s praises as the crowds did 2000 years ago, and we enter rejoicing because we are indeed praising our Lord and King. We wave those palm branches to herald Christ’s entrance into the City of David, and they need to remind us that just as Christ entered Jerusalem with waving palms, we need to allow Christ to enter our hearts during this Holy Week. No doubt that many of those palm branches will eventually be fashioned into crosses. It is good that we have the cross on our minds because it is something that we cannot ignore during Holy Week, and these branches that we form into crosses help us to remember this central reality of the Paschal Mystery: the cross. 

During his first Holy Week as pope, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta where he resides with the workers of the house, the Vatican gardeners, and the street sweepers who clean St. Peter’s square. I’ve stayed at this house and prayed in this chapel and there’s only one way in. When everyone had gathered before the Mass and was praying, the Holy Father slipped in and sat in the back praying silently with the people without anyone noticing except the photographer who took the picture of the Pope sitting in the back pew silently praying with his flock. When he got up for Mass and started preaching, he talked about the cross and made the point that Christ didn’t die “for all” in as much as he died “for each and every person” and if he died for “each of us” then “each of us” must say “yes” to him. The cross requires a response from those who gaze upon it. We can wear it around our necks, hang it in our homes, see it in popular artwork, but we cannot ignore the challenge of the cross. It challenges us to respond to the great love that pours forth from it. The Son of God. Dead. On a cross. How can we not respond? 

The cross is indeed a challenge to each of us. As the Christian author and preacher, Max Lucado says, we cannot ignore the cross nor be indifferent to it. When we behold the power of Christ’s love for us as he hung there in agony, we must ask ourselves: “What can I do, what MUST I do to repay such love?” On that first Good Friday, everyone around that cross reacted in different ways to what transpired on Golgotha. They may have reacted with scorn or with love but none of the participants in this drama were indifferent. The thing is that we take the cross for granted. We want our Jesus clean and risen and glorious and smiling, but how do we react when he is being tortured on a piece of wood, gasping painfully for every breath, looking almost inhuman: “so marred were his features, beyond that of mortals his appearance, beyond that of human beings (Isaiah 52:14).” 

This week we contemplate the greatest act of love in human history. He gave us his Body and Blood on Holy Thursday and on Good Friday we literally hear these words in the liturgy: “Behold the wood of the cross!” Then we are invited on that solemn day to come forward to venerate this sacred piece of wood. This Holy Week don’t be mere spectators in this drama but active participants. The cross urges us to reject indifference. And on Good Friday, when we come forward to adore the Holy Cross, take in what Christ did for you. He did this, he gave his life, he suffered the cruelest of deaths because he loved you. It was Pope Saint John Paul II who once said during a Stations of the Cross: “Look at what you have done, in this man, to your God.” Indifference is not an option. 

God bless you all,

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