Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday Year C

Homily after the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

This morning, like the children who cheered in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” when they saw Jesus healing the blind and lame (Mt 21:14-15) – we too shout out with unbridled joy, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 19:38) And just like the multitude of the heavenly host that praised the Eternal Word who processed into our lives as a child, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will,” (Lk 2:14) we too sing out, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:39) as our Lord processes among us. From the beginning of his life, toward the end, all men, from children to adults, sing his praises and bless Jesus’ Name. Before, our Lord had cautioned us not to cheer for him, his hour had not yet come. But now it is nearly here. The Pharisees tried to quell the children in the temple – “Do you hear what these are saying?” – just like they tried to quiet us today, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Our Lord takes up for us: “I tell you,” he said, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” As the prophet Habakkuk foretold, against those who try to cut off God’s people, even their own houses will cry out to God: “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond” (Hab 2:11). Even all creation sings His praises. It has begun. Nothing can stop him now.

Homily After the Gospel

The time from the beginning of Lent through Easter Sunday is marked with a rapid succession of external rituals in the life of a Catholic. We remember Ash Wednesday when we received the blessed ashes on our foreheads. Today we receive palm branches and we fold them into neat little crosses. On Holy Thursday we have the foot-washing. On Good Friday we kneel and kiss the Cross. And Saturday night, the Easter Vigil, is filled with incense, chants, exclamations, water, oil, and light. All of these, even the deadening silence and emptiness of the altar on Good Friday, are rich experiences that flood our senses.

It somehow makes sense that we show up in such larger numbers to these liturgies than to the common Sunday obligation. Our Lord made us to be sensing beings and uses our senses to help us know him. But what will we do when Easter is over and the rest of the liturgical year marches on? What will we do when all the sensational things give way to the sobriety and noble simplicity that most often marks the Holy Mass?

Today, Palm Sunday, and continually until Easter Sunday, you I are called to re-examine our Faith. We must remember that all of the external rituals of our faith are not ends in and of themselves. We have them to remind us of the deeper spiritual realities that they signify. Religious sentiments are good and appropriate in response to these beautiful things for they often serve as invitations to more fully enter into our faith. But our experiences of these things must not stop at the external level or the level of sentiment. We must consider the underlying spiritual effect that is taking place: what the ashes mean, what the palm branches mean, what the foot-washing, the cross, the water, oil and light meanwhat difference they make for our faith.

We are made for deeper realities, for solemnity, for transcendence. Deep down we are longing for something greater than ourselves. Some of the Jews of Jesus time, though, were only caught up with the spectacle of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; they had not let Him enter into their hearts. St. Luke also describes how Herod treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him because of his malicious desire simply to “see him perform some sign” (Lk 23:8). He had no real faith in him. Up to today, Jesus has been telling those he cured to remain silent so that his signs would not be misunderstood.

This day, though, is different. He allows us to proclaim him as king to teach us to look for a savior not in one who is dominating and ambitious but in One who is humble and obedient. Therefore our Lord rides into Jerusalem not upon a warhorse along a path of gold but upon a peaceful colt along a path of palm braches. This he did to the shouts of praise of a “whole multitude of his disciples” (Lk 19:37). But, then, only a few days later, this same group, riled up by the high priests, shouts for his crucifixion. Pilate said to them, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” “With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed” (Lk 23:22-23).

It’s easy to shout with praise and acclamation to Jesus when everyone around us is shouting too. But when the leaders of our society disperse enough ill will, are we quick to condemn him? Do I preach Christ, and Him Crucified only when I am surrounded by attentive parishioners or brother priests? What do I say to those who disagree with Church teaching or try to persecute the Church? What about when I’m with friends or family and my guard is down? Do I praise him still?

How can we live differently today because of the scenario that has unfolded before us? You and I have to make sure that our faith doesn’t stop at the externals. If we live our lives no deeper than the surface level, then we are easily swayed by those who have the loudest voice. But when we allow the external signs of our faith to take us deeper then we come to know the truth of our faith and come to know Christ for who He really is. If we allow the grace of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, signified by so many beautiful rituals over these coming days – when we allow that grace to penetrate deeply into our hearts, deeper than our surface feelings, then Christ can begin to mold and transform us into Catholics who are always faithful, always at His right hand, even if we are the only ones standing up for Him, even when there is “darkness… over the whole land” (Lk 23:44).

If we can go deeper, we can be Catholics who wear ashes to show contrition, who wash feet to honor the Institution Eucharist and the Priesthood, who are sprinkled with water to reclaim our Baptism, who receive oil to be sanctified, healed, and strengthened, and who light candles to show the world that Christ is the Light. We never use symbols because “that’s just what we’ve always done” – we use them because their deep and underlying meanings make us holy and glorify God. We use them because they flow from our faith and stir up our faith. We use symbols in order to be empowered to stay true to Him.

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