Friday, April 18, 2014

Palm Sunday, Year A: Living A Deep and Meaningful Life

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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, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mt 21:9) And just as on Christmas morning when a multitude of angels praised the Eternal Word who processed into our lives as a child, singing, “Glory to God in the highest,” (Lk 2:14) so too does a multitude today sing out, “hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9) as our Lord processes among us. From the beginning of Jesus’ life, toward the end, all people from children to adults, sing his praises and bless his Name. But, recently our Lord has been cautioning those he healed to not tell anyone, and he has been hiding from persecution, because his hour had not yet come. But now it is nearly here. Having seen his miracles ourselves and in our own lives, we cannot hold back our cheers. Neither does he desire to hide any more. 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 come 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?

We have been re-examining our Faith throughout this season of Lent, but now we are called to do so in light of these rich symbols. We must remember that all of the external rituals of our faith are not ends in and of themselves; rather they 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. Matthew describes how his persecutors spat in his face and struck him while some slapped him saying “Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?” Later they jeered at him, “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.” Of course they have no faith him and have no deeper interest in prophecy or miracles – they are only concerned with external signs and wonders.

Today our Lord processes triumphantly into Jerusalem not upon a team of warhorses along a path of gold but upon a peaceful colt and donkey along a path of cloaks and palm branches. This he did to the shouts of praise of a “very large crowd” (Mt 21:8). But, only a few days later, this same group, riled up by the high priests, will shout for his crucifixion. Pilate said to them, “What shall I do with Jesus called Christ?
Why [crucify him]? What evil has he done?” “They only shouted the louder, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (Mt 27:22-23).

It’s easy to shout with praise and acclamation to Jesus when everyone around us is shouting praises too. But when people 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. 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” (Mt 27:45).

If we can go deeper, we can be Catholics who wear ashes to show contrition; who wash feet to honor the commandment to Love; 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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