Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 5
Mark 11: 1-10 and Mark 14: 1-15: 47
“HOSANNA! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come.” (Mark 11:10).
“At noon darkness came over the land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 33-34).
The two quotes from the Scriptures above are respectively from the two Gospels read on this Passion or Palm Sunday. They are obviously in marked contrast one to the other and carry us from one end of the feeling chart to the other – from the highest joy of hosannas to the lowest grief of Jesus’ death upon the cross.
In the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for today, there is a selection from a sermon by one Andrew of Crete (d. 470) that is applicable for us living today as well: “Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate them who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.”
Let us take Andrew of Crete’s suggestion to heart and humble ourselves before the Lord this morning by once again resolving to try and better follow his way, truth and life. Let us humble ourselves, deflate ourselves, let out any air of extreme pride in us. Let us pray to pass from being self-serving to be other-serving. Let us strive to rise above our human inclinations and rise together with our Lord and Savior on Easter Day.
Monday of Holy Week, April 6
John 12: 1-11
The Gospel from St. John chosen to be read at our Liturgy today tells the story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary at her home in Bethany where Jesus was visiting. Mary anointed Jesus with precious oil as an act of love and devotion as well as a preparation for his burial. Judas, the keeper of the apostolic pocketbook, disagreed with this using of expensive oil in the anointing of Jesus and suggested that the money spent would be better used for the poor.
Unfortunately, it was not really the poor that Judas was concerned about. He is concerned with himself and his blind desire to turn Jesus over to the civil powers. Despite all that he has learned and all that he has seen, Judas just doesn’t get it. He continues in his ignorance to feed the dark intentions in his heart.
Let us ask ourselves how this quickly passing season of Lent has affected us. Are we still hanging in there with our apparent defects, our self-satisfying desires, or has there been some change, at least the beginning of a U turn of repentance? How have we progressed during this Lenten time?
Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7
John 13: 21-33, 36-38
Today’s Gospel choice tells us of Peter’s boast to Jesus that he will lay down his life for Jesus if given the opportunity to follow him. Peter, like Judas, didn’t get it yet either. He still had some learning to do. This episode of Peter’s boasting takes place after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Foot-washing was a job for the lowliest of all the slaves. There were degrees of slavery, too, and some of the slaves were above foot-washing. This is why Peter objected so strenuously to having Jesus wash his feet. Peter wasn’t yet ready for, nor did he understand, the self-giving love of Jesus. Consequently, his desire to follow Jesus no matter where he went and to lay down his life for him if necessary was an exaggerated desire in view of his lack of understanding of the self-giving love of Jesus.
In real life I see this kind of love in the love of many parents for their children. They sacrifice and scrimp on things they need for the needs of the child. How about us? Is there still a little bit or a lot of the “it’s all about me” in my life? Do I have any understanding at all of the self-giving love of Jesus in real life situations?
Wednesday of Holy Week, April 8
Mt. 26: 14-25
Our Gospel selection for this Wednesday of Holy Week tells of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. No real motive is given in the Scriptures for this betrayal. Judas had been with Jesus for approximately three years listening to his values, watching him heal and serve others, and listening to his truth. And yet he betrays him. Rather mysterious, to say the least.
Pope Benedict XVI absolves Judas from being a totally evil person or as a follower of Satan or darkness. He rather calls him a sycophant. The dictionary defines this condition as a slanderer, swindler, a self-seeking flatterer. For years now I have been defending Judas as being just plain ignorant. Somehow or other he just couldn’t get the idea out of his head that life was all about Judas. And if recognition was what all this was about, he certainly got it.
I have maintained ever since I became familiar with the AA Program that there are no really evil people. That to me would be scripturally unsound. God created all of us and he saw that it was good. Ignorance, on the other hand, could possibly be described as regarding something I should have known, have no excuse for not knowing, am responsible for knowing it – and yet for one reason or another I am not aware or conscious of it. I think this idea kind of fits Judas’ actions in betraying Jesus. We are all ignorant and all do crazy, unreal things from time to time. And when we do, God and most people understand and forgive us. I would suggest that we all take this attitude toward Judas.
Holy Thursday, April 9
Readings from Exodus, I Corinthians, and the Gospel of John
We read in the Book of Exodus: “This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations will celebrate.” This is a good description of Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday is a memorial feast of Priesthood, Eucharist and Service.
Many times during the years of my priesthood, I have attended the so-called Chrism Mass held in the various cathedrals on this day. Chrism is one of the three oils used by the Church in the administration of the Sacraments and today is the day they are blessed and renewed by the Bishop. Oil is oil is oil just like a rose is a rose. But each type of oil is consecrated, set aside, for a particular use: The Oil of Catechumens is used in Baptism; the Oil of the Sick is used in the Sacrament of the Sick; and Chrism is used in Baptism, Confirmation, in the Ordination of priests and bishops, and the consecration of churches.
Holy Thursday is also a memorial of the Sacrament of Orders and the Chrism Mass pays special honor to the priests who serve the Diocese. The Bishop in his homily has praise for the priests who serve the Diocese and gives them his blessing. The priests, in turn, renew their promises of service. At this part of the Liturgy I feel particularly proud to be a priest. In the Chrism Mass the story is also told of Jesus giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink and the disciples are told to do this in remembrance of him. This recalls the ordination of the priests present, the Sacrament of Orders. On Holy Thursday let us remember to pray for our priests.
Today is also a memorial of the commission given by Christ to all his disciples to serve others. “As I have done for you, you should also do.” Service is the very essence of discipleship. Service is self-giving love and that is how we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The washing of the feet in the Liturgy for today is a demonstration, a symbol of this service. As we have pointed out numerous times before, a sign and a symbol are different. A sign does not cause what it signifies. Smoke is a sign of fire but the smoke does not cause the fire. A symbol does cause what it symbolizes. A kiss symbolizes love and causes love; a flag symbolizes patriotism and causes patriotism. This evening let the symbol of the washing of the feet cause us to rise to a greater level of service to those around us.
So, our Holy Thursday service is all about Oil, Priesthood, Eucharist and Service. Let us once again give thanks to God for all his gifts and resolve to make progress in our following in the footsteps of his Son Jesus.
Good Friday –
The Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, April 10
According to the ancient tradition of the Church, the Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday. The whole Christian world pauses today to recall and reflect on the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Liturgy of Good Friday begins with prayers and Scripture readings with the spotlight on the Passion of Jesus according to St. John. The Liturgy of the Word ends with the General Intercessions which are usually sung by the Celebrant. Then follows the Veneration of the Cross, which is followed by a brief communion service in which the faithful receive the bread which was consecrated yesterday at Holy Thursday Liturgy.
The story of Good Friday begins in the Garden of Eden. If you recall from the Book of Genesis, God took the man he had created and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it. And God gave man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die. Then God created the woman and gave her to the man.
It happened that later on the cunning serpent tempted the woman to eat from the tree of knowledge. She told the serpent they would die if they ate from this tree. And the serpent told her: You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad. The woman then ate from the tree and also gave some of the fruit to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then their eyes were opened and they hid from the Lord.
And so sin entered the world. The inclination to moral evil became humankind’s lot. The finite had offended the infinite and reconciliation was out of the question. The finite cannot go to the infinite. Humankind was doomed to bring forth their children in pain, to toil all the days of their life, and to return in death to the dirt from which they were made. The beautiful creation of God was now tainted by sin.
Hundreds of years later, a man named Paul wrote a letter to the Romans. And in this letter he told them: What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Miserable one that I am! Who is going to get me out of this predicament? Thanks be to God, it has been done by Christ the Lord. He has set me free!
This is why Good Friday is called Good. On that first Good Friday, Jesus built a bridge. We said above that the finite cannot go to the infinite. That which is lesser cannot do that which is greater. But the infinite can come to the finite. That which is greater can do that which is lesser. And so God willed that his divine Son, the infinite Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the one to be called Christ, became man and came to reconcile us to the Father by dying on the cross on that first Good Friday. We became his children and he led us back to the Father. A most profound story. A most simple story. A story that demands our giving thanks to God for his goodness and kindness to us. Good Friday is the revelation of God’s love for us in the sufferings and death of Jesus.
Crucified Lord, we thank you with all our hearts.
The Easter Vigil, April 11
Mark 16: 1-7
The Liturgy of the Easter Vigil is a unique and complicated Liturgy that is almost impossible to detail in a few words. Very briefly, it has four parts:
1. The Service of Light. Here the faithful gather together usually outside the church where the Paschal Candle is lit from the new fire and carried in procession into the church. The Paschal Candle symbolizes Christ, the Light of the world.
2. The Liturgy of the Word. During this part of the Liturgy various readings from Scripture are read and the faithful reflect on the goodness of God toward his people and his leading them to new life.
3. The Baptism of the Catechumins. Those who have made their way through the RCIA Program and who have never been baptized before are now ready to embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
4. The Liturgy of the Eucharist. All the faithful are again called to the Altar of the Lord to receive his Body and Blood that is our spiritual nourishment.
During this Liturgy recalling the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead, we also renew our Baptismal Promises to be faithful followers of Jesus who is our way, truth and life. It is through him that we too rise above our human inclinations that lead us to darkness and come to his light that lifts us and raises our human consciousness above the forces of evil and darkness. With this in mind, may we all rise with Christ our Savior on this glorious Easter Day.
Happy Easter to you all!!