Palm Sunday – April 2, 2023 

In meditations on the cross of Christ, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher to the papal household for some 43 years, offered a reflection that speaks to this moment as we stand on the threshold of Holy Week.  “It has been said that if all the Bibles of the world were to be destroyed by some cataclysm or iconoclastic rage, and only one copy remained; and if this copy was also so damaged that only one page was still whole; and likewise if this page was so wrinkled that only one line could still be read – if that line were the line of the First Letter of john where it is written that ‘God is love,’ then the whole Bible would have been saved, because the whole content is there.”

 God is love, and the cross of Christ, which looms over the message of the scriptures this day, is the supreme proof, the historical demonstration of this reality.

It’s somewhat ironic that so much of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday with all of its richness and beauty can distract us from the heart of its message.  …  We’re anxious to hold on to a piece of palm that provides us with tangible evidence of our willingness to enter into Holy Week, with its focus on the Paschal Mystery – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.  …  We listen with both a sense of anticipation and yet a quiet dread as we prepare to stand for a lengthy period of time for the proclamation of the Passion narrative from the gospels.  …  We allow our senses to be consumed by the smell of incense, the crimson color of vestments and altar cloths, and the sacred sounds of hymns that speak at once of both Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his acceptance of the cross.

Yet, if we are able to see through the sights and sounds and smells of today’s liturgy, experiencing them not as ends in and of themselves but as aids to us as we seek to encounter the Holy, they have the ability to carry us to the heart of this Holy Week and ultimately our relationship with God.

We’re reminded in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians that although he was God, Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a slave – a servant.  He sought, according to his Father’s plan, to embrace the brokenness and suffering of our world in order to save us from ourselves and to give us a way forward in life, accepting the punishment we deserved, giving his life so that we might live.  Saint John’s gospel – the third chapter and sixteenth verse – puts it best.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Nicholas Cabasilas, an Eastern Byzantine author, wrote that there are two ways of manifesting one’s love toward another.  “The first consists of doing good to the person loved, of giving gifts; the second, much more demanding, consists of suffering for him.  God has loved us in the first way in creation, when he filled us with gifts within and outside of us.  And God has loved us with a suffering love in the act of redemption … suffering for us the most terrible torments, for convincing us of his love.  Therefore, it is on the cross that one must now contemplate the truth that ‘God is love.’”          

Paradoxically, brothers and sisters, our way forward in hope is found in the very crosses that consume us in life and that we seek to avoid.  These crosses, by their nature, prompt us to do the one and only thing that has the power to save us.  They compel us to trust in the love of God – because they are beyond our ability to fix, resolve or rationalize away.  And when we have nowhere else to turn and are humble enough to trust in a power bigger than ourselves, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is then that a space is opened in our hearts waiting to be filled by the love of Jesus – a love that alone has the power to carry us to a place of life and peace.

Make no mistake – our experience of Holy Week will not take away the harsh realities of life that we face each day.  But our authentic embrace of the love of Christ – even and especially in the midst of the crosses that we carry – does have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace.  Only by placing our lives in the hands of God and by trusting in Jesus’ powerful example of selfless love will any of us truly be able to face each day – and even death itself – with hope and peace.  

Therein, my friends, is the blessing and the promise of Holy Week.