Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
A week ago, much of the world watched as our Holy Father, Pope Francis, walked alone into a barren Saint Peter’s Square in the midst of pouring rain to lead us in prayer and to invoke God’s blessing upon our broken, suffering world. “From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the world,” the pope proclaimed, “may the blessing of God, like a consoling embrace, descend upon you.”
In his reflections upon the Word of God during that time of prayer, Pope Francis recalled the Lord’s invitation to each of us at the beginning of Lent, some five weeks ago. “Lord, you are calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to and trusting in you. This Lent, your call reverberates urgently: … ‘Return to me with all your heart’ (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”
Brothers and sisters, we stand on the threshold of a Holy Week unlike any that we have ever before experienced. For all of our wisdom and knowledge, this liminal moment finds us overwhelmed by a crisis that is beyond our capacity to control. At the same time, this moment has miraculously called forth from each of us a mindfulness of the blessings of life, family, love and faith. It beckons us to reflect on the heart of our faith as Christians – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus – and to seek to find a place for ourselves within that great mystery.
Where, then, do you see yourself within this mystery? For as different as our lives may be, one from another, if we listen carefully enough to the scriptures that recount Jesus’ Passion, we will find ourselves somewhere in these cherished stories of faith – and should!
As we grapple with the unsettling and painful realities that are enveloping our world and our lives, perhaps we see ourselves like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, begging the Father to allow the cross to pass him by. … Haven’t we pleaded with God to let the cross of suffering pass us by, to stop this pandemic, to cure our illnesses and to lift from us the grief that comes from the loss of all that is familiar and comforting? … Sure, we have! … But have we ever gotten to the point of trust, as Jesus did in the midst of his prayer in the Garden: “Not my will, Father, but yours be done”?
Maybe we already see ourselves on the cross, with little more to give, and have cried out in desperation like Jesus in those final words spoken by him in today’s Passion narrative. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet, with all of the different feelings that we bring to this moment of prayer at the beginning of Holy Week, every one of us comes with the same hope: We come seeking God’s mercy, strength and peace. … And despite all that seems to overwhelm us, the good news of the Gospel of Jesus is that we will not be disappointed in our seeking – for God is faithful, even when we are not!
Ironically, the words of despair taken from the 22nd Psalm and spoken by Jesus from the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – are actually meant to evoke the sentiments of the entire psalm. Yes, the psalm begins with a question about the presence of God in the midst of suffering lives. It ends, however, with words of praise for God’s mercy and fidelity. “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”
Our way forward in the midst of these darkest of days, brothers and sisters, is found in the very crosses that have enveloped our lives. 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 God – because the crosses that we face these days are beyond our ability to fix, resolve or rationalize away on our own. And when we are humble enough to trust – as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane – when we have nowhere else to turn – it is then that Jesus is given room in our lives 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 during these challenging days. But our authentic embrace of the example of Jesus – particularly in the midst of the crosses that we carry – has 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 these most unsettling of days – with hope and peace.
Therein, my friends, is the true blessing and promise of Holy Week.