Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
In his message to the Church as we prepared to begin the sacred season of Lent almost six weeks ago, Pope Francis offered these words that are at once both challenging and hopeful. “I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, however, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”
In these words, the Holy Father reminds us of how and why God works in creation. God’s plan to become man – choosing to be poor by leaving the glory of heaven in order to embrace our world – is rooted in love … a love which took Jesus to his death on the cross … a love which seeks our wellbeing, our life and our salvation … a love which offers itself in total sacrifice for our sake!
In Saint Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, we’re reminded that through Jesus’ poverty – his immersion into our world, his suffering, and his death – we’re given a way forward. … We no longer need to fear death. … The great unknown that we all face in our final journey – and that we so often fear – is revealed to us the more we open our lives to God and seek to embrace the same confidence in the Father’s love that enabled Jesus to face his death.
The verse immediately prior to Saint Paul’s words in today’s second reading gives us a clue into how this revelation comes to pass. For those who seek Jesus’ promise of life and peace, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.”
And what was the attitude of Jesus? … The scripture passage tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave – a servant – even to the point of death on a cross.”
It is this attitude that we are called to embrace as we gather at the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus displayed a life of humility over and above a life of self-glorification. The radical humility that Jesus showed in taking the form of a servant and in embracing God’s will, even to the cross, is what we are called to exemplify in our own lives. Indeed, it’s only in and through our imitation of Jesus’ pattern of living that we will discover the means to face the challenges of life with hope and be given a glimpse of God’s eternity and peace.
Life – with its joys – but particularly with its struggles and setbacks, its disappointments and fears – always brings us back to Jesus and to Calvary – to his trust in the Father’s will and to his powerful example of selfless love. Both of these realities enabled him to face his cross and both provided the means through which God raised him up!
Recall the final words spoken by Jesus in today’s Passion narrative. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Far from a cry of despair, this verse from the Aramaic translation of the 22ndPsalm is meant to evoke the whole psalm. Yes, it 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.”
My brothers and sisters, as we stand on the threshold of Holy Week, our faith calls us to affirm that God has indeed delivered us from the darkness of sin and the brokenness of our world.
Make no mistake; our experience of this Holy Week will not take away the harsh realities of life that we face each day. It will not cause life’s disappointments to disappear. It will not eradicate the selfishness and pride that exist in our world, that wound our hearts, and destroy our relationships.
But our authentic embrace of the example of Jesus and our selfless love and our care for the world and lives that God has given to us – even in the midst of the crosses that we carry – do have the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace. Only by entrusting our lives to the God’s will and to 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 true and lasting gift of Holy Week.