Pastoral Reflections

Palm Sunday – 2017

Reading the account of the Passion of Jesus at this time each year is a special event in our lives. It’s special because it is a detailed account of our salvation; of how Jesus gave his life to save us. According to our faith, it was because of our sins that Jesus died. His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary to his Father atoned for all the sins humanity has ever committed or will ever commit.

Today we begin Holy Week. It’s a week like no other in the liturgical year, a week when we celebrate in a special way the institution of both the Eucharist and the priesthood. This is followed by the solemnity of Good Friday. Finally, we celebrate the magnificence of Easter itself. Every effort should be made to attend and participate in all these solemnities. This week is an occasion to take time out, to stop, to reflect, to spend time with Jesus who gave his life for us. It is a week to devote to intense prayer and meditation.

As we read the account of Jesus’ Passion, we see many incidents in that historical event that perhaps speak to us. In Gethsemane we see that prayer to God can give us the strength to face the absolute worst. When Jesus began his prayer in Gethsemane, he said his soul was sorrowful to the point of death. (Matt 26:38; Mark 14:34) Jesus even asked his Father to take the cup of the Passion away from him. He was asking his Father to grant that he would not have to suffer and die. But as he continued to pray, Jesus gained the strength to face his Passion and was able to pray, “not what I will but what you will” (Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). This is a powerful example for us at a critical point in the life of Jesus. Prayer is there to help us, and its application in our life surely can strengthen us. Through prayer, Jesus went from feeling overwhelmed to feeling fortified for what lay ahead. Whenever we have problems, turning to prayer should be our first thought and our first response.

During the commotion in Gethsemane, as Jesus was being arrested every one of his apostles abandoned him. As time went on, each of them came back to Christ, took up their respective crosses and all of them suffered and / or died for him. This should serve to reminds us to always be hopeful for those who may have run away from Jesus or are now in the process of running from him. Sooner or later, their hearts will be moved back toward Jesus. It also reminds us that whenever we run from Jesus he is always waiting to take us back, by way of the Sacrament of Penance.

We cannot but be shocked at the amount of physical suffering Jesus underwent during his Passion as well as the amount of verbal abuse and disrespect that he endured. First, Jesus was tried before the religious leaders of Israel and they judged that he deserved to die. Since they did not have the authority to kill Jesus, they had him tried a second time, this time before Pilate the Roman governor, in the hope that he would judge Jesus worthy of death. Jesus was mocked, crowned with thorns, stripped, crucified, and even mocked while hanging on the cross. And all of this was for us, that our sins would not have the last word. That when the Father would see our sins he would have to look through his Son on the cross, making up for our sins and thus, forgive us.

When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). The curtain was there to seclude the Holy of Holies, God’s dwelling place in the temple, where no one could enter except for the high priest, and he could only do this once a year. But when Jesus died, this curtain was torn in two showing that Jesus’ death has now opened the way for all of us to God. The curtain was torn from the top down, not from the bottom up, to show that God is responsible for this curtain being torn. God is giving us a message. Previously only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, now we can all approach God. Obviously we are not approaching him in the temple but we now enter God’s sanctuary by the flesh and blood of Jesus, i.e. through the Eucharist (Hebrews 10:19-20). Until Jesus died, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. After Jesus died we all enter God’s sanctuary when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, as we commemorate Jesus giving his Body and Blood for us on Calvary.

As we proceed with the Great Week that lies ahead, let us place our focus on the plenitude of grace, which pours forth from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the very moment of Calvary, every time we gather to commemorate Jesus’ sacrifice. As we draw toward the altar to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, let us use that as an opportunity to thank him for his saving act and to relish the closeness we experience with him as the fullness of his humanity, soul, and divinity enter into our humble abode.

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