Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle C (2)

With Palm Sunday we begin Holy Week by remembering the Lord’s Passion. The word “Passion,” like the word “love,” is a used and abused term in our day. When we speak of Passion in the case of what Our Lord underwent there’s room for multiple understandings of passion. He shows us passion in all the facets we should live it.

Our Lord put up no struggle and went as a lamb to the slaughter (cf. Isaiah 53:7), the Suffering Servant in today’s First Reading. Passion means suffering. Our Lord suffered greatly for us. In his Passion we see Isaiah’s parable of the Suffering Servant fulfilled. Passion meant having something done to you, and not necessarily something pleasant.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that a passion for others is what drove Our Lord to empty himself by assuming human nature and undergoing the Passion. It was not a passion for honors; he already had them. It was not a passion for gain; as God he already had everything and needed nothing. It was not a passion to excel; he was the Son of God in eternity before he was born of Mary. It was a passion for us and for his Father.

Passion means emotion; in Luke’s account of the Last Supper Our Lord expresses how ardently he desired to be with his disciples before suffering. Passions can be good or bad; he was passionate about his cause. We can only imagine the emotions he was experiencing knowing one of his most trusted friends would betray him. The fear he experienced in Gethsemane of what he was going to undergo. The betrayal and abandonment by his disciples he experienced when things became dangerous, and the torture and ridicule he underwent.

Most importantly, Passion means love. People are encouraged today to be passionate about what they do, and to change what they’re doing if they’re not. We’re expected to love what we do, and we consider people blessed who love what they do. However, the mystery of Christ’s Passion shows us that it is not so much loving what we’re doing as loving those for whom we’re doing it.

You may not love the cross, but you take up your cross daily for those you love. Jesus loves us through the Cross and undergoes the Passion to teach us what passion truly is. Holy Week has begun. In imitation of Christ in these days, contemplate not what you love or don’t love, but whom you are loving through what you do. As we follow Our Lord, step by step, blow by blow, to Calvary, ask him to show you for whom he is suffering: you.

Passion is not just about feeling good or feeling strongly about something. This week we’ll remember the most Passionate moments of Our Lord’s life, and those moments should spur us to a similar Passion. Live this week with the emotion, love, and willingness to sacrifice for others that Our Lord has taught us.

Readings: Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Luke 22:14–23:56. See also Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle C and Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Cycle B).

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle B

Today we take up branches and palms, just as the enthusiastic Israelites did, to welcome our  Messiah with “Hosannas” and begin Holy Week. Yet we know how the story ends: from enthusiastic crowds to a lonely and cruel death on Calvary. How do we go the distance and accompany Our Lord with Hosannas from the procession to the crucifixion?

We have two Gospels today, one before the procession, and one narrating the Passion. This year both Gospels are taken from Mark. In the first Gospel people are paving the way for Our Lord to enter Jerusalem, but anonymously. Two “disciples” go for the colt that he’ll ride. Bystanders inquire as to why the disciples are taking the colt, but don’t interfere. The crowds pave the way for Our Lord, putting down cloaks and leafy branches in his path. Some may have just tossed down a branch or two and headed home when the parade passed them by. Others joined in procession with him into Jerusalem. As we begin Holy Week we can ask ourselves how committed we are? Are we paving the way for Our Lord?

In today’s First Reading the prophet Isaiah describes Our Lord as the Suffering Servant, a servant not only committed to his master but also to those willing to go the distance. He is sent to rouse the weary, not the rested and enthusiastic. He is faithful and obedient day after day, not just in a flash of glory. He remains steadfast and does not harbor resentment over what is being asked of him. He takes all the abuse people dish out. What keeps him going day by day is the certainty that he is serving the Lord and will not be put to shame by him, the only one whose opinion really matters. Our Lord served us in this way, and we’re called to imitate him. It doesn’t matter how hard, how ungrateful, how exhausting him seems. In his eyes, when we are faithful, day after day, he is proud of us, just as his Father was proud of him.

In today’s Second Reading Paul teaches us that the consequence of Our Lord’s tireless service is not just an execution, but an enthronement. Exaltation literally comes from the Latin exaltatio, which means “raising on high.” Today we see Our Lord exalted on the Cross. He is literally raised up, but also glorified in the process. There are not many people on Calvary who believe in him, but it is on Calvary that he earns our Hosannas and deserves them.

In today’s Passion narrative we see Our Lord progressively abandoned by the religious authorities of his people, by the crowds of “fans,” and by his friends. A stranger must be forced to carry Our Lord’s cross when he cannot go farther alone. How lonely it is on Calvary. In Mark’s account the women who followed him were there, but where were the Apostles? Suddenly a quiet figure comes onto the scene: Saint Joseph of Arimathea. He was an unknown in this story until this moment, a quiet follower of Our Lord. He steps out of the shadows and goes straight to Pilate to ask for Our Lord’s body.

Saint Joseph of Arimathea’s example should embolden us as well. The Apostles, except for Judas, came out of the shadows when it was all over. We should consider Passion Sunday a dress rehearsal for what we’ll live on Good Friday. Mistakes happen in the dress rehearsal, but there is still time to rectify them. Let’s not just gather around Our Lord at the moment of enthusiastic hosannas and parades. Let’s gather at the foot of his Cross on Calvary.

Holy Week starts with the Passion and culminates with the Easter Vigil on Saturday Evening. From today to Holy Saturday morning there is time for you to make an appointment at Calvary. Make the time. Spend some time alone at the foot of a crucifix, whether at home or in a church or chapel. Remind yourself that Our Lord is on the Cross for you. Don’t just speak to him. Ask him to speak to you.

Readings: Mark 11:1–10; Isaiah 50:4–7; Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24; Philippians 2:6–11; Mark 14:1–15:47.

Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (3)

As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, we behold a tragedy, the tragedy of an innocent man publicly executed. Jesus’ only “crime” was to identify himself as the Messiah, and that’s who he was; he did so to the Sanhedrin, so they decided to have him killed, and he did so to Pilate, who sentenced him to death.

His response leaves us as dumbstruck and confounded as the kings of the world mentioned in today’s First Reading. Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant is a description of Christ raised on the Cross: “…my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless…” He takes the punishments we deserve upon himself: “he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” He doesn’t just say, “never mind, I forgive you”; he hands himself over to evil men to be tortured and executed. He teaches us how horrible the effects of sin are, not just to us, but to him, and that our sins have consequences. Yet Isaiah also reminds us that by his wounds we are healed. His suffering is not in vain. He has won pardon for our sins.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that through this suffering Christ made salvation possible for us. Our Lord assumed nature to redeem us, but also to experience everything we experience as human beings except for sin. When tragedy strikes us we can rail against God, but Christ on the Cross reminds us that he is not ignorant to our sufferings because he himself has suffered. We know everything he has endured for us, therefore we know that when we’re truly sorry for what we’ve done he’ll grant us his mercy. We just have to ask. As Pope Francis reminds us, God doesn’t tire of forgiving us; we get tired of asking for his forgiveness.

As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus had his ID card hanging right over his head: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” It was meant as mockery, but it was the truth, the truth to which he had testified all along. If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse (and it should, since it presents a failure of all society, not just the criminal), the execution of an innocent man should. This tragedy is even more profound when we gaze upon the Crucified One and remember that we should have been on that Cross instead of him.

An innocent man is dying, brutalized on the Cross, for us. Adam and Eve’s Fall and our sins incurred the death penalty. After all God had given us and done for us, we’ve repaid him by turning our backs on him, again and again. Even in his last words Jesus asks the Father to forgive us for our ignorance.

Today is a day not to dwell on the tragedy we inflicted on the good God who came to save us, but the love with which he did. Let’s die to sin and turn back to God and back to love.

Readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 25; Hebrews 4:14–16, 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42. See also Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, and Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (2).


Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

With this celebration, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we inaugurate the Sacred Paschal Triduum. We inaugurate three days of life, suffering, passion, death, and Resurrection. We return to the upper room with Our Lord and his closest disciples, and we remember three inestimably valuable gifts that Our Lord gives us on this night: the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the commandment of love. Each one shows how much he loves us and should instill in us the desire to love him and others in kind.

In today’s First Reading Moses describes to the Israelites, still enslaved in Egypt, the importance of the Passover not only for that night, but for all nights to come. In the Passover the Paschal lamb was sacrificed and its blood spread over the doorpost and lintels to keep them from death. In the Last Supper the Lord states his intent to become the true Paschal lamb. He will be sacrificed on Good Friday and through his blood we will be saved from the spiritual death that sin inflicts. In instituting the Eucharist he asks us to perpetually commemorate his sacrifice: “do this in memory of me.”

The Eucharist, however, is something much more: it, simply put, is him. In every celebration of the Eucharist we re-offer in an unbloody manner what he once offered on the Cross: himself. Through the Eucharist he remains with us always and always offers himself for us, because he loves us. The greatest sign of love and friendship is when someone is always there for you. Our Lord is always there for us, through the Eucharist.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls Christ’s words to celebrate the Eucharist in “remembrance” of him, and that reminds us of who Christ gave us to continue celebrating the Eucharist in his memory: our bishops and priests. At the Last Supper Our Lord entrusted the apostles with the task of celebrating the Eucharist in his memory, and in this very action he consecrated them priests. They weren’t priests on their own account. Christ, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is the High Priest. The offering they raise up to God the Father is Christ himself. All other bishops and priests participate in his priesthood, and through the sacrament of Holy Orders they’re changed, sealed in such a way that they can render Our Lord present in the celebration of all the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Paul says simply that he is handing on what he received from the Lord. That’s what all bishops and priests strive to do. Christ handed on something to the apostles, who handed it on to their successors. The bishops are the apostles’ successors, and they’re aided in continuing the apostolic mission by priests.

This morning (or earlier in Holy Week, depending on the diocese) the bishop(s) and priests of the diocese gathered at the cathedral in order to consecrate new sacred oils for the year to come, but also to renew their priestly promises. Our priests renewed their commitment to “be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him,” “to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God,” and to be “moved only by zeal for souls.” This evening we too pray in gratitude for our bishops and priests so that they receive the grace and strength to remain true to these promises. Our Lord has chosen to bring his love to us through them.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord gives us an applied lesson in the last of three gifts that he gave us on the night of the Last Supper: the commandment to love. The washing of guests’ feet before a Passover meal was common Jewish hospitality at the time, but it was done by a servant, not by the host or head of the family. Our Lord is teaching a lesson he expects his disciples to imitate, which is why he is so hard on Peter when he balks at having his feet washed by Our Lord.

Our Lord’s response is interesting: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” He is trying to give Peter something. Our Lord is not only trying do his closest disciples a service; he is teaching them to serve one another as well. If Peter had refused, would he ever have done it either? Perhaps an inheritance would have been lost, the inheritance of loving one another, in this case, through service, just as Our Lord did. In John’s account of the Last Supper this is just the first gesture showing the importance in Jesus’ mind of his commandment to love.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

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Holy Week, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

This evening’s liturgy begins the Easter Triduum, and Our Lord begins by bestowing three gifts on us: the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, and the commandment to love one another. This evening’s Gospel recalls when Jesus began the Last Supper washing his disciples’ feet, a menial chore usually reserved for a servant. When Peter balks, Jesus warns him that if he doesn’t accept this humble service, he’d be disinherited; Our Lord would deny him something he wanted to give him. Jesus’ gesture is even more poignant considered that he washes Judas’s feet as well.

In the Last Supper Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, celebrating it for the first time, and commanding his Apostles to celebrate in memory of him. In this supper Our Lord makes the apostles able to consecrate the Eucharist and offer it in Christ’s name and person on behalf of the Church, and they would hand this down to their successors, the bishops, and priests who worked with them. If washing the disciples’ feet was a menial gesture, imagine Our Lord being food and drink for us, standing vigil, at times alone, in tabernacles throughout the world, eager to be with his faithful through Holy Communion. In his actions Our Lord invites not just the ministerial priests of his Church, but all believers, to love one another as he has loved them. For a priest that translates into service, whether serving saints or sinners. Part of Peter’s inheritance this night was to receive the teaching of humility and service: if the Master should do such a menial chore out of love, his disciples should not consider themselves exempt.

The faithful who have not received Holy Orders are not exempt either; loving one another often means swallowing your pride and not putting limits or conditions on your self-giving, just as Our Lord didn’t. Let’s begin this Easter Triduum in gratitude for our priests and bishops, for the Eucharist, and resolved to reap the fruits of the forty days of Lent that have concluded to truly grow in our love for one another.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.