Today is Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord. It begins with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ends with his triumph over sin and death. God’s love didn’t design the human heart to hold hatred and harmony together. One or the other has to go, and worldly wisdom makes room for hatred at the expense of peace. So, in one of the most startling messages for all times, Jesus turns the world upside down. The disciples, knowing as they did the command of Moses to “hate your enemy,” must have been jolted to hear their own Teacher cry out, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Instead of urging His followers to take “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” He gave a startling “offer no resistance” to one who is evil. On the way to Calvary and even on the Cross, Jesus continually offered this message to those who would listen to His loving words of mercy and forgiveness, and to see His first-hand example of love towards all.
In stark contrast to worldly wisdom, the wisdom of God on the lips of Jesus is foolishness to the world. What possible sense can it make to turn the other cheek, to hand over your cloak along with your tunic, to go the extra mile? Worldly wisdom has long derided such a Christian meekness as nothing but weakness – pure and simple – the morality of slaves afraid to insist on their dignity and stand up for their rights, who surrender to the stronger in order to get by.
We have a test case for these clashing perspectives in the “Folly of the Cross,” where Jesus practiced what He preached. Unjustly condemned, He offered no resistance. Slapped in the face by the High Priest’s servant, He did not strike back. Pressed into service by the Romans, He walked uncomplainingly as far as they demanded. Nailed to His Cross, He prayed for His persecutors. Looking back on the Crucified One, we see not fear-filled cowardice, but overflowing courage. His death in apparent disgrace actually discloses an invincible dignity. His ignominious defeat on the Cross really leads to lasting, irreversible victory in the Resurrection.
But the Passion has a significant cautionary lesson for us as well. Not for a moment did Jesus regard His unjust condemnation by Pilate as a just judgment, as a consequence merited by His behavior. The Lamb of Sacrifice knew full well that He didn’t deserve a Roman-style death sentence; yet He willingly endured its shame. To the evil that devoured Him, He offered no resistance, for His silence in the face of His accusers powerfully asserted His disagreement with their judgment.
If you and I are to imitate Jesus by turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile, we must never accept as right the unjust condemnation of one who “presses us into service,” slaps us in the face, or strips us of dignity. No! We must remember that a cruel, sadistic, contemptuous judgment does not truly define who we are, even though, like Jesus before Pilate, we may be powerless to refute it. “Stronger than the person who conquers the strongest fortresses,” says St. Ambrose, “is the person who conquers himself.” As the wisdom of the world whispers, “Whatever wrong someone does to you, do it back to him!”, heavenly wisdom advises us differently: “Whatever God has done for you, do the same for your neighbor. What you give away to him will come back to you as peace.”
Today we come to the most solemn week of the entire year for the Christian community: HOLY WEEK. Some people mistakenly refer to it as Easter Week, which is the following week (beginning with Easter Sunday). During Holy Week, we will conclude our Lenten season on Thursday afternoon, and enter into the Sacred Triduum, the three most holy days of the year: HOLY THURSDAY (when Our Lord instituted the Sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders), GOOD FRIDAY (when Our Lord offered Himself in sacrifice for our sins), and HOLY SATURDAY (when we begin our celebration of the holiest day of the year at the Vigil Mass, culminating with the feast of Easter). On Good Friday evening, our Stations of the Cross at 7:00 p.m. will be the Living Stations, portrayed by our youth from the Life Teen program. On Holy Saturday, the Vigil Mass at 7:00 p.m. will last about two hours, during which we will receive several members into the fullness of the Catholic Faith. This Mass fulfills our Easter obligation (On a practical note, may I suggest that you leave little toddlers at home if you are coming that evening). On Holy Saturday at 1:00 p.m., there will be the traditional blessing of the Easter foods and baskets in church.
*** Please note that there is NO 4:00 PM MASS ON HOLY SATURDAY! The ONLY Mass Liturgy is at 7:00 P.M. Also, please note that on Easter Sunday, there will be additional Masses in the parish hall of our Family Life Center at 10:10 a.m. and at 11:40 a.m. to accommodate the overflow crowds attending the 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. Masses in church. Those Masses in the hall always wind up ending before the Masses in church; so, plan ahead and choose wisely when you come for Mass. Have a blessed Holy Week!