Sunday, March 24, 2024

Palm Sunday Reflection: Embracing the Journey of Faith

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, a time of reflection and anticipation leading up to Easter Sunday. In Year B, the readings for Palm Sunday offer a profound journey through the final moments of Jesus' earthly ministry, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the foreshadowing of his Passion.

The liturgy begins with the Procession of Palms, a vivid reenactment of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark (11:1–11) recounts this event, where Jesus is greeted by crowds waving palm branches and proclaiming him as the prophesied king. This moment is both a celebration and a bittersweet prelude to the events that will unfold.

The First Reading from Isaiah (50:4–7) presents the Suffering Servant, a poignant figure of humility and obedience. This passage resonates with the character of Jesus, who, despite facing adversity, remains steadfast and unashamed, trusting in God's help and vindication.

The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 22) echoes the theme of suffering and abandonment, yet it also carries a message of trust in God. It is a powerful reminder that even in the depths of despair, one is never truly alone; God's presence endures.

The Second Reading from Philippians (2:6–11) offers a theological reflection on Christ's incarnation and his ultimate sacrifice. It speaks of Jesus' humility and exaltation, emphasizing the paradox of his divine nature and human experience.

The Passion narrative, according to Mark (14:1–15:47), is an intense and moving account that invites the faithful to walk alongside Jesus during his trial, suffering, and death. It is a story that compels introspection and calls for a response of faith and discipleship.

Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts: joy and sorrow, celebration and reflection. It invites believers to embrace the full spectrum of the Christian journey, recognizing that the path to resurrection passes through the cross. As the faithful carry their palm branches, they are reminded of the victory that lies beyond suffering, a victory made possible through love and sacrifice. Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. Today we remember the Passion of Christ. Jesus entered Jerusalem while the people shouted Hosanna and threw Palm branches in his path.

He is the king, the Messiah, the one the Jews have been expecting for centuries.  As He enters Jerusalem, He is seen as a triumphant King. A king of the Jews.  But was He really Triumphant?  Today's events are forcing many to question this.  The closing of Churches and lack of faith by bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity has really scandalized the image of Christ is triumphant.   Are we truly shouting Hosanna from the heart or only when things are "normal" in the world?

Hosanna is an exclamation of supplication in a moment of emotion. The Palms are a sign of victory and joy.  The people celebrated the Triumphant entry of the King of Kings into Jerusalem. Ironically just a few days later these same people will call upon Pilate to crucify Him.

Zechariah 9:9 prophesied this day. The account of the story is read prior to the procession with the Psalms and comes from Matthew 21: 1-11  In the Catholic Church, red vestments are used to symbolize the blood Jesus would shed as a result of His entry into Jerusalem.  Passover coincides with Palm Sunday this year. We should reflect on this via the eyes of our elder brothers and sisters in the old covenant. 

The first reading during Mass is from Isaiah which is connected to Jesus.  It reflects on how Jesus is a gifted speaker who spreads the Good News, yet offends many.  Because of this, He is beaten, his beard is plucked and He is mocked.  This reading is a foreshadowing of the Passion of Christ. Despite being abused by the people, Jesus returned no insult or attack.  He braved it all for the sake of all.  Today we live in a world where Christ's message is not popular.  Priests, religious, laity, and even our separated Christian brethren face all kinds of hardships just for speaking the name of Christ and what He stands for.  This is very true today when the Church is undergoing a massive trial. Many are questioning the validity of the faith and whether it is even worth believing.  

With bishops closing churches and denying the Sacraments during the pandemic lockdown, why even believe in them?  The government has even threatened the Church and ministers of all persuasions.  We must be strong and not give in to the pressures of the world and preach Christ in season and out of season (2 timothy 4:2). This means even during a pandemic. Like Christ, we must bear it all for the sake of salvation.  It may seem like God has abandoned us and this is why the responsorial Psalm begins with this phrase. This Psalm is another foreshadowing of Christ's passion.  Christ, Himself felt abandoned by the Father.  However, this is not so.  God is there present comforting Him and us as well who struggle today during this pandemic. We cannot truly know why this Covid-18 Coronavirus is happening now and why it is infecting so many people around the world. Doctors may say it is spreading because of close contact, bodily aerosols, or contaminated surfaces. But they have contradicted themselves several times. 

Scientists say the same; some even claim that the virus came from bats, is airborne, or may have been living in humans for decades, and mutated to the point it is now.  But they too have contradicted themselves. Some religious groups are saying this is the end times, a chastisement or a warning from God.  But we cannot know for sure. Lastly, environmentalists, both scientists and armchair ones are claiming that this is Earth attempting to calibrate the disorder man has caused due to global warming and overpopulation.  But again, we cannot know for sure.  Man cannot know it all. His fields of inquiry and technologies have failed.  Perhaps this is a reminder that we are not gods. We are not masters of life or this world and have to focus on the one who is the Master of all.  God has not abandoned us. We have abandoned him.  

The second reading tells us that Jesus is God but is not equal to God. What does this mean?  Does it mean Jesus is some demi-god like Jehovah's Witnesses and other sects claim?  No, not at all!  It simply means that while Jesus is God, He is also a man. His humanity is not equal to His divinity.  He was a man in human appearance with flesh, blood, pain, emotions, and so forth.  He "emptied" Himself of the infiniteness of God to take the form of a limited human being. In other words, Jesus was not this mutant from X-Men, Superman, or a Greek god displaying powers of shapeshifting.  We see movies like Superman, Brightburn, or even the show Superman and Lois which show how the characters Clark Kent or Kal-el and Brandon Bryer discover their powers.  They cannot be cut or hurt.  Jesus was not like this. He was truly man and God.  This was why He was able to die. God died! His human body died. Jesus wanted to be one of us and experience what we experience. This was why He too was tempted by the devil. He felt pain, He got sick, got cramps, got cut, bled, got hungry and thirsty, and so on.  He was one of us in all things except sin. Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross we are told. This means that Jesus basically obeyed the laws of physics and nature. He was obedient to them!  This is why before it says that "He humbled Himself." God truly humbled Himself becoming a slave to this universe just like we are all slaves to it. None of us can defy the laws of physics. We are trapped in this "biosphere" called the universe. Because of this, He became our example and was exalted.  This is why at Jesus' name we all bend the knee and confess that He is the Lord.  He is the one the Father sent. This is why when we hear the name Jesus, we should incline our head slightly during the liturgy. It is a sign of reverence. 

Finally, the Gospel tells the account of Jesus' last supper where He instituted the Holy Eucharist.

Christ defined all the true meaning of the Passover meal by breaking bread and sharing wine which are His body, blood, soul, and divinity.  We read how Judas is there present during the meal. He sells out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  Judas is the first to leave the first Mass.

How many times do we see people leave Mass early? Perhaps we may have done it ourselves?  We are imitating Judas the betrayer when we leave Mass early.  In doing so, we make whatever we are leaving Mass for more important than Christ.  Granted, there may be emergencies we may have to attend to, but this is where faith comes in.  God will take care of any emergencies for us. Moreover, we continue reading how Christ tells the disciples how they will flee when He is arrested.  Each boldly claims that he will not leave Christ.  How many times have we been vain in thinking that we have total control of faith?  How many times have we thought that we control grace in us?  It is God who sustains our faith and nourishes us with His grace.  We only cooperate by the suspension of our free will to submit to God's will.

Christ then goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  He cries tears of blood showing the pain and anguish He was going through.  Like in last week's Gospel with Lazarus, we again see Christ's humanity.  He is one of us!  He is the perfect Adam we must imitate.

However, like the disciples, we often fall asleep when we are in His presence.  Instead of praying, we slack off and get distracted to the point of dosing off.  We must avoid this by asking God to teach us how to pray and give us the strength and demeanor to be in His presence to pray even when our human frailness gets in the way.

Lastly, we continue reading how Christ is taken to trial.  The Son of God, God Himself is treated like a criminal.  He is sentenced to be killed by way of Crucifixion.  His crime is love.  Christ came to save all, first to His own people the Jews.  Ironically, it is sometimes our own that betray us.  We must avoid being like the Jews of Christ's time who were with Him, saw His works, and still wanted no part of Christ.  Like the Jews in the desert, they saw His works and still did not want to believe as the first reading of the third week of Lent told us.  Christ is then made to go through a horrible death.  First He is made to carry a heavy cross.  Throughout the way, He is mocked, spat on, hit, and falls down three times for the sins of the past, present, and future.  He dies on the cross and is buried.  God is dead!

Today, this phrase still echoes among societies throughout the world, especially in universities teaching our youth.  Some believe philosopher Nietzsche to have coined the phrase "God is dead," but this has existed way before his own birth. Christ is nailed to the cross and dies.  The people of His time said, "God is dead."

The Son of God who performed miracles and preached the good news dies.  We know that in reality, He is still alive. Man can kill God because God allows it out of love. Today's age of secularism, atheism, and relativism shouts, "God is dead, we have killed Him!" However, God is alive and well.  He rose from the dead showing He is the God of the living and dead.  He is the one who IS; who is dependent on no one for existence.

We must not be like the Jews of the old covenant who saw and still did not believe, nor do we want to be like the Jews in Jesus' times who like their ancestors saw Christ's works yet did not believe as well (Psalm 95:9, Hebrews 3:9). They even proclaimed Him as their king by throwing palms onto His path only to reject Him and call for His execution days later, according to some scholars.  We should not be like them.  We must never lose faith nor let the world silence it.  This is important today now more than ever.  The Covid-19 coronavirus has forced many to question their faith in God.  God seems absent. The closing of Churches and denial of the Sacraments to the faithful has added to this doubt.  We read in Scripture, Tradition, the writing of the saints and heard even from Our Lady in apparitions that God protects, that Mary protects. 

However, how is this true when churches are closed and Masses are suspended due to a mere virus introduction into nature which happens naturally?  Many are seeing this contradiction.  They are also seeing the hypocrisy of saying the Church is a field hospital while shutting out the wounded and abandoning them; not to mention the call for bishops to acquire the scent of the sheep.  How is that done while hiding in rectories and episcopal mansions?  These optics are not good. They demonstrate to the world that God is dead. If the alleged successors of the apostles behave this way, then why even bother to believe?  Why even bother to be Catholic?  

As stated, we must never lose faith nor let the world silence it. Today, this is what is happening. The government was even threatening churches if they did not obey their demands while keeping abortion mills and liquor shops open.  If this is not the spirit of the Antichrist, then I do not know what is.  So as you sit home without being able to attend Mass, meditate on this. Choose your side. Jesus did triumph. Let us truly believe this.  If not, then we are just believing in Spinoza's God who is limited to the laws of physics and processes of nature.  This is not our God.  Our God has power over what He created.  This includes viruses.  Our God can protect us against anything, even viruses.  Our God can set aside the laws of nature and work miracles that defy reason, science, and imagination. 

Faith is key!  Please do not lose it due to the actions of our bishops and priests.  Please do not lose it due to the cowardice of religious and laypeople.  Please do not lose it due to the news of deaths and widespread contagion.  If you believe churches should be closed, Mass suspended and Sacraments denied to the people, then your faith is lukewarm and you do not shout Hosanna today because Christ did not triumph to you.  Trust in God.  Jesus still triumphs! Jesus has triumphed! 

Today we lift up our palms -virtual or imaginary ones- not like those hypocrites in the Gospel reading before Mass, but like those in Revelation 7:9 who see the Lamb of God, hold their palms out to Him in joy and wear clean white robes showing they are made spotless by the blood of Christ shed for all during His Passion.

This Palm Sunday, let us enter into the mystery of Christ's Passion with open hearts, ready to be transformed by the power of his love and the promise of new life.

May Christ teach us how to live and suffer in faith.  Let us shout Hosanna to the King with sincerity and remain with Him through good times and bad times until the end of time comes.    

Readings: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion | USCCB

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