Allow me to state the obvious – this is weird. Live streaming Masses from the Newman Catholic Center here at Montclair State has been weird. Seeing a box of palm branches arrive and remembering our annual debate how much is too much too little and saying now, for sure, it’s way too much – is weird… Just seeing church doors shuttered everywhere and all of us having to interact virtually is weird.
Hi everyone here’s my homily for PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION APRIL 5, 2020. During this time of public Masses being suspended, I invite you to pray with us as we pray for you on our FACEBOOK PAGE cick here (Our Holy Week Schedule is posted there as well) Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even ore for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again – I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
More than that, from talking to lots and lots of people – there’s a lot of people suffering. There’s people who are sick from the coronavirus right now – those seriously sick, those just diagnosed and aren’t very sick, but feeling very anxious, very worried and feeling very isolated. One person said to me that when they were diagnosed and told some friends and families this troubling news – the reaction they received made them say “well I have a new understanding of how the lepers in the gospels felt and let me tell you Father it stinks” (they used a different term, but you get the drift). There are people who have lost loved ones, whether from this virus or other causes and the families can’t even be together to grieve and their friends can’t be there to support them… You have Doctors, nurses, people in health care – Cops, Firefighters, Rescue people – all those who don’t have the luxury of distance working or abiding by stay at home orders – who are on the front lines and putting themselves in far greater danger than they already do in care of others. People who are staying at home – who are aware that there are people out there struggling with a whole multitude of serious issues – so they feel guilty about the fact that they are worried about their finances, their worried about things that haven’t happened (but they fear might) or their just feeling cabin fever and feel on the edge and ready to snap. It’s hard to recall a time where there’s been this wide-spread level of suffering on a universal level.
Add to that, at the time when there’s this much suffering that people can’t be in the place they turn to the most at those times – their parish churches – it makes this time even harsher and more difficult to wrap our minds around. That it coincides now, this time, this season makes this a Holy Week like none other.
As Catholics, we don’t ever shy away from, dismiss, try to sugar coat suffering. It’s one of the fundamental things that differentiates Catholic Christian theology from some of our other Christian brothers and sisters. It’s why we have a crucifix instead of an empty cross or an image of the resurrected Jesus front and center in our churches. We know that Jesus is fully divine… We recognize that the resurrection is the game changer – that human history is forever changed by Easter. But Jesus accomplishes that through a very human life, which encompassed very human things – most especially human suffering. That through His passion, which we’ve just heard proclaimed, through His Cross, through His Death, He not only took on all the sin, all the brokenness of humanity and was victorious over that – but also gave us a pattern to follow. That when we’re in pain, when we’re in suffering, we can unite our suffering to His.
Very beautifully, the Church has taught us that “Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: … By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.”And that on our part, suffering in “union with the passion of Christ … acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1520, #1521)
So now, more than ever we should make this a Holy Week like none other. Rather than shutting down, rather than giving into discouragement (I can’t even go to Mass!) Rather than give into lies from the devil – telling you can’t even fully participate in Mass – going online it’s not the same – no it’s not the same… it’s in a sense taking even greater effort for you to create this sacred space in your homes, in your hearts and minds and connecting virtually.. Then we can prepare ourselves to truly take all of our sufferings whatever they are – not comparing them to anyone elses and putting it on a sliding scale to determine whether you have a right to feel badly or not – that’s a distraction… Whatever suffering your experiencing whether it’s physical illness, emotional pain, any and everywhere in between, and entering into this Holy Week and uniting that to Christ’s suffering.
It’s from that point, as we unite ourselves with Jesus, that one line more than any other stands out from this lengthy passion we’ve just proclaimed. Jesus’ uttering the words from the cross which we had done earlier in the responsorial psalm. The words My God, My God, why have you abandoned me. I imagine that people hearing that, using those words today felt they were more relatable then ever. As they imagine all that they are going through, all that we are going through – those words probably resonate and reverberate in our hearts more and louder than they ever have. And we imagine the tortured, dying Jesus crying them out and feel the immensity of that moment possibly more than we’ve ever done before.
But there’s an essential point to that utterance. As we unite ourselves to Christ and can relate the isolation, the desperation, the pain, the suffering of that moment of His passion there’s a lot more than just Jesus’ feelings of abandonment. He probably felt that and felt a lot more than that… More importantly though, Jesus knows and wants us to know – feelings aren’t the full story. Feelings are important and we need to acknowledge them, and be respectful of them. But in moments of extreme emotion, we really need to dig deeper and not let them get the best of us.
Which is what Jesus was doing. As Jesus was uttering those words, He was telling us something far greater. It’s okay to feel that – but don’t stay there… don’t let those feelings change who you are, what you believe, what you know – especially when it comes to God, our loving Father who looks at us as His beloved sons and daughters. When Jesus utters that phrase, he’s not fixating on one sentence from Psalm 22… He’s in a sense citing that one sentence to bring to His heart and His mind the entire psalm. Kind of like when we as Americans hear the words “Four score and Seven years ago…” and recall the historic Gettysburg Address given by President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the most divisive moment in American History, the Civil War or the words “I have a dream” that summon memories of Dr. Martin Luther King in his epic speech calling an end to racism in our nation. That’s what was happening on the cross: Jesus is summoning the entire Psalm -which yes acknowledges that sense of abandonment – but doesn’t stay there… it ends with words of faith… of trust… of conviction… of triumph.
We need to summon the full psalm as Jesus was doing and hear what else Jesus believed at that very moment about His loving Father, as He was making these words His:
He has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly; my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him. The poor will eat their fill; those who seek the LORD will offer praise.
And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.
Hardly words of defeat… those were the words Jesus was recalling as he laid dying. Knowing that this suffering wasn’t His full story… that His death was not an end… This act of evil, which consumes him on the cross, would not stand.
My brothers and sisters, we too can make this a Holy Week like none other if we remember what Jesus has taught us, what He has shown us, what He continues to speak to us of our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He so desperately loves each and every one of us that He unites with us in our passions, in our crucifixions. He speaks to us in the boldest, loudest of terms that as the evil of the world crashes down on us; as we feel abandoned, rejected by those who we thought were nearest and dearest to us in those trials, our Loving God spares not his most prized possession, His Son Jesus Christ. In uttering those few words of that psalm Jesus assures us that we have not been abandoned… Quite the opposite: by Jesus stretching His own arms out on the cross for our sinfulness he unites himself with us – with you and I and all the sufferings of all humanity for all eternity.
May those words of the psalm remain cemented in our minds just as the great speeches of American heroes did– But with the true meaning, the true message of the Psalm, which has radically been made evident on the cross of Jesus for us — proclaiming for all eternity that Our God, Our God has never, nor will ever abandon us..