Considering the long readings of today, I was tempted not to give a homily. However, I thought otherwise. Today’s Feast begins Holy Week and it is too important simply to save 12 minutes of our time for this celebration.
Today’s celebration of Palm Sunday, as we know begins our Holy Week celebrations. Holy Week is the most intense liturgical celebration of the year. During this week we are celebrating the essence of our Christian faith; we are celebrating the Sufferings, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this essence of our faith is known as the “Paschal Mystery.”
But, today’s celebration and this whole week’s celebration will come and go, like any other Sundays if we simply sit and listen passively to the Paschal Mystery of our faith unfold through its liturgy. If our faith during the year has been somewhat passive and lukewarm, then I urge us to please pay more attention this week and not allow the abundant graces that God wants to give us to pass by. In addition to participating more attentively and actively in our Church’s liturgies this week, I would like to encourage us to spend more quiet time pondering, absorbing, imbibing and interiorizing the essence of our faith. If our faith is not deep, our life can only be meaningless.
Let us begin our reflection on the essence of our faith by asking ourselves the question, “Who killed Jesus?” Were the Jewish leaders or the Roman Authorities responsible for His death? There is much debate on this. However, Vatican Council II teaches us that ALL of us killed Jesus by our SINS.Jesus died for our sins. This is the basic truth of our faith. This is also the basic challenge that you and I have to face in our personal and quiet reflections of the Passion of Jesus this week.
Liberal theologians would tell us, “Sin” is old fashioned theology. Just focus on God’s Love. Is this sound theology or is this more of a cop out of our personal responsibility for the sins that we have committed that nailed Jesus on the Cross? If there is no sin, then Jesus need not have to come down from heaven to save us, and if He need not have to come down to earth, He would not have to suffer His Passion and Death. However, we all cannot deny that humankind have and continue to sin. We too, you and I have sinned. We have by each of our sins, intensified the pains of the blows on the nails that crucified Jesus, the thorns that pierced His head, the lashes that tore his body at the scourging. And by our unkind words or gossips, we have mocked Jesus and spat on His face, and have chanted with the crowd, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not trying to drive all of us into a guilt trip. I am trying to highlight the basic truth that all of us have to take personal responsibility for the wrongs and harm that we have caused others. And, the good that we have failed to do, in our daily lives, when opportunities presented themselves to us . . . for that too is sin. To turn away from others would be to turn away from Jesus.
As Jesus loves each of us so deeply and personally, every thought, word and deed of ours affects Him tremendously. In the way we live daily, we either bring Jesus joy or cause Him pain. A mother who loves her child would also feel great joy in the good and deep hurts in the wrongs of her child.
To get in touch with our sins and be responsible for the hurts and pains that we cause others especially our loved ones, the poor and the needy through ignoring them, needs more than the Confession that we make during the Penitential Services to prepare for Holy Week. We need to have a sustained conversion that last throughout the year. This can only come about if our love for Jesus is personalized and interiorized, and when our faith permeates and penetrates our hearts so much so that we are able to see Christ’s presence within us and in others. It does not make sense to come for Mass and then snap at the people in our car or hoot angrily at others in the car park immediately after Mass.
When we have the quiet and reflective moments that we spend during this Holy Week, we could contemplate on the different characters of the Passion of the Gospel. We could enter into the heart of Judas and sense his anxieties, confusion and guilt.
We could talk to Peter – the impulsive, big hearted, remorseful and, yet faithful follower of Jesus who later died for his faith.
We could sense the sorrow of Mary Magdalene, the reconciled sinner who loved Jesus dearly. We could affirm and console Mary, the Mother of Jesus and embrace her, and feel her pain and agony, and yet draw strength from her fidelity in doing God’s Will. Such contemplations of the different characters in the Gospel are endless, and we could also be challenged by God the Father to participate and unite our sacrifices and sufferings with that of His Son’s Sufferings, and to take up our crosses daily and follow His Son . . . to die to our egos and selfishness and to our sins.
How am I to make such contemplations? You may ask!. St Ignatius would advise us, first to set aside time for our prayer. Second, choose a conducive and quiet place (with least distractions) and preferably with good ambience for our prayer. Third, to ask for the graces we need during the prayer. The graces we need for this Holy Week is to experience what Jesus experienced during His Passion and Resurrection. In the Passion contemplation, we are to ask to feel the pain and suffering that Jesus felt. And in the Resurrection contemplation, we are to ask for the graces to feel the joy of the Resurrection because Jesus has Risen and has conquered death and sin for ever, and that through this, He has open the gates of heaven for all of us.
Such contemplations are not that complicated if we have the heart and desire to enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We could rearrange our home or room, and create a special corner for our prayer, we could get our children to read the Passion scene, and encourage them to imagine what happened to Jesus.
Also, when we bring our palms back to our homes, we should place them in a prominent place to remind us that Christ is our King; the King of our lives, our families . . . the centre of our decisions and the foundation of our happiness.
I can go on preaching like this week after week and not have much effect. St Ignatius would want to remind us to look at the desires of our hearts. If we look at our interior self and examine our desires, do we see that we really want to have God to play an active and central role in our lives? “Do we truly and genuinely desire God?” If we don’t then, St Ignatius would add, then “Do we desire to have the desire?”
With good desires for God in our hearts and if we act on them, even in small ways daily, then we would become more open to what God wants to give us; the graces of healing, forgiveness, compassion, trust, love, faith, hope and the like. But, if we do not have desires for God, then there will be no conversion. There will only be stagnation in our faith in God.
And as I conclude, I would like to re-emphasise that there is no better time during the year than today, Palm Sunday to take personal and concrete steps to revive our faith and to renew our commitment to God. The evil spirits greatest strategy is to keep the practice of our faith in routine. With routine, there will be no depth, no conversion in our faith, let alone integration. This week is the holiest of all weeks in the year and we are each challenged to live our faith to the full. Do take the suggestion that we spend more time and create a space in your home to contemplate more deeply the Paschal mystery of our faith, with your family seriously. Better still, take three half days off from work so that you can spend more time at home with your family to ponder and enter and deepen our experience of the powerful mystery that this Holy Week offers. If we do this, I can assure you, this year’s Holy Week would be the most meaningful and beautiful experience of the year
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J. celebrating the Eucharist
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