Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [A]

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [A]
Matthew 21:1-11  +  Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Matthew 26:14—27:66

“Who is this?”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 557-560: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem
CCC 602-618: the Passion of Christ
CCC 2816: Christ’s kingship gained through his death and Resurrection
CCC 654, 1067-1068, 1085, 1362: the Paschal Mystery and the liturgy

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The rubrics for Palm Sunday indicate that a homily need not be preached.  A period of silence may be observed after the Passion instead.  The reason for the exception on Palm Sunday isn’t directly stated in the Roman Missal.

We might guess that the reason for this exception is the sheer length of this Sunday’s Gospel texts.  Not only is the Gospel of the Passion itself extremely long.  In fact, there are two Gospel Readings proclaimed on Palm Sunday:  the first is at the start of Mass, recounting Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

However, we might guess that there’s an additional reason why the priest is permitted not to preach a homily on Palm Sunday.  The Gospel Reading of the Passion is the very heart of Jesus’ Good News.  What could a homilist possibly add to the proclamation of the Gospel narrative?  What more is there to say?

Yet this second guess ought to be challenged.  In fact, there is something more to be said, because the temptation is to admire the Gospel of the Passion without entering into it:  that is, to look up to Jesus as if His Cross were a pedestal.

The homilist on Palm Sunday, then, preaches to each member of his congregation about her need to enter personally into the Gospel of the Passion.  Each congregant needs to make the narrative of the Passion her own.  Each needs to bear the conviction that when Jesus died on the Cross, He died for that individual.  In a church like the Catholic Church, which has on earth more than one billion members (and that’s not to mention those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith), it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd.

Each individual member of the Mystical Body of Christ is loved by Christ as if she or he were the only person He died for on the Cross.  The Church has always taught this, but in recent times St. John Paul II used the language of personalist philosophy to explore the meaning of the Gospel in general, and in particular the need for each Christian to encounter the crucified and Risen Christ as an individual rather than as an historical figure or a distant deity.

We might wonder how it’s even possible for the one single person of Jesus Christ to individually relate to, much less personally love, more than a billion individuals at the same time.  While this might seem impossible, it’s not something that you need to comprehend fully but simply to believe and experience.

It’s this relation between the individual and Christ Jesus that makes a disciple into a saint.  This connection is what makes a disciple strong enough to persevere in following Jesus all the way to the top of Calvary, with eyes fixed upon Jesus and His Cross instead of upon oneself and one’s desires.

The Second Reading for Palm Sunday helps us glimpse, if not fully comprehend, how Jesus Christ can relate to each individual member of the Church, including yourself.

In theology, the Second Reading is summed up by the Greek word “kenosis”.  In English this word is translated rather awkwardly as “self-emptying”.  We might say that it’s the virtue of humility in a complete, personalistic sense.  That is to say, kenosis is not just the performance of a humble action, but the humbling of one’s whole self in a permanent yet on-going manner.

In the case of the divine Person of Jesus, He chose not to cling to His divinity.  We see this at the Annunciation, when He took upon Himself a human nature, with all its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  But as the following thirty years of His life passed, His kenosis continued as He put His divine Self entirely at the service of His earthly mission.

Yet the whole of Jesus’ earthly life was oriented by God towards a single hour:  the hour of Divine Mercy on the afternoon of Good Friday.  The kenosis of the Incarnation and public ministry were designed to lead individuals to Calvary:  not just the individual apostles, disciples and others who lived in the Holy Land 2000 years ago, but each individual living today as well, including yourself.

It’s at the Cross and through the Cross that Jesus Christ relates to each individual.  Through the Cross, the individual can enter into the mystery of Christ’s kenosis, sharing directly in Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension.  It’s not in spite of your sins that Jesus chooses to relate to you, but through your sins.  The depth of your human sins reveals the depth of His divine love.

Lent 6-0A