Everyone loves a hero. We love to celebrate their triumphs. Our sporting heroes receive public recognition, parades and awards, and we bask in the reflected glory that shines on us as their fans. Such glory, however, is short-lived. An athlete reaches his or her peak and enjoys the top spot for a short time. Other heroes in public life soon lose their popularity as their ratings drop. People are very quick to drop their allegiance to a loser; they always want to be on the winning side.
Jesus was very careful not to present himself as a popular hero. At the beginning of His public ministry, part of the devil’s temptations had been precisely this – to be the Messiah of the people’s expectations, a wonderworker, a political revolutionary. The mission of Jesus, however, was to do the will of his Father. It was fidelity to the will of God that led Jesus to the events that we celebrate during this Holy Week.
With our celebration today of Palm Sunday, we cross through the threshold that leads into this most important week of the Church year, for it is the week of our salvation. From the moment that our first parents disobeyed God, He had been at work preparing for that moment when He would restore humanity’s broken relationship with Him, a restoration that would come about in the most unlikely of ways. It’s the culmination of that plan that we re-live each year during our observance of Holy Week.
Our entrance into Holy Week begins with a joyful note as we gathered together to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, an entry that was marked by elated acclamations of Him as the long-awaited Messiah as the people cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 11:9-10). Listening to these words, we became participants in that very scene, processing into the church, joyfully following Christ our King in His triumphal march. As the liturgy moves on, the tone begins to change to one of sorrow. We’re led into reflecting on the Passion that Our Lord underwent after having arrived in Jerusalem. Many of the voices that, upon His entry into the city, had shouted triumphantly: “Hosanna,” would now cry out with contempt: “Crucify him…Crucify him!”(Mk 15:13,14).
In 2012, during his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the fact that the people’s reaction to Jesus was due in part to the fact that He didn’t live up to their expectations of what they thought the Messiah should be. The Pope said that “The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel… who chooses the Cross as his throne.”
Today, we are each invited to enter into the crowd on the day of His entry into the city and to reflect on the King whom we are being invited to follow not just today, but every day of our lives. He desires that we accept His reign into our hearts. Yet, to do so requires that we let Him reign not according to our expectations and our terms, but according to His. This means that we have to look at our lives and identify those areas of selfishness that we are still holding on to, hesitant or even fearful to let go of them, in submitting ourselves to His will. Letting go of those things, whether it be a habitual sin, a fear of confronting a difficult situation, or accepting the sufferings that are ours to bear – all of these can be extremely difficult. We are confronted with the reality that to be a true follower of Christ demands a daily struggle. Such a path is far from attractive in the eyes of the world, and as a result of this, many choose the path of less resistance: to follow Christ only from a distance, where the expectations are far less demanding and little is expected from us with regards to letting go of our worldly attachments.
Reflecting on the Passion of Christ, seeing how He did not flee from the suffering that He was to face, we are reminded that the only true path that leads to victory is by way of the Cross. He has trodden that path successfully, and in His victory, He promises to give us the strength that we likewise need to struggle in following Him in order to share in the victory that is guaranteed to those who persevere in remaining faithful in that journey. He never wavered on His path because He knew of His Father’s protection for Him and the prize that lay ahead for Him beyond the Cross. Although the life of a disciple who follows Christ on the Way of the Cross may indeed be difficult, we must not be overwhelmed by the shadow of the Cross. We must constantly be reminded of the loving care that our Heavenly Father has for us at all times and believe with great faith that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18).
So, let us renew our commitment to remain close to Christ and to let Him reign in an ever-greater way in our lives, letting go of what holds us back from letting Him be the “king and center of our hearts.” We can be confident that if we heed His call to die to ourselves in this life, we have the sure and certain hope that we will live with Him where He reigns victorious in the glory of Heaven.
This weekend’s 2nd Collection will be taken up for the support of our parish mission in Guatemala. As Steve Dudenhoefer told us last week, “we are the hope of so many children yearning for the opportunity to receive a good education and better their life and that of their country.” Your kind response to his appeal will make it happen!