On Palm Sunday, we approach the climax of Our Lord’s Mission to save us. He established the One True Church which offers us the fullness of the Truth He brought and the means to persevere in Grace until death. Although God Incarnate, He atoned to the Father for our sins. The Eternal Son of the Father would be, in a ‘rigged’ trial, falsely accused of blasphemy and subsequently Crucified on Calvary. As far as those who opposed Him were concerned, ‘problem solved!’.
Today, at the 11:30 Mass, we begin our Liturgy outside the church and, starting from the hall, we process to the church, commemorating our Lord’s triumphant Entry into Jerusalem: Through the words of the Entrance Antiphon, we join the rapturous crowds who, on that day, gave Christ the King a ‘royal welcome’, lauding Him, truly, as ‘…he who comes in the name of the Lord…’, carpeting His route with palms. The Palm Crosses which we receive today should prompt us to contemplate His Offering of His Life in order to restore our Eternity. They should also inspire us to pray that we may offer our ‘Crosses’ (i.e. setbacks and sufferings) which God permits us to bear in this life, in loving union with His Passion and Death, so bringing us to live eternally with Him.
Entry into Jerusalem - from Pietro Lorenzetti’s Assisi Frescoes, 1320
Through the Gospel account, read in the hall (Mark 11:1-10), we follow the final preparations for the Entry into Jerusalem and Christ’s welcome by the crowds, many of whom would later be calling for His Death! How many times have we reacted uncharitably to someone who, perhaps out of loving concern, pointed out our faults to us?
The First Reading read in church, (Isaiah 50:4-7), puts before us Isaiah’s prophecy of the brutal treatment meted out to God Incarnate. While, especially in more anti-Semitic times, the Jewish People were conveniently portrayed as the ‘villains of the piece’, we would do well to consider that each and every one of us, each and every sin committed until the end of time, caused our Saviour to Die.
Through the words of the Responsorial psalm (Psalm 21: 8-9, 17-20, 23-24, response v2) we are privileged to join in spirit with Our Lord, hanging in agony on the Cross, uttering that seeming cry of despair, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. Just as we must never presume that we can get to Heaven without the help of God’s Grace, neither must we commit the sin of Judas, despairing that God cannot or will not forgive us, if we repent of the gravest of sins.
Saint Paul, writing to the Philippians (Philippians 2:6-11), lays before us true Humility. Christ Himself, Second Person of the Trinity though He is, brought Himself down to our Human level (‘…in all things but sin…’), innocently died a criminal’s death, and demonstrated to us the immense Power of God, Who alone, can triumph ultimately over evil, however crushed we may be by it. We proclaim this truth in the Gospel Acclamation (Philippians 2:8-9).
Finally, in the Gospel (Mark 14:1-15:47), the Passion narrative, we hear of the betrayal of Our Lord by Judas, the Last Supper and first Ordination Mass and Christ’s Agony as He contemplated, in Gethsemane, the horrors of His coming Passion and the sins of all time for which He was to Atone. We stand witness to the desertion of the Disciples, to the sham trial and the brutality of His captors, to Peter’s denial of his Master, and then to the agonising Crucifixion and Death of our Blessed Lord, followed by His Burial in the Tomb.
How obviously do our lives as Catholics demonstrate our Faith and stand as a ‘sign of contradiction’? Do our words and actions show others that we really believe that, ‘Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!’?
Last week, on Ash Wednesday, we began Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Lencten’, i.e. ‘Spring’), a six week period of preparation for Easter, a time probably generally associated with 'giving things up'. Self-denial can certainly focus our minds more sharply on our Saviour's Sacrifice and help us become more detached from material things. Hopefully it will not be, simply, a yearly 'detox', foregoing such pleasures as alcohol or rich foods before eagerly taking them up again at Easter. Lenten self-denial obviously really needs to become a year-round discipline to be lastingly beneficial, whether spiritually and/or physically.
Probably more of a challenge is the 'positive side of the coin', i.e. doing extra. This must certainly include making great efforts with our spiritual lives and may well involve money saved through material self-denial. Hopefully, money saved from giving up certain foods and drinks will go to Charity. Also there are practical acts of Charity one can take on, such as giving time to visiting the sick and housebound.
Bearing in mind that we need God's Grace to do anything truly good will, hopefully, prompt us to try to get to Mass (in addition to obligatory Sunday Mass) at least once during the week, maybe at St. Bart’s at 7.30am on our way to work or school. At Mass, we have the privilege of accompanying Christ in His once-for-all Sacrifice of His Life to His Father on Calvary. We receive Him in Holy Communion, an act which strengthens souls in the State of Grace so that they may persevere in faithfulness to God. If Mass in our Parish Church is not possible, do check Mass times at churches nearer to school or workplace; Some Catholic schools may already offer students the possibility of daily Mass. In addition to morning Masses, some churches may well offer lunchtime or evening Mass.
As many churches in towns and cities are open all day, one has, if it is really impossible to get to Mass, at least the chance to pop in and make the Way of the Cross. Remember that, at St. Bart's, we have the opportunity to make this devotion together on Sundays (4pm) and Fridays (7.30pm) in Lent. The fourteen Stations (or Way) of the Cross, put before our mind's eye several events in Christ's Passion, from His condemnation by Pilate to His burial. This devotion, which can, of course, be practised every day of the year, is available in a variety of formats. Very young children will benefit from being taken and shown the beautifully carved and painted images in church, with very simple explanations from Parents or older Siblings or, maybe, they can be asked to tell the story in their own words. Some of us may well have a favourite version of the Stations we like to use. Even the sick and housebound can make the Stations; nobody need feel excluded! There are Apps for our Smartphones, not to mention a wealth of on-line versions, many of which have film footage with sound or subtitles.
A beautiful, simple and soul-searching version is that by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, published by CTS. Those who can use smartphones, mp3 players and computers may listen to or download this from here.
Another, more contemporary meditation, by Fr. Hugh Thwaites, S.J. is available here. Many versions are available; it all depends on what we hope to gain, spiritually, from this great devotion. EWTN Catholic TV is certainly well worth looking at. How we meditate on the Passion is, of course, up to us. If we really don't have time to come and make the Stations in church (on our own, if we prefer) or to spend a short while making them at home, why not try, at least daily, during Lent, to say the beautiful Act of Contrition which is often included as part of the Way of the Cross: "I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things! I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee! Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what thou wilt!”. This wording can easily be explained to and adapted for our younger parishioners.
Whatever we elect to do let us do it with love, as part of our life-long journey, “...knowing, loving and serving God...” here on earth, so as to bring us to be “...happy forever with Him in Heaven.” (which many of us will have learned through the ‘Penny’ Catechism (Q&A.2), still published (though, unfortunately, no longer 1 penny!) and available from the CTS, even in E-Book format these days! It is an excellent summary of our Faith and will ‘stretch’ both adults and children alike! For those still wishing to ‘grow in Faith’ this Constant Teaching of the Church is more fully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chs. 1-3.
We often remark at how quickly time passes. On 8th January the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marked the end of the Christmas season and, already, on Ash Wednesday, 14th February we will begin the Penitential season of Lent. And not so long after Easter, we shall be looking towards Advent 2018! Our Blessed Lord was very precise in His use of language. Looking beyond our comparatively brief lifespan on earth, towards Eternity, He underlined the urgent need for constant preparation, speaking of the unexpectedness of our coming before God’s Judgement Seat, death coming, perhaps, “...like a thief in the night…(1 Thess. 5.2)…you know not the day nor the hour…(Mt. 25:13)…tonight thy soul is required of thee…(Lk. 12:20)”.
The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday recalls sobering facts. As we are marked on our foreheads with a Cross of ash (prepared by burning last year’s palms) the priest or other person applying the ashes may say either, “Repent and believe in the Gospel…” (Mk. 1:15) or the more sobering, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19). The second formula may cause one to feel ‘uncomfortable’ but is, obviously, so very necessary in this world which, sadly, often lauds wealth, celebrity and power as criteria for a fulfilled life, whilst ignoring their power to distance or even separate us from God. A loving earthly parent will, although positively encouraging their children to be careful crossing the road, also point out the unpleasant, even fatal consequences of carelessness in doing so. Similarly God, out of Love for us, wishes us to recall that much of what is regarded as ‘gain’ in this world has the power to deny us eternal happiness. Unlike the world, which can be very unforgiving, Christ, knowing our fallen nature, gives us through His Church this period of the year dedicated especially to deeper examination of conscience and to trying to see ourselves as God sees us. Of course, this 40 day period should, quite definitely, not be our sole spiritual ‘MOT’ for the year.
The Good Shepherd ever calls us to Himself. Whatever our sins, He will welcome us back if we repent and return. He has given us the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) as the normal means of making this return from Mortal and what are deemed ‘lesser’ sins. Through this wonderful Sacrament, available daily, if needed, in addition to the scheduled times, a Soul, dead in sin, may be restored to the Life of Grace. We must, however not fall into the error of thinking that Confession is reserved solely for Grave sin. Even one who has faithfully persevered in God’s Grace throughout life has need of the strengthening Grace of this Sacrament to maintain their Godward orientation.
It may take great courage and humility to go to Confession, overcoming Human Respect (i.e. ‘What will people think of me when they see me go into the Reconciliation Room?’). Sadly we can ‘transfer’ our own sometimes unforgiving nature to Christ. Yet the Scriptures are full of accounts of Jesus forgiving people, for example the woman taken in adultery and the penitent thief on Calvary. His many visible healings point towards His ability, as God Incarnate, to heal our invisible spiritual ills, i.e. sins. We never hear Him turn penitents away. Of course, to be forgiven, sorrow and determination not to sin again must go together. How often do we hear Christ saying, “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11)?
Why not, especially if it does not come easily, resolve to make a good Lenten Confession, as the first of many regular Confessions in the coming year, rather like having one’s car regularly serviced, rather than waiting for a major, more costly or dangerous defect to occur. The priest can answer any questions, however ‘silly’ we might regard them; nothing will shock him; as an Alter Christus, he is only too glad to continue Christ’s work of Reconciliation. Look out for details of our Lenten day of Penitence.
There is plenty of faithful Catholic literature on the subject. One publication, “Confession, A little Book for the Reluctant” by Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur, published by TAN, answers many of the fears that many, sadly, have of this Sacrament. Booklets about Reconciliation are available from our Repository. If you try this link you will find a wealth of helpful materials published by the CTS. Please God, the following line from Saint Alphonsus’ Stations of the Cross, will be our motive for repentance: “It is thy love, more than the fear of Hell, which causes me to weep for my sins.” (from the 8th Station: The Women of Jerusalem Mourn for Our Lord).
On Good Friday we shall hear how, encouraged by those who rejected Christ's Truth, many who had, today, acknowledged Jesus as King, were to call for His Death on the Cross. Our Lord, in chastising those who profaned the Temple, knowing full well the response He would receive, taught us a vital lesson. As Catholics, we are living in an increasingly liberal age, when the Teachings of the Church on, among other things, Marriage and sexual morality are openly attacked and being charitable is, at times, confused with permissiveness. It is that world in which our children are growing up. We must equip them to live the Truth, to be witnesses to God, “...in season and out of season...”.
We may, perhaps, have to risk resentment and worse, in order to stand up for what is right. Our promotion of the Truth may see us falling in the 'ratings', perhaps even being actively opposed but, in sticking to the truth, we know that God's Will prevails. It is our fidelity to God which will bring us safely into Heaven, not our being prepared to compromise on truth and so be well thought of in the here and now! Remember the saying that, “Silence gives consent!”. How might that apply to me?
We can draw courage from Saint Thomas More. As he faced death, the ultimate punishment for his defence of the indissolubility of Marriage and his concern for immortal souls, he declared, “I die, the King's good servant, but God's first!”.
The painting entitled Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti 1320
Others of us may already have a 'favourite' Stations book we use; even those who are now housebound can still make the Stations this way. There is probably even an App for our Smart-phone!
A beautiful, simple and soul-searching version is that by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, published by CTS. For those of us who are 'into' mp3 players etc. this version can be downloaded free from HERE. A further, more contemporary meditation by Father Hugh Thwaites, S.J. is available HERE. Of course there are many versions available; it all depends on what we hope to gain, spiritually, from this great Devotion. EWTN Catholic TV is well worth looking at.
How we meditate on the Passion is up to us. If we really don't have time to come and make the Stations in church (on our own, if we prefer) or to spend a half-hour or so making them at home, why not try, daily, during Lent, to say the beautiful Act of Contrition which is often part of the Way of the Cross: "I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things! I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee! Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what thou wilt!
The image is of Michelangelo's Pieta, sculpted from marble between 1498 and 1500, and seen in the Basilica of St. Peter, Rome
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church