Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

The coronavirus pandemic hit last year just as the Lenten season began. And Holy Week was the strangest experience. You may recall images of Pope Francis amid sparsely attended Holy Week services at St. Peter’s basilica and St. Peter’s square. They were images of courage and defiance in the face of our very real fears, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties. The one that particularly sticks in my mind is of the pope standing under a canopy in an empty St. Peter’s square, a lone figure in white where throngs of people were accustomed to gather but now with only the ebbing light of the setting sun and a gentle rain. The darkness has lifted some and life is rebounding after a harsh and devastating year. But the danger is not yet past, and we cannot let our guard down lest the virus surge unexpectedly, and we plunge once again into darkness and fear.

And as we begin Holy Week, our second Holy Week in COVID, we might recall that God is not helpless. God is not without hope. In fact it is God who stepped into the path of danger, not by accident, not unwillingly. Jesus knew full well what his Father was asking of him. He was aware of the danger that awaited him in Jerusalem. He may have seemed brave, unwaveringly resolute, determined to accomplish the will of the Father. But Jesus was also truly human, and therefore, was fully and completely aware of his own overwhelming fears, his own very normal instincts of self-preservation, his natural revulsion to suffering and death.

Sacred scripture does occasionally hint at these gaps in his otherwise admirable and selfless surrender to the cross, like when he said at the last supper that one of his closest friends would betray him, and when he prayed in the garden that the Father take the cup of suffering away, and when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” We cannot dismiss the fact that he agonized and anguished tremendously over the frightful choice he had to make. He was no intergalactic superalien. Jesus was like us in all things but sin, as we hear in the fourth Eucharistic prayer. So he knew and felt everything we would know and feel, and probably he knew and felt more intensely than us because there would be no shadow of apathy or pride or doubt in him to obscure his mind or numb his heart. He embraced the cross filled with the very same terrors that would tempt us to bail and run for cover. And yet he put himself in the path of danger out of tremendous love for God and for us.

We may recognize our real struggle to strike a balance between the greater good of our neighbor and our own, our neighbor who also happens to be poor or homeless or an immigrant or an addict or self-righteous or hateful or oblivious, and ourselves who can be just as needy and selfish and greedy and self-important and angry and clueless. Our human nature makes us most aware of our own unworthiness and failures. But it is the same human nature Jesus took to the cross to reconcile us with God and with each other. We have power to do the same, to struggle and embrace the cross as Jesus did, that by our selfless surrender and willing obedience, we contribute to his saving work. We are more than observers and spectators. When we embrace the cross in our lives, we are partners with God in the ongoing work of conversion, reconciliation, and salvation.

Rolo B Castillo © 2021