This week is known as Holy Week, for these are the high holy days of our Catholic and Christian religion. These are the celebration of the mysteries of our faith, and they begin with our celebration of the Liturgy of Palm Sunday. There we have two quite contradictory scenes. First, in the Gospel prior to a Palm Sunday procession, we hear Saint Mark’s recounting of Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem. Our Lord enters the city like a hero-king. Could He possibly be the Messiah that Israel had awaited for generations? The jubilant crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with zeal, hope, and great expectation. They celebrated and rejoiced, shouting to Christ and, in an Oriental tradition, spreading palm branches on the road.
In reflecting on this passage of Sacred Scripture, Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI wisely remarked that, “a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David?”
But how quickly things changed for Our Lord. Just a few days later, rather than being treated like a hero and king, Jesus was mocked, beaten and crowned – not with the crown of a king, but with a crown of thorns. Like many sports heroes who receive public recognition, parades and awards, such glory is short-lived. They soon lose their popularity as their ratings drop, for as people want to be on the winning side, they are very quick to drop their allegiance to a loser.
But Jesus was very careful not to present himself as a popular hero, for at the beginning of his public ministry, part of the devil’s temptations had been precisely this, to have Jesus declare Himself to be the Messiah of the people’s expectations, a wonderworker, a political revolutionary leader. Jesus’ mission, however, was to do the will of his Father. It was fidelity to the will of God that led Jesus ultimately to the events that we celebrate during Holy Week.
So, when we look upon the passion and death of Jesus with such eyes, we come to see a divine love that is stronger than sin, a divine light that shines amid the darkness of our lives, a divine power that brings new life out of all our deaths, a divine poverty that enriches us at the deepest level of our being.
Although we disciples love to follow Christ on the Way of the Cross, the way, at times, may indeed be difficult. However, we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the shadow of the Cross. We may feel that whenever we experience something bad in our personal lives (such as sickness or the death of a loved one), or in society (a terrorist attack, or abortion, or the attempt to legally redefine marriage), we must not yield to the temptation to ask, “Why does God let such evils occur?” We may even feel forsaken and indeed cry out, the words taken from the opening line of Psalm 22, “My God my God, why have you abandoned me?” That’s when it’s so important to read the entire psalm, with the final section of that psalm as an expression of trust in God and praise for the Lord.
And how do we get from feeling abandoned by God to expressions of praise for God’s goodness? The answer comes from another line that Jesus uttered from the cross as the ‘good thief,’ crucified along with Jesus, asked the Lord to remember him when He came into his kingdom. Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” He has mercy on all the faithful in their agony with the promise of a better, eternal life in God’s love.
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, during Holy Week, moving through the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday to the joy of Easter, let’s recall that Christ’s death on the cross was not the last word, and His resurrection enables us to look with hope to the future, beyond the pains, disappointments and failures of this world, to the everlasting happiness of life in God’s kingdom.
May we renew our commitment to remain close to Jesus 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.