Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: Jesus’ Entry to our Center of Power

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Photo by Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila

Today in the Catholic liturgy, we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. This  marks the beginning of the Holy Week–the holiest of all week which celebrates the paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ–his passion, death and resurrection. Today’s Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Passion is from the Latin word, passio, which means suffering.

Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem recounts Jesus entering into the center of power–the temple of Jerusalem–of Israel. Naturally, some of the powerful men were threatened by Jesus’ triumphal entry; they did not want the people to welcome Jesus in Jerusalem like a king:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him,
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He said in reply,
“I tell you, if they keep silent,
the stones will cry out!”

This Holy Week, Jesus will also enter the center of power of our own lives. As Jesus enters into our core, the sinful structures we have built within our lives will be threatened. Jesus will challenge us to confront the contradictions of our lives.

The liturgy today depicts contradictions. This is shown in the sort of split personality tone of the liturgy. The gospel starts upbeat as Jesus’ entered Jerusalem like a king. The people took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:

“Hosanna!
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
the king of Israel.”

In the second part of the liturgy, however, the upbeat mood suddenly changed to a violent and tragic mood as we listen to the stark reading of Jesus’ passion. The glorious cry of “Hosanna” is turned to the cruel shouts of  “Crucify him!”

Indeed, the passion of Jesus is a story of contradictions. Jesus is depicted as king with a crown of thorns, a staff and clothed in a purple cloak. The soldiers spat on him and struck him on the head with the staff repeatedly. The people who shouted hosanna to our king when Jesus entered Jerusalem just a few days ago are the same people who shouted “Crucify him!” and elected Barabas to be released on the day of Passover. The greatest of these ironies is the cross. Jesus on the cross with the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” died of a slow, painful, excruciating, gruesome, and humiliating death.

We are not outsiders of this greatest tragedy. We are not mere spectators. As we listen to the passion of Jesus every Lenten season, it deeply disturbs us and unmask the profound existential paradox and inner struggle within us. While we eagerly want to share in the glory of Jesus, we cringe at the thought of suffering let alone dying with him.

This holy week let us welcome Jesus to enter triumphantly into the temples of our lives; to confront the contradictions and sinful structures of our lives. Let us become aware of our resistance to let go of the things that gave us power, dominance and control and not allowing the gospel of Jesus as the guide of our lives. Let us admit our hypocrisies that while we worship  Jesus inside our churches, we participated in his crucifixion by our collusion with the prevalence of evil in our world today. Let us carry the cross with Jesus by embracing the suffering of others.

May you truly have a holy week!

 

 

 

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Holy Week Ends in Resurrection, not in Crucifixion

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In the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Holy Week is the biggest week of the year. Throughout the Holy Week celebrations thousands of devotees will flock to the shrine every day of the Holy Week. Many devotees will attend the liturgical services of the Holy Week at the shrine. The lines at the confessional will be the longest in the whole year. Many will do the stations of the cross inside and outside of the church.

The highlight of the Holy Week activities is the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion and the Holy Saturday evening of Easter Vigil. Among these most important liturgies,  Good Friday is the most well-attended. The church is packed and crowds overflow to the outside of the church. But the same big crowd is nowhere to be found during the Easter Vigil. In my almost ten years at the shrine, Easter Vigil crowd could hardly fill the church.

This somehow reflects the Filipino’s penchant for identifying more with Christ’s suffering and pain.  Filipinos have suffered for so long time that the ordinary Filipino is called Juan de la Cruz (John of the cross). No wonder, two of the most popular icons of Christ amongst Filipinos are the Poong Jesus Nazareno and the Santo Entierro – both icons depict Christ’s suffering and death.

Fr. Ferdinand R. Santos once commented that the Philippine Holy Week is world-famous, not for its piety, but for its bloody flagellants and actual crucifixions that identify with pain in its most literal and physical extreme. Filipino religiosity can make suffering appear as an end in itself. This is a far cry from the liturgy of the triduum which conveys that the passion of Jesus doesn’t end in suffering but leads inexorably to the resurrection.

Santos warns us that detached from the resurrection, the suffering and death of Christ becomes a tragedy. Worse, it does tremendous violence to the innate human capacity to rise above defeat.

Jesus, indeed, experienced the most brutal physical pain and death any human being can ever endure. Jesus, in his own humanity, however, did not want to go through his suffering and death. In the end, Jesus willingly accepted suffering and death on the cross not because he took pleasure from pain or humiliation but to fulfill the Father’s will; “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Consequently, God does not want to inflict pain on us nor does God want us to suffer foolishly and die a senseless death. Injustice, poverty, war and hunger are social evils that are not acceptable to God, and never have been. This goes without saying that God does not want us to inflict pain on ourselves even if it is to commemorate God’s own suffering and death on Good Friday. God willingly suffered and died because it was God’s way of leading us to the true meaning of glory and new life. 

The divine perspective on suffering and death challenges our perspective of glory and victory.  Glory and triumph in human standards is to bask in fame, power, wealth, honor and influence. Seen through this standard, Jesus’ suffering and death was a massive failure. But God’s glory and victory is different from ours. God’s glory and victory is expressed in various times and places in the Gospel, like in the Beatitudes, in Jesus’ parables and Mary, representing the human response–Magnificat. In these proclamations, God’s glory and victory represents the reversal of fortune: In God’s Kingdom those who struggle in life now—those who are at the bottom or on the edges of human society—will suddenly find themselves at the top and in the center. On the other hand, those who now enjoy the greatest human security and social advantage will experience the opposite of their lives on earth.

Seen through God’s standard of glory and triumph, Jesus’ suffering and death, therefore, was a powerful protest against all forms of oppression and domination. Jesus’ resistance to the cruel and inhuman acts by his captors represents the strongest protest against evil and subjugation.    

Holy Week is not the time to try to replicate Jesus’ physical suffering. No human reenactment of Jesus crucifixion, though how brutal it can be, can ever repeat Jesus’ pain and suffering. Instead, Holy Week is the time for the deepest examination of our lives, our values, our attitudes vis-a-vis Jesus’ gospel values and standards. This Holy Week all of us will stand trial before Jesus. How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by our sinful embrace of the world’s standards and values? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by the pursuit of our own glory? How did we continue to crucify Jesus in our world by inflicting humiliation, pain and suffering to others especially the weak?

Our responses to these self-examination represents the crosses that we shall carry to our own Calvary with Jesus. These are the crosses that we need to willfully be crucified to.  These are the crosses that we need to willingly die to. 

By dying to these crosses, we will allow the new life that we receive at our baptism to rise up again. At the end of Holy Week, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at the Easter Vigil of the Holy Night of Easter, we can truly renew our faith and proclaim our allegiance to God’s power of love and goodness and at the same time proclaim our fundamental opposition to evil. 

May you have a blessed Holy Week.

 

 

 

Entering Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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Tomorrow we start the Holy Week. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is the holiest of all weeks of the year simply because it is the week when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus that will lead to his resurrection.

Bro. Daniel Korn, C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist brother from the Denver Province, invites us to enter Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  We can do this by contemplating on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

As we embark on the journey of Holy Week, let us turn our eyes towards the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Throughout this Lenten season, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help has invited us to contemplate the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Do you know that the second name of the Icon is the Virgin of the Passion?

Two angels present to us the instruments that were used in the passion and death of Jesus. Center our attention on the Christ child as he looks toward the Angel Gabriel in the icon. We can see how Jesus is straining towards the Angel with the cross and nails by the mark on his neck.

With that clear image, the artist tells us that Jesus is focused with great attention upon his pending pain and death. By the look on Jesus’s face, like the look of his Mother, he is contemplating the meaning of these symbols that foreshadow his passion.

Through our Baptism we were plunged into this very mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus. In our daily actions we are called to show forth the image of Christ, the Redeemer of the world.

Spend time this week often praying with the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Give our attention to Jesus and the angels who present the instruments of the passion. Remember Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, and keep company with her during the days ahead.

May we all have a blessed Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help.