Living Holy Week with Faith, Palm Sunday (C), March 24, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish
Palm Sunday, Year C
March 24, 2013
Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

We begin today what we call Holy Week. It’s holy, first, because of all Jesus Christ did during this week, from the triumphal entry into his city at the beginning of this Mass to his teaching in the Temple; to the Last Supper; to his prayer in Gethsemane; to his arrest, torture, crucifixion, preaching and death on Good Friday; to his rest in the tomb; and his glorious resurrection on the third day. It’s also called holy because it’s meant to make us holy, if we follow Jesus up close, if we enter into these mysteries, if we receive within us all he won for us during these days. It’s especially important for us during this Year of Faith that we began in October to live this Holy Week with Faith. Holy Week is supposed to be our most faith-filled week of the year and, during this Year of Faith, Holy Week should be the most faithful holy week of our life. But whether it is or not depends on the choices we’re prepared to make, whether we choose in comformity with our faith or choose like all the rest.

Let’s review what the Year of Faith is principally about. It’s about helping us to live by faith. Our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, wrote a letter at the beginning of the Year of Faith to all the Catholics of Buenos Aires, in which he said, “This Year of faith is a new call to deepen in our lives this faith that we have received. Professing the faith with our mouths implies living it in our hearts and showing it in our works: a witness and a public commitment. The disciple of Christ, son or daughter of the Church, can never think that believing is a private act. … Faith involves deciding to be with the Lord so as to live with him and to share him with our brothers and sisters.”

So, during this holiest week of the Year of Faith, we’re called to decide to be with the Lord, to live with him, to share him, to show our faith in witness and public commitment. And we need to do so not only with our lips but also with our hearts.

We see what happened the first Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, the vast crowd seemed to be rejoicing in faith when they shouted out as Jesus was entering the city, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” But we know that that faith was superificial. Within five days, most of the same people were in Pontius Pilate’s courtyard doing the same thing as the mob and crying out to crucify Jesus and give them Barabbas. But it wasn’t just the crowds.

  • We see what happened in Judas. He had been with Jesus for almost three years, witnessing him raise people from the dead, cure the sick, cast out demons, walk on water, calm the wind and the seas, feed vast multitudes by multiplying five rolls and two sardines, and preach with an authority no one had ever heard, but during this week, he didn’t live by faith; in fact, he valued the Lord less than 30 pieces of silver.
  • We see what happened with St. Peter. During the Last Supper, he swore an oath that even if he had to die for Christ, he would never betray him. Yet, Jesus told him that before the cock crew, Peter would have denied three times that he even knew Jesus, and that’s precisely what occurred. Peter’s spirit was willing, full of faith of love, but his flesh was weak and needed to be strengthened in order to live by faith. Jesus told him how to do it in the Garden of Gethsemane: to come away with him, to stay alert and to pray that he might not undergo the test but Peter failed under the pressure.
  • We see what happened with the rest of the apostles, Jesus’ closest friends and followers, how they scattered at Jesus’ arrest. It’s clear that they loved him, that they believed in him, that they were his friends. But during the first Holy Week, they didn’t act in accordance with that faith, love and friendship.

So now it comes to us as we begin this Holy Week. Are we going to live the entire week in intense union with Jesus as he seeks to make us holy through each of these events of this week? Are we planning to live by faith, which Pope Francis says means to profess it with our mouths, live it in our hearts and show it in our works, by witness and public commitment? What commitment and witness are we prepared to make? What commitment and witnesss does Jesus want us to make?

Faith, Francis said, means deciding to BE with the Lord, to live with him, and to share him. And so, in the Lord’s name, I’d like to ask you to resolve to make the following commitment: To come and participate in the central events of the Sacred Triduum.

  • To come on Holy Thursday night for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 pm. Jesus said to the apostles at the beginning of that most precious meal of all time, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you.” Jesus says the same thing to us: with great eagerness, he wants to eat that Passover with you and me. It’s the most important invitation we have ever received to the most important banquet. But are we going to treat it that way and make sure we’re making the choice to be with the Lord in faith or are we going to make the choice that while he’s giving his body and blood for us, we’ll be elsewhere?
  • Second, to come on Good Friday for the Passion Service at 7 pm, in which together we will be with Jesus as he dies for us on the Cross to save us. The Passion Service involves the solemn chanting of St. John’s Gospel, the veneration of the Cross of the Lord, and the receiving of his body and blood given for us on the Cross. We’ve shifted the time from 3 to 7 to make it easiest for people to come, but if there’s one day during the year in which every Christian should think about taking a personal day, it’s Good Friday. Most of us would naturally take time off of work to be with someone we love as they were dying. We need to be just as practical about being with Jesus on Good Friday as he dies so that we don’t have to die forever.
  • Third, to come to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, which is by far the most important and beautiful Mass of the entire year, in which we thank God for the great gift of his resurrection and what it means for us and the world. There are also Masses on Easter Sunday morning, but they’re not the same thing as the Easter Vigil, in which we enter with faith into all the central events of salvation history, see how they’re all fulfilled in Christ, and rejoice in faith for the new life that God gives us. It’s the most important Mass of the year and the Mass that changes us most as we celebrate it, because it helps us to push ourselves to the limit in our love and gratitude to God and in the celebration of our faith in Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for each of us here and now.

And so I’m asking you to make the choice at least to come to the three most important celebrations of our faith during the Year and to come with faith to be with the Lord. If you want to give the Lord more, and make the whole week a retreat, there’s much more being offered here to help you.

  • On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, there would be the daily Mass at 8 am focusing on what happened immediately before the Last Supper to get us ready. The chapel will be open for prayer afterward until 3. On Wednesday night, we’ll also offer confessions at 6 pm for all those who haven’t yet made a good confession during this season of conversion.
  • On Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we’ll have a beautiful altar of repose in the chapel where we will be with Jesus until midnight. Jesus asked Peter, James and John in the Garden after the Last Supper, “Can you not stay awake with me and pray for an hour?” He would love to have each of us make a commitment to be here with him in prayer for an hour or more.
  • On Good Friday, we will hold several events before the Passion Service. From noon to three, we will have a beautiful prayer service with music and preaching on the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross — always one of my highlights for the year — in which we ponder what Jesus struggled, through excruciating pain, to say to us from the Cross and what it means for our journey in faith. At 3 pm, we will begin the Novena to Divine Mercy, followed by confessions. And at 6 pm, to get us ready for the Passion Service, we will pray the Stations of the Cross.
  • On Holy Saturday, we will likewise pray the Novena of Divine Mercy at 3 pm.

The story of the Passion doesn’t just document the betrayals of the crowds and of Peter, Judas and the other apostles. It also shows us the Blessed Mother, who was courageously faithful to her to Son to the end, standing at the foot of his Cross; Mary Magdalene, a reconciled sinner who loved much because she had been forgiven much; Simon of Cyrene, who helped the Lord — albeit perhaps reluctantly at first — to carry his Cross; St. John, who, after scattering during Jesus’ arrest, returned to the foot of the Cross; and the Roman Centurion, who gave Jesus something to drink and then, with faith, pronounced that he was surely the Son of God. These are those who, in one way or the other, lived that first Holy Week with faith, and they’re the ones who are interceding for us and ought to inspire us to live this Holy Week with similar faith.

There is no better place to start on our faithful following of Christ in this holiest of weeks than here at Mass. The Mass we celebrate is in itself Palm Sunday and Calvary altogether in one. In a few minutes we will again shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.” We will again climb Calvary where we will be not just witnesses but participants in the very same death of the Lord once-and-for-all for us and our salvation. And we will gain an entrance to that Eternal Banquet in the presence of all the angels and the saints, where we hope forever to behold the Lamb, looking as if he has been slain, in that kingdom won for us by the Lord through the very death and resurrection we celebrate now.

Let us together ask the Lord to help us to pray this Mass with faith and begin a week that will unite us to him in a way more profound than we’ve ever experienced until now.