EAGERLY I HAVE DESIRED TO EAT THIS PASCH WITH YOU BEFORE I SUFFER.(Luke 22: 14). Today we commemorate what seemed to his followers at the time to be the high point in Jesus' career as a prophet and public figure. He is welcomed into the capital with popular acclaim. He enters the city as its rightful ruler in the eyes of the populace who had heard of his teaching, whose validity God so often attested to by miraculous healing of their sick and feeding of the hungry. His words came to them as a sudden light in the darkness of a world that had little respect for their views and needs, for he gave great prominence to justice for those who were despised, neglected and oppressed. On this occasion then when Jesus publicly enters the religious capital of his nation it is not surprising that he is greeted with enthusiastic acclamations that acknowledge him as the rightful representative of God: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
This is, however, but one aspect of today's commemoration, and, though in the foreground, not the more important one. While today there is a procession which celebrates this event, it is followed in the liturgy by the proclamation of the Passion of Jesus, which tells of his humiliation, sufferings and death. The way matters evolved in the course of the week following gives an ironical turn to the ardent welcome Jesus received by the populace as he entered Jerusalem. The account of the Passion we are to hear informs us that six days later the same populace that had proclaimed him their hoped for king, were to call for his death. St. Bernard comments on this fact as he seeks to understand its meaning.
But why did it happen that Jesus wished to have a procession when he knew that it would soon be followed by the passion? Was it perhaps so that his suffering would be the more bitter for having been preceded by a procession? For by the same people, in the same place, and at the same period of time, with only a few days in between, at first received by so triumphant a welcome, afterwards he was crucified.... Woe to you, o bitterness of our sins, that so great a bitterness was necessary to dissolve ( In Dominica Palmarum Sermo II. 4 PL 183: 258).
The irony is more subtle and bites more deeply than appears on the surface, nonetheless. For in fact, Jesus is king and a victorious one, precisely through undergoing the seeming defeat of his passion. He himself, though, is the only one to realize the true significance of the welcome he receives today, namely, that it foreshadows his triumph over the forces of darkness and the other effects of sin, even of death itself. This awareness of our Lord is implied by the opening words of St. Luke's account of the Passion read at the mass this year which I cited at the commencement of these considerations: EAGERLY I HAVE DESIRED TO EAT THIS PASCH WITH YOU BEFORE I SUFFER. If Jesus looked forward with ardent desire to celebrating the Passover festival on this occasion, it was because he knew it would initiate, and later serve to embody, the mysteries that express the true meaning of his life and the mission given him by the Father.
There is a still more profound reality expressed in these events and mysteries which is uncovered only to those with a lively faith in Jesus as the Son sent by God the Father to reconcile us to himself. This meaning is love. But it is a love that assumes surprising form in the passion of the Lord. In fact, it is the Paschal mystery of Jesus which, for the first time, reveals the full dimensions of love. His suffering and death make evident the paradox that true love expresses itself most purely in self-giving rather than in seeking self-fulfillment. And the further paradox that it is precisely through such denial of one's own satisfaction that love assures the one fulfillment that alone answers to the human condition fully, namely, the glorification of the whole person, body and soul. St. Bernard in another sermon states the general outline of this truth explicitly: "He suffered all these things for us who was filled with such charity for us.... Not yet though will our souls find all that gives delight until resurrection follows rest, until the Sabbath follows the Passover (In Dominica Palamarum Sermo III,.5 PL 183: 262)."
During this week we shall be living with a particular consciousness of the events that brought about our reconciliation with God through his beloved Son, Jesus. His sufferings and death represent the way in which he won us for himself and for his Father. His triumphant rising from the dead that follows immediately from his passion is present throughout this week in the background, for it is the living, glorified Christ whose mysteries we live through. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) asserts these truths and sums them up in a paragraph taken from St. John Eudes. His words bear repeating here as we stand at the beginning of this Holy Week.
I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus Christ is your true head, and that you are one of his members. He belongs to you as the head belongs to its members; all that is his is yours; his spirit, his heart, his body and soul, and all his faculties. You must make use of all these as of your own, to serve, praise, love, and glorify God. You belong to him, as members belong to their head. And so he longs for you to use all that is in you, as if it were his own, for the service and glory of the Father (CCC §1698: cf. St. John Eudes, Tract. De admirabili Corde Jesu, 1.5).
This perspective lends a more personal note to Holy Week. Our own person is engaged in the happenings by which the Lord carried out the Father's plan. That plan includes our incorporation in the Kingdom as members of the mystical Body, that is to say, as persons who belong to the Lord. St. Leo the Great had already pointed out that receiving the sacraments allows us to be united with the Lord's experiences while he was on earth. He states the case in the following terms.
The Sacrament of our salvation, dearly beloved, which the creator of all things considered worth the price of his blood was fulfilled from the day of his bodily beginning to his end at the passion by the dispensation of humility . What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries. In order that faith might be more excellent and stronger, doctrine succeeded to vision. In this way the hearts of believers, illuminated by heavenly rays, might follow its authority (cf. CCC, §1115 which refers to St. Leo's text. I have included lines not found in the CCC. Cf. Sermon 74.2 PL 54: 397, 8)
The sacraments allow us to enter into the events of our Lord's life not in their historical uniqueness but in their abiding significance. Jesus himself had told the apostles at the last supper that they would be better able to understand his message and appreciate his person only after he left them through death. They, who had the opportunity of living his passion with him in the flesh, missed their unique chance. However, through their life in the Church and their participation in the sacramental dispensation Christ had inaugurated they were given a second chance, one which they took full advantage of and by means of which they proved faithful to the end. We today are strongly urged to avail ourselves also of the sacraments, and in particular he sacrament of reconciliation and of penance. The confession of sins in this sacrament rightly used is a most helpful means of grace essential for advancing in union with the Lord. Not only does it obtain special graces essential for overcoming those faults impede our progress, it assists us in a more clear understanding of our weaknesses. This in turn allows us to work more effectively to eliminate or at least to diminish their tendency to betray us repeatedly into the same sins. The regular use of this means of drawing nearer to the Lord is a duty for all Christians and it is imposed with a particular explicitness on all religious. Holy Week is a time in which we to resolve to make fuller use of this source of God's blessing and grace in a spirit of faith and with fervor. Thus in the lives of the closest associates of our Lord we see verified the principle enunciated by St. Leo: In order that faith might be more excellent and stronger, doctrine succeeded to vision. In this way the hearts of believers, illuminated by heavenly rays, might follow its authority.
By God's great mercy we find ourselves today in the same situation the apostles and our Blessed Mother lived out as followers by a firm faith in the risen Lord Jesus. They were aided by the gift of the Spirit who enabled them to remain in the presence of the Lord by sharing in the sacrament of the Eucharist, in the case of the apostles after repenting of their failure, and the sacrament of the inspired word. They also supported one another in the new society of those who belong to the Lord and who live no longer for themselves but for all the Lord's members. We share in one another's gifts of faith and love, and profit from the talents and dedication of each member of the community. Such willingness to share with one another in this way builds up community and is on of the most fruitful effects of charity.
Charity is the meaning of Holy Week as St. Bernard has insisted; obtain a greater measure of this loveof God and of all who are His is one of the chief reasons for our annual participation in the liturgical commemoration of the mysteries of this week. It is first of all the charity of the Father who so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten son, that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16). Though we are keenly aware of our weaknesses and failings, of our past sins and our present selfishness and timidity, yet we are also convinced that we belong to God. He has made that possible through the mystery of his son's passion and death and resurrection which continue to be offered to us in the sacraments and the prayer and faith of the Church. He remains with us in his word and in the Eucharist. We have offered to Him in return the obedience of our faith. By faith and the sacraments we belong not only to God but also to one another. May we return his love with gratitude and the resolve to love Him and all who are His, imitating as far as in us lies, the example of our Savior who loved us and gave himself for us.?
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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