- Ryan G. Duns, SJ
When I was a little boy, this was always my favorite day to go to church: I loved to play with the palms. At first, they proved a marvelous distraction to the regular grind of the liturgy. I could tickle my brother's face with the frond, whip it about, pretend to have sword fights...at least, until, my mother wrested the palm from my hand and began folding it into a cross. In those days I liked the playfulness of having something in my hands, of feeling that I was a part of the day's action. Not long ago, someone mentioned that Palm Sunday is one of the better-attended liturgies because people actually get something, that they have a prop that helps them to feel as if they really do have a role to play in the liturgy. Perhaps this is something clergy should consider: people want to feel like they belong.
Jesus probably felt like he belonged as he saw the throngs of exuberant welcomers. Little did he know that the triumphant entrance would be matched only by his mission's spectacular failure: sinful humanity could not quite get on board with Jesus' revolution that threatened to overturn our normal way of doing business, replacing it with God's ways. Jesus threatened our stability, our sense of order, our comfort...so we killed him. We have a knack for doing this, it seems.
At Mass today, consider the stark contrast between the psalm and the reading. Imagine the joyous atmosphere of the crowd, the hopes and expectations they seem to thrust onto Jesus, and allow the ominous refrain of the psalm to echo in your heart: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?" Within a few days, the cheers will be replaced with jeers, the high-fives with the lash of the whip, arms outstretched in welcome by arms brutally affixed to the timber in a gesture of ruthlessly efficient torture. A week from now, we will rest as a church in the dark cellar of grief and loss as our hopes are, once again, dashed. Dare we await the resurrection?
My friends, this has not been an easy decade for the Catholic Church. I firmly believe that we are dwelling within the cellar of Holy Saturday. There is light, or hope, but it is hard for me to tell how much there is. My fear is that the light I see is but the first rays of Holy Saturday breaking in upon us and that we will be waiting for quite some time before we get...if we ever get....to the triumph of Easter. My optimistic side holds out hope that the light I glimpse is the setting sun piercing through dark clouds: Holy Saturday is coming to a close and soon, Easter's Son shall rise.
Over these weeks, I have been grateful to my students who have offered reflections on the readings. My own travel schedule has made it difficult to keep on top of the blog (I write this from Washington, DC). I will be on retreat from Holy Thursday (4/21) through the following Thursday (4/28). Please know that I will be praying for all of you, and the Church universal, during my retreat. I don't know how much I'll be able to update the blog before I depart but, if I don't get the chance, may we all seize this Holy Week as an opportunity to grow both in our friendship with one another as we share our journey and with Jesus Christ who invites us this week to "stay with me, remain here with me" and, with Jesus, to "watch and pray."