Palm (Passion) Sunday C

He took the form of a slave.

There is an event in the life of the black Dominican friar, St. Martin de Porres, that is worth recalling on Passion Sunday.

Most readers will know something about this lay brother of Lima, Peru. He was born in 1579, died in 1639, and was proclaimed a saint in 1962. Back in Peru’s colonial days, the ruling Spaniards brought over thousands of African blacks as slaves. Some of the slaves eventually won their freedom, most did not; and there was as much racial discrimination in South America as there has been in the United States.

In his own person, Martin summarized the woes of the kidnapped black race. His Mother, Anna Velasquez, was a free black woman; his father a Spanish nobleman – in rank if not in character. When Anna showed Juan de Porres his baby boy, he exclaimed, “I won’t accept him as mine. He’s too dark!” Eventually, he came around and acknowledged his legal paternity. But he did very little to help his son, so Martin has to live out the role of a half-caste on the fringe of Liman society.

Another mulatto might have soured on life. Not Martin. He chose sanctity over cynicism. Joining the Dominican Order, he spent his life in utter humility and service of others. One day this unselfish lay brother learned that his superior, faced with a shortage of funds to run the monastery, had set out for the market to sell some of the house’s most valuable items. Martin ran after the priest and caught up with him before he had reached the market place. “Please don’t sell our possessions,” the saint blurted out. “Sell me! I’m not worth being kept in the order, anyhow; and I am strong and can work!”

The superior, deeply touched, shook his head, “Go back to the monastery.” he said gently, “you are not for sale!”

So Martin remained free. But he had at least tried sincerely to imitate the Christ who did “empty Himself and took on the form of a slave… obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7.8 Today’s second reading.)

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q417: Why do we have to read these shocking, gory events about Jesus every year during Holy Week, beginning with Palm-Passion Sunday?

We really don’t look forward to reading the long Passion narrative each year, do we? After all, we know that there are gruesome events that are going to take place, and we would rather not dwell on agony and suffering. And yet, this is the story of our God – he loves us so much, that he became one of us and even died for us, as unworthy as we are. The conclusion of Jesus’ public ministry is all contained in our gospel reading today (Lk 22:14 – 23:56). We recall the Last Supper (institution of the Holy Eucharist), agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, betrayal by Judas, denials from Peter, and the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

But before all of this comes the “Palm Sunday” entry into Jerusalem. No one there had the slightest idea what is going to happen to Jesus. Instead, they speculated that they were finally getting the Messiah that they had been looking for – a political warrior who would become a king just like David, and restore the fortunes of Israel. Perhaps freedom from the Roman army was right around the corner…

But that was not God’s plan. Instead, his prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 50:4-7) had spoken about a Suffering Servant who would be humiliated and tortured, all for the sake of our eternal salvation. The Christian community sees this passage fulfilled in Jesus Christ. St. Paul was inspired to show how awesome is this God, who humbled himself by taking on our human nature (Phil 2:6-11) and dying on the cross to redeem us from our sins!

Fortunately for us, a happy processional celebration followed by rejection and then death is not the end of this story! We know what lies beyond Good Friday – Easter joy, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The redemptive passion of Jesus was the very reason for his Incarnation, and led him to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love (CCC #607). Check your own humility: did you know that pride and self-exaltation is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieved our salvation (CCC #1850)?

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Q573: I know that the Suffering Servant in the First Reading (Isaiah 50:4-7) has been identified by the early fathers of the Church as pointing to or fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Does the Reading also speak to me personally?

Yes, it is absolutely speaking to you and me on at least two levels. First, we meditate on the prophet’s words, and recognize how much suffering  Jesus went through for our salvation. Such meditation can only lead us to love him more and to desire that our will accord with his will at all times.

Now at another level, put yourself into that prophetic scene. Wherever you see the word “I” or “me” change that by inserting your own first name. I am confident that you will see that the Lord is calling you to imitate him. It can be an “aha” moment for us, a sudden understanding and a sudden call for a decision.

The Suffering Servant was given a special gift of speaking encouraging words to the weary; but first came his call to listen to the Lord—and that is our call also. Each one of us is called to meditate on the inspired words of Holy Scripture, which enables us to recognize those “aha” moments and act on them. All of scripture is useful for teaching, training, and bringing wisdom (2 Tim 3:15-16). When we engage regularly in that reflection, we will be able to speak encouraging words that come from God—a priceless gift!

Beyond the imitation of Jesus in listening, there is the imitation of his humility. This wonderful humility is reflected in all three readings this Palm Sunday! The humiliation and pain that Jesus chose to endure for us is awesome, and his action of self-humbling leads us to choose to humble ourselves in loving submission to his will. The hardest decision of all is to replace a desire for revenge against those who have hurt us, with total and unconditional forgiveness. We have a model now, a passive way of responding with love to those who offend us.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Faithfulness to God’s way is our call, and we have the model and the gifts to help us achieve that goal. The humble and meek who rely solely on God’s plans are being readied by the Holy Spirit to participate in the redemptive mission of Jesus as suffering servant (CCC #716, 440).

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He Emptied Himself

Palm Sunday is the overture to Holy Week. The procession with palms celebrates Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem and his acclamation by the people for his miracles and teaching. But we are quickly reminded by Isaiah and St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians that Jesus’ real victory was his self-giving on the cross to open for us the way to the Father. We must pray for the grace to follow in his path.

Come Holy Spirit and fill us with the love and courage to give of ourselves to others as Jesus did, so that we and those to whom we give ourselves may rise with Jesus to the Father.

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