April 15, 2011

Palm Sunday/The Lord’s Passion / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend observes Palm Sunday, recalling with great reverence the Lord’s traditional entry into Jerusalem, beginning the drama and depth of Holy Week.

The liturgy includes two readings from the Gospels.

The first Gospel reading occurs at the blessing of the palms and as the procession of the faithful bearing the palms assembles in the church.

It reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through the knowledge that a donkey and colt are in the village ahead, and the Lord’s mission as Messiah.

He is approaching Jerusalem, more than just a city in pious Jewish minds, but also the holy place in which God’s temple stands, where David once reigned as king and where the prophets spoke in the name of God.

It was, as it still is, the center of Jewish faith and worship. It was to be the site of the culmination of the Lord’s mission.

The crowd proclaims the Lord as “Son of David.” They greet the Messiah as their own legitimate king, David’s heir, not the detested Roman emperor.

For its next reading, the Church gives us a passage from the third part of Isaiah, one of those eloquent and expressive sections of Isaiah called by biblical scholars the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.”

Poetic and descriptive, these four songs laud an unflinchingly faithful servant of God, who, despite abuse and persecution, remains steadfastly loyal.

Christians always have seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.

In the next reading, from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, the emphasis is again on Jesus and in the literary genre of poetry.

Biblical scholars now believe, in fact, that this passage was an early Christian liturgical hymn. Its deep understanding of the person and place of Christ is both clear and compelling.

Finally, the liturgy presents the Passion Narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew’s presentation of Jesus, even in the horrifying circumstances of the Passion, conveys powerful lessons.

First, even at this time, Jesus is the Christ. Far from being overwhelmed and helpless, the Lord is majestic and in control. He is the victim, but a victim completely complying in free will and committed to the Savior’s mission.

While the Apostles do not come across as heroic in their loyalty, to say the least, Jesus never repudiates them. He calls them. Despite their fear and cowardice, especially in St. Peter’s case, their call endures.

Thus, it is for all called to discipleship. Believers, on occasion, sin and fall. However, they can return. Their vocation is not cancelled, at least not by the Lord.

Finally, all the intrigue, conspiracy and prejudice that surrounded Jesus fall away before the fact that the Lord triumphs. God is always in control.


St. Matthew’s Passion Narrative is the centerpiece of this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word.

It is easy to lose its deep meaning by concentrating on the awfulness of all that was brought to bear upon Jesus.

Certainly, the treachery and cruelty cannot be dismissed or understated. These elements underscore the evil that genuinely exists in the world, and that overtakes many people.

In a week, the Church will celebrate Easter. Jesus rose. However, even in the dark hours of Good Friday, the Lord was almighty and victorious. Nothing then occurred without ultimately lending itself to the fulfillment of the divine plan of salvation.

The praise of the people who acclaimed Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem does not indicate fickleness just on their part. We all are fickle.

Yet, the reading from Philippians illustrates not only that Jesus is Lord, but also that we can be good disciples even if we fall.

Christ awaits us with forgiveness. No sin breaks our relationship with God, unless we remain unrepentant and choose to reject God ultimately and finally.

The Lord, living and victorious, always offers us mercy if we simply ask him. †

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