Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Our faith as Catholic Christians comes down to this: Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins and, on the third day, rose again.

This was what the apostles preached as they made their way through the Roman Empire spreading belief in Jesus. This is what countless martyrs gave their lives to witness to. This is at the center of everything we do as followers of Jesus.

Without our belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus, everything else - our prayers, sacrifices and good works - would have no meaning. No amount of good we do can replace the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. Without that faith, our lives would be left without purpose and without meaning.

On this day, we join the crowds that welcomed Jesus triumphantly into the holy city, Jerusalem. With them we wave palm branches acknowledging that he is our Savior. We invite him into our homes and hearts with enthusiasm and joy knowing that he comes to free us from our sins and from the power of death.

At the same time, we remember with profound sadness that his entry into Jerusalem is the first step toward his eventual death on the cross. This same crowd which cheers him on will turn on him and reject him. They will cry out for him to be crucified. One of his followers, a friend and apostle, will betray him. Another apostle will deny even knowing him. The religious leaders will denounce him to the Roman authorities. And the Roman authorities will torture and put him to death. It is as if the whole world has conspired to cast God out of his own creation.

At this Mass, we must also remember that, like that crowd, we too have rejected Jesus. It was for our sins that he died. And every time we choose to sin whether by thought, word or deed, we cry out with the people, "Crucify him! Crucify him!". Like the people of Jesus day, we are often just as quick to reject Jesus as we are to welcome him.

We remember this, however, not to fill ourselves with shame, but to call to mind his great love. While we were sinners, when we were lost in our ignorance, Jesus came to save us. He stooped down from heaven so that we could know God in all his glorious mercy. This is the message of Saint Paul in today's second reading. Jesus made himself a slave so that we might be free. He became human so that we could have friendship with God. He died so that we might live. And he rose in glory so that we might rise to new life with him. This is why we wave palm branches and celebrate even though we know in our hearts that we are sinners. The forgiveness, the peace, the joy we long for is riding into the city. He is Jesus.

Some have said that no one in human history has ever suffered as greatly as Jesus did when he was put to death. While there is no way of knowing how true that may be, there are a few things about his death that are certain. No one else in human history was ever as innocent as Jesus was. And no one else in human history ever embraced his death with the same love as Jesus embraced his. Though he did not deserve to die, he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross out of love for us. And he continues to offer us his love and mercy no matter how many times we turn away from him.

We have relived the passion and death of Jesus as recounted to us in Scripture. It is a story which continues in our day. Jesus continues to suffer in those who are sick, in the poor, in those who are unjustly imprisoned and in those who are persecuted for their beliefs. He is at the side of those who are hungry and lonely and sad. Now that we have seen what our Savior has suffered for us, will we go into the world and relieve the sufferings of those we meet? Like Simon the Cyrenean, will we help Jesus carry his cross by bringing food to the hungry and visiting the sick? Will we unite our daily hardships with the sufferings of Jesus on the cross and so transform our suffering into a source of salvation for the world? If so, we will discover that Jesus - the conqueror of sin and death - continues to be alive and active in our world. We will come to understand just how deep his love for each human being is. And we will experience in our hearts and homes the joy of the salvation which he spilled to his precious blood to win for us.

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