A Holy Week That Is a Little Too Real

Palm Sunday (A) – April 5, 2020

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

The beginning of Holy Week is always a solemn occasion. For most of us, it brings back a lot of memories: the palms, the stories, the processions, all that we do to commemorate and celebrate the Lord! But this year is a little different. And for most of us, I think, there is a profound sorrow. We cannot celebrate the Triduum and Easter in the church. We are confined in our homes. We have tried to continue as much as we can—with live streams, videos, social media—but even then, we all know it’s not the same.

But what a gift this is. This is a gift. We are a people that do not stop…unless we are stopped. What do I mean? I mean, we all have our daily schedules and projects and habits and routines and priorities. We live each and every day with all of these ideas about what really nourishes us. We are constantly running and doing and never resting. And in the midst of it all, we forget what truly nourishes us. We focus on working hard, making money, taking care of our family—we focus on good things! But we forget the most important things. We become so busy, so used to our schedule and our routines and our project, we start to neglect “the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities” (Francis, Urbi et orbi).

I mean, myself. When the coronavirus led to masses and first communions and confirmations and first confessions and school and everything getting canceled—I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. My schedule went from working twelve hours a day to…not really knowing what I was supposed to do. But I knew that this time was special. I knew that this time was special. Why?

Well, one thing has continued to strike me: this pandemic has forced us to confront the one thing that defines us as human beings, to confront something we try to avoid thinking about, to avoid acknowledging. As humans we are unique. Because we are the only creature that lives with the knowledge that we are going to die. Many of us are scared to death of death. And with this pandemic, we are confronted with something that something that has always been there: we are confronted with death. This pandemic confronts us with with our own mortality. We wish we could live forever! We don’t want to die! We want to live!

Pain, disease, death—these can paralyze us, not just physically, but psychologically and spiritually. I have spoken to many people who are just caught-up in a great fear and anxiety of this whole crisis. Death is nothing new.

But for many of us, this crisis forces us to face the fact that life is not at our disposal, our lives are not our own property. Most of us spend our life in defiance of this; we try to grasp for power, and money, and stuff, and entertainment, and pleasure, and compliments, and recognition and honor—we want to fulfill our ego, to feel good about ourselves.

But really—and this is the tricky part—really, we were not created to grasp for power; we were not made as a creature that needs to fulfill ourselves. We were made—listen closely—we were made to love and to be loved. That’s it. We were made to love and to be loved.

Life, our lives, are not about how much we can take, about trying to satisfy ourselves. Sitting inside for a whole week with the blinds closed and binge-watching Netflix…that didn’t make us happy, we didn’t feel better after we did that.

When do we feel alive, truly alive? When do we feel alive? In moments of love. Not when we are alone, sitting in our room, bing-watching Netflix. Not when we are isolated and alone, just doing what we want to do. Not when we are forced to stay away from everyone. No. In these moments, none of us desire immortality. Actually, the opposite. Most of us start to get depressed, nihilistic. We ask, “What’s the point?”

When do we feel alive? When do we want to live forever? In moments of love, moments of nearness, moments of communion—when we encounter the Other. We feel alive in her eyes; in her eyes, we could live forever. Love, to be loved—this is the one thing we cannot produce for ourselves, and yet it is the one thing that truly nourishes us. We cannot force someone to love us, we cannot buy love, we don’t deserve someone’s love. Love is only given, it is only freely given. A mother is not forced to love her child, she just does.

As we begin Holy Week, we begin with Jesus being confronted with the one thing each and every one of us has been confronted with in a unique way this year. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem marks his confrontation with the defining human characteristic: death. Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, [though he was in a relationship of perfect love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit]—he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

Jesus’ whole being, everything about him—Jesus’ whole being is a gesture of gratitude and self-offering. It is not a gesture of power, it is not a gesture of satisfying himself, no. A gesture of gratitude—the Son knew that his Father loved him, that this love was given to him, that there was nothing he could do to earn it or to lose it. A gesture of self-offering—the Son could not help himself but offer his life in return to the Father.

Moments of love: this is when we live. Not when we are closed in on ourselves, trying to make ourselves happy, no. Moments when we are drawn outside of ourselves, when we live a life of complete gratitude for the love we received, and make a complete offering of ourselves in return.

Death—death, mortality—this just gives added meaning. That’s why we say, “I love you to death.” Death does not have the final word, no. That’s love. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:7-8). When we confront death, like Christ we are given the chance to make a gesture of gratitude and self-offering. To love, and to be loved in return.

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