"Here is the Pope’s message."
It used to be that Christianity’s holiest week is celebrated worldwide with people from all walks of life streaming to churches, chapels, or in some cases, just makeshift altars, as repentant and prayerful as ever all connected in faith with the Lord Jesus’ journey of sacrifice-unto-death and into the ever glow of resurrection and the light. With all the solemnity it deserved, Christianity’s teachings and rituals were on full view in the manner by which Christians everywhere took to their faith.
Indeed, more than Christmas or other holidays in the Christian calendar, Holy Week is, as it should be, the most widely celebrated and, might I add, intimately personal if not familial undertaking of all. Last year’s celebration took on a much different turn as COVID-19 ravaged the world. For the first time in living memory, Holy Week was celebrated virtually: No mass gatherings, no palaspas, and Palm Sunday processions, no Visita Iglesia, none of the usual rituals which go with our Christian journey. Nonetheless, these challenges only served to steel our faith as we united in prayer ever hopeful in seeing the light in the Risen Lord.
A year after, after months of overcoming trials and about to emerge from the scars of losing loved ones, jobs and other things we hold dear we are back in a corner trying to make something from the experience. It is as if we never got over those challenges and never learned any lessons at all. But no matter. We will plod on, ever hopeful, ever prayerful and even truer to our faith that amidst all of these trials the eternal goodness of the Risen Lord will prevail and will bring us to the Promised Land. It is on this note that I have decided to give space to an abridged version of the 2020 Papal Palm Sunday message. Here goes:
“Jesus ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7). Let us allow these words of the Apostle Paul to lead us into these holy days, when the word of God, like a refrain, presents Jesus as servant: on Holy Thursday, he is portrayed as the servant who washes the feet of his on Good Friday, he is presented as the suffering and victorious servant (cf. Is 52:13); and tomorrow we will hear the prophecy of Isaiah about him: ‘Behold my servant, whom I uphold” (Is 42:1). God saved us by serving us.’
“But how did the Lord serve us? By giving his life for us. We are dear to him; we cost him dearly. Saint Angela of Foligno said she once heard Jesus say: ‘My love for you is no joke.’ His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love. And the Father upheld Jesus in his service. He did not take away the evil that crushed him, but rather strengthened him in his suffering so that our evil could be overcome by good, by a love that loves to the very end. The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment.
“Betrayal. Jesus suffered betrayal by the disciple who sold him and by the disciple who denied him. He was betrayed by the people who sang hosanna to him and then shouted: ‘Crucify him!’ (Mt 27:22). He was betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him. We can think of all the small or great betrayals that we have suffered in life. It is terrible to discover that a firmly placed trust has been betrayed.
“Let us look within. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our infidelities. How many falsehoods, hypocrisies and duplicities! How many good intentions betrayed! How many broken promises! How many resolutions left unfulfilled! The Lord knows our hearts better than we do. He knows how weak and irresolute we are, how many times we fall, how hard it is for us to get up and how difficult it is to heal certain wounds. And what did he do in order to come to our aid and serve us? He told us through the Prophet: ‘I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them deeply.’ (Hos 14:5). He healed us by taking upon himself our infidelity and by taking from us our betrayals.
“Abandonment. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says one thing from the Cross, one thing alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). These are powerful words. Jesus had suffered the abandonment of his own, who had fled. But the Father remained for him. Now, in the abyss of solitude, for the first time he calls him by the generic name ‘God.’ And ‘in a loud voice’ he asks the most excruciating question ‘why’: ‘Why did you too abandon me?’
“Why did all this take place? Once again, it was done for our sake, to serve us. So that when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone.
“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you.’
“Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love.
“So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold. The Father, who sustained Jesus in his Passion also supports us in our efforts to serve. Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a via crucis. But the path of service is the victorious and lifegiving path by which we were saved.
“Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich, and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others. Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.”