Watch and pray!

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion is the last Sunday of Lent. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week.

It is called Palm Sunday because we remember Jesus’ messianic entrance in Jerusalem, yet on this Sunday we also hear the account of the Passion of Christ that corresponds to the cycle of readings for that particular year. Whereas on Good Friday we hear the Passion according to St. John year in year out, on Palm Sunday we alternate between the Synoptic Gospels. This year we will hear the Passion according to St. Matthew.

In this Passion narrative, we will hear the Lord praying with Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”. We should not be surprised by the fact. To this day pious Jews pray constantly with the Psalm and in the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church, the Psalms play a very prominent role.

Some who study the Gospel according to St. Matthew point out that, from a literary point of view, the entire narration seems to be crafted so as to follow the structure of that Psalm. It is a beautiful Psalm that describes the plight of an innocent person who is wrongfully persecuted and cries out in agony to the Lord. It uses very vivid imagery and metaphors such as “my heart melts like wax”. Halfway through the Psalm, however, the tone begins to change. The innocent person in distress is fully aware that the Lord will vindicate those who suffer and proclaims his trust in the Lord.

The Psalm closes with a strong message of hope and justice served. “To Him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for Him. Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus assumes in his body the accumulation of sin and evil throughout human history and is in agony. He is innocent. His impending fate causes Him to become agitated and grieved. Yet, through it all he prays and as he becomes even more agitated he prays with even greater intensity to end up with “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done,” in total and willful submission to the will of the Father, complete self-emptying to accomplish His mission to ransom us from the jaws of sin and death. A remarkable aspect in the life of Jesus, especially in the most critical moments of his ministry is the intensity of His life of prayer. The Gospels present Him at prayer on many occasions, most notably before important milestones in his public life.

As He prays in the Garden, He constantly exhorts the disciples to keep watch and pray too. That exhortation is as valid for us Christians of the 21st century as it was for the three disciples present in the Garden of Olives. In the first place, because in many senses, the Passion of the Lord continues in our world. While it is true that his Resurrection has recapitulated the entire universe, the full of effects of the Resurrection are not yet fully manifest. The Kingdom of God is in our midst, but not quite fully visible yet. Innocents still suffer, there is injustice in the world and we still have many struggles to face in our personal life, as we journey to the house of the Father. Thus, it is imperative that we keep watch and pray!

It is also the case that notwithstanding the previous point, the importance of prayer in our lives can never be overestimated. It is by the grace of God that we exist and we continue in existence. It is by grace that we have received the many good gifts we enjoy, beginning, of course, with the gift of life, that we sometimes take so very much for granted and is so devalued in these tragic times of legalized abortion and euthanasia. It is by His grace that we can persevere in every good deed and it is by His grace that we hope to enter into eternal life with all the saints. This grace of God that ordinarily flows to us through the Church in the sacraments, does not obliterate or overpower our human nature, it heals it and brings it to perfection. In fact, this grace presupposes our human nature and is more effective when we prepare ourselves to receive it, when we open our hearts as it were. The key to unlock our hearts and open wide their doors to the life-giving grace that God desires to confer on us is prayer. It is through a dialogue of love with Him that we grow in His love.

Our relationship with the Lord must be cultivated, otherwise it fades and becomes stale. This is so, not because of Him, but because of us. He is God. His love for us is perfect, infinite. He is at our side even when we turn our backs on Him. We are the ones who are broken, wounded, destitute and finite human beings who are in radical need of His love and life. Therefore, we need to nurture that relationship through prayer, otherwise we will fall into a spiritual slumber and miss the opportunity offered to us to enter into ever deeper intimacy with the Lord of life.

That is why the exhortation of the Lord ought to resonate in our hearts. We must be watchful indeed and constantly strive to deepen our life of prayer. It is only by an ever deeper relationship with Him that we will be able to face whatever may come our way and even as our own hearts melt like wax, look at Him who was crucified, be comforted by the deliverance He brings, trust in His salvific will and press on to Easter Sunday!

 

Fr. Roberto M. Cid