Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prayers this week: Six days before the solemn Passover the Lord came to Jerusalem, and children waving palm branches ran out to welcome him. They loudly praised the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. Blessed are you who have come to us so rich in love and mercy.

Almighty and ever living God, you have given the human race Jesus Christ our Saviour as a model of humility. He fulfilled your will by becoming man and giving his life on the cross. Help us to bear witness to you by following his example of suffering and make us worthy to share in his resurrection. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Hesychius of Jerusalem (c. 450)

Not only is the name of today's saint a bit hard to pronounce and spell. It's also difficult to learn about such a modest and gentle man who lived in the fourth and fifth century and who is better known in the Russian Orthodox Church. The birth date of Hesychius (pronounced HESH-us) is unclear, but we know that he was a priest and monk who wrote a history of the Church, unfortunately lost. He also wrote about many of the burning issues of his day. These included the heresy of Nestorianism, which held that there were two separate persons in Jesus—one human, one divine—and the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. Some of his commentaries on the books of the Bible as well, along with meditations on the prophets and homilies on the Blessed Virgin Mary, still survive. It's believed Hesychius delivered Easter homilies in the basilica in Jerusalem thought to be the place of the crucifixion. His words on the Eucharist, written centuries ago, speak to us today: "Keep yourselves free from sin so that every day you may share in the mystic meal; by doing so our bodies become the body of Christ."
Hesychius died around the year 450.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (22.14~23.56)

Luke 19: 28-40 (The Entry into Jerusalem) After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no-one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it.' Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, Why are you untying the colt? They replied, The Lord needs it. They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, Teacher, rebuke your disciples! I tell you, he replied, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.

The work of works
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are those who consider the wars flowing from the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte as being the first world war — and this was over a century prior to World War I. Ultimately it became a war between Bonaparte and his principal enemy, the British. Napoleon came to see that because of the mastery of the sea by the British, it would be impossible for him to invade England. So he launched into a continental blockade which attempted to destroy Britain’s ability to trade. The whole of the European continent, including even Russia, was to be shut off from English goods. It involved immense effort, was never fully implemented, went on for nearly eight years, and broke down at the seams. It was a tremendous project involving enormous effort internationally. For instance, England’s response to it seriously affected its relations with the United States. On the other hand, the blockade facilitated Wellington’s entry into Europe via the rebellious Spanish Peninsular, and this contributed greatly to Bonaparte’s final defeat. Ultimately it caused more harm to the Grand Empire than to England. I mention this as one example of so many spectacular projects in the history of mankind. Kingdoms and rulers have risen and fallen; lives have been lost; blood, sweat and tears have been expended, and one might be forgiven for wondering, all to what avail. George Bernard Shaw once publicly joked that it would have been better for mankind if Napoleon had never been born. Let that be the backdrop, and let the scene of history now change to the one portrayed in our Gospel passage today. It occurred on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, at the gates of Jerusalem. A man was proceeding on a colt, humbly, with no pretensions in his regal face. He was no temporal ruler, no holder of great civil power. There he slowly rode with crowds surrounding him, front and behind. They were acclaiming him as the Messiah who had come. A man in his prime, his face exuded holiness and an indefinable dignity. His eyes gazed ahead of him to the holy city which would soon be the scene of a unique drama affecting all of history to come.

Let us imagine all the projects of the world and the efforts that they have required of man — and I referred to but one of them earlier. What would any of these, or all of them together, amount to when compared with the project which this Man now entering Jerusalem had set himself? He had set himself the task, and had been sent from above for the purpose, of making up for the sin of the world. He was about to bare his shoulders to suffer for all the sins of mankind. Can anyone think of a more mammoth task? Consider the sins of one solitary individual, even, let us suppose, an individual blessed with never having committed a mortal sin of either thought, word or deed. Consider his numerous, nay countless, venial offences against God. Even if all of mankind were never to have committed a single mortal sin, consider the unending sea of venial sins perpetrated daily by mankind, sins of the heart, sins of the mind, sins of the tongue, sins of deed. Imagine being burdened with the venial sins of all mankind. But in fact we must imagine the sin of the world as involving mortal sin indeed. From the very dawn of history mortal sin has appeared on the scene, dark, hateful, rebellious, deadly. Our first parents sinned mortally, wishing to be gods in independence of the one God. If you eat of this tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will be like God, knowing (i.e., determining for yourself) good and evil. That was the temptation, and they chose it. It reflected the sin of the demons in heaven long before. Ever since the terrible beginning at the dawn of history, sin has inundated the world, and it has been deadly sin as well as venial sin. The problem of the world has been sin. Sin entered the world through one man and with sin came death, and death has spread to the whole human race. The problem the Messiah had been sent to fix was man’s separation from God. There he was, now entering Jerusalem, and by the end of that week the work would be done. It was achieved not by armies, not by trumpets, not by the fanfare of the great, but by his own absolute obedience amid unparalleled personal suffering.

The greatest thing ever done for man and the world was done by Jesus Christ. It entailed simple steps: witnessing to the truth of his person and teaching, and accepting the will of his heavenly Father that he suffer indescribably for the sin of the world as a result. He carried his cross from Pilate’s building across to the raised rock outside the city and there was crucified. It was an occurrence that veiled a profound cosmic shift, a shift from bondage to sin to a share in the life of God. If we, nobodies though we might be, follow in the footsteps of Jesus, then we shall also contribute mightily to the good of man. Let us get our priorities right, then! Ah yes, to the work!


A second reflection for Palm Sunday:

"As he was approaching the downward slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen".

I remember watching a television interview with a prominent Australian philosopher who was asked if he believed in God. He said he did not because of all the evil and suffering there is in the world. If there were a God, he said, he would have arranged things differently. It was not clear whether the philosopher (Peter Singer) was asking for a world free of evil and suffering, but the good news is that God has sent his Son to deal with evil and suffering, and by uniting ourselves with Jesus, we too deal with it — in God’s way — in our own lives.

On Palm Sunday we celebrate our Lord entering Jerusalem for the holiest week of his life, the week during which he would deal definitively with suffering and sin. He dealt with sin by accepting — indeed embracing — and then bearing to the end the suffering which came to him as a result of his witnessing to the truth. Our Lord dreaded his hour of suffering, and in the Garden he sweated blood at the prospect. But at the same time he looked to it with longing, setting his face towards it like flint. He advanced towards it with firm decision because he intended to give it its new meaning. By means of his suffering he would take away the sin of the world. In the first reading we read of the suffering Servant of Yahweh, the harbinger of Christ in meekly submitting to the violence inflicted upon him. St Paul writes that God made the sinless Christ to be sin, as it were, in order to take away our sins.

There is another aspect of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem to bear witness to the truth about his own person before the leaders of the Jews and before Pilate, which is to say before the chosen people and before the world. Before the chief priests he testified that he was the Son of the Most High, that he would be seated at his right hand, and therefore that he was equal to God. Before Pilate he said that he was born to bear witness to the truth, and in his passion he bore witness to this truth. We are called to share in his work of bearing witness to the truth about Jesus. The word martyr means witness, and martyrs are referred to as receiving the palm of martyrdom. On Palm Sunday we all receive palms above all to symbolize our resolve to bear witness to our faith in Jesus our king. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Let us resolve to bear witness to Jesus every day in every aspect of our lives, in all our thoughts, words, joys and sufferings. For if we are not ashamed of bearing witness to Jesus here on earth he will bear witness to us before our Father in heaven. Christ has shown that the suffering in the world is now the path to glory. Let us take that path.

Christ humbled himself to share our nature even to death, and because of his obedience God raised him on high. If we unite our sufferings with those of Christ in a spirit of obedience and in witness to him who is the truth, those sufferings will lead us to glory. They will sanctify us. This is the grace to seek this week and today, uniting ourselves in spirit with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem to suffer for us.


A third reflection on Palm Sunday

Scripture today: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 21; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

"As he was approaching the downward slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen". (Luke 19:28-40)

Today we think of our Lord entering Jerusalem to undergo unimaginable sufferings for the salvation of the world. Due to our Lord’s sufferings, human suffering has a purpose, and we must recover this sense of purpose. Suffering takes many forms. For instance, it can take the form of failure. If one were to ask, from a worldly point of view, whether Christ at the time of his death was a success or a failure, what would some have said? They would have said — especially the religious leaders would — that he was a failure. The people en masse did not really believe in him, and in fact the leaders killed him. His own closest associates ran away. In fact, if there is one person in history who presents the problem of evil and suffering, it is Jesus Christ. The ancient Greeks were fatalists. Even their gods were depicted as being in the hands of fate. In our day what is the reaction to suffering? It is to do anything, anything, even the grossest evil, to avoid it. We even kill the unborn to avoid suffering. I suppose there are two main reasons why an abortion is proposed. One is the difficulty and great inconvenience entailed in the pregnancy, birth and upbringing of the child. A second reason is often that, due to scientific techniques, it is discovered that the child will have serious disabilities. The child, it is said, would have no quality of life and the quality of life for the mother too will be seriously impaired. There will be too much suffering and inconvenience. Suffering is deemed to have no purpose, and the response to it is to do anything to avoid it, even to put an end to the life in question.

Once on the ABC TV 7.30 Report, presenter Kerry O’Brien interviewed the scientist who many years ago discovered DNA, the genetic material that determines the character traits and constitution of the unborn child. Because of this discovery all sorts of genetic information is now available, enabling the parents to know what will be the physical health and constitution of the child. With this knowledge many decide to abort children who have very serious disabilities. The scientist who discovered DNA unambiguously stated that the unborn child has no rights as such, and that if it is discovered that the child will have serious disabilities, it is up to the parent to decide whether the child should live or not. That was his response to suffering. Suffering has no purpose at all. Immediately after that segment, Kerry O’Brien introduced another segment which showed a seriously disabled woman in her wheelchair. She was shown deriving great joy from her painting. Then it was explained that her disease progressively makes her a complete prisoner in her own body, and will probably eventually kill her. But she radiated happiness and joy. Moreover, she had formed a group of young women friends who had established a foundation to raise funds for research into the disease she was suffering from. They had already raised $200,000 for this purpose, and had brought out a scientist to Australia to begin the research. One of the group explained that even if this woman dies from the disease without the cure, the research will go on. But most impressive of all was the happiness, the vitality and the joy of this disabled woman. Significantly, she said that she was convinced that her disability was given to her for a reason. Her suffering had and would have a purpose.

That woman was living proof from her joyful attitude that life was indeed worth living despite her deadly disability. Further, she was establishing a foundation to find a cure for the disability from which she herself was suffering. She was bringing quality of life to others. When the cross comes, we must resolve to believe that all is in the hands of God and that he is allowing this, or even sending it, as a sign of his love. We must try to thank him for the good things as well as the bad, knowing that he gives and he takes away for our best interests. We must trust him, and unite ourselves to the Cross of Christ, asking Jesus to use our sufferings just as the Father used his to redeem the world.

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