by Fr. David May.
If you have followed with seriousness the journey from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week, you will notice that there is a very distinctive turn of the season come Palm Sunday.
It’s best felt, liturgically speaking, if the community begins the service outside the church itself—whether in an adjoining room or even outdoors if possible.
Then there is a sense of real drama when the community moves as a body to the "gates" of Jerusalem—the church doors—and enters led by Christ in the person of the priest, dressed in the color of love and blood—red.
For only Christ could claim the right, by his passion, to open those heavenly doors for us, his body.
At Madonna House, we have the custom of two "angels" standing guard at the doors with candles burning.
The community, which while processing has been singing "All glory, laud, and honor, to thee, Redeemer King," changes its cry to that of a people longing for the salvation only God can give: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Lift up your gates and sing. Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to our King!"
Over and over we repeat these verses, until the "angels," seeing Christ robed in the blood of victory, hear the cry of his people and pull open the doors.
Then we enter the body of the church itself, the symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, the place of ultimate triumph, blessing, and peace.
Liturgically speaking, it is a moment like no other in the Church year.
Until that dramatic moment, we have all been striving—hopefully!—to be open to the graces God gives through repentance, prayer, and fasting. But now, we recognize that our own efforts can come to fruition only if God himself intervenes to obtain for us the victory.
How important it is that we drink of this truth year after year! Not only do we give him our striving and our failures; we give him ourselves. Without the miracle of divine grace, of divine mercy, we are doomed to failure.
The liturgy confirms us in the truth that his mercy is sure, his grace certain, if we but reach out to receive the gift in humility and sincerity of heart.
Almost every year, as I participate in this service, a thought returns: I’m still here! Yes, at Madonna House. But more: I’m still Catholic. I’m still a believer. Some grace has carried me this far once again.
Nothing is more important to my life than the truth of what Christ has accomplished for my sake in this week we call "holy." Although it is one of the busiest weeks of the year in MH—for priests and laity alike—it is clearer in this week than in most that the major work is being performed not by us, but by the Lord.
Only he suffered to the end out of love for us. Only he died and rose again for us to obtain for us a share in his divine life. Only he shared completely the fate of sinners, so as to free us from our bondage.
Only he suffered and forgave to make it possible for us, when we suffer at the hands of others, to find the means to forgive our enemies. Only he…
This week called "holy" opens for our souls a vast perspective on all we go through, on all we live, on all we suffer and lose and grieve. It offers a vast space in which we can consider afresh the burdens of humanity in our day.
Yes, that human story, that poignantly modern and ever-present struggle between life and death, light and darkness, which manifests itself in situation after situation—that story continues on. The challenges to faith do not abate, but rather seem to intensify with the passage of time.
But if we live this week to the full, if we desist from other activities to give ourselves to this one Action of the Church called liturgy and to the one true Actor in that drama—the Lord—we will find ourselves in a new place, spiritually, from which we can give ourselves as the Lord desires, and find ourselves in the giving.
It has occurred to me this year in a new way how necessary it is to drink from Christ’s reality, from his perspective, if you will, if we are to persevere with joy in the task assigned to us by our vocation in life, whatever that vocation may be.
How easy it is for us in our human weakness to be swallowed alive, so to speak, by the cares and concerns and pitfalls of life! Life can begin to be seen as a series of endless challenges that never go away and are seldom permanently resolved, like a wheel of misfortune spinning mercilessly without end!
No wonder we live for Friday night, the weekend, time off, vacation, TV, drink, pleasures of various kinds, sleep(!)—anything, to get some distance from the next flood of demands, challenges, and sufferings inexorably pouring our way.
It is Christ alone who can give us a real life—that is, a life lived in communion with him in the midst of all that goes on, all that we suffer, all that we manage to achieve.
This is the week of communion par excellence with Our Lord, the week that in many ways defines what that communion is meant to be at all times, as fresh and as new as that first Communion offered to the disciples on that first Holy Thursday.
What love, what tenderness, what divine passion went into that First Gift, the same love offered at every Eucharist, with the same freshness, the same divine tenderness and passion!
To live in communion with Christ at all times—this is the goal of our Christian life, and the wellspring of the service we render to our brothers and sisters. To repeat a theme, it is not something we achieve, but a gift we receive. By Palm Sunday we are, hopefully, a little more ready to receive that gift which the Lord is offering.
We are likely a bit worn out by the Lenten journey, depleted to some extent, tired, maybe a bit irritable.
If we are fortunate, maybe we have reached the bottom and know we can’t climb out without the grace of God. It is to all of us in this state that the Lord offers us that greatest of gifts: communion with himself.
What does this communion with the Lord mean? What does it look like? Very simply: it is an experience of Mercy embracing us where we are, carrying us to where we need to be. We shall never get there ourselves, and we will never let ourselves be carried until we run out of our own solutions to the dilemmas life poses.
Suddenly, undeserved, the grace of God is given. It comes as forgiveness to the sinner, tenderness to the broken-hearted, healing to the ill of heart. It comes as strength to the weak, joy to the grieving, and soft rain to the embittered spirit.
It comes as sweet bread to the hungry, fresh water to the thirsty, rest to the weary. It comes as a bright dawn of hope to the despairing, as energy to the listless, as warmth and light to those shivering in the cave of rejection.
Grace is Christ, the Victor, the Conqueror of sin and death, gift of the Father, Giver of the Spirit—come to meet us, to take us home—or at least another step in that direction.
Grace is the gift of One who is alive and who shares this life with us. It is ourselves rising from the dead in whatever form that takes this year, this Holy Week.
Without this grace, we cannot continue. Without this grace, we can do nothing.
It is the courageous, the gloriously foolish claim of the Church that her liturgy will give us what we need most of all: the miracle of salvation, the mercy of the Savior. "O gates, lift high your heads! Grow higher, ancient doors! Let him enter, the King of glory!"
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