PALM SUNDAY 2018
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 25th March 2018
In today’s liturgy we commemorate the Lord’s festive and triumphant entry into Jerusalem as he begins the celebration of the Passover. We have heard two Gospel readings: the Gospel of the Passion and the Gospel reading before the procession. The contrast between them could not be greater.
The Gospel before the procession relates the triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Jesus, a king! The people greeted Jesus with hymns of triumph: “Hosanna, Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David”.
There is however something wrong with the picture. Kings do not come in procession on a borrowed donkey. The donkey is the animal of the poor. Kings are not greeted with the motley clothes of the poor and bits of greenery thrown on the ground. Kings like red carpets, and gilded clothing, and elegant chariots
Is it that there is something wrong with the picture, or perhaps is it that there is something in the picture which sets out to show us how we can go wrong. Jesus is showing us in vivid terms that his kingship is very different to what we think about kings and power and authority and about indeed what we think about success and fulfilment in life.When we link the Gospel of the procession with the Gospel of the Passion that we have just heard, then we understand that we are dealing with a deeper mystery not just about kingship but also about us, about the Church and about Jesus himself.
The triumphal entry of Jesus moves very quickly from triumph to what appears to be utter failure. What has happened to Jesus who went from town to town doing good and bringing healing and wholeness to those who were suffering or in distress? What has happened to this man who was acclaimed as one who taught with authority? How is it that this Jesus who spoke as a prophet and who proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near at hand is now reduced to silence and human powerlessness? The Jesus who was acclaimed by crowds at his entry into Jerusalem ends up abandoned.
Indeed this same Jesus who during his life spoke about and witnessed to his closeness with God the Father seems abandoned even by God.
We can only find the interpretation of what this way of the Cross signifies in the words of our second reading, the great hymn which we find in the Letter to the Philippians and which will be repeated many times in the liturgy of Holy Week.
Jesus who was divine showed his divinity in ways which are far from our understanding of power. He took on the form of a slave. He emptied himself and accepted death, even death on a cross. To our way of thinking, emptying oneself is the exact opposite of being fulfilled. Yet Jesus shows us that true fulfilment comes though self-giving out of love and it is through his total self-giving that Jesus reveals to us what loves is and what love attains. The Way of the Cross is the Way of total self-giving in love.
Jesus appears to be abandoned by all. But his self giving-love until the end opens the door to something new. His Father recognises this total self-giving. Through Jesus’ Way of the Cross, sin and death are conquered and new life is opened for us and for all who believe.
The Church is the community in which that same Jesus who gave himself for us is present and opens for us the way to true humanity. Even when the members and the leadership in the Church fail, Jesus salvation remains there to challenge us and to judge us. When the Church becomes caught up in its own structures or in the ways of the world, it fails Jesus. The Church regains its soul not then by repeated words of regret and apology. These are just human words and human sentiments. The Church truly apologisies when it returns to the truth and the love of Jesus himself. When we fail in our following of the demanding teaching of Jesus, we too can find healing only when we set aside our own pride and self-interest and allow ourselves to be changed by the power of Jesus love.
Renewal and reform in the Church are not just about structural changes. Structural changes will remain fruitless if they remain simply human words. Reform of the Church requires something more radical. It requires moving beyond human categories. It requires that we too seek to understand how the challenge of Jesus will always be one that rejects human power.
The contrast between the two Gospel readings is the contrast between the structures of political and religious power and self-interest and the humble who in all simplicity recognise the action of Jesus. Jesus will not be found in the rigid certainties of establishment. Jesus is found where people struggle and seek where the good prevails. That is the sense also of the World Meeting of Families that we will celebrate in Dublin in August.
The announcement of the visit of Pope Francis to the World Meeting of Families inevitably has brought with it an examination of the failings of the Irish Church.
Pope Francis comes to strengthen and comfort families. He comes to challenge us all to be with those families that struggle and fail. He comes to challenge those families that believe that success in empty bourgeois life-style or in a narrow piety of certainty makes them somehow the better class of family.
Families are places where people struggle as they search to make the love and fidelity of spouses endure, despite their own human weakness. Families are places where children are loved, night and day in good times and bad. Homelessness, or domestic violence, infidelity, unemployment and lack of social support, or forced migration all degrade families. Families are places where in the face of such struggle they still bring light and warmth, even when all the odds are against them. Families are places where love is learned and where faith takes roots. Wounded and struggling families are places where God’s love still prevails. The ideal family is not the one of the fashion magazines, but the great families are the families to which each of us is deeply indebted.
The Church of Jesus must be a Church that is counter cultural to many dimensions of today’s society. It is not in the sense of polemic discussions and self-focussed triumphalism, but a community which recognises in Jesus, the one who made himself slave to so that we could live. May our celebration of Holy Week touch our hearts profoundly and lead us to imbibe the self-giving love of Jesus.