"You have come out, as it were to a robber, with swords and clubs to apprehend Me. I sat daily with you, teaching in the Temple, and you laid not hands on Me."
Yes, less than five days after Our Lord was welcomed triumphantly as He entered Jerusalem He was subjected to treatment as a common criminal. Hailed as a King to the shouts of "Hosanna in the highest" on this very day, the first Palm Sunday nearly two millennia ago, only to be reviled and scorned by the same crowd with the words "Crucify Him!" The crowd that laid palm fronds in the path of the beast He rode into Jerusalem mocked Him as He hung on the Holy Cross: "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests with the scribes and the ancients, mocking, said : He saved others, Himself He cannot save: if He be the king of Israe, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him; He trusted in God, let Him now deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said: I am the Son of God. And the self-same thing the thieves also that were crucified with Him reproached Him with" (Mt.) The popularity of Our Lord with the fickle crowd was very fleeting, which is why we have to enter Holy Week with a determination to be faithful to Him and to resist sin to the point of shedding point.
Holy Week is a week of contrasts. In it is compressed the entirety of salvation history, as noted in part one of this reflection. In it is compressed the entirety of each of our lives.
Our Lord invites us on Palm Sunday to welcome Him during Holy Week not with palm frond extended from our hands but with hearts and souls cleansed by the bath of His Most Precious Blood in the Sacrament of Penance. He invites us on Palm Sunday to grow in our fervor for love of Him in His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, instituted this very week for our spiritual nourishment and our adoration. He is inviting us to walk along with Him on the Via Dolorosa to help Him carry His Cross, keeping company with His Most Blessed Mother at the foot of the Holy Cross - and to keep vigil at the empty tomb for His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Holy Week is about love. Our Lord came into the world, conceived as a totally helpless embryo in His Blessed Mother's virginal and Immaculate womb, because of His desire to do His Father's will, to redeem sinful men. He takes our place before the Sanhedrin this week to regain what was lost for us by our first parents in the Garden of Eden. He accomplished all of this nearly two millennia ago-and continues his saving work today in each offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass out of the highest of all loves: to will the good of each human soul, the ultimate expression of which is their salvation. And human salvation would have been impossible if the Word had not become flesh and dwelt amongst us in order to die on the wood of the Holy Cross and pay back the blood debt of sin that we owed God in His infinity but could only be paid back by Infinity Himself in His Sacred Humanity.
Each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in the drama that unfolds during Holy Week. But, then, each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in our own lives. Often we are Saint John the Evangelist - faithful to the end. More often than we would like to admit, however, we are vacillating and boastful Peter, exclaiming that we will defend Our Lord with all of our strength but shrinking from that boast of fear, pride, weakness or malice. There are other characters whose names are not mentioned in the accounts of the Passion contained in the Gospels. And it is perhaps these nameless characters who best exemplify our own ambivalence about following Our Lord consistently in every aspect of our daily.
Consider, for example, the people who not only jeered Our Lord as He hung on the Holy Cross but those who walked by with utter indifference to what was happening before their very eyes. Isn't it true that it is really those people who best reflect us most of the time? That is, a lot of us say we're too busy to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or to go on pilgrimages or to make the sacrifices we need to make (which might involve driving many hours and many miles) to protect our souls by attending the Traditional Latin Mass. And there are times when we don't think in supernatural terms about the events of our own daily lives, thereby demonstrating an indifference to First and Last Things more often than we would like to realize.
Yes, there are times in our lives when we cry out "Give us Barabbas" and deliberately choose to expel the life of grace from our souls by committing mortal sins. However, the way the Devil usually tempts human beings away from the interior life of grace is slowly, imperceptibly through spiritual sloth. We forget to pray. We forget to the read Scriptures and solid works of the spitual masters, such as Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year. Indeed, we plunge headlong into everything that is secular, permitting ourselves to be influenced little by little by the spirit of the world, a spirit that is in direct contradiction to that which is conducive to the salvation of our immortal souls. Lukewarmness thus spreads like a unseen cancer, one that devastates the soul and causes a slow but steady rejection of a disciplined life of prayer and penance and self-denial.
We are entering the final days of Lent. The Paschal Triduum will be fast upon us. Listen to the invitation of Our Lord, the Eternal High Priest - the Chief Priest and Victim of every Mass. Each Mass is nothing other than the unbloody re-presentation of His one Sacrifice in Calvary. We are the opportunity to be on the right side of the Cross every day as we transcend time by keeping company with Our Lady at the foot of the Holy Cross in Holy Mass.
"My soul is sorrowful unto death; stay here and watch with Me."
Stay awake. Our attention this week must be focused on the mystery of God's love for each one of us. We must withdraw from the world entirely. Distractions must be minimized. If we need to take time off from work without pay to be in church on Good Friday, the only day of the year that Holy Mass is not offered, then we must do so. Good Friday is the most solemn day of the year, the day on which our salvation was wrought for us by the God-Man Himself. Our attention must be focused this week almost exclusively on the many ways we have offended Our Lord, both by acts of commission and omission, understanding His desire to reconcile us to the Father was such that He made it possible for us to realize a mercy beyond all telling. Our resolve this week must be fixed firmly to imaging the Cross of the Divine Redeemer, pledging to accept all of our own daily penances (every little pain or inconvenience, each one of the distasteful duties we have to fulfill as part of our daily lives, each of the heartbreaks and misunderstandings that are part frequently of human relationships) as the means by which we can help Our Lord redeem the world. And we can keep this resolve by cooperating with the graces Our Lord won for us on the wood of the Holy Cross to serenely renounce self and all legitimate pleasure during this week of weeks.
Stay awake! Keep watch! See how each of our lives is contained in the accounts of Our Lord's Passion that will be read in the Traditional liturgy this week. These accounts are not just interesting reading material. No, they are nothing less than our own spiritual biographies.
The same words uttered by the crowd on this very day in Jerusalem are repeated in every Holy Mass: "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt caeli et gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Benedictus Qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis." May our reception of Our Lord Holy Communion on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week so fill our hearts and souls with the love of Christ Himself that we will indeed stay awake and welcome at all times with souls perpetually on fire for cooperating with the work of Redemption we commemorate in a solemn manner this week.
Invoking always the intercession of the woman given us to be our Mother as she stood by the foot of the Cross, we pray that she will help us to help her Divine Son by carrying His Cross for the entire Mystical Body so that everyone in the world will be Catholic and thus marvel in the glories of the mysteries that unfold before our very eyes in this holiest of weeks.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
To be continued on Holy Thursday
For Tom's first segment on Passiontide, see Part One