Faith Alive

Catholic News Service

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    The Palm Sunday cry, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," challenges every Christian and every Christian community.

    During Holy Week, we relive and review our personal walk with Christ.

    Mark's Gospel is oriented toward the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this climax begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.


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    Stories of Palm Sunday

    By David Gibson

    Catholic News Service

    The Palm Sunday cry of Christians, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," was heard many centuries ago in Jerusalem's streets. It still is heard today.

    The words of this cry are so familiar that their meaning risks being overlooked or taken for granted. They hold a great challenge, however.

    Let's visit the writing of Etheria, a woman from Galicia, a Spanish province, who traveled to the Holy Land in the fourth century. Her word images of Christian life in Jerusalem became an invaluable tool for future historians.

    The Palm Sunday procession she described must have been quite a sight. It began at the Mount of Olives, with the people bearing palm and olive branches. Parents carried children on their shoulders, as the somewhat slow-moving procession made its way from the mount's top and through the city.

    It advanced slowly, Etheria explained, in order not to weary people. Her account revealed that much of the day had been and still would be devoted to prayer, singing and worship. These events surely fatigued many.

    Notably, after the Gospel account was read aloud of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by children carrying branches and palms, the procession commenced.

    Etheria indicates that people of all ages and ranks walked together, praying, singing and responding to each other, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

    This happened around the year 385, setting in motion the events of the week ahead, known to Etheria as the Great Week, known to us as Holy Week.

    There can be a sense as Holy Week begins that light now will be cast on whatever is good and whatever detracts from the good. The week ahead, after all, recounts the passion of Jesus. Yet, it culminates on as high a note as possible, the Lord's Resurrection.

    The days of the Easter triduum, beginning Holy Thursday and ending on Easter, are like one day in which currents of death and new life converge wondrously.

    With all of that in mind, contrast Jerusalem's Palm Sunday in 385 with the Palm Sunday of 1980 in El Salvador's capital, San Salvador.

    Blessed Oscar Romero, San Salvador's Catholic archbishop, had been assassinated just six days earlier while celebrating Mass. Known and greatly respected for his social justice advocacy and closeness to his people, but strongly opposed by some, he had sensed that he might meet a violent death in his conflicted nation.

    Palm Sunday was the day of his funeral. His casket was placed on the front steps of his cathedral. But shooting erupted in the square, and many were killed. Thousands sought protection by crowding into the cathedral.

    The archbishop's casket was brought inside and quickly placed in the tomb prepared for him.

    Archbishop John Quinn, at that time San Francisco's archbishop, attended the funeral. He asked demandingly, "Who was responsible for this sacrilege, for this insult to humanity, for this unbelievable outrage on Palm Sunday?"

    Six years later Archbishop Quinn returned to San Salvador to deliver a speech to a World Day of Peace observance. The events of Palm Sunday 1980 represented a call to become peacemakers, he suggested.

    "In its suffering, death and persecution, the church is called to share in the mystery of the suffering and death of Christ," said Archbishop Quinn. He stressed that "the Gospel of Christ calls not to violence but to reconciliation."

    He insisted: "Sin and death are not the victors. The victor is Jesus Christ."

    With the start each year of Holy Week, Christians turn intently toward Jesus. Paradoxically, however, to turn toward Jesus does not require turning away from others. Instead, to be bonded with Christ is to be bonded in him with so many others and to turn toward them too!

    Doesn't the Palm Sunday cry of Christians, then, challenge every Christian and Christian community to come "in the name of the Lord"?

    We know much about Jesus. He cared for the sick. He befriended the poor, instilled hope and communicated life and love. Does coming in the name of the Lord imply all of that and more?

    Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said recently that the kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ "is not about cultivating relations with people who can profit you, it's about being good to people who cannot pay you back."

    That suggests that those who come in the name of the Lord will find themselves running at times against society's tide.

    Love, Pope Francis remarks in his 2018 Lenten message, "is the core of the Gospel," but love can "grow cold." A "chill that paralyzes hearts and actions" can sweep over us, he cautions. It can weaken the "sense of being members of one human family" and even result in violence when others do "not live up to our expectations."

    As Easter approaches he encourages all to ask "how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate our love is beginning to cool?"

    (Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)


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    Holy Week: The week we live at church

    By Shemaiah Gonzalez

    Catholic News Service

    Spiritual writer, Kathleen Norris, in her book, "The Cloister Walk," shares her Holy Week schedule. It includes morning prayers, choir rehearsal, evening liturgy services but what I really noticed, was right smack in the middle of her afternoons, she wrote "NAP!!!" Yes, in capital letters and extra exclamation points.

    I was grateful to read this, as if Norris gave me permission to admit the exhaustion of Holy Week. As we walk through the story of Christ's passion, I feel it in every atom of both my body and my soul.

    My parish has a joyful processional for Palm Sunday. My school-age sons are radiant, waving their palm fronds as we parade into the church, our path lined with trumpeters and singers. We sing, "Christ Jesus, victor!" full force, smiling until our cheeks hurt.

    We march around the corner to enter the church and see a lone bagpiper, playing a different tune, one foreshadowing death. I'll remember that just a week later the joyous crowd transforms to a jeering mob, calling for Our Lord's death. It's a vulnerability I feel in my own body, staying with me as we stand, my knees shaking, listening to the Passion readings.

    This grief stays with me all week, as I turn the story over in my heart.

    On Holy Thursday, the Last Supper, I imagine the repulsion of the men as they watched Jesus wash their feet. How could he lower himself to serve us in this way? They asked each other, not knowing what is in store for their beloved Christ.

    That night, I lay in bed, thinking of Peter's denial and how that could so easily have been me. I make a mental note to take a nap after service tomorrow.

    On Good Friday, my legs wobble as I move forward in the line for the veneration of the cross. I imagine myself, there before him in pain, dying. Even though I shouldn't, I attempt to control my emotions in front of my fellow parishioners.

    I think of Jesus' last words as I wrap myself in a blanket on my couch at home: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus' loneliness and grief surpassed mine. He understands. I pray for peace.

    And on Easter Vigil, even though our catechumens are baptized that evening, reminding us of the glory to come, my body is sore, my soul exhausted, like the children who fall asleep on the church pews.

    I am waiting, and I wonder if the disciples remembered the psalm, that Saturday night, as they too waited: "Wait for the Lord; take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!" (Ps 27:14).

    It's not just that first Passion that I am reliving. It's personal, my own walk with Christ, today, one where I so desperately need the season of Lent, to refocus my love and desires on him. And yet, my soul grieves too for the day when all creation is united with Christ, when we are all made new.

    The next morning, I feel the weight of despair lifted as I ready the family for Easter Mass. The waiting is over! He is risen!

    The dark colors of mourning have been replaced with our brilliant Easter best. The usher greets us at the door, saying we all look like a bunch of Easter eggs in our carnation pinks, robin's-egg blues and canary yellows. I embrace him and all the faces I saw this week; heartbroken and weary, we are now transformed, energized, our faces revealing freedom and love.

    My friend Ann Marie says, "Easter isn't nearly as meaningful to me if I don't go through those liturgies first." I'd have to agree, as I watch the jubilant processional. My eyes are full of tears again but this time they are tears of joy as I sing with all creation, "Oh praise him! Alleluia!"

    (Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is


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    Jesus' journey to Jerusalem

    By Paul Senz

    Catholic News Service

    In many ways, the Gospel of Mark is quite mysterious. Even a superficial reading often leads to many questions. A deeper reading may give some answers, but reveals many more puzzles.

    During Holy Week, as we reflect on the passion narratives presented in the Gospels, we may notice that, although Jesus surely went to Jerusalem many times throughout his life to observe the Jewish feasts, Mark recounts only one visit (Mk 11:1-10). Why would that be?

    The short answer is that, for Mark, everything in Jesus' life led up to and culminated in the crucifixion and resurrection. Everything in Mark's Gospel is a precursor to the entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of the Passion. Mark's Gospel is oriented toward the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this climax begins with the triumphal entry into the Holy City.

    One feature of Mark's Gospel that hints at this orientation is what has become known in later centuries as the "messianic secret": Throughout the Gospel, Jesus endeavors to keep his identity as the Son of God hidden. Whenever he heals someone of an affliction, he asks them not to tell anyone; when demons call out to him as Son of the Holy One, he silences them, as it is not the proper time for him to be revealed.

    The secret is finally revealed during the week of the Passion, symbolically right from his entrance into the city. This triumphal, heraldic entry follows visits to Bethany and Bethpage, located on the Mount of Olives. The prophet Zechariah prophesied that this would be the site where God's kingship would be revealed in the last days (Zec 14:4-9).

    By waiting until the end of Jesus' ministry to discuss his time in Jerusalem and its surrounding environs, Mark is able to emphasize the importance of every action of Jesus.

    Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is triumphant, victorious -- the victory parade before the battle, in a manner of speaking. There is an expectation that the king will return to Jerusalem; the messiah-king will return in triumph, and save God's people from their torment.

    Jesus fulfills this messianic-kingly expectation of the return to Jerusalem. When he rides on the colt set aside for this purpose, and the people chant "Hosanna!" as he processes in, he is heralded as the messiah-king. These features of his entrance into the city follow precedents seen throughout the Old Testament, especially those found in 1 Kings 1:32-34; 2 Kings 9:13; 1 Maccabees 13:51; and Psalm 118:26.

    Mark focuses on this single journey to Jerusalem to give it emphasis and weight. If he were to depict many entrances into the Holy City, he would not be able to emphasize quite so clearly the heraldic, messianic import of this final excursion into Jerusalem. Jesus entered the city as the culmination of his ministry, and the fruition of his earthly work.

    Within the week, Jesus would be arrested, tried and crucified. Then, after three days, he would rise from the dead. The victory was won, sin and death were defeated. Hosanna in the highest!

    (Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.)


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    The Palm Sunday celebration is bittersweet, both joyful and sorrowful, Pope Francis said in a homily April 9, 2017, at St. Peter's Square.

    While "we celebrate the Lord's entrance into Jerusalem" and "acclaim him as king," the pope said, we also "solemnly proclaim the Gospel account of his passion" and feel in our hearts "some small measure what Jesus himself must have felt."

    Jesus enters the city as the "Messiah who comes in the guise of a servant" and goes to his passion, Pope Francis said.

    "As we joyfully acclaim our king, let us also think of the sufferings he will have to endure in this week," he said.

    Pray for the grace to follow Jesus in word and deed, and pray for patience to carry our crosses daily, Pope Francis told the crowd.

    Jesus "does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs" or in videos on the internet, the pope said, but in the faces of "our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own," who suffer from slave labor, tragedy, disease, war and terrorism.

    "Jesus is in them," and "he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved," Pope Francis said.



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