The Palms and the Cross

Lectio Divina: Palm Sunday, Year C

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Roman rite
Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord – Year C – March 20, 2016
Is 50.4 to 7; Ps 22; Phil 2,6-11; Lk 22.14 -23.56.
Ambrosian Rite
Palm Sunday
Is 52, 13-53,12; Sal 87; Eb 12,1b-3; Gv 11,55-12,11
1) Let us lift our hearts and not just the palm branches.
With this Sunday, which is called Sunday of the Palms and of the Passion of the Lord, we enter into the Holy and Great Week, in which the liturgy will revive the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Holy and tragic Week, but that is also the Week of Victory and Triumph, not only because Christ enters into it hailed triumphantly by the people, but mainly because he emerges from it victorious: Risen. Love triumphs; it wins not despite the Cross, but through the Cross.
«What makes us believe is the cross, but what we believe is the victory of the cross, the victory of life» (Pascal). The cross is the purest and highest image that God has given of himself. “To know who God is I just have to kneel at the foot of the Cross» (Karl Rahner, SJ).
The Cross is at the center of today’s liturgy, and by participating in it, we show that we are not ashamed and not afraid of the Cross of Christ. Indeed we love and revere it, for it is a sign of reconciliation, a sign of a love that is stronger than death, the sign of the Redeemer who died and rose for us. Whoever believes in Jesus crucified and risen carries the Cross in triumph as an indisputable proof that God is love. With the total gift of self, with the Cross, our Savior conquered sin and death. This is why we welcome with joy the Redeemer, «let us also walk along with him who hurries to his passion, and let us imitate those who met him. But not for laying out in front of him along the way olive branches or palm trees, rugs or other things, but for laying down in humble prostration and deep adoration before his feet «(Saint Andrew of Crete).
Therefore, like the cheering crowd of almost two thousand years ago, today we welcome Jesus entering Jerusalem, and  like the disciples, we accompany him in his Passover, making our own the prayer of the Mass: «God, Almighty and eternal God, who, to give to humankind an example of humility,   wanted that our Savior took on our flesh and suffer death on the cross, grant us, in your goodness,  that we make our own the teaching of his passion and  have part in his resurrection «(Collect of today’s Mass).
2) The Passion According to St. Luke and the Evangelists.
To help us make our own the teaching of the passion of Christ, the liturgy today presents the story of Jesus’ Passion according to St. Luke, who tells it bringing out the divine mercy. In this regard it is useful to remember that each Evangelist (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) wrote his Gospel starting from his own theological and catechetical point of view.
According to St. Mark, Jesus is the suffering servant who dies for all; he is the abandoned one. The forgotten Christ is the sown grain that, dying, bears much fruit. The cry of abandonment: «My God, my God why have you forsaken me?» (Mk 15, 34) is not a cry of despair. In fact, the abandonment of the Father immediately becomes an abandonment to the Father, and this total abandonment allows universal reconciliation, starting from the good thief that is taken home in Heaven, from John to whom a mother is given to the Mother to whom a new child (and all of us in him) is donated. This happens thanks to the fact that Jesus refers his soul to the Father in a gesture of total abandonment and loving trust. In this way, as he had promised, from the cross the Redeemer draws all to himself and to the Father, in a deep communion that is consumed in the total offering to God the Father.
As for the gospel according to St. Matthew, we see that in it the Apostle and Evangelist mainly answers to this question: «Who is to be blamed for Jesus’ death?».
According to St. Matthew, all – in their own way – contribute to the Lord’s death. All participate in this drama: some directly, others indirectly; those who do and those who don’t do. But above all there is a passage of the passion narrated by this Apostle which I feel is very important to emphasize. It is the one in which St. Matthew tells what happens immediately after Jesus died (27.51 to 53). After his death there is a series of expressions that are only of this Evangelist: «And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (this is also present in the Gospel of St. Mark), the earth shook, and the rocks were split, the tombs opened and many bodies of saints rose again and after His resurrection, entered the holy city and appeared to many.»  What does St. Matthew want to communicate? He means that through the death of Jesus the domain and the power of death is broken. For the evangelist Matthew, Jesus’ death is above all the joyful good news (the gospel) that the power of sin and death, until this moment devastating and total, is defeated. We can now live a different story: a story of salvation. This possibility is now given to us. The important thing is that we do not run away from Christ and that we stay near, keeping watch with him and praying with him the Father. In this way, we fulfill the exodus, the path led by Christ, the new and true Moses, leading us to life forever.
For St. John, Jesus is the conscious man that goes to meet voluntarily his fate. Even if he is executed, in reality He is the true king. He is the sovereign of himself and throws a challenge: «I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me «(Jn 10, 17-18). In a synthesis, according to St. John, for Jesus the cross is not a lowing but an «elevation.» In fact, the Greek word used by the beloved Apostle («upsozènai») expresses the rise to the throne of a king. The elevation of Jesus on the cross, therefore, is a regal exaltation, in which, however, while a raised king dominates the throne imposing himself, Jesus-King dominates attracting people to him : «When I am lifted up from the earth,  I will draw all men to me» ( Jn 12:32). The sentence of death by crucifixion of Jesus was not a coincidence, an accident. Christ himself wanted to offer his life, being the last of the last, to share the condition of the most wretched, despised and unhappy slaves, who are not even considered «men».
In short, the Cross is the supreme revelation of the Father. This explains the complete freedom of Jesus and his perfect awareness. Christ does the work of salvation not as a victim resigned and helpless, but as one who knows the meaning of the events and freely accepts them. This is the apex of love and also the model of every authentic love: the complete gift of self.
Let us analyze, briefly, the story of the passion that is proposed this year. St. Luke shows Jesus especially as the one who forgives all and is merciful towards all.
This evangelist presents, if not  in an absolutely positive at least in a merciful way, the various characters: the disciples  have remained faithful to Jesus in the tests (Lk 22:28); in the Gethsemane  they fall asleep only once and not three times (Lk 22.39 to 46) and  theirs is a sad sleep; the enemies do not present false witnesses as in the other Gospels (Lk 22.66 to 70); Pilate tries three times to free him because he is innocent (Lk 23.13 to 25); the people are saddened by what is happening (Lk 23:27), and even one of the two thieves on the cross next to Christ is good man(Lk 23.39 to 43).
In Luke, Jesus cares about everyone: He heals the ear of the servant during the arrest (Lk 22.50 to 51), is concerned about the fate of women while ascending the Calvary (Lk 23.28 to 31) , forgives his executioners that scourged and crucified him (Lk 23:34), and promises paradise to the repentant thief (Lk 23:43). The Redeemer in St. Luke is the one who understands his enemies: they do so because they live in darkness otherwise they could not act in this such criminal way. With this look of mercy Christ on the Cross prayed: «Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do» (Lk 23, 34).
It is because he wants to bring out the divine mercy that Saint Luke recounts the passion of Christ as the story of conversion. There is the conversion of the Lord, that turns around and looks at Peter, and Peter feels penetrated by a look of forgiveness so that he remembers and weeps. These tears of pain indicates the conversion of the first of the Apostles. Let’s look to Christ and let us look to Him, as Peter did. Then the Cross that we contemplate at the beginning of Holy Week will be a source of conversion and of a new life given by mercy.
Already at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke we can see mercy in action. In Jesus Christ, God’s mercy extends from age to age to those who fear him, according to the Magnificat of the Virgin Mary (Lk 1, 50). Visiting Mary, God has remembered his mercy as he had promised. In Mary, mercy plants its messianic tent, responding to the expectation of all the poor of Israel, those anawim, of whom we are the spiritual descendants, and like them are called to surrender to his merciful covenant.
At the end of the Gospel we contemplate mercy in action and everything becomes miracle: everything is a miracle. The servant has his ear reattached, Peter cries  for his betrayal, Jesus is recognized «righteous» by Pontius Pilate, the procurator pays, the women are comforted, the thief hanging on the cross is forgiven and the crowd goes home beating their breasts . The death of Christ is full of unexpected sweetness.
The important thing is that, seeing the dramatic spectacle of the Passion of the Son of God dying on the cross for love, we recognize the beloved Love, who gives and forgives.
Of this we find witnesses in the Virgin Consecrated in the world, whose vocation is not to look away from their spouse on the Cross, and to be with Mary, the Virgin Mother, next to Christ, wherever he still suffers and dies. These women have chosen to live in the search for the face of Christ, listening to his voice and in the fulfillment of his will to be fruitful, thanks to the gift of the Spirit, and to generate in the heart the eternal Word. Hidden in Christ, their lives are consecrated to be constant praise of God’s glory, supplicating voice to the needs of the brothers, gift offered to the whole Church.
On the day of their consecration, receiving the alliance, the Bishop proclaims: « Receive the ring that marks you as a bride of Christ. Keep unstained your fidelity to your Bridegroom, that you may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy”. It is clear that this alliance is embedded to the Cross where the Lord has showed them how they are called to share his love to humanity.  On the day of the Palms and throughout Holy Week let invite us to join them in this acceptance of Christ and of his Cross, to bring it into the world as a sign of love for humanity.

Patristic reading
Golden Chair
On Luke 23, 44-47
CYRIL; As soon as the Lord of all had been given up to be crucified, the whole framework of the world bewailed its rightful Master, and the light was darkened at mid-day, which was a manifest token that the souls of those who crucified Him would suffer darkness.
AUG. What is here said of the darkness, the other two Evangelists, Matthew and Mark confirm, but St. Luke adds the cause whence the darkness arose, saying, And the sun was darkened.
AUG. This darkening of the sun it is quite plain did not happen in the regular and fixed course of the heavenly bodies, because it was then the Passover, which is always celebrated at the full moon. But a regular eclipse of the sun does not take place except at new moon.
DIONYS. When owe were both at Heliopolis together, we both saw at the same time in a marvelous manner the moon meeting the sun, (for it was not then the time of new moon,) and then again from the ninth hour until evening supernaturally brought back to the edge of the sun’s diameter. Besides, we observed that this obscuration began from the east, and having reached as far as the sun’s western border at length returned, and that the loss and restoration of light took place not from the same side, but from opposite sides of the diameter. Such were the miraculous events of that time, and possible to Christ alone who is the cause of all things.
GREEK EX. This miracle then took place that it might be made known, that He who had undergone death was the Ruler of the whole creation.
AMBROSE; The sun also is eclipsed to the sacrilegious, that it may overshadow the scene of their awful wickedness; darkness was spread over the eyes of the unbelieving, that the light of faith might rise again.
BEDE; But Luke, wishing to join miracle to miracle, adds, And the veil of the temple was rent in two. This took place when our Lord expired, as Matthew and Mark bear witness, but Luke related it by anticipation.
THEOPHYL. By this then our Lord showed that the Holy of Holies should be no longer inaccessible, but being given over into the hands of the Romans, should be defiled, and its entrance laid open.
AMBROSE; The veil also is rent, by which is declared the division of the two people, and the profanation of the synagogue. The old veil is rent that the Church may hang up the new walls of faith. The covering of the synagogue is drawn up, that we may behold with the eyes of the mind the inward mysteries of religion now revealed to us.
THEOPHYL. Whereby it is signified that the veil which kept us asunder from the holy things which are in heaven, is broken through, namely, enmity and sin.
AMBROSE; It took place also at that time when every mystery of Christ’s assumed mortality was fulfilled, and His immortality alone remained; as it follows, And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said.
BEDE; By invoking the Father He declares Himself to be the Son of God, but by commending His Spirit, He signifies not the weakness of His strength, but His confidence in the same power with the Father.
AMBROSE; The flesh dies that the Spirit may rise again. The Spirit is commended to the Father, that heavenly things also may be loosed from the chain of iniquity, and peace be made in heaven, which earthly things should follow.
CHRYS. Now this voice teaches us, that the souls of the saints are not henceforth shut up in hell as before, but are with God, Christ being made the beginning of this change.
ATHAN. For He commends to His Father through Himself all mankind quickened in Him; for we are His members; as the Apostle says, You are all one in Christ.
GREG. NYSS. But it becomes us to inquire how our Lord distributes Himself into three parts at once; into the bowels of the earth, as He told the Pharisees; into the Paradise of God, as He told the thief; into the hands of the Father, as it is said here. To those however who rightly consider, it is scarcely worthy of question, for He who by His divine power is in every place, is present in any particular place.
AMBROSE; His spirit then is commended to God, but though He is above He yet gives light to the parts below the earth, that all things may be redeemed. For Christ is all things, and in Christ are all things.
GREG. NYSS. There is another explanation that at the time of His Passion, His Divinity being once united to His humanity, left neither part of His humanity, but of its own accord separated the soul from the body, yet showed itself abiding in each. For through the body in which He suffered death He vanquished the power of death, but through the soul He prepared for the thief an entrance into Paradise. Now Isaiah says of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is no other than Paradise, Upon my hands I have painted your walls; whence it is clear, that he who is in Paradise dwells in the hands of the Father.
DAMASC. Or to speak more expressly, In respect of His body, He was in the grave, in respect of His soul, He was in hell, and with the thief in Paradise; but as God, on the throne with His Father and the Holy Spirit.
THEOPHYL. But crying with a loud voice He gives up the ghost, because He had in Himself the power of laying down His life and taking it up again.
AMBROSE; He gave up His Spirit, because He did not lose it as one unwilling; for what a man sends forth is voluntary, what he loses, compulsory.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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