Monday, March 30, 2020

In Joy & In Misery: A Palm Sunday Reflection

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, April 5, 2020, via our parish blog. When we began our draft a few weeks ago, we didn't realize church doors would be locked and Masses would be live-streamed and faithful Catholics across the country would be fasting from the Eucharist. Even so, the Holy Spirit led us to consider how sorrow and joy often blend in our lives.

As the COVID-19 pandemic affects our world, our country, and each of us personally, we experience suffering in a particular way this Palm Sunday.Our Mass readings begin with an adoring crowd praising Jesus and waving palms as He enters Jerusalem:
“Hosanna to the Son of David; 
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; 
hosanna in the highest.”
How joyful life is sometimes! And yet, later in Mass, we read how this same crowd, only days after cheering Jesus' arrival, yells for his death:
“Let him be crucified!”1
How quickly life circumstances can change. How strangely joy and sorrow blend in our lives.

Perhaps Mary knew this reality more deeply than most. Even as she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, rejoicing at the prophecy over him -- this Child is "a light to reveal God to the nations" -- Simeon shared a more somber prophecy for Mary: "a sword will pierce your heart."2

Jesus, despite being the Son of God and despite living a perfect life, suffered immensely. We read his words in this week's Gospel: "My soul is sorrowful even to death."3

Mary, despite being hailed full of grace by the angel Gabriel and despite mothering a perfect Son, suffered immensely. Of Mary at the foot of the cross, St. John Paul II wrote: the "immolation and mortal agony [of Jesus] also reached her maternal heart. Behold the agony of the heart of the Mother..."4

And for us, today, despite being followers of Christ and despite our best intentions, we receive no promise of lives without suffering.

And yet, God does not abandon us in our suffering. On the contrary, He chooses to fully immerse himself in our sorrow.

God gives his heart to the miserable, in the words of St. Augustine: "miseris cor dare."5 From this, we form the Latin word "misericordia," which translates mercy.6

And this mercy reveals itself most tangibly in Jesus who, letting go of heaven and uniting with humanity, chose to suffer with those who suffer: "In Christ and through Christ, God becomes especially visible in His mercy," wrote St. John Paul II.7

Because of this, we place the image of Christ crucified over our doorways in laughter-filled homes, over the beds of our love-filled marriages, and over every altar where Mass is celebrated. As Catholics, we understand acutely the sorrow of the crucifix as integral to the joy of the resurrection. 

This Palm Sunday, as we experience personal and shared suffering through sickness, social distancing, and quarantine, we reflect on the Passion of Our Lord.

May God comfort us as we pray: Lord, give us your heart. Lord, be with us in our sorrow. Lord, have mercy. 

Photo: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Crucifix, the only part of church not destroyed, Vaux, France, July 20, 1918" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 - 1920.

1Palm Sunday Readings, April 5, 2020.
2 Luke 2:25-35
3 Matthew 26:38
4 St. John Paul II, Letter to Priests, March 25, 1988.
5 Pope Francis, To the National Confederation of the "Misericordie" of Italy, June 14, 2014.
6 Pope Francis, Misericordia et Misera, November 20, 2016.
7 St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, November 30, 1980.

*Also published April 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

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