Posts Tagged ‘Passion Sunday’

db_26-Cross_of_the_Holy_Week2Two of our grandchildren came with us to the Passion Day Mass yesterday. We’d been talking over the weekend about peer pressure, fair weather friends, and the dangers of posting anything in a digital format that you wouldn’t want to have to show your grandmother.

I found myself using the long double-Gospel of the Mass as an object lesson. See? One weekend you’re king for the day, and everyone cheers. The crowd are out in the streets laying down palms for your donkey to walk on. Five days later, the same people are in the same streets baying for your blood. Who, then, are your friends?

The New York Times had an article recently about the power of family stories to build resilience. The article talks about the research of a couple of Americans, who were interested in the observation that children who knew more about their families coped better in a crisis:

They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

“We were blown away,” Dr. Duke said.

And then something unexpected happened. Two months later was Sept. 11. As citizens, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush were horrified like everyone else, but as psychologists, they knew they had been given a rare opportunity: though the families they studied had not been directly affected by the events, all the children had experienced the same national trauma at the same time. The researchers went back and reassessed the children.

“Once again,” Dr. Duke said, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”

Duke talks about three different themes in family narrative – the ascending theme (we came from nothing and built an empire), the descending theme (we used to have everything, and we lost it all), and the oscillating theme.

‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”

Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Fascinating stuff. As those who’ve followed this blog for a while know, I’ve suggested (slightly tongue in cheek, but my recent readings around AI (artificial intelligence) just reinforce the opinion) that we should be called Homo Narrans – that our identifying characteristic as an animal is our ability to make sense of our environment by making a story out of it, and to then pass that story on to others. My master’s research methodology was based on the power of narrative to build cohesiveness into groups. Surely much of the strength of Christianity to endure and survive lies in the power of the Christian narrative. Passion Sunday’s epic readings take us from triumph through hope to agony and despair. We can’t not know that the resurrection follows. For us, even the descending narratives of the daily readings of this Holy Week – taking us step by step closer to the betrayal, the denial, and the cross – are coloured by the ultimate in plot switches of Easter morning.

Our Christian narrative is an oscillating narrative. I find it hard to believe that a descending narrative – one in which the leader died, betrayed by a close friend and deserted by all but one of his other friends – would have had any survival value for the nascent group. Did they pull themselves together enough to come up with a lie that would keep the crowds coming? Improbable, I would have thought. And the improbable is vastly less likely than the impossible. In this case, the impossible (the resurrection) simply means something happened that we don’t understand. The improbable means that people behaved in a way that is outside of human nature.

We belong to something bigger than ourselves, and – no matter what happens – we’ll survive; we’ll stick together as a family.

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Christ entered in triumph into His own city to complete His work as our Messiah: to suffer, die and rise again . . . Let us remember with devotion this entry which began His saving work . . . and let us follow Him with a lively faith.

These words from the liturgy on Palm Sunday introduce not only the day, but they also provide an excellent summary of the principal themes of Holy Week.

First we are told that “Christ entered His city to suffer, die and rise again.” This draws our attention to the very core of Holy Week, the Paschal Mystery, in which Jesus suffered and died for our sins and then rose again in glory. These are the events that manifested God’s special love for us, events that accomplished our salvation. These are the events that form the heart of the Christian Faith.

Our faith is certainly founded on the great deeds of the past, but those deeds also point us inevitably to the future. The victory of Christ lifts our hearts and minds beyond the limited horizon of the present moment with all of its difficulties and problems, to the future we anticipate as followers of Christ, an ever-so-peaceful future. It seems to me that our troubled world needs that vision, that hope, now as much as ever.

The Palm Sunday introduction then invites us to “remember with devotion” Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, words that apply just as well, it seems to me, to the entire week. In other words, Palm Sunday sets the stage for the drama that would follow.

On Holy Thursday we gather with the Disciples around the Lord’s Table to celebrate the Last Supper and to thank God for the holy gifts He gave us on that occasion – the Eucharist, His own body and blood which would be sacrificed on Calvary the next day; and the Ministerial Priesthood, in which He chooses and consecrates men to be good and holy shepherds, to share in His sacrificial ministry of God’s People.

On Good Friday we enter into the Passion of the Christ who endured rejection, humiliation and intense physical pain for the forgiveness of our sins. We follow Jesus as He carries His cross and with Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, we stand at the foot of the cross to witness the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. How can we not be moved if we recognize our responsibility for the death of Christ. “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured,” The Prophet Isaiah pointedly reminds us.

During the Easter Vigil, in the darkness of the night, we await at the tomb of the Lord for His promised Resurrection. We immerse ourselves in the symbols of the liturgy – the new fire, the word, the water, the holy oils, and the bread and wine – all of which point us to Christ and help us to understand and share in the reality of His death and resurrection.

And on Easter Sunday we join with the Christian Church all over the world to proclaim and rejoice in the new life of Christ. It is the event that refreshes our spirits and gives new hope to a tattered, weary world. It is the event that speaks to us of living forever and thus makes our lives here and now more tolerable, even promising.

So, we “remember with devotion” all of these events of Holy Week. But not only do we “remember” these events as relics of the past but actually enter into them and share in their life-giving spirit once again. That’s the power and glory of Catholic liturgy.

Finally, the liturgical introduction on Palm Sunday points us to Jesus and urges us to “follow Him with a lively faith.” A “lively faith” – that’s a real challenge for us, isn’t it? Too often our Christian Faith is stagnant, boring and dead. How many baptized Christians betray the Lord with sinful, scandalous lives? How many Catholics compartmentalize their faith, leaving their public lives untouched by their commitment to Christ? How many regular church-goers deny the Lord in subtle, sometimes unintended ways, by embracing a secular, worldly mindset?

But what then does that “lively faith” entail? Well it means that it’s not enough for us to follow Jesus in the liturgy only – that’s the easy part. It means that we follow Jesus with the commitment of our daily lives! How different you and I would be if our faith came to life and took hold of us! And in turn that “lively faith” would motivate us to change the world.

At the end of his newest book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict reflects on God’s revelation to the world. These are words that can help us appreciate the significance of Holy Week as well: “It is part of the mystery of God that He acts so gently, that He only gradually builds up His history with the great history of mankind; that He continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to Him. . . . And yet – is not this the truly divine way? Not to overwhelm with external power, but to give freedom, to offer and elicit love.”

During the liturgies of Holy Week let us recognize the One knocking at our door, and let us open our hearts to welcome Him. After all, He comes to save us.

A reflection by Bishop Tobin for the coming week.

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