Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 17, 2011: Palm Sunday (A)

This week at our parish, Fr. Cedric Pisegna CP, a religious priest of the Passionist Order, gave us a wonderful parish mission. He recounted the following story of his first days of his freshman year in college:

"As I walked the campus Friday afternoon, my eyes were drawn to big, colorful posters on the lounge windows of one of the dorms: P-A-R-T-Y-! That evening I got dressed up in my best blue jeans...and a sterling silver cross and chain, a gift from my mom as I left for college. I knew there was something special about the cross--I'd been born and brought up Catholic--yet at that time in my life, I treated it as a kind of lucky charm. I was hoping it would separate me from all the other guys at the party. I wanted some sweet young thing to see it and think, Well there's a nice Christian guy. Maybe I should talk to him.

At the party, I saw her: She had long blonde hair and was drop-dead gorgeous. And she was staring at me and my cross! This thing is working like a charm, I thought. She came up right up to me, looked at my cross, and then looked me in the eye. "Do you know what that cross means?" she asked. "Or, are you just wearing it to look good?" I gave a nervous laugh and began to back away. "Of course I know what it means!" I protested. But really, I had no clue. I was wearing the most powerful symbol of love and holiness--just so I could pick up a girl."

How does Fr. Cedric's experience at the party relate to Palm Sunday? We began the Palm Sunday mass with the Gospel reading that tells of the festive welcoming of Jesus into Jerusalem. People laid down tree branches and clothes before him and chanted, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” How short-lived this festive mood was, though. With the Passion narrative in our readings today, we quickly entered into Jesus' darkest hours with his betrayal by one of his disciples, Judas, with a kiss! Both friendship and a gesture of affection were used for subterfuge.

Sometimes, what happened to Judas, happens to us; we seek after what is base, thinking it is worth more. And so we trade 'whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious' (cf. Philippians 4:8) for something that is worth far less. Judas proposed to the Jewish leaders a trade, “What are you willing to give me if I hand [Jesus] over to you?” For his part, Judas received 30 pieces of silver. When Jesus was condemned to die, Judas "deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, 'I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.'"

Priests often see and hear this deep regret when people return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if it has been a while. One night during the parish mission, Fr. Cedric said to us, "Surrender your heart, your mind, your body, and your sin to God." That night, eight priests were available to hear confessions and over 200 attendees stood in lines for reconciliation. There were many tears of regrets; for many realized that they had betrayed Jesus and betrayed their own self worth.

As we approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter this coming week, let's ask ourselves the questions that the young woman posed to Fr. Cedric: "Do you know what that cross means? Or, are you just wearing it to look good?"