"In this tempest, we are given the occasion to choose what matters and what passes away."
This Sunday we commemorate Palm Sunday. It is the triumphant entrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the eternal city. On this day two millennia ago, Christ, astride a donkey, entered the Holy City and was met by a throng of worshippers, laying palm leaves and spreading their cloaks along the path and crying out in acclamation Hosanna! "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel."
The Scripture also tells us that it is the same crowd who praised him earlier that shouted "crucify him" as he was being presented bound, wounded and bruised, before Pontius Pilate; the same crowd that chose Barabbas, a murderer and a known robber, to be freed; disenchanted that a while ago he was performing wondrous deeds but now before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, he is utterly helpless and cannot defend himself from his malicious accusers.
At the Urbi et Orbi blessing delivered from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica last March 27, Pope Francis meditated on the crisis facing the world today, On that unique and momentous occasion, he reflected on a passage from the Gospel of Mark when Jesus calmed a furious squall that unnerved his disciples. The Scriptures says that Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Much like the disciples, we are in the midst of a tempest which has drowned and is drowning hundreds of thousands amongst us, gripping all of us with terror of getting infected and fear of the future.
The pandemic has been personal to me. So far, five persons I know have already died from COVID-19, the latest this week being Yel, the sister of a Jesuit priest close to me, followed by Noe, a seminarian whom I taught philosophy. Yel died alone in a New York hospital. Noe was a simple, good young man from Digos, Davao del Sur who did nothing more than being faithful to God’s calling. The news of their passing broke my heart.
But a storm is no time to turn our backs on Jesus, the master of all storms, and question his love. This is the time to cling to him with all our might and sing halleluiah even as we are buffeted ever so strongly by the viral storm.
In one of the gospels last week, Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM." By this, according to Fr Adonis Saclolo, a formator of the Redemptoris Mater Mission Seminary, Jesus meant, depending on what was happening to you: “I am . . . your shepherd xxx your salt and light xxx your Messiah xxx the Son of Man xxx the bread of life xxx the way, truth, and life xxx the Father’s son xxx the word through which all things were made xxx
your friend and brother xxx your companion all moments xxx the example and model xxx the prophet of justice xxx your teacher.
The Lord is One but we experienced him in an infinite number of ways; he is everything that we need in this difficult time. As Pope Francis said last year:
“With the celebration of Palm Sunday, the Lord is about to enter his passion on the cross. today, too, by his entrance into Jerusalem, he shows us the way. For in that event, the evil one, the prince of this world, had a card up his sleeve: the card of triumphalism. Yet the Lord responded by holding fast to his own way, the way of humility.
Triumphalism tries to make it to the goal by shortcuts and false compromises. It wants to jump onto the carriage of the winner. It lives off gestures and words that are not forged in the crucible of the cross; it grows by looking askance at others and constantly judging them inferior, wanting, failures… One subtle form of triumphalism is spiritual worldliness, which represents the greatest danger, the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church (De Lubac). Jesus destroyed triumphalism by his Passion.”
As Pope Francis reminded us in his Urbi et Orbi message, this Lent, Jesus is calling on us urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart.” In this tempest, we are given the occasion to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to set aside our plans and follow the voyage God wants us to embark on. When we do that, with the Lord of the storm in the boat with us, no storm is strong enough to destroy us and make us lose faith.
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