Saturday, April 04, 2009

Palm Sunday – A Look Ahead

I periodically receive the homilies my friend Fr. Don Gauthier preaches at his Sunday Mass. As it is, I haven’t put one up in quite a while. However, I think tomorrow’s homily is worth sharing because he makes a very strong point about the meaning of the week ahead of us.

A little bit about Fr. Don: he is the pastor at Our Lady Of The Mountains in North Conway. For nearly 10 years, he was the pastor at St. Lawrence in Goffstown – the parish I was part of for many years. While these days I worship elsewhere (mostly at the Abbey Church at St. Anselm College or at the United Church of Penacook), technically I am still a member… He was pretty influential to me as far as learning the basis of what my faith is, and I have never forgotten the example that he set. As Catholic priests go, he is not stereotypical. Far from it; in fact. He’s an outdoorsman – from what I’m told he is an expert with a fly rod. He is also a recovering alcoholic; he’s been clean and sober for as long as I’ve known him, but I can only imagine the battle he fights. And his faith is incredibly deep, as is his intellect; he and I have had some incredible conversations over pretty much anything that moves. And while I haven’t seen him in a very long time, he is one of those whom I consider to be a true friend.

The homily follows:

The dark ages of the church, I think, were the days when we Catholics listened only to ourselves. Our Faith was never shaped by anybody but Bishops, catechisms and church councils through our parents and nuns. Not till 1948 were the Scriptures ever scrutinized, taught or studied and then, it would take 30+ years till Catholics would dust off the family Bible. Was there even a Bible in Catholic homes? There was in ours only because mom brought her Protestant Bible to their marriage. We didn’t read Bibles in those days…they were read to us! And, God forbid that we would listen to any non-Catholic preacher. Bonhoeffer?? Ghandi?? They lived in my parent’s time, but we never heard of them till the late 70's or 80's.

Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is recorded as teaching his Confirmation students something I never heard in Confirmation Preparation. We were asking questions like, "Why does the Bishop slap our faces?" "Do I have to go to Catechism classes anymore?" Bonhoeffer’s class was thinking about this challenge from their pastor: "Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…grace without discipleship. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought after again and again, the gift which must be asked for. It’s costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace, because it gives a man the only true life." In 1945, Bonhoeffer was hanged in a concentration camp, for insubordination. That’s what his class remembers about Confirmation. I remember that it was the end of CCD and a large pepperoni pizza at Mary’s in Cascade Flats.

Peace activist Mohandas Gandhi was better known, but, his earthly pilgrimage was no timely model. He once said: "It’s not at all impossible that we may have to endure every hardship that we can imagine, and wisdom lies in pledging ourselves on the understanding that we shall have to suffer all that and worse." In 1948 he was assassinated by a religious zealot. I was born that year...never heard of Ghandi till I went to college. He shaped no part of Catholic theology, because he was a Hindu.

Baptist preacher and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. said in the great march on Washington in 1963: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal".He was murdered 5yrs later. World religions began to listen. Calvary was lived-out on not-yet color TV screens, not ready to deal with the color red.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, once said: "The church, believes that in each person is the Creator’s image and that everyone who tramples a human being offends God. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own, that cross, that martyrdom." In 1980 he was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist. I was ordained only five years. I never had heard a bishop speak like that! His blood co-mingled with the Lord’s.

While Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, King, and Romero uttered their prophetic words to cheering and supportive crowds, it probably felt like a new era was at hand. A time of peace and freedom and redemption, in distant lands. Those were optimistic times, when few could have foreseen the executions that lay ahead. So it was with Jesus, as He entered the city to shouts of "Hosanna". Today, we say "Hosanna in the highest", to praise and honor Jesus. But, in Hebrew, "Hosanna" means "God, Save us!", a pleading to God. That gives a whole different twist as we pray "Hosanna".

It was tempting to believe that everything would work out just fine. It’s easy to imagine standing at Jerusalem’s gate that Sunday afternoon, watching the palm-frond parade, welcoming a man riding on a borrowed, prophesied burrow, thinking, "This is it. Everything’s going to be OK!" Soon it was very different, but not in the way that anyone would have imagined that festive day. In one short week, the joy of Palm Sunday gave way to the uncertainty of Thursday, the horror of Friday, the emptiness of Saturday, and the unbelievable confusion of Easter morning.

The disciples of Bonhoeffer, King, Gandhi and Romero had a base from which to continue their mutiny on the world’s evils. The disciples and all palm-wavers that first Palm Sunday had a much different plan in mind, one that involved political revolution, making Jesus their earthly king. That was their plan. But the divine plan was different, because Jesus knew even as He rode upon the mule, that this was a wave of support and optimism that wouldn’t last very long...fair-weather fans, who turned out to greet Him when He was ahead in the political polls, but were nowhere to be found when He was tossed in jail and executed shortly thereafter.

The purpose of the Triumphal Entry and the trying times that followed wasn’t to weed out ambivalent would-be disciples. Jesus was the one of which Bonhoeffer spoke: "the grace that costs a man his life, also gives the only true life". Jesus endured the hardships that Gandhi had predicted, for the sake of the dream that King described. He took spittle on His face, lashes on His back, nails in His hands and feet, all for the sake of humanity, as Romero challenged the Church to do. We are called to follow suit.

God’s ways are not comfortable or without challenge even if we’d like them to be. God’s way has more to do with the Way of the Cross than contemplating His Son on a mule. Palm Sunday is about the future, not a bleak future that goes by names like "Gethsemane" or "Golgatha". It’s a bloody path that brings us into God’s future, from gore to Glory. We also know from history that we proceed saying/singing, "Hosanna", knowing that it means "God save us!", on our way to "Alleluia"!

1 comment:

Pete said...

That's some powerful preaching for a Priest! Would like to hear more of that in my Parish. Thanks for posting and good luck on your recovery - saw your tweet so I know you're out of surgery. You're in my prayers.