"His disciples did not understand these things at first," but do we?
Flowery Sunday, or The Entrace of our Lord into Jerusalem.
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1:07 PM 4/17/2011 — When Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, seemingly out of love and devotion, we realize, as does our Lord, that she’s really anointing him in preparation for his burial, even though she doesn’t know this. The Jewish custom was to dress the body with perfumed oils prior to burial; but remember that this could not be done for Jesus after his death because it was the Sabbath and late in the day; that's why Mary, Mary and Solome went to the tomb on the third day: to perform this ritual retroactively, as it were. That makes this anointing in the home of Lazarus significant: because it, in fact, is our Lord's burial anointing, even though he's not yet dead. And it becomes obvious that the triumphant procession we remember today is really a funeral procession, even though no one there at the time knew it except Jesus himself. They wanted to crown Jesus on this day and make him King; and, he would be King. But the crown he would wear would be a crown of thorns; and his reign as a king would begin with his death.
We’ve discussed before how the life of our Lord is a prefiguring of the life of the Church;—or perhaps it’s more proper to say that the life of the Church mirrors the life of the Savior—and we see many instances of this throughout history with the lives of the martyrs; but I can’t think of any moment in history where this is more clear than today; and, by now, we should all know, as Holy Week draws near, to brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of Discovery Channel shows about the “real” historical Jesus, and how scientists have determined that a freak cold spell froze the Sea of Galilee which enabled our Lord to only pretend to walk on water, and maybe it was a long lost twin brother of our Lord who appeared after the crucifixion fooling everyone into thinking that he had risen from the dead. God only knows what they’ll come up with next. And if none of that is able to entice you to stay home from church on Easter, we can always drag out the sex abuse crisis,—that’s always good in a pinch—as if the conduct of the Church’s human representatives has any bearing on the truths of the Faith. What better time to attack Christianity than during the holiest time of the year for Christians? Of course, if you say anything derogatory about any other religion, you’re a bigot; you can’t even draw a picture of the prophet Mohammed without starting a riot somewhere, and then have everyone say how terrible it is that we’re being insensitive to someone’s religious beliefs. You can’t criticize atheists because atheism is protected by the Constitution (or so we’re told), and you can get arrested for criticizing someone’s sexual orientation or their right to an abortion; but Christianity—and the Catholic Church in particular—is fair game; you can hate the Catholic Church all you want. Catholics are the last societal group you’re allowed to hate simply because of who they are and what they believe, and still be considered an enlightened person, welcomed at all the best cocktail parties.
Now, we could go into an analysis of why Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is so feared and hated in America today; but this is Holy Week, and our purpose here is different. It suffices to point out that the fear and hatred that we, as Christians, receive from our fellow citizens is no different than the fear and hatred that our Lord received from his fellow citizens which led to his passion and death on the Cross. It makes sense: truth, after all, cannot be disproved; so, if what you fear is the truth, you can’t attack the message, so you attack the messenger instead. That’s what’s happening to us as Christians now, because that’s exactly what was happening to Jesus when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
An interesting tit-bit upon which to reflect is that the people lining the streets of Jerusalem, cheering for Jesus and throwing their palms in his path, were most likely the very same people who, by the end of the week, would be shouting at Pilate for his death. We must begin Holy Week with this perspective: that just as Jesus’ kingship is defined by his suffering and death—just as His power and reign as a king become real in the darkest moments of his passion—so Jesus is present for us even as we face the darkest moments of our lives. We can’t help, as we relive this week the sufferings of Christ, to think of our own sufferings. But it was through his sufferings that Jesus became a king and achieved the purpose for which he came to earth. Just so, no matter what we may be suffering through in our lives, if we unite that suffering to Christ’s, then it will raise us up just as it did him.
It’s not easy to believe, sometimes, when we are suffering and feel abandoned. It’s not easy to think that it is precisely through our sufferings that we can receive the greatest graces and blessings; just as it wasn’t easy for St. John and the other disciples, watching Jesus die on the cross, to believe that their glory and the glory of the Church they would establish, was just beginning.
So, as we relive today this complex scene—the parade of cheers that ends in death—let us contemplate our hardships and sufferings and thank God for them, and resolve to unite them to the sufferings of Christ, and so realize, in spite of how sorry we like to feel for ourselves sometimes, how richly blessed we are by the God who suffered for us.
Father Michael Venditti