Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday: The Mission Continues

We’ve just finished a very successful Parish Mission. We heard some startling truths about finding peace by living according to the Gospel, punctuated by frequent exclamations of “outrageous!” from our preacher, Father Emmerich Vogt, OP.

Much of what Father Emmerich said was “outrageous,” but not because he was sometimes politically incorrect! It was outrageous because it challenged so many of our cherished beliefs about ourselves.

He said that it doesn’t matter how we feel—the emotional state we’re in is never wrong—it matters how we act.

He said that it doesn’t matter how people treat us—we’re responsible for our own happiness. And we have no control over people, places or things.

Much of this wisdom comes from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. But its ultimate source is the Gospel.

By meditating on the Passion of Jesus that we’ve just listened to, you could learn every lesson Father Emmerich taught, and more. As the prophetic first reading shows, our Lord did not return evil for evil, nor did he protest being ill-treated by others. He was a man whose identity was not determined by how others treated him.

Several times the Mission preacher reminded us of the power that lies in true humility—not “doormat-hood” but a genuine self-knowledge and self-possession. This is what Jesus shows, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, by freely giving himself up to death on the cross. He knows he is God, but he lays that aside in order to save the world.

Christ is a sacrificial offering, but he is not a “victim” in the way the word is currently used to describe someone acted upon against his will.

“An expectation is a premeditated resentment,” Father Emmerich told us. How much better our Lord might have expected from Peter than his denial? How much more from Judas? Yet he calls Judas “friend” when he might have said “traitor.”

Jesus knew that “he who angers you, conquers you.”

Feelings do not determine what we should do. Jesus in the garden feels grieved and agitated. He does his Father’s will anyway.

Jesus is not a doormat. Without a display of anger, he points out the folly of the mob that has come to seize him. He speaks the truth to the high priest and to Pilate, and uses silence as an effective reply to lies.

The passion story also gives us some negative examples of the lessons we learned in the Mission. Pilate is not a free man, though he is the most powerful person in Jerusalem. He fears public opinion, and doubts the existence of objective truth. And Peter is afraid of the opinion of a servant whom he’s never met.

If you missed the Mission, you have another chance to grow in wisdom and peace. Even if Lent passed you by, you have another opportunity to live and learn the Gospel message of freedom. We call it the Triduum—the three days of worship and remembering that begin on Thursday.

This week the Church walks beside Jesus during the three most important days of his time on earth: the day he gave us the priesthood and the Mass, the day he gave himself up for our sins, and the day he rose as the conqueror of death.

I know you will all be here next Sunday, and many will be here on Friday. But there’s a unique richness to attending the three great liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

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