The Palm Sunday Paradigm

Palm Sunday

… many believed in Him when they saw the signs which He did, but Jesus did not trust Himself to them, because He knew men. 

Palm Sunday is a bittersweet story because we know how it ends.

The same Jesus Who is greeted with hosannas at the start of the week, is betrayed with cries of “Crucify Him!” at the end of that week.

People will disappoint you, people will betray you, people will turn on you. That is the Palm Sunday paradigm and it is a fact of life.

The rest of that paradigm is that we — you and I — are the people in that statement.

I will disappoint. I will betray. I will turn on friends.

And so will you.

No one of us, no matter our station or our degree of piety, can traverse this life without being disappointed, betrayed, and turned on. Likewise, no one of us can traverse this life without disappointing, betraying and turning on others.

The point I am making is that Jesus was right when he told us, You can’t judge.

Can you imagine how we look to Him, with all our squabbling and finger-pointing? I can see Him, standing there, looking at the angry people around Him, upbraiding and shouting accusations at one another, “You, can’t judge,” He tells them. You, specifically you, with your many sins and fallen nature, can not judge.

To Jesus Christ, we must look like a bunch of toddlers, shoving and punching over a toy.

And that is the message of Palm Sunday. We, who say we love Him so much, will say “Crucify Him!” ourselves. Those of us who live in this time will not literally stand before Pilate, gazing at the physical wreckage of the Man who has been beaten almost to death, standing there bleeding and wearing a crown of thorns and shout “Crucify Him!”

We will live that betrayal of all that’s holy in our cruelties and petty meannesses to one another.

We hurt one another so savagely and so completely without remorse. I published a post a couple of days ago, in which I linked to a video of Pope Francis, giving a powerful homily against the sin of gossip. An enclosed place like the Vatican is probably honeycombed with destructive gossip.

I think all churches are. We exclude and isolate one another with our spiteful gossiping. And we don’t do it by accident. Gossip is as much a deliberate and destructive attack on another person as actually, physically, hitting them.

There are, of course, far splashier ways to betray our intimate others than gossip. Adultery comes to mind as a for instance.

The point is that Jesus, when He stood beside Pilate, beaten, humiliated and alone, was us. He stood in for humanity, suffering at the hands of humanity. He was raped, trafficked, starved, homeless, aborted, euthanized, murdered, battered, slandered, cast out, cast off, dehumanized suffering humanity.

When we go to church and proclaim our pious Christianity, we are the crowds shouting hosanna as He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

When we turn on, betray and abandon one another, we are the crowd, standing before Pilate.

When someone betrays you or hurts you, remember that Our Lord understands everything you feel. Take your humiliated rage to Him and ask for His help.

On the other hand, when you do these things to other people, you should likewise take your sin to Him.

He Who committed no sin became sin for our sake. He understands the separation from God, the empty darkness of self-righteous self-justification that sin brings into our hearts. He Who committed no sin became sin for our sake. He knows what we suffer because of our sins. He understands the plunging depths of separation from God and the darkness that enters our souls because of our sins.

Take your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness.

Whether your are doing your turn as the sinner or you are going through a time as the one sinned against, remember that you can and will exchanges places many times over the course of your life. You will sin against other people, and they will sin against you.

There is only One Who understands the full depth of hopeless depravity that this is, and Who also has the power to free us of it and heal us from it.

The Palm Sunday paradigm is the paradigm of the crowd. It is a week, framed at one end with Hosannas! and at the other end with shouts of Crucify Him!

The Palm Sunday paradigm is us. All of us, without exception. It illustrates in stark black and white lines why, without a Savior, we are lost.

 

Pope Francis: Words Can Kill

If you look at the faces of the people who are listening to the homily in the video below, you can see that Pope Francis’ words are convicting many of them of their own sins.

Gossip that demeans someone and makes them an outsider in their community is, as the Holy Father says, a form of social murder. When it occurs in a church, it kills a person’s relationships and place in the community of Christ. It isolates, alienates and sets them apart from other believers.

It can drive people out of their parish or even out of the Church. In extreme cases, it can maim their relationship with God.

Gossip is not the same thing as venting to a spouse or someone equally close. Gossip is talking to this one and that one and everyone who will lend an ear, cutting a person down and creating a wedge between that person and their fellows. When that happens, it goes beyond venting and becomes a weapon used to punish a person.

Oftentimes, gossip is a cowardly way to attack someone else when they haven’t done anything wrong, not even to the person who spreads the gossip.

Perhaps the most damaging gossip in a Catholic parish would be gossip that comes from the priest. Priests carry great authority. Their office embues them with a charisma that they would never have as a lawyer or a dentist.

Catholics place their priests on pedestals. They honestly believe that the priest is closer to God and has a higher knowledge of right, wrong, and what God desires than other people. They think their priests are holy. They trust their priests deeply. I’ve seen people go to their pastor for comfort like small children fleeing to their mothers more times than I can count.

A priest who gossips critically about a parishioner to other parishioners can destroy that person’s ability to live out their walk with Christ in that parish. A priest who gossips about a parishioner to other priests can spread that disability throughout a diocese.

Gossip wounds people. It destroys relationships. When it happens in churches, it can scapegoat and forever damage a person’s ability to be part of that community.

 

Pope Francis: The Struggle to Reject Gossip

Pope francis hugging disabled child


Pope Francis is a priest.

That sounds like an absurdly redundant statement. Of course he’s a priest. But I’m not talking about the collar and the black clothes. I’m not even referring, for the moment, to the fact that he is one of those men whose life work it is to gift the world with the sacraments. From priests’ hands we receive the Eucharist.

I don’t mean that right now. I am referring to the fact that Pope Francis is a pastor of souls. He is the good shepherd we’ve been given. Not all priests are pastors of souls. Some are more turned to other things that can range from mysticism to a flair for administration. None of these things are bad. In fact, taken together, they give us the whole of the faith.

But pastors of souls, true shepherds of God’s people, are what Jesus specifically mentioned when He commissioned Peter. “Feed my sheep,” he said. 

I am beginning to look forward to the reports each day coming out of Pope Francis’ morning homilies. These homilies are deeply pastoral, dealing as they often do with ordinary sins and vices, daily weaknesses and challenges, that every Christian faces. He gave a homily this morning on complaining. When Vatican radio posts it, I’ll put it here for you to read.

Today, I’m going to share one of his previous homilies. This one is about gossip.

Gossip norman rockwell1

Gossip is such a common vice. Everyone does it. People are interested in other people. We live with, love, cherish, compete with, hate and hurt one another. For most of us, our whole world is other people. Walk through any cemetery, and what you will see on the gravestones are words linking the dead person to relationships with the living. Beloved Father, Dearest Mom, Sister, Brother, Son and Daughter; that’s what we inscribe on the stones we leave to mark the fact that there was a life here, a life lived in relationship with other people.

We know ourselves through other people. Most of what we think of ourselves comes from what they tell us. They are the mirror we have for our selves and our lives.

Which is precisely what gives gossip its power. Idle chit-chat gossip is usually harmless, and can even be kind. But the darker kind of tale-telling that involves dwelling on people’s faults and criticizing their weaknesses can hurt. If it gets to the point that it becomes a group judgement, it can inflict deep wounds. I am not talking here about deliberate calumny and character assassination for gain. That is an obvious, terrible and mortal sin; the kind of thing you can go to hell for.

What I am talking about is the picking and pecking away at another person to the point that the whole group of people they associate with — be it family, classmates or co-workers — makes a kind of group assessment of them and fixes it on them. Gossiping about someone in this way is almost always unkind. Fixating on them in some small and critical way is cruel. When a group of people they have to associate with decides through gossip that this is what they are, it is destructive.

It wounds the person who is the object of the gossip. It dirties the souls of those who engage in this gossip. It damages the harmony and happiness of the group or community which has allowed this to happen to itself.

Gossip hurts people. It fractures community and damages the ability of people to work together for a goal. Whether that goal is a happy home life or building a bridge, gossip can make achieving it a hard and thankless slog.

If we are truly born again into a new way of living and thinking, then gossip that wounds can not be a part of us. The ultimate harm of gossip is that it separates us from who we are meant to be in Christ. It not only weakens our witness for Him, it weakens our relationship with Him.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who have been made in God’s likeness,” James tells us.

I need to remember that as much as anyone else. When it comes to gossip, I think almost everyone could take a good look at themselves. Let’s consider what the Holy Father had to say about it.

Pope francis soft smile

From Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) May the Holy Spirit bring peace to Christian communities and teach its members to be meek, refusing to speak ill of others. With this hope, Pope Francis concluded his homily at Mass Tuesday morning with staff from the Vatican medical services and office staff of the Vatican City Government. “The first Christian community is a timeless model for the Christian community of today, because they were of one heart and one soul, through the Holy Spirit who had brought them into a “new life”. Emer McCarthy reports: RealAudioMP3 

In his homily Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage that recounts the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, who did not immediately grasp how a man can be “born again”. Through the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, we are born into the new life which we have received in Baptism.” However, Pope Francis added, it is a life that has to be developed, it does not come automatically. We have to do all we can to ensure that our life develops into new life”, which may be “a laborious journey” but one that “depends chiefly on the Holy Spirit” as well as our ability to be “open to his breath”.

And this, the Pope pointed out, is exactly what happened to the early Christians. They had “new life”, which was expressed in their living with one heart and one soul. They had, he said, “that unity, that unanimity, that harmony of feeling of love, mutual love …”. A dimension that needs to be rediscovered. He noted that today, for example, the aspect of “meekness in the community,” is a somewhat ‘forgotten virtue’. Meekness is stigmatized, it has “many enemies”, the first of which is gossip. 

Pope Francis further developed this reflection. “When we prefer to gossip, gossip about others, criticize others- these are everyday things that happen to everyone, including me – these are the temptations of the evil one who does not want the Spirit to come to us and bring about peace and meekness in the Christian community”. “These struggles always exist” in the parish, in the family, in the neighborhood, among friends”. Instead through the Spirit we are born into a new life, he makes us “meek, charitable.”

The Holy Father then outlined the correct behavior for a Christian. First, “do not judge anyone” because “the only Judge is the Lord.” Then “keep quiet” and if you have something to say, say it to the interested parties, to those “who can remedy the situation,” but “not to the entire neighborhood.” “If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit – concluded Pope Francis – we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great step forward” and “will do us allgood”.

 


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