A few years back, the seminarians, including myself, had the fantastic opportunity to go to Cologne, Germany for the 2006 World Youth Day with Pope Benedict XVI. It was an amazing experience that I remember very fondly to this day, but one of the most exciting experiences was at the gathering for seminarians at a parish in the city with the Holy Father himself. As he was even still approaching, we seminarians erupted in cheering, with everyone wanting to get a picture of him or touch his hand or get a short blessing from him. All of us were so excited to be there in fact, that we all pushed each other out of the way. So trust me, if you thought seminarians and priests just sat around and prayed all day, that’s very, very far from the truth. It’s interesting to me, however, that as he retired, Pope Benedict was surrounded by negative reports and attitudes: that he didn’t do enough, that he didn’t go in the right direction, that he had a failed papacy. If you had polled those people in Cologne, Pope Benedict would have been the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen with red shoes – a rock star. And only a few years later, people would turn on him. This experience came to mind as I was praying about the readings for today, trying to get some idea of what it must have been like to be there. Everyone was waving their palm branches and shouting praises to Jesus and singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!” They recognized, perhaps, just how great Jesus was: that he was in the royal line of David, the heir to the holy throne in Jerusalem that had been taken over by some Roman sympathizers. He was God’s chosen, and everyone just wanted to be close to him and have some contact with him!
And then, just a few days later, they had changed their minds. The “Hosanna’s” had turned into “Crucify him, crucify him!” Instead of people reaching out to touch him and receive a blessing from him, there were mobs content with throwing stones, mud, spit, and insults at him. For them, Jesus was causing trouble, and they wanted him out of there in the most permanent way possible – crucifixion. They hated what he was, they hated what he stood for, and they just wanted to get rid of him. Now sure, some people might have just been caught up in the terrible circumstances, but rather than walking away, they just sulked around in the background. But instead of picking up his toys and leaving as most celebrities might do when confronted with this hatred, Jesus just sat there and took it all. Not simply to get it over with, but to fulfill the Father’s will, and to show just how much he loved us.
Now this might sound sad to us, but we have to realize that we’re very much part of this story. Today in the Mass, WE were the ones who sang “Hosanna to the Son of David!” We were the ones who waved our palm branches, and who want to be close to him here at Mass. But we were the ones who condemned Jesus also, right? We read those lines in the Passion narrative, all of us! We are perpetrators of both of these attitudes, not just here one day out of the year on Palm Sunday, but every day of our lives. Sometimes we rejoice in the things that God gives us and cry out, “Hosanna!” This could happen to us when someone does something kind for us in the workplace, or we accomplish something incredible, or we have a great experience in prayer, or when you realize the Cardinals opening day is just 7 short days away! We give thanks for those things and count them as blessings. But sometimes, when things don’t go our way, when we’re faced with a tough decision or tough reality, or when those blessings are a little harder to notice, we turn our backs on Christ rather than follow him, and cry out instead, “Crucify him!” This could be anything, from sneering or exchanging some not-so-friendly gestures with someone who cut us off on the road, to openly expressing discontent or even anger at the Church for one of her teachings. Really, in these circumstances, when we’d like to condemn Christ, it’s really us that should be condemned. But thankfully, the story of Holy Week doesn’t end with the crucifixion. We know in faith that Christ rose on that third day after his crucifixion so that all of us, whether we glorified or condemned him, could be given eternal life. So now, the challenge to us is to look at our own actions in our lives. Perhaps, as a daily practice, we might ask ourselves before we go to sleep, “What are the ways in which I glorify the Lord for his blessings to me, and how did I turn my back on Christ and condemn him today?” If we’re more aware of those ways in which we condemn Jesus, we can more easily ask him for the graces we need to follow him and to look for those hidden blessings he gives us.
So as we approach Jesus in the Eucharist today, fully aware of those times when we have condemned rather than glorified him, may we come to see the beauty of the gift of his mercy, won for us by his death on the Cross and given to us once again here in his Body and Blood. And then, having received him, let us commit ourselves all the more each day to glorify him, saying, “Hosanna, to the Son of David!”