Palm Sunday 2023 Preaching by Sister Bibiana "Bless" Colasito, OP Palm Sunday - April 2, 2023 Matthew 26:14 - 27:66 Good morning, everyone! Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus, as a devoted Jew, went up to Jerusalem for the Passover, greeted by the Jews waving palm branches, spreading their cloaks, and shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Ps. 118:26). Palm branches in Jewish tradition signify a celebration of triumph or victory. Obviously, on that entry into Jerusalem, they were expecting Jesus to be a political leader, with power and dominion over the Romans, Israelites’ foreign adversaries. For Christians however, the palm branch is a symbol of martyrdom, just as Jesus had foretold his pending death, when he and his disciples were going up to Jerusalem for the Passover “The hour is coming when the Son of man will be handed over to his enemies” (Mark 11:8-10). The gospel today from St. Matthew (26:14-27:66) has a parallel Gospel narrative, from St. John (18:1-19:42), that we will hear on Good Friday. It is the narrative of the Passion and Death of Jesus which mystery will come to fulfillment on Easter Sunday. This gospel narrative captures the reality of suffering. In today’s time, suffering seems a “fit all” dictum that may affect the most innocent one. When faced with challenges in life, we tend to question God on why do we or others need to suffer? Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ, a Filipino theologian offered an answer to these questions as he said, “God’s response to the deepest question of the human on the meaning and value of human suffering is the silence of the cross.” However, it is not easy to understand why so many people suffer today. Fr. Arevalo continued by saying that “While it is true that Jesus talks about the cross, about his suffering, he does not offer us a systematic theology of the cross, of human suffering, in the gospels. However, we find something new, something beautiful, in the gospels: Jesus’ attitude towards the cross, towards his own suffering, which teaches us about the meaning of the cross as love, thereby giving new meaning and significance to our daily crosses and sufferings in life.” Yes, Jesus teaches us the meaning of human suffering, and its redemptive dimension. He just did not stretch out his arms on the cross on that first Good Friday as a show of courage but an expression of his deep love for us. We may not fully understand the depth of that love, but that is the way it is. Paul Claudel (1868–1955) a French poet, dramatist, essayist, convert to Roman Catholicism and a six-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, said as quoted by Fr. Arevalo: “God came in Jesus not to take away our pain. God came in Jesus not even to explain it. God came in Jesus simply to feel our pain, and to feel it with his presence.” In 2011 when typhoon Haiyan, also locally called Yolanda, hit the central part of the Philippines leaving the affected areas to ground zero and causing the death of thousands of people, Pope Francis visited the affected areas. One of his appearances was at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila where the youth gathered to meet the pope. A girl of 12 years old, an orphan, asked the Pope, why is there suffering and why her family had to suffer? The pope said, to quote, “I do not know the answer.” But he hugged the girl tightly as a response to her question. It was the same question asked to the Pope when he visited Leyte on the aftermath of the typhoon. The Pope did not answer in words, but his head turned to the cross that gave his answer to thousands and thousands of people present during the Eucharistic celebration. Is there a way to go beyond suffering? Yes! All of us have the capacity to translate our difficulties into a positive experience of life and see the meaning of the redemptive value of our own difficulties, and the suffering of our people at the peripheries. Suffering is real! It is not an imaginary concept that we see with magical eyes so that we can sugar coat our unpleasant experiences in life. Viktor E. Frankl, the theorist of Logotherapy, experienced the most horrible conditions in life when in 1942 to 1945 while at a Nazi death camp, he witnessed the death of his parents, a brother, and his pregnant wife. Frankl argues that “we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.” In the gospel, Jesus experienced abandonment by his own disciples. Though sinless, he endured the most painful way of dying, crucifixion on the cross. Extraordinarily, while dying on the cross, he expressed a profound expression of his love to the criminal hanging beside him, telling him “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). And again, when he implored his father: “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). What a love to remember! Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, and a psychotherapist reminded us that, “Perfect love casts out fear.” ( Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality , 1990) This is our calling too, to forgive and love people beyond human borders. Hence, the palm branches that the Jewish people raised and waved, the cloaks that they spread on the street to welcome Jesus with the conscious expectation of Him as a political leader. During that sensational triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus challenged us to make these symbols our oneness with the sufferings of those who are at the peripheries of human societies, across cultures, race and traditions, socio-political conditions, gender, and economic status. Amen.