Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017:
Last September, I had the privilege of anointing my father and praying for him just hours before he died; that is, just hours before he passed through death to fullness of life in Christ. Surrounded by my Mom and my brother and sisters, Dad received the gift of being united more closely with Jesus through the Sacrament of the sick and the dying. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Dad had been united with Christ in the paschal mystery. Seventy-four years before, at the age of 20, Dad received Jesus’ call to follow Him; he gladly accepted the call, was baptized through water and the Holy Spirit, and entered the Catholic Church. For nearly three-quarters of a century then, until he was 94 years of age, he had been accepting the invitation of Jesus to take up his cross each day and follow after Him.
What happened last September was one more step, one more gift from the Lord, in Dad’s long journey of faithful friendship with Christ. And it wasn’t only my father who received a great gift. As Christ came to accompany Dad to his eternal home in heaven, the Lord remained one with the rest of us. We were not alone. We were more united in Christ than ever before.
In the Sacred Liturgy of Palm Sunday, two Gospel passages are proclaimed in the Assembly. The first Gospel account tells of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem, where He was greeted with Hosannas as the long-awaited Messiah and King. This jubilant reception was most fitting, for Jesus truly was coming to fulfill in Jerusalem all the prophecies of the Old Testament, all the deepest longings of human hearts for the victory of Love over evil and of Life over death.
The second Gospel passage recounts a far different scene although it fulfilled the same prophecies. It begins with Judas’ betrayal for thirty pieces of silver; then Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, His agony in Gethsemane, the denial of Peter, Jesus’ journey to Calvary and there His suffering and death on the Cross.
Only in the second scene did Jesus agree to wear a crown. Only in the second instance did He reveal the depths of God’s love. Only in His Passion and death did Jesus conquer death and open the way to fullness of life. Only in His Paschal Mystery did Christ restore dignity to human persons and give meaning to the suffering and death of every human being.
In His Passion and Cross, Jesus made Himself one with all who suffer. He was not forced to die against His own will. Rather, Jesus freely chose to enter into the experience of suffering and death in order to transform it by His power and love. But that choice came at a great cost, which the crowds on the first Palm Sunday never imagined.
Let us recall again the night before Jesus died on the Cross. Just after the Last Supper, He took His Apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane. There, He asked Peter, James and John to come apart a short distance from the others, and accompany Him in prayer. He told them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” Then, as Jesus prayed, He fell prostrate on the ground and cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Behold the great Sacrifice that Jesus embraced for love of us.
Suffering always remains a mystery. Any attempts to explain it are always incomplete. Jesus, because He is God, could have spared Himself this anguish, but instead He chose to empty Himself of His glory and enter into the very depths of human suffering in order to redeem it and to be one with every person who suffers.
Through His Church, especially through all sacred events of Holy Week, Jesus teaches us anew what wondrous love is His, how great is His Divine Mercy, how awesome is His Paschal Mystery, shining forth in the Liturgies of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and especially the Solemn Feast of Easter. Christ wants us to know His love and mercy, to receive it into our bodies and souls, to enter into this love by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist and by sharing it with others, especially the least of our sisters and brothers. On the Cross, Jesus teaches us that the mystery of love is closely bound up with the mystery of suffering. It is not easy for us to understand this. However, when we have the privilege of being with someone who is dying and witnessing Christ’s love poured at that moment, we get a glimpse of this vital connection, this Paschal Mystery.
There are times when, like St. Paul, we ask God to take our suffering away, or even question how suffering could have any connection with love. Three times, St. Paul begged the Lord to remove a particularly painful thing from his life (cf. 2 Cor 12:8f). The Lord responded to Paul’s prayer with these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” When we come face to face with our weakness, and then bring it to the Lord in prayer, the Lord uses these moments to teach us of His love, just as He Himself experienced weakness and offered it to the Father in order to redeem the world.
Today and each day of the Week that lies ahead, let us say with faith and love, “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you; by your Cross you have redeemed the world.”