Sunday, March 16, 2008

Journey into Holy Week

(Palm Sunday-Year A; This homily was given on 15 & 16 March, 2008 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; See Philippians 2:6-11)

One of the most common and powerful ways of telling a story is to situate it in the context of a journey. Think about the best books you have ever read, or perhaps your favorite movies. Often they begin with the main character in one place, but moving on to some final destination. The story relates all the adventures and experiences that happen along the way.

In our second reading this weekend, St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we hear the greatest story that has ever been told, and the greatest journey that anyone ever took. St. Paul relates the journey of Christ from the heights of heaven, down here to this earth, and His final return again to the Father in eternal glory:

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
—Philippians 2:6

No, Christ did not hold on to heaven alone, but willingly poured Himself out—He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7)—and came to dwell here among us. That is how Christ was revealed: as a slave and a servant, giving everything He had to meet the greatest temporal and spiritual needs of us all.

St. Paul says that “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 6:8). That was the price He paid for our forgiveness and our eternal salvation.

“Because of this,” St. Paul continues, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name” (Philippians 6:9). He who became so lowly and was willing to serve the needs of all is now exalted in eternal splendor at the right hand of His Father in heaven.

This is the journey of our faith, the great mystery of our Savior and our own redemption. It is referred to, in theological terms, as the Paschal Mystery: the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Christ and His ascension into heaven. That is the mystery we celebrate and experience every time we gather together for the Eucharist.

But never do we focus more intensely and with such fervor on that Paschal Mystery than in this week we enter now on Palm Sunday: Holy Week. It is during Holy Week, and especially the Sacred Triduum—Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil—that we come to see this great journey of Christ revealed in a remarkable and life-changing way.

On Holy Thursday we gather together for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, to commemorate that night when Christ gave us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist for the very first time. We recall that night when He instituted the priesthood, His gift to the Church to continue His self-offering of the Eucharist even until the present time.

And we remember that moment at the Last Supper when He who came from heaven to this earth, in the words of St. Paul, “took the form of a slave,” and got down on His hands and knees, washing the feet of His own disciples. In that act of humility and love He teaches us all what it means to be a disciple and reveals our call to live our lives for others.

On Good Friday we celebrate the Passion of Christ, remembering once again His sacrifice on the cross. It is called “good” because it is the best thing that could have ever happened to us, where God Himself willingly dies for our sins and opens the gates of eternal life.

Finally, we gather together on Holy Saturday night in darkness and silence. The Easter Candle is lit, and then we light our own candles from that Easter light. The Church is soon flooded with light as we celebrate with joy the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

This is our faith. These are the sacred mysteries of our salvation. How is Christ calling each of us to enter more deeply into them this Holy Week? If you have never experienced the Triduum, might this be the year that Christ is asking you to celebrate one, or perhaps all three nights, of these holy Three Days?

As we enter this most holy of all weeks in the year for us as Catholics, may we journey with Christ here on this earth, so that we can continue with Him forever in eternal glory in heaven.