One hundred fourteen days ago, we celebrated the birth of Jesus; today on Palm Sunday, we learn the answer to know God's love working through adversity.
In today's readings, I am immersed (as I have been during this season of Lent) in the various scenes culminating in the crucifixion of our Lord, and ending undoubtedly with formidable guard securing his tomb (Matthew 26:14; 27:66).
With each line we read from scripture at Mass, I am off balance by fleeting emotions attached to each event that unfolds in the history of Christ's Passion. The experience ranges between feeling disgusted to hear of betrayal; mystified to grasp an invitation to "Take and eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26; ); dismay to know personally both willingness and weakness; anger to read of injustice; fatigue to not know the "Why?" of God's plan; disbelief to learn of efforts to secure false testimony; grief to see innocence pummeled; sorrow to witness mocking, abandonment and death, and its impact to those who loved him. As each scene unfolds into the next, my imagination sees our Lord and then mingles in the crowd of what was likely perfumed with the odors of gossip, speculation, fear and wonderment in a culture I can scarcely begin to understand from within our own today.
The time and place where our Lord walked is far removed. However, our Lord's path, we dimly understand today with God's grace, leads to glory; this time, not to glory under the Star of Bethlehem, but to a place by way of painful suffering.
But what is it that makes the suffering we read about make sense before we ever get to that special place of redemption? After all, in our own lives, we face various types of stress, grief or crisis that challenge us and culminates in our own "cross" to bear, requiring us to employ skills to cope while understanding the spiritual aspect to what we are facing. With each day that passes with a burden, do we not ask and nearly demand and search for answers that make sense and provide guidance? Do we, our friends, family or neighbors, not grapple at times with the emotional and practical impact of sin? Do we not want some preparation for what may befall our respective homes, such as suffering from disease, the grip of substance abuse, betrayal in marriage, death of a loved one, catastrophe or some other event or injustice? Sure we do. Many times, we might even find ourselves depressed and succumbing to seemingly apparent and grievous conclusions without satisfaction.
Surely the followers of Christ found themselves perhaps feeling dejected gazing upon a corpse in a silent tomb, then asking themselves with tear filled eyes and heavy hearts, "How can this be?"
When faced with the unthinkable, it is the unthinkable we must be open to by way of God's grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). Moreover, we are not alone (unless we chose to be), nor without examples to overcome as we seek some means to help us get though life's beatings and traumas. During this Holy Week, the answer for me is in what both Mary modeled for us, and likewise her son.
Let me explain. Before the cradle, Mary asks, of the angel Gabriel, who tells her "[Y]ou will conceive..." (Luke 1:34), "How can this be?"
In today's reading, before the cross, Jesus "expresses himself in words similar to the cry of the righteous sufferer" , "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me..." (Matthew 26:39).
Both Mary and Jesus, facing life transforming events that extend before and beyond their human existence, respond, not with ruminations of some version of, "Why?", but instead with full and humble submission to God's unfolding and at times seemingly unknowable plan for the moment (which is different from The Church in God's Plan or God's Plan for us to have fellowship with him).
Mary asserts, "be it done to me" (Luke 1:38). "Jesus, feeling anguish and distress..."  "submits...in obedience to the divine will" , totally "as he had taught his disciples" .
Therein is the answer, submission in obedience to divine God. Both Mary and Jesus are examples for us in daily living. As such, we are confronted to ask ourselves, "Am I able and willing to live and teach my children such profound awareness?"
If unwilling, we remain subject to the influence of our time. In our culture, the "will of man" without God finds the meaning of "submission" and "obedience", at best difficult to fathom, if not impossible. And while many of us believe in and have a relationship with God, we may find ourselves influenced none-the-less by the tendency to "Do it my way" and isolate from God's fellowship by "Not being a burden." In the extreme, cutting ourselves off from any awareness of the creator that by his grace gives us breath, or ill prepared to appreciate the magnificence of the eternal God we worship.
"Personally, I take comfort in the fact that this is a one-way trip. It motivates me to make this life count, raise my children right, to get involved in activism, to improve life for myself and others (especially my children) and to get as much pleasure as possible from this life that I can - without harming others" .
"[T]he average scientific man worships...a greater Deity than the average Christian... But the scientific man knows Him to be eternal; in astronomy, in geology, he becomes familiar with the countless millenniums of His lifetime. The scientific man strains his mind actually to realize God's infinity. As far off as the fixed stars he traces Him, 'distance inexpressible by numbers that have name'. Meanwhile, to the theologian, infinity and eternity are very much of empty words when applied to the Object of his worship. He does not realize them in actual facts and definite computations" .
From what I read in scripture, hear from my priest and know in my heart, God calls us to know him profoundly and wants us to give Jesus our burden (Matthew 11:30) and do it his way (John 14:6), so we can actually "realize God's infinity." Oftentimes, we struggle so much, because we have yet to fully embrace the God given ability to simply, and quietly, submit to our creator's love and teaching. Jesus and those we read about (Saints and Angels) can transform our lives (requiring a yielding heart, fellowship, reading, fasting and abstinence, repentance, prayer, confession, charity, good works, etc.). And if we turn to each other for fellowship and prayer, help in our communities, and our faith in God's love, we find there are resolutions on the path to a place called redemption. To be sure, there will be opportunities for living and suffering throughout life, but we can only get to glory, by cradle and cross and then in great humility begin to embrace what it means to love our God of Wonders.
To fully know God, it seems, involves getting to, "not as I will, but as you will." And as we approach such a relationship with our creator, we grow in humble witness to the awesome power and meaning of what is yet to come in the days ahead, and what follows the broken seal of an empty tomb.
"Lord, you have satisfied our hunger with Eucharistic food. The death of your Son gives us hope and strengthens our faith. May his resurrection give us perseverance and lead us to salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord" (Magnificat: Holy Week 2011, p. 41).
1. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (NewAdvent.org, Catholic Encyclopedia).
2. Stan Fortuna, CFR is a Catholic priest notable for his evangelical musical contribution...He is one of the eight original members of the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a Franciscan order established by Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor in 1987 (Fr. Stan Fortuna, Wikipedia).
3. International Bible Commentary (1998, p. 1323).
4. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990, p. 670).
5. Blair Scott, national communications director for the American Atheists).
6. Natural Law in the Spiritual World (Henry Drummond. 1883, p. 170).