For some, Palm Sunday was a political event surrounding a political person that led to the greatest, most unexpected revolution the world has ever seen happen. Historically, the week leading up to Jesus’ Passion would have been the time of preparation for Passover, when many Jews from all the surrounding villages were in Jerusalem together. The gospels (Mt 21: 1-11) describe Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the swaying of palm fronds and shouts of “Hosanna!” These were unmistakable prophetic signs of the Messiah-king, the one many Jews expected would finally overthrow their Roman overlords and re-establish Israel’s reign on earth, perhaps even violently—as a group called the “Zealots” expected. Yet there is a further symbol to this story: Jesus riding on a colt or ass, the sign of a humble and meek king. Jesus did not become the king they expected, but instead, the one God wanted. As Pope Francis said in his 2016 homily on the Feast of Christ the King, “The Gospel in fact presents the kingship of Jesus as the culmination of his saving work, and it does so in a surprising way. ‘The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King’ (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: he is on the cross, where he seems more to be conquered than conqueror.”
Like Jesus’ followers then, today we are susceptible to temptations of limited expectations. It is possible to see Jesus merely as a political and ethical teacher who died a martyr’s death and nothing else. On the other hand, we might project Jesus’ kingdom to a purely “other-worldly” realm. Since Jesus apparently wasn’t setting up his kingdom on earth (so we assume), we are tempted to sanitize Jesus of any “worldly” political or practical implications, and simply assume political engagement has limited place, or even runs counter to our task of evangelization. As Pope Pius XI wrote in his establishment of the Feast of Christ the King, “It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power…although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them.” Both interpretations—that Jesus was strictly political or that his work was merely “not of this world”—fail to take seriously not only Jesus’ public ministry and preaching, but the truly earth-shattering consequences of Jesus’ kingship won at the cross.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Christ, “exercises his kingship by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection.” Jesus’ death and Resurrection are, simply, God’s victory over the world’s powers of sin and death so as to bring about the restoration of God’s people. To say yes to Jesus’ Resurrection is to say yes to life as part of a new creation and kingdom that starts now. Paschal faith involves the risk of making mistakes, being misunderstood or ridiculed, of not conforming to the expectations of the surrounding culture in order to expect something greater. It involves joining in the kingship of Christ in serving others, something we are able to share in as a result of our baptism.
As powers of sin and death today loom heavy on our hearts, it is not enough to “have faith” but to do nothing. Following Christ calls us to witness to our faith in practical ways with full conviction because of Christ’s own experience of suffering, death, and Resurrection that has transformed our fundamental orientation to the world. As Christians, we desire peace, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. We serve our King by building up his kingdom on earth. Pope Francis challenges us, “A people who are holy…who have Jesus as their King, are called to follow his way of tangible love; they are called to ask themselves, each one each day: “What does love ask of me, where is it urging me to go? What answer am I giving Jesus with my life?”
For more Lenten and Easter resources, please click here.
Just down the street from where I study and serve in my home Archdiocese of Baltimore is our nation’s first Catholic cathedral, the Basilica of the Assumption, a visible testimony to the faith of the first Catholics in the newly formed United States of America. Yet every time I visit that holy place, I’m reminded by the physical space that for many years worship was segregated and black Catholics were required to sit in the balcony. Our family of faith in Baltimore included heroic individuals and communities like that of Mother Mary Lange (1794-1882), founder of the first African-American religious order, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, and the ministry of the Josephites. Their creative witness and ongoing presence in our communities today serve as a constant reminder that their mission lives on and has work yet to do.
Since 1990, the Church in the United States, through the work of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC), has designated November as Black Catholic History Month. In a special way, the testimony of black Catholics reminds us all that as disciples of Christ, we live by memory. Celebrating this month reminds the Church just what it is that we are responsible for remembering. The act of remembering is a moral and spiritual task, part of the Church’s call to combat the sin of racism and seek new forms of reconciliation with sins of the past. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that memory lies at the heart of the Church’s celebration of word and sacrament, and briefly reflect here on why remembering our Church’s black history is so important for faithfully celebrating God’s word and sacrament each and every day.
Those who attend or have attended a parish with a strong black Catholic presence will often recognize the power of the proclamation and preaching of God’s word. In particular, this tradition of preaching reminds Catholics that our Church preaches and teaches a truly liberatory word. Jesus Christ came to deliver God’s people from all forms of bondage and oppression, restoring us to freedom.
Our biblical faith makes clear that participation in the Exodus event is intrinsically connected with our participation in the Passover. As Catholics, this means we are fed by God’s word and sacrament, particularly the Eucharist. At the Institution of the Eucharist at his Last Supper, Jesus instructed his Apostles to “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). The sacrifice of the Mass is an act of remembrance, called anamnesis, that re-presents Christ, making Jesus truly present here and now in the species of bread and wine. (I invite you to read Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s reflection.) That act of remembering is the basis for our act of thanksgiving (literally, “eucharist”). But it is impossible for us to give thanks for what we cannot remember.
Does Christ’s presence at the altar then lead us onward to become more aware of Christ’s presence in our brothers and sisters who remain subject to forms of injustice and oppression elsewhere? To this end, our bishops offer resources on how to respond to sins of racism, an important way to publicly live out the interior transformation we receive in the Eucharist.
While we live by memory, we do not simply live in the past; we are called to faithfully live out of our past. We live by memory as a sign of our hope that since God gave us a past, he promises us a future. Black Catholic History Month serves as a reminder that we have a history worth remembering and celebrating, so that we may go on living in the freedom to which Christ daily calls us.
For more resources, we invite you to visit our Cultural Diversity Resources page and scroll down to the section on African American/Black Catholics.
We invite you to read Cardinal Wuerl's Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Racism Today, by clicking here.
Questions for Reflection: How does remembering the past help us to live more faithfully and hopefully in the future? How have you seen our Church benefit from the diversity of its members?
Today marks the 8th anniversary of Bl. John Paul II death. He was a man who proclaimed Christ triumphant victory over death with great zeal. This day, as we pray for his intercession, let us mediate on his words on the Risen Christ that he shared on Easter Sunday, April 23, 2000.
'O death, where is your sting?' (1 Cor 15:55)
"Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando . . ." "Death and life have contended in that stupendous combat: The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal" (Easter Sequence). Once again, today, the whole Church pauses in amazement at the empty tomb. Like Mary Magdalen and the other women, who came to anoint with spices the body of the Crucified One, like the Apostles Peter and John who came running at the word of the women, the Church bows before the tomb in which her Lord was placed after the crucifixion. A month ago, as a pilgrim in the Holy Land, I had the grace of kneeling before the stone slab which marks the place of Jesus' burial. Today, Easter Sunday, I make my own the proclamation of the heavenly messenger: "He is risen, he is not here" (Mk 16:6). Yes, life and death were locked in combat and Life was victorious for ever. All is once again oriented to life, to Eternal Life!
"Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani . . ." "Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer sacrifice and praise. The sheep are ransomed by the Lamb; and Christ, the undefiled, has sinners to his Father reconciled". The words of the Easter Sequence marvellously express the mystery accomplished in Christ's Passover. They point to the power of renewal flowing from his Resurrection. With the weapons of love, God has defeated sin and death. The Eternal Son, who emptied himself to become the obedient servant to the point of dying on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8), has conquered evil at its roots by opening to contrite hearts the path of return to the Father. He is the Gate of Life who at Easter overcomes the gates of hell. He is the Door of salvation, opened wide for all, the Door of divine mercy, who sheds a new light on human existence.
The Risen Christ signals the paths of hope along which we can advance together towards a world more just and mutually supportive, in which the blind egoism of the few will not prevail over the cries of pain of the many, reducing entire peoples to conditions of degrading misery. May the message of life proclaimed by the angel near the stone rolled back from the tomb overturn the hardness of our hearts; may it lead to removing unjustified barriers and promote a fruitful exchange between peoples and cultures. May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, cause everyone to acknowledge the inalienable value of human life; may it encourage effective responses to the increasingly felt demand for justice and equal opportunity in all areas of society; may it impel individuals and States to full respect for the essential and authentic rights rooted in the very nature of the human person.
Lord Jesus, our Peace (Eph 2:14), Word made flesh two thousand years ago, who by rising from the dead have conquered evil and sin, grant the human family of the third millennium a just and lasting peace; bring to a happy outcome the talks undertaken by people of good will who, despite so many doubts and difficulties, are trying to bring an end to the troubling conflicts in Africa, the armed clashes in some countries of Latin America, the persistent tensions affecting the Middle East, vast areas of Asia, and some parts of Europe. Help the nations to overcome old and new rivalries, by rejecting attitudes of racism and xenophobia. May the whole of creation, inundated by the splendour of the Resurrection, rejoice because "the brightness of the eternal King has vanquished the darkness of the world" (Easter Proclamation). Yes, Christ has risen victorious, and has offered man, Adam's heir in sin and death, a new heritage of life and glory
"Ubi est mors stimulus tuus?". "O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55), exclaims the Apostle Paul, touched on the road to Damascus by the light of the Risen Christ. His cry echoes down the centuries as the proclamation of life for the whole of human civilization. We too, the men and women of the twenty-first century, are invited to be mindful of this victory of Christ over death, revealed to the women of Jerusalem and the Apostles, when they arrived hesitantly at the tomb. Through the Church, the experience of these eye-witnesses has come down to us too. It is a significant part of the journey of the pilgrims who, during this Year of the Great Jubilee, are entering through the Holy Door, and going away with renewed courage to build pathways of reconciliation with God and with their brothers and sisters. At the heart of this Year of grace, may the proclamation of Christ's followers be heard more loudly and clearly, a joint proclamation, beyond all divisions, in ardent longing for full communion: "Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere". "Yes, that Christ is truly risen from the dead we know, Victorious King, your mercy show!" Amen
URBI et ORBI Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II