'God seems so distant, so forgetful, so absent.' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year A

Christ's Entry inot Jerusalem
Melozzo da Forli [Web Gallery of Art]

The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Readings at Mass

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel [Full version] Matthew 26:14—27:66 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

Gospel [Shorter version] Matthew 27:11-54 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

Matthew 26:14—27:66 in Filipino Sign Language

Responsorial Psalm (New American Bible Lectionary)
This is used in Years A, B and C.

A few nights ago on the news on TV here in Ireland a woman spoke about the death of her 78-year-old father fromCovid-19. Emily and her mother were present when he died but could not go near him to say goodbye. Her mother wanted to lie beside her dying husband but could not. (What a beautiful image of marriage!) And when he died his daughter could not hug her mother.

Death notices in Ireland online and in newspapers, such as that for Columban Fr Seamus O'Connor who died last Sunday, carry statements like this: Respecting current national health guidelines, Fr Seamus's funeral will be private. Your personal prayers for Fr Seamus are deeply appreciated. Those who would have liked to have attended the funeral but cannot due to current restrictions, please feel free to leave a message for the family in the Condolences section below

Father Seamus died from natural causes at the age of 94, the oldest Columban in Ireland. He had been ill for some years. He was one of the pioneering group of Columbans to go to Fiji in 1951 and later worked in Australia and Peru. May he rest in peace.

The experience of the wife and daughter of the man who died from Covid-19 and that of all bereaved families at this time when normal funerals cannot take place is, I think, a sharing in the abandonment that Jesus experienced on the Cross.

The response for today's Responsorial Psalm is My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? ('forsaken me' in the Jerusalem Bible Lectionary), the last words of Jesus according to St Matthew, whose version of the Passion is read today. The readings carry that theme, explicitly or implicitly. The Prophet Isaiah says in the First Reading, I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The church applies these words to the sufferings of Jesus. Yet there isn't total abandonment: The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Psalm 21 (22) is fulfilled in the Passion and Death of Jesus. St Paul in the reading from his Letter to the Philippians speaks of the self-emptying of Jesus who: though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

The Agony in the Garden
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

An tAthair Pádraig Ó Croiligh (Fr Patrick Crilly) of the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, reflects on this in his poem in Irish, An Crióst Tréigthe (The Abandoned Christ). I have added my own English translation.

An raibh sé ina aonar ar feadh a shaoil,
Was he alone throughout his life,
An Críost seo scartha ón Trionóid naofa?
This Christ separated from the holy Trinity?
Ar chrothnaigh sé an dá phearsa eile,
Did he miss the two other persons,
Nó an raibh sé in aineolas orthu?
Or was he unaware of them?

Agus i ndiaidh fhás na spioradáltachta ann,
And after the growth of spirituality in him,
I ndiaidh greim a fháil ar a cheangal le Dia,
After he grasped his connection with God,
Ar fágadh in aonar arís é ar an chrois
Was he left alone again on the cross
Gan a fhios aige cén fáth ar tréigeadh é?
Not knowing why he had been abandoned?

Nuair a fhuair sé bás ar an chrois,
When he died on the cross
Ar ócáid cheiliúrtha é filleadh abhaile?
Was his going home an occasion of celebration?
Nó ar bhraith sé tréigean a dhaonnachta
Or did he feel the abandonment of his humanity
I gcumha a shaoil abhus mar dhuine?
In the loneliness of his life here as a human being?

Ag leanúint Chríost dúinn i mbeocht an tsaoil
In following Christ in the living of life
An mbuailfimid lena thréigean siúd?
Will we encounter his abandonment?
An féidir linn a bheith Críostaí
Can we be Christian
Gan casadh sa saol leis an Chríost tréigthe?
Without coming across the abandoned Christ in life?

Poem taken from Brúitíní Creidimhpublished by Foilseacháin Ábhar Spioradálta (FS), Dublin, 2005The title could be translated as 'Mashed Potatoes of Faith'. Potatoes are the main staple in Ireland.

Christ in Agony on the Cross
El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

El Greco shows the city of Toledo in the background. It is only 80 kms from Madrid, both in the general area that has had the highest incidence of Covid-19 in Spain. El Greco, who died on 7 April 1614, shows the Crucified Lord in the midst of us. Perhaps we can remember this great painter in our prayers.

Father Ó Croiligh, I think, is teasing out some of the meaning of St Paul's words in today's Second Reading: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn't acting or engaging in any kind of 'drama-drama' (play-acting), as they say in the Philippines. He truly suffered a sense of being forsaken, of being abandoned, in the very depths of his being. He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. We see that in the Garden of Gethsemane when the three Apostles closest to him fell asleep during his hour of greatest need. His cry from the Cross, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? comes from the innermost recesses of his heart, from a sense of even his Father having abandoned him.

This touches on the mystery of what the Church calls the 'Hypostatic Union.' Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man, one person with two natures, divine and human. Fr Thomas Joseph White OP speaks about it on this video. (If you are confined to your home at this time you might spend some time watching the video and reflecting on this mystery.)

At this time many people are experiencing a form of being abandoned. Emily on Irish TV spoke about her family not being able to grieve properly because she and her mother are in isolation together, while two of her five brothers are overseas, one in Australia and one in the USA. Many other families are in a similar position. I remember a few years ago flying from Toronto to Dublin and the man beside me was 'in bits', as we say in Ireland. His mother had just died but he was too late for the funeral because his Irish passport had expired and he had to get a new one.

At the funeral of Fr Seamus O'Connor here on Tuesday none of his relatives could come. And only two priests were allowed to attend the burial in our own cemetery. We could not pray a decade of the Rosary at the graveside after the final prayers of commendation nor sing the Salve Regina there as is our custom.

Many others are sharing the pain of separation by not being able to meet their close relatives and friends in person, grandparents and grandchildren, for example. Young children don't know what this is all about. Neither do many older people with dementia.

Pope Benedict reflected on Psalm 21 (22), used in today's Responsorial Psalm, in his Wednesday Audience on 14 September 2011. In his talk the Pope said:

God is silent and this silence pierces the soul of the person praying, who ceaselessly calls but receives no answer. Day and night succeed one another in an unflagging quest for a word, for help that does not come, God seems so distant, so forgetful, so absent. The prayer asks to be heard, to be answered, it begs for contact, seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation. But if God fails to respond, the cry of help is lost in the void and loneliness becomes unbearable.

Yet, in his cry, the praying man of our Psalm calls the Lord ‘my’ God at least three times, in an extreme act of trust and faith. In spite of all appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his link with the Lord is totally broken and while he asks the reason for a presumed incomprehensible abandonment, he says that ‘his’ God cannot forsake him.

Two images I have seen on the news recently symbolised for me the sense of desolation that many experience at this time, but also the sense of hope, both reflected in the psalm. One was of a fleet of Italian army trucks taking coffins to crematoriums. The other was of a fleet of Irish army trucks earlier this week carrying consignments of protective clothing for medical workers in different parts of the country that had just arrived at Dublin Airport from China.

Salve, Regína, mater misericórdiae
vita, dulcédo et spes nostra, salve
Ad te clamámus, éxules fílii Evae.
Ad te suspirámus, geméntes et flentes
in hac lacrimárum valle.
Eia ergo, advocáta nostra,
illos tuos misericórdes óculos
ad nos convérte.
Et Jesum, benedíctum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsílium osténde
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo María.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy,
hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve:
to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping
in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this our exile, show unto us
the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! 

St Roch Asking the Virgin Mary to Heal Victims of the Plague
Jacques-Louis David [Web Gallery of Art]

There is great devotion to St Roch in the central and southern Philippines where he is known as San Roque. (In Italy he is known as San Rocco).

The notes on this painting on Web Gallery of Arts say: David's first independent commission was for an altarpiece for the chapel of the Lazaret (or quarantine centre) in Marseille, France's major Mediterranean port, and a place that lived in continual fear of contagion brought by travellers from the East. The picture was to commemorate a miraculous episode from the 1720 outbreak of the disease in the city when the fourteenth-century saint, who had suffered from the plague himself, reappeared and came to the aid of the sick.

St Roch among the Plague Victims and the Madonna in Glory
Jacopo Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]

Health of the Sick, Pray for us.
St Roch/San Roque/San Rocco, Pray for us.


Popular posts from this blog

The Memorare


10 Minute Daily Retreat: 7 Months, 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit