Saint Mark’s rendition of the triumphant procession into Jerusalem emphasizes Jesus as a humble messiah (Mark 11:1-10).
A Humble Messiah, art by Oleksandr Antonyuk
The ashes placed upon our foreheads on Ash Wednesday do not have a single meaning. They can symbolize our mortality (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”) or our need for conversion (“Repent, and believe in the gospel”). The ashes may also represent illusionary dreams that have come to nothing, for they are derived from the palms that we carry in procession on Palm Sunday.
On the first Palm Sunday, the people lined the streets to cheer as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as a conquering hero, their messiah, who they believed would free them from the tyranny of Rome. They were blind to the meaning of the prophetic sign of a king astride a beast of burden, a symbol of a humble, peaceful, monarch. In T.S. Elliot’s words, ” We had the experience but missed the meaning” (The Dry Salvages,” 39).
We too misconstrue the events of our lives because we interpret them through the lenses of our needs and desires. Like the people in today’s gospel, we can project our need for deliverance upon others. For example, the desire to possess the perfect mate who will eradicate all loneliness can transform a person in one’s imagination into a god or goddess. But all our gods and goddesses are mere mortals. And when they disappoint us, we cast them down from their thrones. Our cheers of “hosanna” quickly become jeers of “Crucify him. Crucify him.”
So many relationships collapse and fall asunder because they are built on sand. Aristotle believed that true friendship is rare, that is, a relationship based upon desiring the Good for the other. Unfortunately, he wrote, the majority of what people call “friendship” is not friendship at all, but a relationship of convenience or self-seeking in which a person is pursuing his own advantage. “That is why they fall in and out of friendship quickly, changing their attitude often within the same day.” (263).
How many times have we believed people to be our “friends” only to discover that we were being used? How often have we used people in the same way?
~ A Meditation by Fr. Marc Foley, O.C.D.
The Entry Into Jerusalem, art by Mikhail Nesterov (1900)
“O Jesus, I contemplate You in Your triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Anticipating the crowd which would come to meet You.
You mounted an ass and gave an admirable example of humility in the midst of the acclamations of the crowd who cut branches of trees and spread their garments along the way. While the people were singing hymns of praise. You were filled with pity and wept over Jerusalem. Rise now, my soul, handmaid of the Savior, join the procession of the daughters of Sion and go out to meet your King.
Accompany the Lord of heaven and earth, seated on an ass; follow Him with olive and palm branches, with works of piety and with victorious virtues.” (cf. St. Bonaventure).
O Jesus, what bitter tears You shed over the city which refused to recognize You! And how many souls, like Jerusalem, go to perdition on account of their obstinate resistance to grace! For them I pray with all my strength. “My God, this is where Your power and mercy should be shown. Oh! what a lofty grace I ask for. O true God, when I conjure You to love those who do not love You, to answer those who do not call to You, to give health to those who take pleasure in remaining sick!… You say, O my Lord, that You have come to seek sinners. Here, Lord, are the real sinners. But, instead of seeing our blindness, O God, consider the precious Blood which Your Son shed for us. Let Your mercy shine out in the midst of such great malice. Do not forget, Lord, that we are Your creatures, and pour out on us Your goodness and mercy” (T.J. Exc, 8).
Even if we resist grace, O Jesus, You are still the Victor; Your triumph over the prince of darkness is accomplished, and humanity has been saved and redeemed by You. You are the Good Shepherd who knows and loves each one of His sheep and would lead them all to safety. Your loving heart is not satisfied with having merited salvation for the whole flock; it ardently desires each sheep to profit by this salvation… O Lord, give us then, this good will; enable us to accept Your gift, Your grace, and grant that Your Passion may not have been in vain.
~ Prayer by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magadalen, O.C.D.
Wishing all of you a very blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week!