Sunday, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday and April Fools’ Day

(Palm Sunday 2007 (C): This homily was given on April 1, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2007]

In case you haven’t noticed, this year Palm Sunday happens to fall on April Fools’ Day. That, of course, is a rare phenomenon, since the dates of Easter and Palm Sunday change every year.

And yet, I find it both meaningful and providential that the two coincide at least from time to time, because when Jesus Christ hung on that cross and died for our salvation 2,000 years ago he definitely looked like a fool!

And that’s exactly how he was treated, first by his Jewish brothers and sisters and later by the pagan Romans. The Jews did it on Holy Thursday when they ridiculed him and blindfolded him and then beat him, saying “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”

The Romans did it the next day when they crowned him with thorns and dressed him in a purple robe and pretended to honor him as their king.

The words of Psalm 22, our responsorial psalm today and the one that Jesus prayed when he hung on the cross, express it perfectly: “All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads.”

In other words, they look at me like I’m a fool.

And this really shouldn’t surprise us, because crucifixion was a form of execution reserved by the Romans for slaves and the dregs of society. Notice that in today’s second reading from Philippians 2, St. Paul says that Jesus was obedient unto death—“EVEN DEATH ON A CROSS”. It’s as if Paul were saying, “Jesus obeyed his Father even to the point of looking like a complete fool and dying like a slave in a Roman crucifixion.”

And yet, who were the real fools in all this?

The real fools were those like Herod and Pilate who missed the significance of what was happening right in front of their eyes! The real fools were the Lord’s enemies who closed themselves off from his love and saving grace. The real fools were those who didn’t repent and believe and experience salvation when they had the chance.

They were the real fools—not Jesus!

This Holy Week we have the opportunity to succeed where they failed. We have the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the saving events that brought us—and the world—salvation; we have the opportunity to ponder and get in touch with the incredible love of God, which led him to offer his only begotten Son for the forgiveness of our sins; we have the opportunity to grow in sanctity (at least a little bit!); we even have the chance to make some sense of our own daily sufferings, in light of the sufferings of our Savior.

Those are just some of the spiritual benefits we can experience if we make Holy Week “holy” on a personal level. But doing that means we will have to turn off our TV sets and our cell phones and our computer games and our iPods from time to time in the next 7 days, and stay away from the casino, and make a conscious effort to rearrange our busy and hectic schedules so that we can spend some extra time in church and in prayer.

Simply put, if we really want to make this upcoming Holy Week “holy”, we will need to tune out the foolishness of the world for awhile—especially on Holy Thursday and Good Friday—so that we can tune in to the wisdom and love of God.

Remember, the Lord Jesus was willing to look like a fool and he was willing to be treated like a fool for you—to save you from eternal death! He was willing to do the same for me, and for every other human person. The question is: Are we willing to put aside the world’s foolishness this week for him, and for the sake of improving our relationship with him?

That’s a question that all of us will answer in the next 7 days. It’s my prayer on this Palm Sunday that we will all answer it with a faith-filled yes!