Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Branches: Our ‘Smoking Guns’

(Palm Sunday (B): This homily was given on April 5, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Philippians 2: 6-11.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Palm Sunday 2009]

The following three news items, believe it or not, are all true:
  • Police in Minnesota went to arrest Grayson Clevenger on a burglary charge in July of last year. When they arrived at his house, they spotted someone matching his description driving away in a stolen Dodge Durango. The detectives tried calling Grayson, who answered his cell phone by saying, “Dude, I can’t talk; I’m being chased by the police.” He then hung up. Guess who got arrested shortly thereafter—on 2 charges, burglary AND theft?
  • A Chicago man walked into a bank and handed the teller a robber’s note. The note read, “Be quick. Give me your cash or I’ll shoot.
    The only problem was that the man had written the note on the back of his pay stub, which also had his name and address on it! He walked out of the bank with $400. If convicted, he’ll get 20 years in jail.
  • A man tried to rob a Village Pantry convenience store in Indiana. He demanded money and cigarettes. However, when he was getting ready to leave the store, he accidentally shot himself in the leg as he was putting his gun back into the waistband of his pants! The surveillance camera in the store filmed the whole thing. A short time later, the police found the guilty man at his home. As you might imagine, he was pretty easy to identify!
When legal experts speak of a “smoking gun,” they’re referring to something that provides indisputable evidence of a person’s guilt. Those 3 stories I just shared with you all contain smoking guns of one sort or another. (I found them, incidentally, in an article entitled, “The Top 10 Dumbest Criminals of 2008.” The title certainly fits!)

When you came into church today, you all picked up a piece of palm and carried it with you into your pew. Now you probably didn’t realize it at the time, but spiritually speaking, you were actually carrying with you a big “smoking gun”. Think, for a moment, of the people who spread palms on the ground in front of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. On that first Palm Sunday, these men and women were shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” But on Friday of that same week—a mere 5 days later—most of those same people were shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

These palms remind us that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption, just as they were sinners 2,000 years ago in need of forgiveness and redemption. They are a smoking gun that we hold in our hands, testifying to our guilt.

Of course, there’s another dimension to all this that needs to be mentioned here. In the ancient world, palms were a special sign of victory. Palm branches were given, for example, to winners of athletic contests. And so these palms that we hold today, which do remind us of our many sins, also point us to the victory that Jesus Christ won for us by his passion, death, and resurrection.

So they’re a twofold sign—negative, and at the same time positive.

Today the Church invites us to walk with Jesus through this upcoming Holy Week. We begin this morning with our smoking gun; we end next Sunday with his victory. In between, we are challenged to reflect on the love which led him (as we heard in today’s second reading) to “empty himself” and “humble himself” and “become obedient unto death.”

What are you planning to do this week to make Holy Week “holy” for you? What opportunities will you take advantage of to reflect on the Lord’s mercy and love? We have morning Mass here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7am; we have adoration all day on Tuesday; we have Stations of the Cross at 6:05 on Tuesday after Benediction. We have morning prayer Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the regular Mass times. And most importantly we have the Liturgies of the Triduum: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7pm on Thursday with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the church hall until 11pm. On Friday we have the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 7pm, and Stations twice: once outside at noon (weather permitting), and then at 3pm here in church. And finally, there’s the first Mass of Easter—the Easter Vigil Liturgy—at 7:30 on Holy Saturday.

I would encourage you to make every effort to put Jesus first this Holy Week by participating in as many of these prayer experiences as you can; it will help you to put him first during the rest of the year.

And this is something we all need to do: put Jesus first always. You know, if there’s one thing this economic crisis is teaching us it’s that we are foolish if we put our ultimate hope in the things of this world. As many of us have discovered, with a few bad days on Wall St., it can all go “poof”!

What should matter most to us is our relationship with God, because, as my mother used to say, “At the end of your life, when all is said and done and you get to that final moment, it will come down to you and Jesus. Period.”

And I don’t know about you, but when that moment comes for me, I want Jesus Christ to take the smoking gun of my guilt out of my hand and to give me a crown—not a crown of palm, but a crown of pure gold that will last forever.