Palm Sunday of the Lord, March 25, 2018
Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
When we meditate on the Passion, we see Jesus surrounded by sin and the effects of sin. We become more aware of the evil in the world, and consequently our own evil – how we have contributed to the weight of the cross. On display are greed, deception, jealousy, anxiety, confusion, distress, pride, laziness, sloth, weariness in the face of the suffering of others, fear, violence, hard-heartedness, cowardice, vengeance, lies, false accusations, mockery, envy, cursing, torture, and abuse – encompassing all the sins of all of humanity and the suffering they generate. We can relate to both the sinner and the innocent victim, the one who suffers. We’ve been both at different times in our life. But what Jesus shows us by carrying the cross is how to respond to the Cross and how the cross becomes a gift if we embrace it. The cross is not punishment from God the Father. The cross is not something imposed on him by an angry God out to crush the sinner. Jesus doesn’t go to the Cross to show the Father how much he loves him – to impress the Father with how much suffering he can take on. He takes up the cross because the cross is his path to the Father, and to be with the Father is a joy. The cross brings him to the Father. It is because of the love of the Father, the love Jesus knows the Father has for him, that he does this. It is for the joy of what awaits him that he picks up the cross. It is better to know the love of God and to die than not to know that love at all. Everything, including his life, can be taken away from him, but Jesus is free because of the love of the Father. With the Father, Jesus lacks nothing. Jesus took up the cross not to show us his strength, but to show us that the path to God is to embrace our weakness – which moves us to cry out to God, to seek God, to be in touch with our need for God. In Mark’s account of the Passion, Jesus says very few words, but when he faces the cross, he doesn’t fight back or defend himself; when he is troubled and distressed, he turns to the Father, he prays to the Father. “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” His prayer is filled with affection for the Father. “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Daddy.” His prayer expresses an openness to God, a readiness to receive what the Father desires for him, even when from a human standpoint, it makes no sense or is repulsive. And on the Cross itself, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is not a cry of despair, but he is praying Psalm 22. It is a Psalm of praise to God that expresses hope in the victory, speaks of eternal life and God’s power to deliver when prayed all the way through.
We enter into the relationship with Christ through the awareness we have of our sin. Pope Francis described it this way: “The privileged place of the encounter with Christ is the caress of his mercy on my sin.” If we are not aware of our sin and our need for mercy, we will not know the Lord, because we will not seek him and his mercy.
I had this experience this past week. Priests in this time of year hear a lot of confessions, but it is often hard for a priest to get to confession. I really wanted to go to confession to prepare for Holy Week, but things got in the way. The snow storm cancelled several penance services – an easy place to meet other priests. I was planning to go to the Shrine in Doylestown at around 11:00 a.m on Thursday, because they offer confessions before the daily 11:30 Mass, but then an unexpected walk-in appointment came in to the office. I was not free until 2:00 p.m. to head up to the Shrine. I went to the Monastery and rang the door bell. I waited, but there was no answer. I rang the bell again, but there was no answer. About ten priests live there, but nobody was home.
I went over to the Shrine office, but the receptionist was busy. I went to the gift shop and asked the lady behind the counter, “Do you know where I can find a priest.” “Which priest are you looking for?”, she asked. “It doesn’t matter. Any priest will do. I just want to go to confession.” She said, “If you speak English, you should really see Fr. Ed.” “That is really OK. The Polish priests understand enough English to hear my confession. Any priest will do.” She makes a phone call, and there is no answer. “Let me try his cell phone.” “What is your name, Father?”, she asks me. She leaves a message. And then she gets a call back in a few minutes. “Hello. There’s a Fr. Forlano here who wants to go to confession.” (So much for the anonymity of the sacrament.) “Fr. Ed will be here shortly.” I go out into the hall and wait on a bench. In a few minutes this older man comes in the door, looks at me and says, “You want to go to confession?” “Yes, Father.”
He takes me to the cemetery office, tells the person working at the desk to go home early, and then we sit down. I make my confession. Instead of just giving me absolution right away and sending me off, he asked about my struggles. He listened to me. He was very compassionate. He told me that he had been a pastor for 27 years in a parish before his order sent him to be the director of the Shrine. “I’m 78 years old, have had three heart attacks, and I have to run this place.” He knew what I was going through and gave me some advice and words of encouragement. He said, “I know how hard it is sometimes for a priest to get to confession. If you ever need to go or get stuck, give me a call.” He gave me his cell number. I was looking for a ritual, and instead I found a friend – a Father that embraced me. It was an encounter with the mercy of God. It was just what I needed but so much more than I expected.
The crosses in our lives bring us in touch with our need. In our weakness, and sin, we are most open and most aware of our need for God. The cross is not a punishment but a path that leads us to entrust ourselves to the Father. This is the path of the resurrection. Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a colt of an ass. He enters humbly. Humility is the path to victory. Let us embrace the cross with humility, become aware of our need of God, and discover the path to new life and the resurrection, and the embrace that the Father has for us.