Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday Homily

This fresco by Giotto is entitled Christ Entering Jerusalem (1304-1306). It can be found in the Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Though he was God he humbled himself to come among us as an embryo. He was born in a stable, worked as a humble carpenter and now he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey knowing he will be betrayed, rejected and crucified.

Christ’s Passion reminds us of how great his love is for us. He humbled himself and willingly submitted to such tremendous suffering for us. The Passion should remind us of our dignity and the dignity of each and every human being created in the likeness of God.

Cardinal John Henry Newman points out that even if you were the only sinner in the world, Jesus would have undergone his Passion just for you. We are made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by His blood. Our destiny is to share everlasting happiness with him in heaven. This dignity belongs to every human being from the moment of conception to natural death.

If we fail to appreciate our dignity in the eyes of God or out of sinful pride reject God in His commandments, then we will begin to evaluate others falsely by wealth, health, prestige, outward appearance, size, stage of development.

Many live as if there was no God or they make themselves like gods or claim rights that belong to God alone - who lives, who dies, interfering with God’s plan for procreation through contraception, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, cloning and experimenting on human embryos, euthanasia or physician assisted suicide.

We can be tempted to separate ourselves from others, caring only about ourselves and our families alone, with little thought given to eternal life or correcting injustices. But Jesus shows man taught us that we must imitate his humble service. He taught us the way to salvation was to take up our own cross and follow him.

A true follower of Christ will not be afraid to make sacrifices and even face death. By his death and resurrection Jesus has taken away the sting of death. Shortly before his own death Pope John Paul II said “We must get used to thinking confidently about the mystery of death so that the definitive encounter with God occurs in a climate of interior peace.”
Christians don’t fear death, but nor do they cause death. When the early Christians embraced the faith they rejected abortion and infanticide that were common at that time. The Second Vatican Council called abortion and euthanasia infamies that poison human society. It said they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer the injury. Sin always hurts the sinner more than anyone. Judas and Pontius Pilate did more to harm themselves than they did to hurt Jesus.

A woman who had an abortion once said to me about her abortion “The baby dies once, but the woman dies a little bit every day.” But the good news is that Christ died for sinners. Through Rachel’s Vineyard retreats and other post abortion ministries we promote a message of forgiveness and hope.

The Society of Centurions is a group of former abortionists who have now repented. They are named after the Roman centurion spoken of in the Gospel of St. Luke who repented of his role in the crucifixion, glorified God and said “This man was innocent, beyond doubt.” (Luke 23, 47)

All of us called by Christ to serve; to spread His Gospel of mercy and life. What kind of disciples will we be? Will we be like the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Apostle and St. Mary Magdalene who stood faithfully at the foot of the Cross or will we be like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed him, Pontius Pilate who condemned an innocent man or the crowd who called out for Barabbas?

Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter, an Austrian, was beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 when he refused to join the army. In the spring of 1938 he voted against the annexation of Austria by Germany. Afterwards many citizens were arrested, tortured and killed. In response Blessed Franz said “I believe what took place in the spring of 1938 was not much different from what happened that Holy Thursday 1,900 years ago when the crowd was given a free choice between the innocent Savior and the criminal Barabbas.”

Sometimes when we vote, we are given a similar choice. Do we vote based on personality, party affiliation or self-interest and forget the unborn or do we vote for people we know will advance our values, starting with the defense of the most important human right – the right to life.

Ask God to help you recognize your dignity as a child of God who died for you. Pray that God will help you to protect the dignity of others, especially those most threatened. Through the Eucharist which Christ left us as a memorial of his suffering and death, may he give us the strength to build a culture of life.