With Palm Sunday we have begun Holy Week once again, but this year a very different Holy Week. Who knew that this year we would be isolating in our homes, social distancing, many completely by themselves communicating by phone, email or whatever means they have, but here we are. I hope you are not losing hope or despairing. This will be a very different Holy Week, with no washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, no venerating the Cross on Good Friday and no Baptisms at the Easter Vigil. But this Holy Week we will have new opportunities presented to us for prayer and communication for and with our brothers and sisters.
Because of this pandemic, I have taken the opportunity to call parishioners, especially those living alone and I will continue to do this during Holy Week. It has been a great opportunity to meet members of our parish on a whole new level. I have discovered things about you that I probably wouldn’t have known if life had remained “normal”. I encourage you to call each other and maybe even call someone in the parish you don’t know very well. Have a conversation with them, learn something new about them and offer to pray for them.
I hope prayer is at the center of all our lives right now. I am offering you an opportunity this year that I have never offered before. I have put together a novena for your use. A novena is generally a nine-day prayer form for a specific intention or purpose. This novena is meant to be a preparation for Easter and the fifty days that make up the Easter Season. It is also meant to be an opportunity to pray for those who are suffering from COVID-19. Feel free to rearrange it in any way you want. The first day offers a talk Pope Francis gave to an empty square at the Vatican on March 27th. I found the talk very helpful and inspiring. I hope you do as well. On Good Friday you will find a version of the Stations of the Cross written by a woman from Saginaw, Michigan based on Jesus’ journey and the coronavirus. I also found this inspiring and useful. On Holy Saturday there is a narrative from a gentleman in Ireland on the Seven Last Words. Some of these narratives are long, but you can read a small part and then another part later. Make it work for you.
On the other days you find a Liturgy of the Word for your use. Use whatever is helpful for you, but please pray for your brothers and sisters and for yourself that God may help us bring this virus to a speedy end and that Easter may help us feel the presence of the risen Christ in our midst. Pray as well that we may be together again at Saint Philip’s before the end of the Easter Season.
I assure you of my prayers for you during this difficult time, that you weather the isolation and limitation of movement with some hope and awareness of God in our midst. I hope that you are able to keep up some contact with others through the phone, the media and the Internet in which you can share the tediousness and uncertainly of this time and find things to laugh at and hopes to dream about.
Please allow me to share with you the following reflection on Jesus and his cross, and our need to emulate Christ’s humility during this spiritual time.
Father Rick Paperini
PS. I hope to live stream Easter Sunday Mass at 9:30 am. Please check the website.
A humbler man never lived than Jesus of Nazareth. That is the essence of the Gospel of the Passion for Palm Sunday. On the one hand, we know that no greater man ever lived than Christ. He was the very Word of God come down from the Father. He was the Life, the Light, the Truth, the Way and yet no one ever emptied himself of pride and arrogance more completely than did Jesus Christ.
Remember how offended Simon Peter was when Jesus sought to wash his feet? That was a job for a servant – not for a distinguished Rabbi. The idea that greatness is related to servant hood was a principle that Jesus’ disciples had a difficult time grasping. The washing of the disciples’ feet took place at the Last Supper. Luke tells us that on the way to that sacred meal the disciples had been arguing over which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom. The disciples thought of greatness in terms of worldly success. To achieve success was to have others serve you. They were not prepared, then, to handle Jesus’ teaching that “Whoever would be first among you must be a slave to all, for the Son of Man came to serve not to be served.” That was a radical teaching for them and it is a radical teaching for many of us. It is the message of the cross and is at the essence of our Gospel today.
If we understood and accepted for ourselves the true humility of Jesus Christ, we would know a measure of success and well-being that the world cannot even imagine. Humility and obedience to God’s Will is at the heart of the message of Calvary and they are the key to sanctity.
There is one thing, however, that we need to say about humility right from the beginning. Humility is never to be purchased at the expense of one’s self-esteem. Humility is not about putting ourselves down. It’s not about trying to prove to others that we’re not all that great. It’s never purchased at the expense of our self-esteem.
Second, Humility does require us to look beyond our own circumstances to the circumstances of others. It is very difficult for many of us to see beyond our own needs. It is so essential today that we see that humble Galilean riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. In the Nicene Creed we affirm that Jesus was “God from God.” Yet here he was humbling himself to be sacrificed like a farm animal on a cross on Calvary. No crown, no throne, and no comfortable palace – he gave it all up for a people steeped in sin.
Third, humility requires also that we acknowledge our own limitations. A wise person will see that humility is the first step to extraordinary achievement. Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor to whom every one of us owes much. It was Edison who said, “I do not know one-millionth of one percent about anything.” Albert Schweitzer once said that our highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery.
A wise person is aware of his or her limitations. None of us is self-sufficient. It is a deadly kind of arrogance to say that we have arrived – that we have it all together –that we no longer need to learn or grow or develop our minds. Humility requires that we acknowledge our limitations.
Finally, today’s message of the cross teaches us to acknowledge our dependence on God. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It is interesting to watch the strong Son of God acknowledge his dependence on God during those final hours. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus cries out, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me…” On the cross, at the height of his despair he cries out, “my God, My God why have you forsaken me?” You and I have prayed that prayer even when we knew that God has not forsaken us. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
My friends, if Jesus found it necessary to utterly and completely depend on God, how can you and I live our lives without depending on God as well?
Please think about all of this as you enter into this holiest of weeks. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was God, but he humbled himself to serve others. We should think about humility today in the midst of this pandemic. As we begin to feel closed in by the walls of our home, as we find ourselves tired of cleaning our homes let us remember to be humble, not at the price of our self-esteem, focusing only on our limitations, but at the price of thinking about the circumstances of others and humble enough to focus on our need for and dependence upon God.
God Bless you