28 March 2010
Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Palm Sunday Mass
We will hear two Gospel readings at this Mass. We have just heard the account of Jesus’ Solemn Entry into Jerusalem. Later we will hear Saint Luke’s account of the Passion and death of Jesus. There appears to be a sharp contrast between these two Gospels; between the greeting of those who call him King and who cry “Hosanna”, and that of others who cry: “Crucify him” as they treat him, not as a king, but as a criminal condemned to die an ignominious death on the Cross.
But that contrast is a false one. Jesus knows that his hour has come and he enters on the path towards the recognition of his kingship in a unique way. He enters the Holy City not in a royal carriage with outriders, the symbols of royal power. He does not even enter on horseback which was the method of transport of the wealthy and the distinguished. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, that is, the animal of the simple, common country people. Indeed it was a donkey that did not belong to him but one that he had to borrow for the occasion.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He shows us his identity through humility and humiliation, the same path that we his disciples are called to follow in our times.
On the First Sunday of Lent we heard the Gospel account of the temptations of Jesus. At the end of Saint Luke’s account of the temptation it was noted that: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time”.
Now that time has come. Today, in the reading of the Passion of the Lord, we see that Jesus is once again to be put to the test. Once again he must reject the temptations of Satan, those of power, wealth and success. Jesus remains faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross. Jesus follows this path with all the anguish and fear it entails, but he does not flinch or waver. He shows us how God is always faithful to his people.
His disciples react in a very different way. Even as, in the intimacy of the Last Supper, Jesus shares with his disciples what was to happen in the days to come, his disciples show just how easily they fall into temptation. One leaves the room and heads off to betray Jesus. Others even at this most solemn moment are still concerned about prestige and who should be considered the most important among them. Peter, the rock chosen on which to build the Church, promises in big words never to betray Jesus, but in that same evening Peter will betray Jesus three times. In the face of temptation the disciples flee and abandon Jesus.
At the final moment on the cross Jesus is tempted once again: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself”, they cry. But Jesus had not come to save himself. He had come to give his life out of love for us, so that we could have life. Jesus who is just – and is recognised as such by Pilate – is unjustly condemned, yet he forgives those who orchestrate his death.
This Gospel account teaches us something about the Church from its very beginning and it tells us something about the Church today and how we are called to live as members of the Church of Christ.
The Church in Dublin is still stung by the horrible abuse which innocent children endured through people who were Christ’s ministers and who were called to act in Christ’s name. How was it that the innocence of children was not embraced; how did it happen that in our Church the temptation to protect institution was given priority over healing the most innocent and the vulnerable.
Many ask me: “How could such harm have been done within the Church of Christ; How can I remain in such a church? “
The only answer is for us to remember that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ and it is his self-giving alone that brings hope for renewal and give the strength to remain faithful to his message and his mission. Reform and renewal in the Church, sorely needed, can never be a task which we as humans can undertake on our own. It will only come when we convert, that is when we change direction in our lives, and allow Christ’s example of fidelity to be the driving force in our lives. Reform in the Church will come when we all reform.
You may reply: “I have no responsibility for what happened. Why ask me to repent and convert?” Jesus though innocent, gave himself so that others might live. Reform of the Church must come from within us. It must come from a change within each of us. It is not a question of us asking how I can remain in such a Church, but rather that as the disciples of Jesus we all take responsibly for the Church, but within the Church, within a community of men and women who believe and who live out the love of God in their lives. The Church will not be reformed as the Church of Christ by cries from outside, of those who do not believe. Renewal is a matter of faith and of understanding what it means that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is not of this world but it must be realised day by day within this world, by those who understand the meaning of Christ’s self-giving love, which aimed not to save himself but to bring life to others.
So many things damage the face of Christ in his Church. So many things damage the body of Christ. If we really understand how we all belong to the one body then we cannot feel that the answer to renewal in the Church can come about by leaving the Church or by leaving it to others. I as Archbishop of Dublin am committed to working with all of you who wish to renew our Church, to purify our Church from all that has damaged the face of Christ. These have not been easy days for me personally. But with the many believers who wish to journey together on the path of renewal, I know that that path will inevitably be a way of the Cross.
When we journey along the way of the Cross we do not know what that way will entail and how long our journey will take. The challenge is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer; the challenge is not to follow the hypocrisy of Pilate who places his own position ahead of his responsibility towards an innocent man; our challenge is not to get trapped in irrelevant questions of prestige and status as did some disciples at the Last Supper. Our challenge is to be like Jesus who, with all the anguish and fear it entails, does not flinch or waver in remaining faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross.