Saturday, April 16, 2011
Palm Sunday 2011 "Your will be done": the God-Man gives Himself on the Cross in commitment greater than which cannot be imagined
"Father, not as I will, but as you will".
We live in a society that glorifies a lack of commitment. You might even say that there is an epidemic of commitment-phobia. The ideal life is one, we are told, in which all options remain open to us at all times despite any promises or choices we may have made in the past.
By necessity every choice we make eliminates other choices. I cannot stay up all night playing video games on Saturday and then get up refreshed and happy to attend holy Mass on Sunday in obedience to the commandment of God that thus I might remain in a state of grace. I cannot ask the person who is speaking to me to believe I am listening if I am texting while she talks. I cannot invest in real relationships if I spend my free time in the virtual world of the internet where I cannot even be sure someone has read my latest post on Facebook.
I cannot sign up for Sunday sports programs and at the same time present myself as a Catholic Christian for whom the laws of God come first, and with them an open-ended lifetime commitment to keeping the Lord's Day holy by attendance at Mass on Sundays or on Saturday evenings for reasonable convenience. I cannot present myself as a public person in the church, taking leadership roles in the celebration of the liturgy, for example, and then pick and choose when I will join the Catholic community for worship, making myself God's equal because I have decided upon my own laws which conflict with those of God when my convenience or caprice comes first.
And so upon reflection we can easily see that it is simply a matter of reason that some choices by necessity eliminate the possibility of other choices. Why, then, is it so often said, boastingly, "Well, I'm a Catholic but I decide what I will believe and what I will do."
In our gospel for this Palm Sunday, however, we are presented with the true example of what it means for the human person to "choose" something. Jesus Christ chooses to love His Father God. God is good and God is love. This means that, no matter how difficult or contrary to what Jesus might think of love, such as sparing Himself the horror of dying the bloody and shameful death on the Cross, Christ chooses to do what His Father asks Him to do. And not only that, Jesus wills to do, desires to do, what His Father asks of Him. This is because Jesus loves the Father and that is the definition of love: to not only do what is asked but also to love doing what is asked for the love of the one who asks that thing of us.
What kind of a world would we live in if every human being took out the trash, swept the floor, cooked the dinner, went to work each day, changed a diaper, fed the poor, talked to someone they didn't like, loved someone who hates them and loved doing it? And, even more stupendous, loved doing all these things and more not for their own sakes but for the sake of the other whom they serve as a privilege and not merely as a duty? It would be the kind of world in which everywhere around us we would see signs of God and signs of His love in the way that Christ showed love of His Father on the holy Cross.
"Father, thy will be done." Jesus Christ is the perfect example of love because He is the perfect example of commitment. Choosing the will of the Father means at the same time persevering in the lifelong rejection of everything that is incompatible with or contrary to the Father's holy will.
The Son, in order to choose the will of His Father, must reject everything else possible to him, including the very preservation of His own life, in the total sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross. This is the commitment greater than which it is not possible to imagine. This is the commitment which serves as the example and model for every other commitment and, in particular, the commitment of the Christian life to which we as Catholics were dedicated on our day of baptism and for which we renew our promises every time we recite the Creed each Sunday and also about which we pray in the "Our Father".
"The first series of petitions carries us toward him, for his own sake: thy name, thy kingdom, thy will! It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father's glory seizes us: 'hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . . . ' These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are henceforth directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all." (CCC 2804)
To "think first of the one whom we love" is also to think first of doing as asked by the one we love even if it means a kind of death for ourselves in the rejection of our own will and our own desires. It also means rejection of the lie that we can choose some things which do not by necessity at the same time make certain other choices unavailable to us.
The murder of Christ reminds us, by negative example, that we must be committed to life. God's command, "Thou shalt not kill" is absolute. There is no possibility of choosing murder for those who say they love God.
It is very common today, for example, for some to believe they can be at the same time a Catholic Christian and yet vote for candidates who, and laws that, violate the sacredness of human life by promoting and funding abortion, abortifacient contraception and embryonic stem cell research. Some have forgotten that it is God who founded the Church and it is for that reason the Church must teach, as God does, that never under any circumstances is it possible to choose finances, the economy, research, personal convenience or any other thing in preference to the sacredness of every human life. "Do not kill" means precisely that: do not ever willingly choose to take another human life. Abortion, abortifacient contraception such as the pill, and stem cell research make just this choice.
We cannot be Catholic and pro-abortion. We must commit either to the one or to the other. And if we receive communion after sinning against the sacredness of life we commit a sacrilege for the reason that this and every mortal sin must be forgiven in the sacrament of Confession before returning to sacramental Communion. Communion builds up the life of grace for a person in a state of grace after Baptism. Confession restores to the repentant soul a state of grace after serious, or mortal, sin.
On this Palm Sunday, when we commemorate liturgically with love the death of the Lord, we commend ourselves to Mary our Mother, the Mother of the Crucified One, asking her to help us to be obedient to the will of the Father as was her Son unto death so that we, like her Son, might share in the Father's life and love unending.
"Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the 'Mother of Mercy,' the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender 'the hour of our death' wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise. (CCC 2677)
Art: Philip Hermogenes Calderon, Lord, Thy Will Be Done, 1855