Accepting Jesus' Invitation

04-14-2019From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

When I was in my next to the last year in the seminary before ordination the first semester we went to Pilgrim State Mental Hospital on Wednesdays. We would begin our day with Mass with the residents celebrated by the chaplain. We brought guitars and sang music at the Mass. But each time we came to communion, one of the residents would beat us to the punch and start singing the old traditional hymn “O Lord I Am Not Worthy.” The first verse is: O Lord, I am not worthy That Thou should'st come to me, But speak the words of comfort, My spirit healed shall be. Those words came to mind as I was praying evening prayer last week in Psalm 114 which had the verse: “Lord, what is man that you care for him, mortal man, that you keep him in mind; man, who is merely a breath, whose life fades like a shadow?” That verse and the first verse of the hymn “O Lord I Am Not Worthy” jump out as we listen to and reflect on the Gospel for today, Palm Sunday, the Passion according to St. Luke. Why did Jesus suffer what He did?

The answer is crystal clear: human ignorance, anger, rejection, and injustice. But that is not even half the answer. The true answer is: He wanted to show us how much God clearly loves us and wants us to be part of His life. He suffered in His human nature and revealed how powerful God’s love is and how powerful our love can become.

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen when He went up to Jerusalem: “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34). As we read the passion according to Luke today we see how this prophecy and foreknowledge was fulfilled. One of my Lenten intentions is to pray the Stations of the Cross every day. Most days I go from Station to Station thinking about how Jesus loved in each one of those instances.

There are many choices we make in our lives. Some are simple, everyday ones such as what we will have for dinner, while others are life altering, such as a job, marriage, bringing children into the world and being parents, or a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. In these and any situations we find ourselves in, the most challenging aspect we face is being motivated by and acting with love. It is easy to love when we are accepted, respected, and loved in return. It is not so easy to love when we are rejected, ignored, or taken for granted. The Passion of Jesus and the Stations of the Cross humble us with wonder, awe, gratitude, and even holy fear at the choice Jesus made at each step to love. The civil governor and the religious leaders of His time used their positions to do exactly what He predicted would happen, as we see in the above quote from Mark 10:32-34. Jesus knew this would happen. But He also knew He would love us to His very last human breath: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Not only did He love them to the end, He loved them beyond death and forever in eternal life.

It is that love that Jesus now offers to us. How far do we let Him into our lives? We are in control of who we love and how we express our love. We are in control of who we let into our lives and how far we let them in. This Holy Week is a gift to us to be reminded, renewed, and refreshed by God’s merciful, life giving love. We call these seven days Holy Week because they open our minds and hearts to the true meaning and purpose of our lives. Enlivened and motivated by our faith in God we encounter and experience the very love of Jesus. All we have to do is take the time to make this happen. We can live our lives everyday without giving God a thought. What that does is put us into a state of unrest, uncertainty, and insecurity. There is always the inner tension of knowing something is not right, something is missing.

As you take a branch of blessed palm home today and put it in a place in your home, think about how much Jesus has done and is doing to welcome us into His life with the Father and Holy Spirit. The invitation is ours to accept, put off, or reject. Is Jesus as welcome as the palm branch we have taken home? Do we give Him a thought today and every day or does He become the invisible presence of the place where we put the palm branch? It is there but just becomes part of the background without making the difference it is meant to be for us.

Take some time this week to pray the Stations of the Cross. Don’t take a book, just look at each Station as it is depicted and think about how Jesus lived His decision to love each time. The challenges were many on that first Good Friday. But is that not why it is Good Friday? God in His goodness refused to stop loving us in spite of our rejection of Him. He even prayed for all who had a hand in crucifying Him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) What greater love can we ever know or experience in this life or for all eternity? The more we walk the Way of Jesus, the more our Way becomes His Way. We don’t look to win or prevail, only to love as He has loved us. Pure love rises above rejection, anger, bitterness, and vengeance. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)