Sunday, April 09, 2017

He Emptied Himself

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

By Diane Bayne

Give me your grace, good Lord,
to walk the narrow way
            that leads to life,
to bear the cross with Christ;
to have the last thing in
            remembrance. . .
to have continually in mind
            the passion that Christ
            suffered for me;
for his benefits unceasingly
            to give him thanks,
and buy the time again that I
            before have lost. Amen
            - St. Thomas More        
The core and the climax of each gospel account is the passion narrative. Each passion account reflects the unique perspective and theology of the gospel writer, who connects a portrait of Jesus in his ministry with the reasons for his suffering and death.

This year we concentrate on Matthew’s passion story (Matthew 26:14-27:66). For Matthew, Jesus is God’s obedient Son, who willingly cooperates in God’s saving plan to transform our world by establishing the kingdom community of inclusivity and justice. In today’s second reading (Phil. 2:6-11), Paul says that Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” Rather, he “emptied himself,” becoming human. He lived in vulnerability, God’s suffering servant, not hiding his face “from buffets and spitting.”

The writer Dinah Simmons, beautifully reminds us that even in the midst of terrible suffering, Jesus did not cling to suffering. And so she says:
            “. . . he did not let it become the final word. Not even on the cross. He clung, instead, to his identity as God’s beloved. He clung to his relationship with the Father. Even in his agony, he remembered who he was. His final, heartbroken cry was, nontheless, a cry of faith, a prayer from Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He clung to what he knew best: he was God’s beloved; he trusted in God. And God did not let him down. Paul assures us, ’God greatly exulted Him.’”

Simmons concludes her commentary by asserting that “We need to be reminded that evil, hatred, suffering, and death don’t have the final word. Jesus gives us this gift. He shows us that life is stronger than death; love is stronger than hatred; faith and hope are stronger than fear and suffering. He shows us that we, too, are God’s beloved. Let us cling to that.”

A fitting reflection for our action this week can be found in a commentary by Bill Huebsch in the April issue of Living with Christ. Says Mr. Huebsch, a theologian, writer and speaker on spirituality and catechetics: “Throughout our celebrations this week, let us continually pray for the grace to die to ourselves, imitating Jesus. Let us turn our dying to self into love for the people who live near us: family, neighbors, immigrants in our land, those who need our mercy, and those afraid to even ask for that mercy. Let us offer the tender mercy of God to others, accompanying them to heal their pain and know again that God has always loved them.”

As we pray for the grace to die to ourselves, it might be helpful to recall frequently that famous reflection by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, known as the “Anima Christi:”

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesu, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne’re to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With They saints to sing Thy love,
World without end.

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