“He came to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” ~ Anonymous
An experiment was once conducted on a street corner in New York City wherein people were offered a single unpaired shoe free of charge. Virtually everyone who was offered a free shoe took one. Many rather inexplicably even took multiple unpaired shoes. When the participants in this experiment were asked why they would take a seemingly useless, lonesome shoe, the overwhelming response was “Well because it’s free of course.”
It would certainly appear that this is the prevailing mindset on the Catholic Church as well. Whether it be the soot of Ash Wednesday or the fronds of Palm Sunday, the faithful turn out in droves whenever something is being distributed. I made this observation to a friend one day, to which she responded “If that were true, why wouldn’t everyone attend daily mass to receive a free wafer?” But the faithful know that the Holy Eucharist is not free. It came at an enormous price, paid for by the blood, sweat, agony and anguish of Jesus’ Passion and death, this prodigious moment in time that we will spend the upcoming week reflecting upon.
But Palms weren’t the only thing conspicuous by their absence on this COVID-19 rendition of Palm Sunday. Missing from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, which we revisited in today’s Gospel (Matthew 26:14-27::66), was the dialogue between Jesus and the good thief, a man that some Biblical Historians refer to by name as Dismas. Yet I couldn’t help but think of their exchange, particularly after reflecting upon our 2nd Reading (Philippians 2:6-11):
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In the dialogue between Jesus and the two thieves, on his left we have a man who was thoroughly unrepentant, expecting Jesus nonetheless to save him. He does so while simultaneously taunting Jesus ~ “if” you are the Son of Man ~ and chiding him for his inaction. Not a shred of self-awareness, remorse or humility do we see from this man as he apparently believes that he is entitled to Jesus’ mercy and an invitation to eternal life in His Kingdom....just in case Jesus is in fact the Savior that he alleges to be. How many others waltz through life in similar fashion, oblivious to the Final Judgement and the preparation needed for this day that comes like a thief in the night? (1 Thessalonians 5:2). As my pastor likes to say, I Did It My Way is the theme song that blares perpetually on the load speaker in hell.
The good thief on the other hand acknowledged that he was a sinner, relied unfailingly on Jesus’ mercy and had a palpable desire for heaven. As I’ve said here before, a recurring theme I encounter amongst lukewarm Catholics is that they seldom if ever think or talk about heaven.
As we prepare for Holy Week, let us reflect on the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva who said “The tragedy of the passion brings to fulfillment our own life and the whole of human history. We can't let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.“
We adore you O Christ and we praise you. For by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
(** For the Sinatra Fans reading this, and really...who isn’t a Sinatra fan? . . please take heart in the fact that Ole Blue Eyes did develop a deep faith in the latter stages of his life, passing away as a practicing Catholic and having a Catholic burial. Let us pray nonetheless for his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed **)