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Palm Sunday

April 2, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the complex qualities of the Passion narrative, with the help of our author, and Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; engage Christ’s way of love in Catholic Social Teaching through reflections on conciliar document Gaudium et spes (1965); and embody mystery, love, and community through the practice of “agere contra” contemplation, and the example of service workers.

Commentary by Ezra Doyle

Palm Sunday

Reading 1

Isaiah 50:4-7

YHWH has given me a well-trained tongue
that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning after morning, YHWH awakens me,
to hear as disciples do.
YHWH opens my ears;
I was not disobedient,
I did not turn back;
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who humiliated me;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
YHWH helps me,
therefore I am not dishonored;
therefore I have set my face firm.
I know I will not be put to shame.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 22

Response: My God, my God, why have You deserted me?

All who see me jeer at me, /they toss their heads and sneer,
“You relied on your God, let your God save you!
If your God is your friend, let your God rescue you!”
R: My God my God, why have You deserted me?

A pack of dogs surrounds me, / a gang of villains closes me in.
They tie me hand and foot / and leave me lying in the dust of death.
R: My God, my God, why have You deserted me?

They divide my garments among them / and cast lots for my clothes.
Do not stand aside, Adonai. / O my strength, come quickly to my help.
R: My God, my God, why have You deserted me?

Then I will proclaim Your Name, / praise You in full assembly:
You who fear the Most High, praise God! / Entire race of Israel, revere God!
R: My God, my God, why have You deserted me?

Reading 2

Philippians 2:5-11

Each of you should think of the interests of others before your own.
Your attitude must be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Christ, though in the image of God,
did not deem equality with God
something to be clung to —
but instead became completely empty
and took the image of oppressed humankind:
born into the human condition,
found in the likeness of a human being.

Jesus was thus humbled —
obediently accepting death, even death on a cross!

Because of this, God highly exalted Christ
and gave to Jesus the name above every other name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee must bend
in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God:
Jesus Christ reigns supreme!


Matthew 21:1-11 and Matthew 26:14 — 27:66

At the procession of palms: Matthew 21:1-11

As they approached Jerusalem, entering Beth-Phage at the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent off two disciples with the instructions,
“Go into the village straight ahead of you,
and immediately you will find a tethered donkey and her colt standing beside her.
Untie them and lead them back to me.
If anyone questions you, say, ‘The Rabbi needs them.’
Then they will let them go at once.”
This came about to fulfill what was said through the prophet,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Your sovereign comes to you without display
riding on a donkey, on a colt — the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

So the disciples went off and did what Jesus had ordered.
They brought the donkey and her colt,
and after they laid their cloaks on the animals,
Jesus mounted and rode toward the city.
Great crowds of people spread their cloaks on the road,
while some began to cut branches from the trees and lay them along the path.
The crowds — those who went in front of Jesus and those who followed — were all shouting,
“Hosanna to the Heir to the House of David!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Most High!
Hosanna in the highest!”

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred to its depths,
demanding, “Who is this?”
And the crowd kept answering,
“This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

At Mass: Matthew 26:14 — 27:66

Note: The Passion reading is divided into eight speaking roles:
1) Narrator
2) Jesus
3) Judas
4) Peter
5) Woman
6) Speaker One (disciple)
7) Speaker Two (high priest)
8) Pontius Pilate

NARRATOR: One of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot,
went off to the chief priests and said:

JUDAS: What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?

NARRATOR: They paid him thirty pieces of silver.
And from that moment helooked for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came up to Jesus and said:

SPEAKER ONE: Where do you want us to prepare the Passover for you?

JESUS: Go to a certain person in the city and say,
“The Teacher says, ‘My appointed time draws near.
I am to celebrate the Passover in your house.’”

NARRATOR: Withdrawing a second time, Jesus prayed:

JESUS: Abba, if this cup cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done!

NARRATOR: Once more Jesus returned and found the disciples asleep;
they could not keep their eyes open.
Jesus left them again, withdrew somewhat and prayed for a third time,
saying the same words as before.
Finally Jesus returned to the disciples and said to them:

JESUS: Are you still sleeping?
Still taking your rest? The hour is upon us
— the Chosen One is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Get up! Let us be on our way! Look, my betrayer is here.

NARRATOR: While Jesus was still speaking,  Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived
— accompanied by a great crowd with swords and clubs.
They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people.
Judas had arranged to give them a signal, saying:

JUDAS: Whomever I embrace is the one, take hold of him.

NARRATOR: Judas immediately went over to Jesus, embraced him, and said:

JUDAS: Shalom, Rabbi.

JESUS: Friend, just do what you are here to do!

NARRATOR: At that moment, the crowd surrounded them,
laid hands on Jesus, and arrested him.
Suddenly, one of those who accompanied Jesus drew a sword
and slashed at the high priest’s attendant, cutting off an ear.
Jesus said:

JESUS: Put back your sword back where it belongs.
Those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Do you not think I can call on my Abba God
to provide over twelve legions of angels at a moment’s notice?
But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled,
which say it must happen this way?

NARRATOR: Then Jesus said to the crowd:

JESUS: Am I a robber, that you have come armed with swords and clubs to arrest me?
Every day I sat teaching in the Temple precincts, yet you never arrested me.

NARRATOR: All this happened in fulfillment of the writings of the prophets.
Then all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.
Those who had seized Jesus led him off to Caiaphas, the high priest,
where the religious scholars and elders convened.
Peter followed at a distance as far as the high priest’s residence.
Going inside, Peter sat down with the guards to see the outcome.
The chief priests, with the whole Sanhedrin,
were busy trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus,
so that they might put him to death.
They discovered none, despite the many false witnesses who took the stand.
Finally two came forward who stated:

SPEAKER ONE: This one has declared,
“I can destroy God’s sanctuary and rebuild it in three days.”

NARRATOR: The high priest rose and addressed Jesus:

SPEAKER TWO: Have you no answer? What about this testimony leveled against you?

NARRATOR: But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest then said to him.

SPEAKER TWO: I order you to tell us under oath, before the living God,
whether or not you are the Messiah, the Firstborn of God?

JESUS: You have said it yourself.
But I tell you: soon you will see the Chosen One seated at the right hand of the Power,
and coming on the clouds of heaven.

NARRATOR: At this, the high priest tore his robes and said:

SPEAKER TWO: Blasphemy! What further need do we have witnesses?
You yourselves have heard the blasphemy.
What is your verdict?

ALL: He deserves death!

NARRATOR: Then they began to spit at his face and struck him with their fists.
Others slapped Jesus, saying:

ALL: Play the prophet for us, Messiah! Who struck you?

NARRATOR: While this was happening, Peter was sitting in the courtyard.
One of the attendants came over and said:

WOMAN: You were with Jesus the Galilean too, were you not?

NARRATOR: Peter denied it in front of everyone:

PETER: I do not know what you are talking about!

NARRATOR: When Peter went out to the gate, another attendant saw him and said to
those nearby:

WOMAN: This one was with Jesus of Nazareth.

NARRATOR: Again he cursed and denied it:

PETER: I do not know him!

NARRATOR: A little while later, some bystanders came over to Peter and said:

ALL: You certainly are one of them! Even your accent gives you away!

NARRATOR: At that, Peter began cursing and swore:

PETER: I do not know the man!

NARRATOR: Just then a rooster began to crow,
and Peter remembered the prediction Jesus had made:
“Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Peter went out and cried bitterly.
At daybreak, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took formal action against Jesus to put him to death.
They bound him and led him away to be handed over to Pilate, the governor.
When he saw that Jesus had been condemned, Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, felt remorse.
He took the thirty pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders, and said:

JUDAS: I have sinned! I have betrayed innocent blood!

ALL: What is that to us? It is your affair!

NARRATOR: So Judas flung the money into the sanctuary and left.
Then he went off and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the silver, observing:

ALL: It is against the Law to deposit this in the Temple treasury, since it is blood money.

NARRATOR: After some discussion,
they used the money to buy Potter’s Field as a cemetery for foreigners.
That is why that field, even today, is called Blood Field.
On that occasion, what was said through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
“They took thirty pieces of silver,
the price for the One whose price was set by the children of Israel.
They paid it out for Potter’s Field, as Our God had commanded me.”

Then Jesus was arraigned before Pontius Pilate, the governor, who questioned him:

PILATE: Are you the King of the Jews?

JESUS: You say that I am.

NARRATOR: Yet when Jesus was accused by the chief priests and elders,
he made no reply.
Pilate then said to Jesus:

PILATE: Surely you hear how many charges they bring against you?

NARRATOR: But Jesus did not answer Pilate on a single count,  much to the governor’s surprise.
Now, on the occasion of a festival, the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner,
whomever the crowd would designate.
At the time they were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas.
So when the crowd gathered, Pilate asked them:

PILATE: Which one do you wish me to release for you?
Barabbas? Or Jesus, the so-called Messiah?

NARRATOR: Pilate knew, of course, that it was out of jealousy
that they had handed Jesus over.

While Pilate was still presiding on the bench, his wife sent him a message:

WOMAN: Have nothing to do with that innocent man.
I had a dream about him last night that has been troubling me all day long.

NARRATOR: But the chief priests and elders convinced the crowds
that they should ask for Barabbas, and have Jesus put to death.
So when the governor asked them:

PILATE: Which one do you wish me to release for you?

NARRATOR: They all cried:

ALL: Barabbas!

NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:

PILATE: Then what am I to do with Jesus, the so-called Messiah?

ALL: Crucify him!

PILATE: Why? What crime has he committed?

NARRATOR: But they only shouted louder:

ALL: Crucify him!

NARRATOR: Pilate finally realized that he was getting nowhere with this
— in fact, a riot was breaking out.
Pilate called for water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, declaring as he did so:

PILATE: I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours.

NARRATOR: The whole crowd said in reply:

ALL: Let his blood be on us and on our children.

NARRATOR: At that, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
But he had Jesus whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails, then handed him over to be crucified.
The governor’s soldiers took Jesus inside the Praetorium
and assembled the whole cohort around him.
They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak.
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they fixed it on his head,
and stuck a reed in his right hand.
Then they began to mock Jesus by dropping to their knees, saying:

ALL: All hail, King of the Jews!

NARRATOR: They also spat at him.
Afterward, they took hold of the reed and struck Jesus on the head.
Finally, when they had finished mocking him,
they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him off to crucifixion.
On their way out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon,
whom they pressed into service to carry the cross.
Upon arriving at a site called Golgotha — which means Skull Place —
they gave Jesus a drink of wine mixed with a narcotic herb,
which Jesus tasted but refused to drink.
Once they had nailed Jesus to the cross,
they divided his clothes among them by rolling dice;
then they sat down and kept watch over him.
Above his head, they put the charge against him in writing,
“This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

Two robbers were crucified along with Jesus,
one at the right and one at the left.
People going by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads and saying:

ALL: So you are the one who was going to destroy the Temple
and rebuild it in three days!
Save yourself, why do you not?
Come down off that cross if you are God’s Own!

NARRATOR: The chief priests, the religious scholars and the elders
also joined in the jeering:

ALL: He saved others but he cannot save himself!
So he is the King of Israel! Let us see him come down from that cross,
and then we will believe in him.
He trusts in God; let God rescue him now,
if God is happy with him!
After all, he claimed to be God’s Own.”

NARRATOR: The robbers who had been crucified with Jesus jeered at him in the same way.
At noon, a darkness fell over the whole land
until about three in the afternoon. At that
hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice:

JESUS: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?

NARRATOR: Which means:

JESUS: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

NARRATOR: This made some of the bystanders who heard it remark:

ALL: He is calling for Elijah!

NARRATOR: One of them hurried off and got a sponge.
He soaked the sponge in cheap wine and,
sticking it on a reed, tried to make Jesus drink.
The others said:

ALL: Leave him alone. Let us see whether Elijah comes to his rescue.

NARRATOR: Once again, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, then he gave up his spirit.
Suddenly, the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was ripped in half from top to bottom.
The earth quaked, boulders were split and tombs were opened.
Many bodies of holy ones who had fallen asleep were raised.
After Jesus’ resurrection, they came out of their tombs and entered the holy city, and appeared to many.
The centurion and his cohort, who were standing guard over Jesus’ body
were terror- stricken at seeing the earthquake and all that was happening, and said:

ALL: Clearly, this was God’s Own!
(All kneel for a moment in prayer)

NARRATOR: A group of women was present, looking on from a distance.
These were the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee as ministers to him.
Among them were Mary of Magdala; Mary, the mother of James and Joseph;
and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

When evening fell, a wealthy man from Arimathea named Joseph,
who had become a disciple of Jesus, came to request the body of Jesus;
Pilate issued an order for its release.
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in fresh linen and laid it in his own tomb,
which had been hewn out of rock.
Then Joseph rolled a huge stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away.
But Mary of Magdala and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

The next day — the one following the Day of Preparation —
the chief priests and the Pharisees called at Pilate’s residence.

SPEAKER TWO: We recall that, while he was still alive, the imposter made the claim,
“After three days I will rise again.”
Therefore, please issue an order to keep the tomb under surveillance until the third day.
Otherwise, Jesus’ disciples may go and steal his body and tell the people,
“Jesus has been raised from the dead!”
This final deception would be worse than the first.

PILATE: You have a guard. Go and secure the tomb as best you can.

NARRATOR: So they went to seal the tomb and post a guard.

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



The Mystery of Our Existence

It’s hard to be a mystic. A messiah, even more. But those who fit into either category know something that many of us struggle to grasp. To understand, let us do as the readings invite us: enter into the mystery of our existence.

In the drama of Palm Sunday, we see the full array of human experience on graphic display. We see the power of community and solidarity amongst groups, bonds that death refuses to even distort. Too, we see the exuberant excitement that a prophet bearing good news can bring to a people experiencing a chronic lack of hope, due to their subjugation. And likewise, we beautifully see the devotion that comes from loving another and being loved. Yet, we have to sit with something else: The mood we enter the church in is likely not the same we leave with on this day. There is a tone switch and for obvious reason. 

Unlike any other Sunday of the year, this Sunday has two Gospel readings. The first, we often call the “triumphant entrance into Jerusalem,” and the second is the Passion according to Matthew, otherwise known as “the really long one.” This narrative offers a far less hopeful (at least, on the surface) look at our human condition. Here we see the absolute destruction that people, whether as individuals or as a conglomerate, can inflict upon one another. We see the dangers of isolating ourselves in ideologies that operate out of fear of the other. An anthropology arises from these readings and it’s one we have to wrestle with: Here we see the radical potential that we have as humans, both individually and collectively. We have the power to love, liberate and give life. We also have the power to kill, oppress and destroy. This has been our story from the earliest chapters of Genesis, but un/fortunately for Christ (as the archetype of all humanity,) he gets to experience the full spectrum. 

In the theatrics of the day, it’s easy to find ourselves placed somewhere in the story. This placement depends largely on our sense of self-worth. Those of us struggling with a sense of “Catholic guilt” may be feeling like it should be us suffering instead of this master teacher who taught only love. Others may find themselves in sharp criticism of the Roman or religious authorities in the story, imagining that we would stand unwaveringly with Christ. As with most things, both sides are incomplete. 

To give a personal definition, a “mystic” is one that I would define as: having the ability to hold together the universal and the particular simultaneously. In other words, someone who can distinguish without dividing. This brings in the concept of “nonduality.” Christ, though having none of these words at his disposal, I would dare say knew this way of thinking well. Though experiencing horrible cruelty, he refused to see any human as less than worthy of being loved. He understood the cruel system in which people had been socialized, but still preached that they may find hope through friendship and understanding. This springing from a knowledge that it is love, which transforms, offers what we may call restoration: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We have this power too. 

Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard De Chardin argued that humanity was progressing towards something he called the “omega point:” A utopian manifestation of the reign of God where all are provided for and known. In the midst of global catastrophe it is difficult to believe in such a possibility. Yet, I wonder if, against all hope, we need some sort of abstract hope to keep us focused on becoming (as Saint Augustine says) “that which we are not yet.” 

We have the imperative to fight for the end of every type of oppression which exists on the face of this earth, but we must not play the oppressors’ game. If we are to collaborate with Christ in this grand project he referred to as ‘the reign of God,’ then we must see the world with absolute love, care and concern. This requires a deep belief and hope that humanity is worthy. In these final days of Lent, let us remember our own radical potential to do good in this world, and let us put on, as in Philippians 2:10, the “mind of Christ” which sees all creation as fully lovable. 

Commentary by Ezra Doyle

Ezra Doyle is a semi-amateur spiritual theologian who finds the human condition exceedingly neat. He enjoys vegan cooking, obnoxious little dogs, and has an affinity for calling people “friend.”

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Peace and Justice

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of those of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” 

These famous words open the conciliar document we now know as Gaudium et spes (1965) –  beautiful words in and of themselves, but ones that we must ask if they have aged well. Besides the hyper-masculine language employed, the question is less if the document is still worthwhile, but of what went wrong. Should you find yourself wanting to understand our modern Church a bit better, and are wanting some reading to wrap up Lent, then this document may be worth at least looking at. Few official documents are able to contain as much hope and trust for the human condition as this one does. 

Those who lived through the Second Vatican Council, which preceded the document’s release, would agree that the tone here is a distinctive shift in Catholic teaching and understanding. For the first time, the Church here is willing to reach out its hands in loving optimism, and walk with those espousing identities that do not fall under the umbrella of Rome. It’s a call for Catholics to embrace dialogue with all their neighbors. Neighbors of different creeds or of none. It’s an acknowledgement that these neighbors too not only have human dignity, but even more so have the same innate desires that the followers of Christ are called to have, desires such as peace, love, security and freedom. It’s a call to a universal siblinghood and a rejection of religious tribalism. The document is  not perfect on how it fleshes this out, but it’s astonishing in many ways in comparison with the modern Catholic Church (especially in North America.) Most importantly, this offers us a goal – a goal of a world united as a family at peace, a vision for a Church which offers wisdom as readily as it receives. 

Gaudium et spes was written almost 60 years ago, yet it feels so far removed from much of Catholic practice. It’s worth asking if we’ve done the same thing with the dreams laid out here as we did with those of Christ. Have we tried to make the radical palatable? Maybe not inherently a bad thing, but this can easily cause us to lose the true meaning of something and make it all but void. 

Friends, being “unafraid” is something that for most of us makes us feel, well, afraid. We should expect the ego to react this way, but we have to allow ourselves to live into something more expansive. To actually boldly be the beloved community we must quell our fear of our neighbor, the “other,” and our own potential. We must dare to claim that this beloved status is worn by all and that it is only together that we progress into something greater. 


A Contemplative Exercise

As we look into these themes of inclusive love, radical forgiveness, and a discerning spirit, it feels important to point out that many of these ideas are only actualized through a heightened consciousness. As we have said many times already, it is only through seeing others as worthy of love that we are able to move past the stalemates we find ourselves in as a society. One suggestion that may be worthy of looking into is the Ignatian practice referred to as “agere contra,” literally, “to act against.” Simply put, each time you find yourself thinking negatively about one of your siblings, fight this by examining their positive qualities and contributions (though, should they be causing harm, this must still be addressed!) 

Likewise, I invite you to say this prayer upon waking for a few days, if nothing else it helped change my perception: Thank you that I am what I am: Your beloved child and a friend and brother/sister/sibling to all. 

Our anthropology, psychology and spirituality are intrinsically linked. Make sure that love is both the soil and the fruit.  

A Community

Service Workers

I was a barista for many years, and honestly, it was my favorite job I’ve ever had. Those who have been in the service industry know the sorts of hell that it can be, but we also know the unique community connections that can come from this. As I reflect on the embodiment of love, my mind turns to a dear friend who manifests Christ to me more than most. Completing a chaotic shift together one day, I see my friend give one of our regulars (who, unfortunately, I considered more than an annoyance) a special level of attention and even give them their drink for free. Rage consumed me, yet when I looked up all I could see was my friend smiling at me from across the room like a puppy that had just brought a dead bird in the house. In this one glance, I was able to see that his sole motive was to make people feel loved and it was me standing in the way of that. 

In my experience, service workers care for each other more deeply than any corporate environment I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but day after day they do all they can to create hospitable spaces for us to enjoy. Yet we dismiss and dehumanize those we depend so frequently upon. So, here’s to the baristas and the bartenders. You shine with divine love. Tip them well or at least be kind. We are our sibling’s keeper. 


Nonviolent Atonement with Richard Rohr

As we lean into this week, so saturated with the imagery of dying, I think it’s crucial that we think deeply about what this mystery means in the Christian life. This particular podcast could be wise to listen to while thinking of the Passion narrative, and Good Friday also. The entire series is a phenomenal help to authentic, life-giving, spirituality that I highly recommend. 

“Nonviolent Atonement” from Another Name for Every Thing with Richard Rohr.