"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
April 1, 2012: Palm Sunday
Overview: In Mark’s version of the Passion, Jesus is portrayed not as a helpless lamb who meekly goes to his death, but as one who courageously “set his face like flint” (first reading) toward Jerusalem. There the decisive battle between good and evil will take place.
In the first reading, known as “the Third Servant Song,” Isaiah asserts himself in the face of opposition. Weary of their long exile and the never-ending promise of deliverance, the people turned against the prophet. Isaiah thus prefigures Christ who came to bring salvation to his people despite their hostility.
As Jesus is beaten, bound and crucified, the powers of darkness seem victorious. Even the sky turns black. And yet at the beginning of his ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus confidently predicts victory: “After I am raised up I will go before you to Galilee.”
God’s strategy for conquering evil differs radically from what people expected. Evil was not conquered by force of arms, but by the disarming power of self-sacrificial love.
The second reading is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. It was an early hymn to Christ that Paul incorporated into his letter. Having emptied himself of divine glory the Son of God and Redeemer of mankind remained hidden from his enemies. Only the centurion at the foot of the cross recognized Jesus’ true identity. Looking beyond the beaten, bloody body on the cross, the Centurion sees instead God’s victory over evil. Beholding the divine glory he proclaims, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”.
Key verse: “At noon, darkness came over the whole land” (Mark 15:33).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting “Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan. The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of ‘the righteous one, my Servant’ as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part” (Nos. 599, 601, 604).
Benedict XVI: “The cross of Jesus is a cosmic event. The world is darkened when the Son of God is given up to death. And on the cross the Church of the Gentiles is born. The Roman centurion understands this and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. From the cross he triumphs ever anew” (“Way of the Cross”).
Life application: When God disappears from public life, the world eventually descends into darkness and despair. Ideological secularism isn’t neutral. The emptiness left by the disappearance of God is filled by selfishness, greed, lust and violence. Christ conquered evil, but the battle still goes on. As the culture of death spreads it’s up to us to bear witness to the Son of God: to goodness, truth and beauty. We must take up our cross, follow Christ, resist evil and defend life.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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