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Palm Sunday of the Lordīs Passion, Year C
Homily. Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56.


Red Stole and Gospel
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56


Pain! A historical reality and God’s plan. Here lies the center of the message of Palm Sunday. The servant of the Lord (First Reading) suffers blows, insults and spitting, but the Lord helps him and shows him the meaning of pain. St. Paul, in the Christological hymn of the Letter to the Philippians (Second Reading), points to Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” In the account of the Passion according to St. Luke, Jesus faces unspeakable and countless forms of suffering, like a slave, but he knows that everything has been foreseen by the Father, and thus entrusts his spirit to the Father.

Christ, a man of suffering. Christ’s suffering may be gauged quantitatively, and is enormous in any measure. However, the supreme value of Christ’s pain is rooted above all in its quality. It has quality based on three pillars: Jesus is the perfect man, who experiences and lives suffering with perfection; Jesus is the Son of God, and thus it is God himself who suffers in him; Jesus is the Redeemer of the world and of humanity, who takes on the pain and transforms it through God’s salvific power. This is why in Christ’s life, especially in his Passion and Death, pain is a historical, but also a mystical reality. It is solidarity with people and at the same time the judgment and justification of the sinner; that is, the mystery of salvation. St. Luke’s account of the Passion takes us by the hand to the prayerful contemplation of Christ in the different episodes of this mystery of pain. Let us contemplate Jesus’ silent pain, which he manifests at the Last Supper when faced with Judas’ betrayal (Luke 22:22), or during the inopportune discussion of the disciples on ranks and first places (Luke 22:24ff). Let us look at his intense, debilitating pain in Gethsemane, to the point of sweating blood due to his loneliness, due to his having been forsaken by men and by his very Father, due to the burden of the world’s sin. Let us contemplate his ineffable pain following Peter’s denial of his love, the dignified pain in the face of love mocked by the soldiers with blasphemy and baseness, the noble pain of the innocent man condemned by the chiefs of the people and by the ruling power, the holy and pure pain due to the dishonor inflicted upon him when he is believed to be a criminal, the physical pain of the nails that pierce his hands and feet, and the ultimate pain of his agony. Christ, “a man of pain and accustomed to suffering.” Christ, who in his body and soul collects all pain and sorrow, as in an earthen bowl.

Christ is not alone in his pain. Already the Servant of the Lord, the figure of Christ, is certain that in the midst of his pain, “the Lord will help him” (First Reading). In Gethsemane, the Father sends him an angel, not to free him from pain, but to comfort him (Luke 22:43). On the way to Calvary, he is accompanied by a group of women “who mourned and lamented for him” (Luke 23:27). Crucified on Jesus’ right is the good thief, who rebukes the other criminal and proclaims Jesus’ innocence, “But this man has done nothing wrong.” Throughout the Passion, Jesus felt that he was abandoned by the Father, but also that the Father was at his side in a very intimate way, and this is why before dying he can exclaim, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” St. Luke reports the glorification of Christ’s pain - and the consequent solidarity with him - after his death in the centurion’s confession, “Truly, this was an upright man.” We also see this glorification in the repentance of the crowds who “went home beating their breasts,” and again when we hear the announcement to the women who have gone to his tomb, “He is not here, he has risen.” The Second Reading emphasizes God’s closeness to the obedient Christ until his death with enthusiastic terms: “...and gave him the name which is above all other names.” Neither God nor people left Christ alone in his pain. This statement holds true for all people. People, like Jesus, will find in other people the cause of their pain, but will also find in them a friendly presence and a comfort that stems from solidarity.

Pain, a hidden treasure. People today are afraid of pain. They want to eliminate it, to uproot it from human and even animal life. It would appear as if pain were purely evil, an abominable evil, a black hole in the great human universe that devours anything that enters it. It is as if the great battle of contemporary history were being fought against pain rather than for people. We must reflect on this, because at times we do succeed in destroying pain, but in such a way that we also destroy something of the human being. Parents don’t want their children to suffer and so they give them everything, they let them have their own way always. But with this attitude, aren’t they damaging them in the long run? Elderly people and the terminally ill are given medicines to alleviate their pain, which cause them to lose consciousness to a large extent. Aren’t they thus being deprived of their freedom and nobility of spirit before pain? I’m not in favor of suffering as such, and it should be alleviated as much as possible, but I am in favor of the human assumption of pain. There are frequent cases of young people and adults who, when faced with failure at school or at work, when faced with disappointment in love or a corruption scandal, prefer to put an end to their life rather than coping with the painful situation. Why? Because the treasure hidden in pain is unknown, it has not been discovered. For humans, it is a hidden treasure of humanization. For Christians, it is a hidden treasure of assimilation of Christ’s lifestyle, of its redeeming value. John Paul II was bold enough to speak of the Gospel of pain: of the suffering of Christ, together with Christ. It is the suffering of the Christian. We are called to live out this Gospel in the small sorrows of life, we are called to preach it with sincerity and love.

Comfort with pain. Medical science in our days is discovering that a friendly presence by the patient’s bedside can alleviate pain more than an injection of morphine. There is a close relationship between the soul and the body, and the spiritual comfort of closeness that alleviates the most terrible pain. The spiritual (educating, comforting, consoling, suffering patiently) and corporal (feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and inmates, burying the dead) works of mercy are traditional ways of helping people in their pain. They are ways that continue to be absolutely necessary. Together with them there will be new ways, according to the needs of our time. What matters is to be aware of the fact that as Christians, we must accompany people in their pain, we must express solidarity with their sorrows, we must alleviate their suffering with our closeness and comfort. Isn’t teaching those who suffer, to give meaning and value to their suffering, a good way to alleviate their pain?