Bishop's Column

Before the crown of victory comes the crown of thorns

This Lent is nearly over. On Ash Wednesday we began fasting, sacrificing and reflecting prayerfully on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Soon we will rejoice in the extraordinary and beautiful celebration of Easter.

At Easter the sparse simplicity and purple vestments in our Churches will be replaced by dazzling white vestments and an abundance of flowers. Our fasts will give way to feasting. The Easter season, which is actually longer than the Lenten season, will be a time of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ - the victory over sin and death.

But Easter has not yet arrived. First, the Church will observe Holy Week - a time of ritual remembering Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his time spent there in ministry, and ultimately his passion and death on Calvary - the selfless gift that opened to us the inner life of God's own being.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday (also called Passion Sunday), the commemoration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of his betrayal and passion.

Jerusalem was, and is, the holy city of Judaism. In Jesus' day, the Jewish temple stood tall in Jerusalem in all its splendor. Pilgrimage to the temple was a solemn and holy obligation for all of the Jewish people. There, sacrifices could be made and the commandment of God could be fulfilled. The Gospel narrative is the story of Jesus' own pilgrimage to Jerusalem - where his sacrifice would be made and the promise of the Father's love would be fulfilled.

By the time he arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus was a well-known teacher and healer. Many hoped he would overthrow Roman authority. He was greeted in Jerusalem as a king - as the hope of an entire nation.

We remember this greeting and this hope with our own palms in hand at the Mass of Palm Sunday.

The Palm Sunday liturgy is the only Mass of the year at which the lay faithful are invited to join the priest or deacon in proclaiming the Gospel. At some parishes, the lay faithful serve as narrators to the story. At all parishes the congregation represents the people who were present at Jesus' time in Jerusalem. In the Palm Sunday liturgy all of us participate in the drama of Jesus' final entry into the Holy City.

Our participation in the Palm Sunday Mass is an invitation. It is an invitation to be present and active during Holy Week and the sacred triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - to experience the hope of the Israelites, the mystery of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the agony of Jesus' trial, and the utter loneliness of his sorrowful death.

The Church invites us at the liturgy of Palm Sunday to share in the mystery of Jesus' passion. This is why we also call this day Passion Sunday.

I invite all of us to really share in the passion of Jesus Christ this year. This Holy Week, participate actively in the Palm Sunday Mass. Spend time with your family talking about Jesus' death and resurrection. Pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary with your family. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Fast. Remember.

Remember that the God of the universe loves us enough to die on a cross for you and for me.

When we share in Christ's passion, we can more truly share in his resurrection. We can be united to the mystery of Jesus' resurrection for all eternity. But we must be willing to suffer along with Jesus. We must offer our sufferings to Christ who will redeem them - he turns suffering and defeat into victory. But the crown of victory cannot be worn without first experiencing the crown of thorns.

I pray you will experience the hope of the Israelites and the suffering of Jesus this Holy Week. I pray you will experience Christ's gift of selfless love. And I pray we will all experience the fruit of that love - which is eternal life with God.

Let us enter together into the paschal mystery of God's love.

Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.

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