Sunday Scriptures

A Love So Great He Gave It All

by Father James Rodriguez

ONE OF THE MOST powerful features of religious iconography is the penetrating stare of the subject’s eyes. Whether it is an image of our Lord, His Blessed Mother, or any of the saints, there is something incisive and profound about the subject’s eyes that cuts deep into the soul of anyone willing to take a moment to look inside.
Icons help us to pray by looking back at us, drawing us into the mystery they represent with deep-set eyes that seem to follow us. From different angles they teach us to look inward at the contours of our lives and see there the spark of divinity.  The icon that looks back at me as I write this is an icon of Christ crucified, which is pictured at right. In it, His eyes are closed. Christ has died. His sacred head leans to one side, the crown of thorns absent. His side bleeds and His face, though peaceful, wears the slightest frown. Behind Him, against the dull shimmer of dark gold, are visible the instruments of His torture: nails, a lance, a sponge on a rod, and the holy cross by which He has redeemed the world.
Behind this icon in my rectory’s chapel, the tabernacle bears another image of the cross.  Similar in dullness, this cross is bare, and two angels genuflect toward it.  Their hands reach out and touch the wood of the cross.  This beautiful door, closed like the eyes of Jesus in the icon, protects the heart of this house: the consecrated host that awaits the priests of this rectory each day.
The same Lord awaits us in the readings for Palm Sunday. In the Gospel read at the procession with palm, the Lord is joyously welcomed into the Holy City, hailed as a king. In the Passion, He reveals His true royalty, ruling from that awful wooden throne.  In both scenes, He looks out at us, calling for our full allegiance.  He, who comes in the name of the Lord, did first what we must do.
One of the children in our parish school recently asked me, “Why did Jesus die?”
“To save us from our sins,” I easily replied, but what does this mean?
Jesus, who could have shed simply one drop of His blood to save us, is not content with what is “good enough.” No, He gave it all. “I love you this much,” He silently says from the closed tabernacle and the icon before it.  This much.
Early in today’s Gospel, we are told of the nameless woman, whose extravagant generosity with the oil she pours on Jesus earns her the reproach of those who would rather hold back and carefully mete out their love in drips and drabs. We must not imitate them. She gave all the oil she had in an anticipatory response to Jesus. His body was the true alabaster jar, broken for anointing. From it pours an endless ocean of truest love, the highest generosity the world has ever known. In the Upper Room the Lord prefigures the sacrifice of the altar of the Cross with the first breaking and pouring of the Eucharistic species on the first altar of the new and eternal covenant. In the Cenacle, the glory of God begins to be revealed more fully, and continues to this very day in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.
We begin the holiest part of our year with the drama of the Cross because it is essentially the drama of our lives. Over and over, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, Jesus pours Himself out for us unreservedly.  The Bridegroom approaches His bride, the holy Church, and we respond in joy touched with sorrow. We respond in winter, knowing that spring is not far off.  Christ will come again.
This Holy Week, do not give in to your weariness. Yes, Lent has been long. Perhaps your Lenten discipline was a difficult one. Perhaps your life has been a difficult one — a long journey to Calvary.  You are not alone. With Jesus and the Psalmist through whom He spoke, we cry out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” With Isaiah, you can say: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced, not merely thinking, but knowing that I shall not be put to shame”  (Isaiah 50:7).
Like the Philippians, you must remember that Jesus emptied Himself.  On the cross we have a God who understands our pain intimately.  Anything less would not be enough for Him. He sent His Only Son to suffer and die so that when we suffer and, yes, even die, we can do so with hearts firmly planted in the Resurrection. On that day, with eyes truly open, we will fully understand today’s Gospel.[hr] Readings for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord:
Procession with Palm: Mark 11:1-10 or John 12: 12-16
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:471 or Mark 15:1-39[hr] Father Rodriguez, parochial vicar at Most Precious Blood, Long Island City,  was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 7, 2008.

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