Homily for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday 2020 – Ennis Cathedral


Beginning of Holy Week

Today, Palm Sunday, we begin the celebration of the most important week of the liturgical year, Holy Week or the Big Week, An tSeachtain Mhór as our native tongue puts it.


Holy Week with a difference 2020

This year Holy week is certainly a Holy Week with a difference.  Many of us have been living the reality of the Cross for the past four weeks with the fall-out of the Corona Virus situation we find ourselves in.  Maybe there is a sense this year that we are not so much going to the Cross externally as we would have done in other years, as we attended the various ceremonies, but that it is coming to visit us as we link in spiritually from our homes, in our isolation in our many challenges and difficulties that poses for us all.


Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday – Amalgamation

Before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Passion Sunday was celebrated and, a week later, Palm Sunday. After the Second Vatican Council, the Church decided to unite these two celebrations. This is the reason that today is the only Sunday in which two Gospels are read: one about the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and one about His passion and death.


The Passion according to Matthew

The account of the Passion of Jesus, which this year, is from Matthew’s Gospel, invites us to reflect deeply on the price that Jesus paid for our redemption.


The Abandonment, aloneness of Jesus

Matthews’s gospel, in particular, highlights how alone and forsaken Jesus is, as He faces into his passion, isolated from all those with whom he had spent time, yet in the dark hour he felt utterly deserted and abandoned. His aloneness is pointed out in the prophesy that the disciples will desert him and that His beloved Disciple Peter will deny Him, and this is of course fulfilled in the triple denial of Peter. By the time of the crucifixion, in stark contrast to John’s Gospel where we get our familiar picture of John, Mary, and the other women standing beneath the Cross, there is not a single friendly face nearby: Matthew tells us that the women stand watching from a distance. Christ in his passion is utterly abandoned, and he in turn abandons himself to the Father to do the Father’s will. This abandonment reaches its climax in the final cry from the Cross.


What do we make of Matthew’s Passion?

What can one say after reading this gospel? We ask: How can people be so cruel? How could the disciples have been so blind? We cringe at the hypocrisy of the high priests. We are sickened by the fickle crowd. We are shocked and then we come to our senses and realize that had we been present, we probably would have acted as they did. Matthews’s account of the passion is very stark. Jesus is portrayed as alone, abandoned by his closest friends and perhaps even by God. He dies on the cross with a loud cry on his lips. Yet at this precise moment the Roman centurion who was guarding him, having seen how he died, makes the great confession of faith: “In truth this was a son of God”.


Holy Week – Focus on the Cross

As we enter Holy Week, we will look at the Cross repeatedly. Through the liturgies of this week we emphasize this central fact of our salvation. In his very first Homily as pontiff, Pope Francis said: “when we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess a Christ without the Cross…we aren’t disciples of the Lord.”


May this Holy Week bring us to the realization that Christ died on the cross for each one of us. Have we really understood how we are saved by Jesus’ death more than two millennia ago?


To identify with Christ on the cross is to follow him to the cross. It means to say “yes” to all these cross-bearing questions, to renounce the seductions and attachments to sin in our world.

Every year, as we celebrate Palm Sunday and the Passion of Christ we become part of a great drama. We recall how a master became a servant, how he humbled himself and yet was exalted above every other creature, how death was swallowed up in life, how He gave us his Word, His example, and the new Passover of the Mass at the last supper.

This story, re-told in all four synoptic gospels, is the story of Christ’s love for us. This love is so great He sacrificed His life on the cross that we might do the same. “Greater love,” He said, “no man has than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Many Doctors, Nurses, Care-Givers in our communities are doing God’s work by sacrificing their lives to heal the lives of others during this Coronavirus pandemic. Let’s keep them in our prayers and commend them to the loving care of our Heavenly Father.

Sacrifice and Love, all wrapped up in one, is Christ’s lasting gift of Palm Sunday.

We are invited today, Palm Sunday, to see the Cross as a blessing, as a source of compassion, forgiveness and hope for all. 


Gethsemane – Mary Oliver

I’ll finish with the words of the great poet Mary Oliver in her reflection called Getsemenane.  It runs…

The grass never sleeps.

Or the roses.

Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.


Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.


The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,

and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,

and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.


Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe

the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,


the lake far away, where once he walked as on a

blue pavement,

lay still and waited, wild awake.


Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not

keep that vigil, how they must have wept,

so utterly human, knowing this too

must be part of the story.