Palm Sunday 2020: Praying Just as if I were There
With Palm Sunday, we enter into the mysteries of Holy Week. The Greeting before the blessing of the palms lays out the basics of this day and the purpose of Holy Week. Since the beginning of Lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery. … For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.
This year’s celebration of Palm Sunday will be different. Unless we participate by sharing through television, video conferencing or social media tools, we won’t take part in a celebration. Even with those tools, as valuable as they are, we will miss the intimacy and communion that comes with physically being together.
I came across a helpful distinction a few days ago. Writing in The Globe and Mail, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, made a crucial point about social distancing. Margaret Eaton’s comments, in a nutshell, suggest that social distancing is a misnomer.
We should be physically distancing, but remain as social as ever. She is coming from the perspective of mental health. My perspective is spiritual health. This Holy Week, we will not be together, but we will definitely be social if we join in any of the various electronic options.
With what attitude does Jesus enter into Jerusalem? We hear something about his attitude in the excerpt from the Book of the prophet Isaiah and the Songs of the Suffering Servant today. I did not turn backward. … The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
Flint is a type of very hard sedimentary rock. When struck against steel, flint produces sparks to begin a fire. To set your face like flint is to stand strong and firm in the looming adversity. Jesus knows that the opposition and adversities he faces are formidable, given what will be realized through his suffering and death.
Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Philippians about the humility and obedience of Jesus. That obedience is what gave him the courage to be so resolute and firm in his resolve.
We are invited into the mysteries of this week. There are many ways to pray with Holy Week. The method that many people find helpful is to use the basics of Ignatian contemplation. Fr. John Veltri, S.J. described that type of prayer in a few words: praying just as if I were there.
That means that I am using my imagination, such that I am actively engaged with the Gospel reading. The scriptures of Holy Week lend themselves quite powerfully to that method. The events are vivid and there is a myriad of personalities.
There is plenty of action and suspense. I’m sure that is one reason why the Passion of Jesus is portrayed in film so much. As you listen to the Gospel being proclaimed, try to imagine yourself as one of the characters.
Try to take part in the scene rather than stay outside, looking in. What do you pay attention to? Are you temped to intervene or to say something? What do you say to the players? What do they say to you?
Which words or actions strike you in a new or deeper way this Holy Week? Do you find parallels between the Passion of Jesus and the events of our world? Who do you feel most comfortable standing with?
Regardless of the way you actually do it, it’s helpful to immerse yourself in the mysteries of this week. There is a timeless character to the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. As we pray with it, we can’t help but see parallels in our own life and in the life of the world.
There are plenty of moments and experiences of suffering, death and transformation in our lives. Allow yourself to bring all of this to prayer this week – whether your method is reading, joining online options, or watching the TV Mass.