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The Meaning Behind Palm Sunday?

We humans are very good and sussing out 'the story behind the story.' Today, forget about that.

This is one of those days where the less I say, the better. And there is a very specific reason for this, worth pondering.

Homilies are usually supposed to be somehow explanatory—maybe they include analysis, interpretation, explication, application, etc.

But here on Palm Sunday, as we enter this holiest week of the year, such explanations must necessarily fail. The Divine Worship Missal provides an introduction to the whole week, if you will, in this prayer said just before the blessing of the palms: “Assist us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby thou hast given unto us life and immortality.”

Contemplation, the prayer says. We do not contemplate simple arithmetical formulae. We do not contemplate sentences that have obvious straightforward translations. We contemplate mysteries: the mysteries of life and love—and God, who is life and love.

So let us put it like this. We may want easy answers. We may want explanations that make everything clear. Such things are not available to us this week. This is not the week of black and white, of simple questions and answers; this is the week of death and passion and resurrection.

It is a story. It is a story to end all stories and define all stories. But ultimately, it is a story that we have to confront. We cannot avoid it. We cannot avoid it by acting as if it didn’t happen. Nor can we avoid it by seeking to justify it or explain it by this or that simplification. There is, in other words, no story behind the story.

We humans are very good at that—at trying to say, here is really what is happening. And this is good and useful and important as Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling, as we try to understand what we believe, but there really is no substitute for the story itself, for the encounter. By asking us to walk through these events, over and over again, each Holy Week, the Catholic Church is insisting, in a way, that the defining story of our existence is not something that can be quantified or explained by philosophical proposition or a chemical formula or any other natural this-worldly thing.

It has to be lived. It has to be felt. It is not merely intellectual ideas, or abstract calculations of grace and merit. It is this story of Jesus and his betrayal and death.

How will we respond to this story? How will we find our own lives in it? There’s no substitute, no way out. If we want to know the peace and joy that Jesus offers, we have to follow him where he goes. That is what Palm Sunday, and the rest of this week, is all about.

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