Passion [Palm] Sunday in Lent (Year “A”) – April 17, 2011 THE EARTH-SHATTERING DEATH OF JESUS [Texts: Matthew 21.1-11; Isaiah 50.4-7; [Psalm 22]; Philippians 2.6-11; Matthew 26.14-27.66]
Darcy O'Brien's book “The Hidden Pope” has for its subtitle “The Untold Story of a Lifelong Friendship That Is Changing the Relationship between Christians and Jews” (New York: Rodale Books, 1998).
It tells of the relationship between Jerzy Kluger and Karol Wojtyla, school chums from Wadowice, Poland, both of whom ended up living in Rome. It shows how Pope John Paul II continued to sustain his ties with Jews from his hometown and elsewhere through fondness for the family of a boyhood friend.
Sadly, one chapter of O'Brien's book describes how re-enactments of the Passion narrative in Holy Week stirred up anti-Semitic feelings among Catholic peasants, prompting violence against Jews. Unfortunately, misunderstanding regarding a passage from St. Matthew's Passion (“his blood be on us and on our children” [27.25]) can elicit similar sentiments even today.
The idea of blood being “on” (“upon the head of”) someone reflects a notion of solidarity found in parts of the Bible (cf. Jeremiah 26.15; Acts 5.28). The idea that responsibility for shedding someone's blood could extend to “our children” is expressed in the proverb “the parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge”. It is found in both Jeremiah (31.29) and Ezekiel (18.2), even though both prophets argue against the principle, underlining instead individual responsibility for good and evil.
One must remember that only the Jews of Jesus' generation—and even then only some of these—were responsible for seeking his death. Matthew's formulation extended the responsibility to the children of the Jews of Jesus' time because he was convinced that the fall of Jerusalem, which they endured, reflected God's judgment on their failure to receive their Messiah.
Contrasting with the theme of judgment is Jesus' forgiveness of those responsible for His death (cf. Luke 23.34; 1 Corinthians 2.8). As Paul noted, God does not forget his covenant loyalty to the Jews, the chosen people (Romans 11.26-32). Ultimately, Christ's blood means not condemnation but redemption.
It is sad, then, to note that this one verse in Matthew's gospel has been used to justify persecution of Jews through the centuries, including the “Shoah” (Holocaust) in the last century. Believing in Jesus' divinity, Christians falsely concluded that Jews were guilty of deicide and that persecution of them was somehow virtuous or a duty.
The Second Vatican Council called Catholics to a new viewpoint, stressing that Christians and Jews share `a common spiritual heritage'. “Remembering, then, her common heritage with the Jews and moved not by any political consideration, but solely by the religious motivation of Christian charity, [the Church] deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism levelled at any time or from any source against Jews” (“Decree on Non-Christian Religions” [Nostra Aetate], 4).
Theologically there is only one answer to the question of responsibility for Jesus' death. It was sin, the universal scourge, that drove Jesus to his death on the Cross. In a real sense, then, the crucifixion is part of every person's individual history. Each one may truthfully confess “I am guilty of crucifying the Lord Jesus”.
The spectacular events following the death of Jesus point to the changing of the past world order. The rending of the Temple veil, the earthquake and other portents (“the rocks were split...; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised”) signalled the new creation begun by Jesus' death and resurrection.
The only conclusion the reader or hearer should draw is the confession of the centurion, “Truly this man was God's Son”.
The holy ones raised must be the patriarchs, prophets and martyrs of the time before Jesus. Salvation, and the resurrection which it requires, are closely tied to the death of Jesus. Jesus' death broke the hold which death had held on the world.
Still, the completion of Christ's victory must await his resurrection, which is associated by Matthew with another earthquake on Easter morning (28.2). And therefore, why only “after his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many”.
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Prayer for Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Enlighten, O God of compassion, the hearts of your children, sanctified by penance, and in your kindness grant those you stir to a sense of devotion a gracious hearing when they cry out to you. Through our Lord.
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On this day, the Church remembers Pope Saint Martin I, Martyr, who suffered exile and humiliation for his defense of orthodoxy in a dispute over the relationship between Christ's human and divine natures.
Martin was born in the Italian city of Tuscany, during either the late sixth or early seventh century. He became a deacon and served in Rome, where he acquired a reputation for education and holiness. Pope Theodore I chose Martin as his representative to the emperor in Constantinople during a period of theological controversy between the imperial capital and the Roman Church.
The dispute in which Martin became involved, first as the papal nuncio and later as Pope himself, was over Christ's human nature. Although the Church had always acknowledged the eternal Son of God as “becoming man” within history, some Eastern bishops continued to insist that Christ's human nature was not entirely like that of other human beings.
During the seventh century, authorities within the Byzantine Church and empire promoted a version of this heresy known as “monothelitism.” This teaching acknowledged that Christ had two natures – human and divine – but only one will, the divine. Pope Theodore condemned the teaching, and excommunicated Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople for holding to it.
Martin inherited this controversy when he succeeded Theodore as Pope. At the Lateran Council of 649, he followed his predecessor's lead in condemning Pyrrhus' successor, Patriarch Paul II, who accepted Emperor Constans II's decision to forbid all discussion of whether or not Christ had both a human and a divine will. Pope Martin condemned monothelitism completely, and denounced those who held to it.
He insisted that the teaching which denied Christ's human will could not be glossed over as an irrelevant point. To refuse to acknowledge Christ's distinct divine and human wills, he believed, was to deny the biblical teaching that Christ was like humanity in everything other than sin.
The Byzantine emperor retaliated against Pope Martin by sending his own representative to Italy during the council, with orders either to arrest the Pope or have him killed. A henchman of the emperor, who attempted to assassinate the Pope while he was distributing Holy Communion, later testified that he suddenly lost his eyesight and could not carry out the death sentence.
In 653, the emperor again sought to silence Pope Martin, this time by sending a delegation to capture him. A struggle ensued, and he was taken to Constantinople before being exiled to the island of Naxos for a year. Those who tried to send help to the exiled Pope were denounced as traitors to the Byzantine empire. Eventually he was brought back to Constantinople as a prisoner, and sentenced to death.
The Pope's appointed executioners stripped him of his clothes and led him through the city, before locking him in a prison with a group of murderers. He was beaten so severely that he appeared to be on the verge of death. At the last moment, however, both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the emperor agreed that the Pontiff should not be executed.
Instead he was kept in prison before being banished again, to an island that was suffering from a severe famine. Pope Martin wrote to a friend that he was “not only separated from the rest of the world,” but “even deprived of the means to live.”
Although the Pope died in exile, in 655, his relics were later brought back to Rome. The Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinople eventually vindicated Pope St. Martin I, by confirming in 681 that Christ had both a divine and a human will. --Catholic News Agency
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Grant, almighty God, that we may withstand the trials of this world with invincible firmness of purpose, just as you did not allow your Martyr Pope Saint Martin the First to be daunted by threats or broken by suffering. Through our Lord.
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St. Paul's University
Grants Honorary Doctorate
|As Chancellor of St. Paul's University, it was my privilege to confer an Honorary Doctorate on Father Ladislas Orsy, SJ at the 2010-2011Closing Convocation last Friday afternoon.|
|With Father Orsy and Madame Chantal Beauvais, Rector of St. Paul's|