Welcoming and Rejecting Our Savior

March 15, 2016  •   Douglas Sousa, STL

For Sunday, March 20, 2016, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Painting of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem.

Why do we read the long narrative of Jesus’ suffering and death on Palm Sunday rather than just focus on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem?

The primary reason is liturgical. Popularly, we call this Sunday of Holy Week “Palm Sunday” because of the traditional distribution and blessing of palm branches. However, this day is properly known as “Passion Sunday.” The main focus of the celebration, in fact, is not only Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem but his ensuing passion and death. We begin the Mass with a procession into the church carrying palm branches to solemnly open Holy Week. But we are soon drawn from the joy of welcoming our King and Messiah to the stark realization of how unjustly he was condemned and how cruelly he was put to death.

As in all things liturgical, there is a practical, pastoral reason for our proclamation of the Passion on Palm Sunday. Most people are unable to attend the Good Friday liturgy. Therefore, they would only rarely hear the Passion narrative proclaimed in its entirety in the assembly of the faithful. Including it in the Palm Sunday Liturgy of the Word ensures that all the faithful—including those who may attend less frequently during the year but be drawn to this Mass because of the distribution of palms—will have their religious imagination and spirituality informed by “the Greatest Love Story Ever Told.”

Finally, I would add a spiritual reason for our yearly juxtaposition of these two events. Like the people of Jerusalem, we shift between the desire to celebrate and rejoice in the lordship of Jesus and the temptation to crucify him. We want to follow him in procession all the way to the Temple and at the same time want to put him to death so we can make ourselves god in his place. In one moment, we strive to recognize him in migrants and then, soon after, we succumb to fear that they will take our jobs and ruin our neighborhoods. The narrative of Jerusalem’s unbridled welcome of her Messiah and swift rejection of him is our story. We have experienced it throughout our lives and in particular during these past forty days as we struggled to tame our rebellious spirit through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We love our Lord and we fear him. We seek him out and flee from him. We both submit to his lordship and resent it. We celebrate his power yet covet it for ourselves.

The liturgies that begin on Palm Sunday are not strict, chronological reenactments of the events of Holy Week but an invitation to enter into the Paschal Mystery so as to apply it to our lives. For most of us, the most poignant way we experience it is in our daily struggle with temptation and sin. This confrontation with our divided hearts can leave us grief-stricken as it did for Peter after his threefold denial or even in despair as it did for Judas. Nonetheless, just as the crucifixion of the Messiah led to the world’s salvation, just so our daily struggles and frequent repentance lead to our sanctification. This is true for us as individuals, as a church, and even as a society. The celebrations that commence with this Passion Sunday remind us that salvation is God’s work accomplished in Jesus. And he advances his kingdom unlike any ruler in history—manifesting his power in weakness and triumphing through failure.

Douglas Sousa, STL


Heavenly Father,
you love us without reserve
yet we approach you with divided hearts.
We seek you out yet so often look past you.
We long for you but seek out short-term substitutes.
This week is called “Holy”
because it was sanctified by the sacrifice of your Son.
Through his example, may we give of ourselves freely.
May we surrender our hearts willingly.
Draw the fragmented pieces of our divided hearts together
and give us pure hearts,
pure channels of your love and grace.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.


The Holy Father announced the upcoming canonization of five new saints, including Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata (née Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu), whose work among the “poorest of the poor” won her worldwide acclaim. Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, members of the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, are expected to be in Rome for her canonization, set for September 4, 2016.

La corresponsabilidad diaria: reflexiones para el viaje, by Tracy Earl Welliver, is packed full of practical examples and inspiring insights; each of these Everyday Stewardship reflections will encourage you to look more closely for God in all the ordinary moments of your life. Both English and Spanish copies of the book are now available for purchase at www.4LPi.com/store/stewardshipresources.

The USCCB offers special resources for Lent on its website at: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/index.cfm. From there you can download the Pope Francis’ Lenten message in this Year of Mercy and the US Bishops’ pastoral letter on the sacrament of penance, “God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” as well as other great resources.

In addition to its other resources for Lent, the USCCB is offering “40 Days of Mercy,” an online calendar for the season of Lent with daily activities and meditations. You will want to share this information with parish members, school and religious education staffs, and other interested parties. The online calendar can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/lent-calendar.cfm.

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