Meetings in Rome
I am writing this column on an Alitalia flight from Rome to Chicago on April 10th on my way home to Fort Wayne after a week of meetings in Rome.
It was a wonderful week in the “Eternal City,” though it was not a time of vacation. I was there to co-chair the new phase of international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. I received this appointment from the Vatican, more specifically, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The overall theme of this phase of the Catholic-Reformed theological dialogue is “Justification and Sacramentality: The Christian Community as an Agent for Justice.” The topic of our meetings this past week was “justification.” We studied and discussed the historical and current Catholic and Reformed perspectives on justification. The participants in this dialogue include Catholic and Reformed representatives from the following countries: USA, Belgium, Germany, Argentina, Cuba, Nigeria, India, Lebanon, and Scotland. Besides many good theological discussions each day, we have also begun to grow in fellowship through our common faith and friendship in Christ. We are hoping that in our dialogue we’ll assist in the discernment of the World Communion of Reformed Churches regarding affiliation with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. That historic Declaration of 1999 expressed a common agreement of the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation concerning the nature of justification, which was a central issue of the Protestant Reformation.
Our celebration of Holy Week begins each year with the procession of Palm Sunday that recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Masses on Palm Sunday begin with solemn or simple processions after the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the blessing of the palms. On this Palm Sunday, we will have a special diocesan procession from Saint Stanislaus Church to Holy Cross Church in South Bend, at the end of the six-church walk that begins at noon at Saint Joseph Church, South Bend. All are invited to participate in this public prayer, a “pilgrimage” of faith to begin Holy Week.
As we approach the end of our Lenten pilgrimage, we are in a sense spiritually accompanying Jesus in His ascent to Jerusalem. We can think of the great multitude that followed Jesus and the Apostles when they left Jericho and walked those last miles to Bethany, Bethphage, and the Mount of Olives where Jesus mounted a donkey to enter the Holy City. This may seem like an incidental detail. It is not. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” On Palm Sunday, we are reminded of the humility of Our King not only when He entered Jerusalem, but when a few days later He humbled Himself in accepting death on the cross.
The pilgrims who walked with Jesus on that first Palm Sunday spread their garments on the streets where Jesus was passing. They waved palms and olive branches. They sang verses from Psalm 118: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.” We sing those words during the “Sanctus” at every Mass at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. We acclaim Jesus as our Messiah and King.
In his wonderful second book on “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict wrote the following: “For the infant Church, ‘Palm Sunday’ was not a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the holy city that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw Him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine. The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst.” At every Mass, we sing the words sung by the first Palm Sunday pilgrims. We recognize Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord in the Eucharist and we praise Him: Hosanna!
As we begin Holy Week, let us go up with Jesus to Jerusalem and accompany Him in His Passion through our participation in the holy mysteries actualized in the Holy Week liturgies, especially those of the Easter Triduum. Let us walk with Jesus this week. Let’s be sure to make room for Him in our lives and not be too busy for prayer. Of all weeks of the year, this is the one we call “Holy Week.” The events we celebrate, namely, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, constitute the very core of our faith. We discover in the Paschal Mystery the full meaning and purpose of our lives.
May God bless you with His grace, mercy, and peace!
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