Connect the dots:
- The Pharisees.
- “The crowd” in the Gospel reading.
- Tiger Woods.
- The Duke University Men’s Lacrosse Team.
- The priests implicated in Grand Jury.
These stories are big, juicy, dark, hotly discussed and debated. When we hear them we might criticize, shake our heads, and perhaps say, “Oh that would never be me.”Really? Are we living a double standard? Are we, like Pilot, washing our hands of the situation? Are we TRULY any different than the people in those stories?
There is a woman named Jennifer who blogs at a single Christian website called “ChristianCafe.” Several years ago she wrote the following in an article entitled, “Do Circumstances Dictate Our Character?”
About 30 years ago I recall sitting in a Bible class that my friend and mentor was teaching. He made the statement that ‘anyone would commit any sin given the right circumstances.’ Wow! That statement struck me like a lightning bolt. I did not believe what he had just spoken. I questioned him to confirm that I heard him correctly and he readily confirmed the statement to me.
Many years later now I can confirm that his statement was absolutely correct. The right set of conditions/circumstances can create the environment in which you and I will commit any sin.
In his classic As a Man Thinketh, James Allen, the English minister, wrote this wise observation. ‘The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves and that which it fears.It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires
– and circumstances are the means by which the soul (chooses the difference.)”
Jennifer writes another way of stating this. She says, “Circumstances are the means by which our true character is revealed. They are the gates by which we choose either to grow or fall.”
Oh and by the way, one fact of life is equal to all – each and every one of us will be confronted by circumstances.
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser writes that circumstances can humble us and “humiliation makes us “go deep:”
- We can become deep in anger, bitterness, revenge-seeking, and murder
- Or we can become deep in character, understanding, graciousness, and forgiveness.
The crowd in the Gospel went deep, but unfortunately it was in the way of the former statement above. Jesus also went deep. But “His crucifixion stretched his heart and made it huge in empathy, graciousness, and forgiveness.”And the people who followed Jesus likewise “went deep” and entered into that depth as well because they “recognized Jesus as someone who reawakened hopes, understood misery and healed their bodies and souls”. (See Anne Osdieck, “Discussion Questions for Palm Sunday”)
Benedict XVI’s resignation officially took effect at 8:00 pm local time on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. You can look at the video of this historic moment when the doors of his residence at Castel Gandolfo were closed and the Swiss Guards were replaced by the Vatican Gendarmerie. I continue to watch this video with fascination and have considered the events of the past two years involving Pope Benedict and Pope Francis:
- Pope Benedict knew he wasn’t up to the task. He knew the Papacy and the Vatican and the Church needed to be transformed (Just look what has happened to the Papacy and the Vatican and the Church since Francis took over).
- Benedict had already “gone deep” in his prayer, his thoughts and his discernment. He stunned the world when he resigned, but he also impressed many with his depth, his humility and his honesty.
- Francis does not happen without Benedict. And Benedict’s own, personal, voluntary transformation was “Not about holding on to power, but desiring emptiness.”
Father Javier Melloni, S. J. once said, “The will of God is the divinization of every creature; and it was to bring about this divinization that the One who was in God and who was God, emptied himself in order to participate in our human condition and transform it from within.”This is what the celebration of Holy Week, in the days ahead, as well as the entire 50 days of Easter, is all about.
It’s about “going deep.” It’s about letting circumstances transform us to become deep in character, understanding, graciousness, and forgiveness. Perhaps it is also about entering into the depth of Holy Week/Easter, recognizing Jesus as someone who “reawakens hopes, understands misery and heals bodies and souls” and bring this message to others around us as well.
Audio version of Palm Sunday homily is here: