Sermons

March 28: Stations of the Cross (Palm Sunday B)

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” Mark 11: 1-10.

Palm Sunday and the celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are the central proclamations of our Christian faith. 

This year, we conduct ourselves at a physical distance but in prayerful solidarity. We join our fellow citizens at the sad news of racial and gun violence in Atlanta and Boulder. We keep in our prayers those millions around the world who feel the effects of the COVID-19 virus. 

We come to Christ at this present moment, knowing that he is with us on this journey of life. We have a choice. Do I carry the Cross? Or do we bring this Cross in the fellowship of cross bearers with Christ – sister and brothers, all following the only one who knows the way? “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus says. 

Parish churches, the focus of our Holy Week celebrations, have found the need to adapt to new and vastly complex circumstances. Of course, as always, the goal is to keep the faith community together in prayer & song but today employing new forms of social media and the live-streaming of sacramental worship. 

In April of 1979, I was the Communications Director of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. One day, an activist priest, Father Tom Olsen, from Jersey City, stopped by my office to tell me of grim news of violence to his parishioners at All Saint Church in the Lafayette section of his city. 

Located on the Hudson River, this area of Hudson County was known as Pavonia in Colonial days, and its Dutch roots still mark the names of streets and the PATH subway stops. 

By the late 1970s, economic forces beyond anyone’s control and the sudden gentrification of neighborhoods would impact the fabric of this densely populated urban community.

Today, high-rise office buildings, including Goldman Sacks, and million-dollar condominiums, looking out at the Manhattan skyline, have taken hold of the so-called “gold coast” of Jersey City, Hoboken, and most of Hudson County. 

At that time, Father Tom told me that his parish would have a church service on Good Friday and adapted the Stations of the Cross to mourn those parishioners killed in the past year and help address concerns about suspicious fires that ravaged old and run-down apartment buildings. 

One of his goals was to attract media coverage to help strengthen his cause. My office helped with the press release. But I had another idea: to bring the Stations of the Cross outdoors and accommodate press photographers and reporters with eye-witness news cameras from the local New York City/New Jersey television stations. Tom agreed and went home with a plan.

That Good Friday, a perfect spring day, the Stations of the Cross became a “media event” for local and national media. Looking back, mostly I recall Tom Olsen’s determination and his many years of priestly service to the youth of his parish and the C.Y.O. 

Still, the New York Times article with the headline “Parish Outraged by Crime Re-enacts Passion of Jesus” by Robert Handley gave testimony to the power of Christ’s journey to the Cross and how those parishioners followed Jesus’s way of peace. 

Above the fold on the front page of the Saturday edition of the New York Times, here is the extraordinary account:  

https://www.nytimes.com/1979/04/14/archives/parish-outraged-by-crime-reenacts-passion-of-jesus-we-must-love-one.html?searchResultPosition=1

Forty or more years ago, these Stations of the Cross in Jersey City remained with me and helped focus my prayers for healing wounds, so much on our minds and consciences.   

This Palm Sunday, we follow Christ and the way of the Cross. Episcopal minister Sara Miles writes: “Palm Sunday reveals the passion, the sorrow and the love intermingled at the heart of all our lives. It forces us to choose how we will arrive at the Cross, bearing that pain together or using it to separate ourselves from others.” 

More than ever this Holy Week, in our homes, with family members, near and far, let us turn to Christ and say: 

“We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, for, by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world!”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA. 

Take a moment and listen to “Hosanna to the Son of David,” a Palm Sunday processional by composers Daniel Greig and Jon Paige.

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