YEAR C: HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE PASSION OF THE LORD
HOMILY THEME: “As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the
country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” (Luke 23:26)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Luke 22:14—23:56
The Catholic News Service article caught my immediate attention because it focused on an issue that faced the Catholic hospital in Connecticut where I served several decades ago.
The article read:
“An Australian bishop has defended a Catholic hospital’s decision to cover hospital room crucifixes if patients request it. [The] Bishop said the move by St. John of God Hospital did not reflect a drift toward secularism or political correctness. ‘It’s not denying our beliefs. It’s accommodating a request in a room; if [patients] believe nothing and they see this tortured body on the cross, the visual image can be distressing if they don’t understand it,’ the bishop said. ‘If they’re in a room and they were stressed, are you helping or hindering them? That’s part of good health care: you tend to them.’”
I recall in the mid-1990’s when we members of the Pastoral Care Department at St. Vincent’s Medical Center were asked to fine tune our attentiveness to the significant Jewish population the hospital served. Already did we have on our staff an Orthodox Rabbi, and Jewish holy days were respectfully observed, but it had never occurred to any of us, including the Rabbi, that the crucifix that hung on the wall of every patient room could be a source of distress. After some discussion among us, though, it was agreed that our primary mission was healing, not proselytizing, and so on that rare occasion when a patient asked that we remove the crucifix from the wall, we did so willingly. And well do I remember the comment of octogenarian Sr. Zoe who served at the hospital as she left a patient room carrying the crucifix she’d just taken off the wall. Standing at the foot of the patient’s bed, crucifix in hand, she offered a warm assurance, “You know, even though I took this off the wall, God is still with you while you’re here in the hospital. And our prayers are with you, too, that you’ll be healed quickly. God bless you!” And with a wide smile and a quick turn, she and the crucified Jesus were gone.
Indeed, though the crucifix be removed, the crucifixion continues. Though the Catholic symbol of the suffering Savior be taken from the wall, no less does Jesus yet suffer in the bodies, minds and souls of his sisters and brothers on the journey heavenward. Sr. Zoe knew that well, and though she’d taken down the crucifix from the wall, she saw the more real presence of the suffering Jesus embodied in the patient to whom she spoke consoling words.
On this Palm Sunday when we recall the events that led up to the crucifixion of Jesus, the actions and words of Sr. Zoe stood as witness that still does Jesus suffer, still does Jesus bear a heavy cross. And in the passion account from Luke that we read today, Sr. Zoe found her biblical precursor. St. Luke writes, “As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” (Luke 23:26) Additionally, ancient tradition speaks of a woman named Veronica who, seeing Jesus on the road to Calvary, rushed out of the crowd to soothe his bleeding face with a cool cloth. This is Sr. Zoe. She is Simon of Cyrene helping the sick to bear the load. She is Veronica providing soothing relief in soft words and gentle touch.
Christians around the world celebrate this Palm Sunday hearing once again the gospel account of the events that led to the death of Jesus. And even while the ears of the devout take in words so familiar, still does Jesus suffer just outside the doors of our churches. Still does Jesus stagger and fall under the weight of a burden too heavy for one to bear. And still does he raise his blood-streaked face in search of human compassion. Simon of Cyrene and Veronica both urge us to quit the crowd of spectators and take a stand beside Jesus, shouldering his cross, soothing his suffering, walking the long road home with him.