Triumph, Cross, and Glory

Triumph, Cross, and Glory

The juxtaposition of the triumphal entrance of the Divine Redeemer into Jerusalem with the sufferings of His sorrowful Passion reminds us that the perspective of the cross always bears the aura of the certainty of future glory.

The Contrast Between Uncreated Goodness
and Human Malice

Our Lord Jesus Christ could have, in perfect justice, exalted Himself, without incurring the least sin − on the contrary, it would have been a great act of virtue, for He is worthy of all praise. But He renounced this to give us an example. And while these acclamations that He permitted (cf. Lk 19:39-40) from His disciples and from the people on Palm Sunday may be considered an exception to this rule… how meagre they were, compared to what He truly merits!

The crowing with thorns, by Gaspar Insemann, Unterlinden Museum, Colmar (France)

Perhaps, then, no fact could be more indicative of the contrast between human malice and God’s goodness − Goodness that He is in essence − than the onset of the Saviour’s dolorous Passion following so closely upon this triumphal ovation.

Divine goodness manifested in the Passion

To save humanity, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity desired to become flesh, making Himself equal to us in all things, except sin (cf. Heb 4:15). And even though a tear, a gesture, or even a desire of the God-Man would have been sufficient to redeem an unlimited number of creatures, He humiliated Himself, making Himself obedient even unto death on the Cross, as St. Paul affirms in this Sunday’s second reading (cf. Phil 2:6-11). He, who with a simple act of the will, could have impeded the action of those who sought His death − for example, by simply ceasing to sustain their being, making them return to nothing − accepted all the insults described by St. Matthew in the Gospel of the Mass.

Here we savour God’s mercy, so infinitely solicitous in pardoning us. If only one of us had committed a fault and the rest of humanity were innocent, He would have suffered the same martyrdom to redeem this sole culprit! As Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange explains, in the mystery of the Redemption, “the demands of justice ultimately converge with those of love, and mercy triumphs, for it is the most immediate and profound expression of God’s love for sinners.”

Human malice takes revenge for goodness received

Witnessing this benevolence, we see the people rejoice and earnestly acknowledge that they are truly in the presence of the Messiah. But their attitude was not profound. It was superficial; it lacked roots… If Jesus were to be received with honours today − “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” −, within a few days the same multitude would be in the square before the praetorium, vying to save Barabbas instead of Him whom they had previously acclaimed, and shouting “let Him be crucified!”, as we read in the Passion text.

Jesus carries the Cross, by Simone Martini – Louvre Museum, Paris

The royalty of Jesus Christ proclaimed in His solemn entrance into Jerusalem would become, within that very city, a pretext for His condemnation. Herod blasphemously mocked Him; Pilate recognized His innocence, but lost courage before the accusers, and handed Him over “to their will” (Lk 23:25). With majestic silence, the Saviour endured the scourging, the wounds from the crowning with thorns (cf. Mt 27:26-31; Mk 15:15-20; Jn 19:1-5) and He ascended Golgotha with the Cross on His shoulders. It was so heavy − the weight of our sins! − that, along the way, Simon of Cyrene was obliged to help Him carry the ignominious burden. The leaders mocked Him; the soldiers offered Him vinegar; one of the malefactors, crucified at His side, insulted Him.

Why? Because of the hatred of those who did not want to accept an invitation to a change of life. Jesus had come preaching a new outlook on the Kingdom of God which was starkly at odds with the one they wanted, and He was rejected for this reason. What miracles! What generosity! Paralytics walked, the deaf regained their hearing, the blind saw, the dead resurrected… all worked by adorable hands that would soon be pierced with sharp nails! This is the law of human nature conceived in sin, when it refuses God’s grace! Human nature, of itself, is fickle. First it applauds, and then it takes revenge for its own acclamations.

We should not pin our hopes on the world

With this, the Passion of our Divine Redeemer offers a lesson: those who, for worldly principles, embrace the ideal of seeking applause, pinning their hope on human approval, are sadly mistaken. They commit the folly of choosing a volatile situation for themselves, for where the practice of virtue is lacking, acclamations easily turn into hatred.

The Lord’s Passion eloquently shows us the need to focus our efforts on serving Him, without a care as to whether we are attacked or praised, accepted or rejected, but only striving to ensure that our conduct is pleasing to Him. When we were baptized we made the commitment − either on our own or through the voice of our godparents − to renounce the devil, the world and the flesh, and we are forever marked by the sign of combat. At no time did we pledge to lean on the applause of others. In the celebration of Palm Sunday, then, we should recall our promises to fight, which demand from us the determination to face all of the conflicts that these enemies we rejected in Baptism will present to us. And this means imitating Jesus and carrying the cross that Providence lays upon our shoulders.

The Cross: sign of ignominy and symbol of glory

The Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ! When those wicked and merciless men came before Him as He was being crucified, they looked at Him and said: “If He is the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross!” “O venomous tongue, malicious word, perverse expression!” − exclaims St. Bernard of Clairvaux − “[…] For what sense does it make for Him to descend, if He is the King of Israel? Is it not more logical for Him to ascend? […] All the more since He is the King of Israel, who does not abandon the title of the kingdom, the Lord who carries His Empire on His shoulders does not cast aside His sceptre […]. If, on the contrary, He were to descend from the Cross, He would save no one.”

In fact, it is not fitting for a king to descend, but to ascend. This is what Our Lord did. He did not descend, but resurrected and ascended, as the inspired voice of St. Bernard again proclaims: “If the evil and adulterous generation still seeks a prodigy, none will be given them except that of the prophet Jonah: not a sign of descent, but of resurrection. […] He who did not wish to descend from the patibulum emerged from the sealed sepulchre. […] Thus, He is rightly the first of those who resurrected, for He rose in such a way as to never fall again, having already attained immortality.”

Yes, He is King, and is seated on His throne. On what throne? The Cross, sign of ignominy, the worst punishment, the most horrible sentence of those times, the crucified being considered by the Jews as “accursed by God” (Dt 21:23). Crucifixion was held by the Romans as so opprobrious that it was not applied to a citizen of the Empire, being reserved only for slaves and the most abject criminals. Yet, this King is so powerful that, placed on this pedestal of humiliation, He transforms it into a throne of glory! To wear a pectoral Cross is now considered an honour; in awe we behold it adorn the crowns of kings and medals of honour, and top the heights of cathedrals and ecclesiastical edifices: it is the exaltation of the Cross!

Now, as participants in the divine life, by grace, we are called to tread the same path as the King of kings − not descending, but rather ascending to reach Heaven, the doors of which will open not by our merits, but by those of Our Redeemer.

Today, in holding the palm in our hands as a symbol of triumph, we should believe that, in the Final Judgement, all malice will be judged. As it enters eternity, history will become well defined: either the enjoyment of the beatific vision or the fire that will never be extinguished. There is no third possibility.

“Per Crucem ad Lucem!”

Contrary to the chimera suggested by a certain widespread mentality, the cross cannot be abolished from the face of the earth, for in general, every human being suffers. Only in films and other fantasies of the kind − crowned with the invariable “happy ending” − do we find unreal people immune to physical or moral discomfort, successful in all their undertakings, with no interpersonal difficulties, and even raised above all the petty annoyances and disappointments of daily life.

No matter how many hospitals are founded, childcare centres are opened or residences for the elderly are built, suffering is still our companion and will only cease in heavenly Paradise. It is therefore of utmost importance for man to grasp the true value of suffering, for a mistaken notion in this regard leads some people to despondency and others to revolt against Providence. Others − perhaps the majority − wish to shirk their own cross, an attempt which, beyond being futile, only makes it heavier by adding to it the burden of inconformity to God’s will, for God knows and permits each one of our afflictions.

The value of the fight

Let us convince ourselves that suffering brings countless benefits for our salvation. First, it is a powerful means for drawing closer to God. Indeed, both Angels and men, having been created in a state of trial, had, from before the fall, the tendency to close in on themselves when they should have been constantly open to God. Therein lay the trial. With sin, this inclination became accentuated, and, in man, each actual fault increases its virulence.

Our Lady of Sorrows, National Art Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona (Spain)

Thus, the struggles, setbacks and hardships scattered along our paths are effective elements for turning our souls toward the infinite Good and for opening wide the door of our souls to Him. At these difficult moments we experience the power of prayer, we feel our total dependence on our Creator and we place ourselves in His hands without restriction, seeking help and strength. Considered in this way, suffering can rightly be called a blessing, and helps us merit, even in this world, the reward of being freed of egoism and of living with our sights set on God. O suffering, blessed suffering!

Suffering also shows us the emptiness and transience of earthly goods and teaches us not to put our hope in them, but rather to nourish in our heart the desire for eternal happiness. In His infinite goodness, the Lord “burdens us with tribulations on earth to oblige us to seek happiness in Heaven,” affirms St. Anthony Mary Claret. If our lives unfolded without obstacles, we would be like a rosebud that never opened, or a baby that did not grow or develop, and we would never attain the spiritual fullness of being a fellow citizen of the Saints and a resident of Heaven. Suffering, then, is an infallible way to prepare to contemplate God face to face.

Glory acquired through suffering

By taking on flesh, the omnipotent Word, Only-begotten of the Father, wanted to experience the vicissitudes of the human state to give us an example of patience. His most holy Soul, created in the beatific vision from the moment of conception, already possessed all glory, which naturally should have been reflected in His Flesh. However, in Him, the natural relationship between soul and body was subject to His divine will, which wished to suspend this law, performing a miracle to His own detriment, for He preferred to take on a mortal body “that He might procure His bodily glory with greater honour, when He had merited it by His Passion.” Consequently, He assumed those corporeal deficiencies stemming from original sin that are not incompatible with the perfection of knowledge and grace, such as fatigue, hunger, thirst, and death. He chose to be born in a stable, where he endured the cold of the night and other hardships; He wanted to afterward live a hidden life, as a carpenter’s son, without revealing His eternal origin; and, finally, He wanted to suffer a violent death to redeem us. Subjecting Himself to all types of human suffering inflicted from without, Jesus also wished to uphold the combat of the cross as the cause of the elevation of all baptized souls, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (cf. Rom 8:17). The first reading shows us this (Is 50:4-7), in the attitude of Isaiah − prefigure of the Redeemer − who confronted all insults for love of God and neighbour, certain that he would be neither disgraced nor thwarted, for the Lord would come to his aid and grant him the victory.

Entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem – Monastery of St. Benedict, Subiaco (Italy)

The words of St. Paul to the Philippians, after referring to Christ’s torments confirm this teaching even more strongly: “Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). So excellent is the sacrifice of Our Saviour, the offering of Himself to the Father as a perfect Victim, that the effects of the Passion far surpass the debt of sin: “God the Father asked of His Son an act of love that pleased Him more than all the sins combined displeased Him; an act of redeeming love, of an infinite and superabundant value.” By reason of this generous holocaust, in which He humiliated and emptied Himself of His divine dignity, becoming like men, Our Lord merited to be exalted, for “when any man through his just will has stripped himself of what he ought to have, he deserves that something further be granted to him as the reward of his just will,” St. Thomas affirms.

Referring back to the beginning of the Palm Sunday celebration, we see that just as the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem preceded the humiliations of the Passion, this, in its turn, foretells the true glorification of Jesus, as seen by His own words to the disciples of Emmaus, after the Resurrection: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26).

The Combat of a Catholic is His Glory

The lesson of the Liturgy for the beginning of Holy Week should remain etched on our memory until our last breath: we are combatants! We were not made to support those who put their hope in the world, but to defend Our Lord Jesus Christ. The world only interests us as an object of conquest for the Kingdom of God, for we want to be Apostles so that all men might share the joy we have as Christians. This joy stems from the certainty, instilled in the soul by faith, of one day recovering our body in a glorious state and experiencing a blissful eternity in the company of God, the Blessed, the Angels and the saints.

Although the portal to eternal happiness is death – the natural destiny of every human being – the conviction that the cross leads to light, namely, to victory and the final triumph, balances the soul, making it calm and serene, and imparts strength to confidently face death, knowing that He who died for us on the Cross is on the other side to receive us.

During this Holy Week, let us unite ourselves to Our Lord Jesus Christ and keep Our Lady company during the sorrows that will unfold before us in the following days, certain of the glory that lies just beyond them, waiting to be revealed.