Sacrifice is Integral to the Christian Life

Miguel Augusto

On Palm Sunday, the Church remembers Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, on the way to the fulfillment of the Paschal mystery. Last year on this occasion, Pope Francis said in his homily, delivered in St Peter’s Square, that: “Every year this liturgy leaves us amazed: we pass from the joy of welcoming Jesus as He enters Jerusalem to the sorrow of watching Him condemned to death and then crucified. That sense of interior amazement will remain with us throughout Holy Week. Let us reflect more deeply on it.”

Jesus enters Jerusalem acclaimed with shouts of “Hosanna” as the Son of David, the one who brings salvation. “‘Hosanna’ means save us!” writes Professor Felipe Aquino, a member of Canção Nova, in one of his articles on Palm Sunday. Aquino points out that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem manifests the coming of the kingdom that the Messiah-King will bring about by the Passover of His Death and Resurrection. The solemn entry into Jerusalem was a prelude to His pains and humiliations – “These people had seen Jesus raise Lazarus a few days before and were amazed. They were sure that this was the Messiah foretold by the prophets; but this same people had been mistaken in the kind of Messiah Christ was. They expected a political Messiah, a social liberator who was going to snatch Israel from the clutches of Rome and restore her to the heights of the days of David and Solomon and rule the whole world.”

To make it clear to the people that He was not a temporal and political Messiah, an ephemeral liberator, but the great Liberator from sin, the root of all evils, Professor Aquino recalls that the Lord enters the great city, the Jerusalem of the patriarchs and holy kings, riding on a young donkey; an expression of humility – “He is not a King of this world! It was the week of the Passover of the Jews, and Jesus, of His own free will, ‘hastens on to His venerable and happy Passion, to bring to completion the mystery of the salvation of men’ (St Andrew of Crete, Sermon 9 on Palm Sunday)”.

Aquino points out that, that “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem was quite precarious for many; the clapping of Hosannas quickly withered. For five days later, the people were shouting furiously, “Out, out, crucify him… We have no king but Caesar!” The Professor stressed, “It was the disappointment of a people who wanted a great Messiah, a political liberator, and they receive a Messiah who will tell Pilate: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world!'” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that the Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his Death and Resurrection. “The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.” (CCC, No. 677).

Professor Aquino emphasizes that Palm Sunday teaches us that the struggle of Christ and the Church (ours too) is a struggle against sin, disobedience to God’s sacred law, which today is trampled underfoot even by many Christians who prefer to live a “light” Christianity, adapted to their tastes and interests and according to their convenience. Here he quotes Benedict XVI, who called it the “dictatorship of relativism”.

On the kingdom of God, as seen in the Gospel of Matthew, Aquino recalls that it belongs to the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3); to the little ones, to those who are like children, that is, to those who have welcomed Him with a humble heart. It is to the “little ones” that the Father has deigned to reveal what remains hidden from the wise and the clever. Jesus came for all, but especially for sinners (Mark 2:17), for those who were “sick”. The Professor says, “He invites them to conversion, without which one cannot enter the Kingdom, but by showing them, in word and deed, the Father’s boundless mercy for them and the immense ‘joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15:7). The supreme proof of this love will be the sacrifice of His own life ‘in remission of sins’ (Matthew 26:28).”

Jesus came to deliver mankind from the chains of the evil one, a consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and fall into sin. The Professor declares that the inauguration of the kingdom of God is the defeat of Satan’s kingdom. Jesus stated, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). And here Aquino concludes, “Jesus casts out the demon and delivers men from his dominion. It is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ great victory over ‘the prince of this world’. It is through the Cross of Christ that the kingdom of God will be definitively established, for ‘God reigns from the top of the wood’.”

For the beginning of this year’s Holy Week, the Professor leaves a reflection for those who follow the Lord: “Palm Sunday teaches us that to follow Christ is to renounce ourselves; to die on the ground like a grain of wheat in order to bear fruit, to face trials and offences for the sake of the gospel.”

(Painting: Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, a 1617 oil painting by Flemish Baroque painter Anthony van Dyck)