The Monks of Norcia want to wish you and your family every grace and blessing during this Triduum and Easter season!
by Fr. Cassian Folsom, O.S.B.
Monastery of San Benedetto, Norcia, Italy
Perhaps, inspired by the Passion, we are more prepared to hear the voice of the Lord when he says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Yes, we want to follow him, we want to be near him—and due to this desire, we can also accept this exhortation to take up our cross—but we accept it with great trepidation and reluctance. Taking one’s own cross means to carry an enormous weight, and therefore even if we say with our lips that we are ready, in the depths of our hearts, there is great resistance. Today’s Gospel can help us bring together two elements that seem contrary, namely, Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem and his cruel death on the cross.
In his triumphant entrance, the Lord sits on a donkey. In his Passion, the Lord’s throne is the wood of the cross. Let’s look more closely at these two elements of today’s Gospel: the donkey and the cross.
Jesus could have chosen a slightly nobler animal: a horse, for example. He could have chosen a more kingly means: a cart or a chariot. Instead, he chose a donkey. Why? Because in the prophesies of the Old Testament, the donkey is, in fact, a symbol of the messianic king. The story of the Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem quotes the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah, where it is written: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass” (Mt 21:5). On his donkey, Jesus resembles King Solomon on the day of his coronation, when he entered the city of Jerusalem mounted on the kingly mule of his father, David. The image shown by the ancient prophesies is of a meek and humble king—not a militaristic revolutionary, nor a king in the political sense.
In the account of the triumphant entrance, who or what is closest to Jesus, if not the donkey? There is direct, physical contact. The donkey bears the weight of the Lord, but the weight is sweet and the burden is light (cf. Mt 11:30). How nice it would be if we were that donkey! We would have the honor of performing a service for the Lord as humble as it is necessary. In a certain sense, the donkey is the new throne of the king. Perhaps we could think of all of our sufferings and all of our difficulties of life as if they were the weight of the Lord which we, as good donkeys, carry voluntarily. Precisely in this way, he is close to us.
In the moment of the crucifixion, who or what is closest to our Lord, if not the cross itself? Yes, at the foot of the cross, there is Our Lady, there is John, and there is Mary Magdalen, but they are at a certain distance. Instead, there is a direct, physical contact with the cross itself. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the hymn for Lauds during this period is directed to the cross, with admiration and great esteem, saying:
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!
Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God.
Tree, which solely wast found worthy
this world's Victim to sustain;
harbour from the raging tempest!
Ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.
In this hymn, the cross—personified—receives the honor of carrying the Lord. It is a heavy burden, but it is sweet and light. How nice would it be to be that cross! Perhaps “being the cross” is a more attractive concept than “taking up the cross”. That’s because it’s not our cross, but his! It’s the Lord’s cross! And if we want to be close to him, what would be better than to serve as the throne for the Lord who reigns from the cross!
CONCLUSION: In this liturgy of Palm Sunday, we have two models to imitate: the donkey and the cross. If we could serve as the donkey for the Lord, what joy! If we could be the wooden throne of the cross upon which the King of Glory sits, what an honor! Therefore, let us not resist the sufferings of this life; let us not refuse the weight. It is precisely in carrying the weight of the cross that we carry Christ; he is almost physically present to us, and we are very close to him!