Monthly Archives: March 2018

Palm Sunday and the Peaceable Kingdom

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate a peaceful Messiah.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, on a donkey. He doesn’t enter on a war horse, but on a donkey, a beast of burden, a humble animal.

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But there is more to the Gospel story than meets the eye that reveals, at least in my mind, a vision of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Last year, in a workshop for catechists in a remote part of our parish, I began with a prayerful reading of the Palm Sunday Gospels. Using St. Ignatius’ method of reading the scriptures, I asked them to listen with their whole being, attentive to their senses as well as to their inner feelings. I read the story of the entry into Jerusalem three times, each time from a different Gospel, leaving time for silence after each reading.

After the last period of silence, I asked them to share with one or two people what they had experienced. Then I invited them to share with the group.

Two young men, campesinos, noted that they looked on in fear as Jesus mounted the young donkey “that no one had ever mounted.” They knew, from their work with animals, that you have to break in a donkey before you can sit on it. If no one has ever sat on a donkey, it is liable to try to throw you off.

They were afraid that the donkey would throw Jesus off.

And they were amazed that the donkey calmly carried Jesus into Jerusalem.

I was amazed. I had never heard a comment like that. I know of no biblical scholar who has paid attention to this detail that the people of the time of Jesus and the people who work the land would know.

Last year I shared this story with a group of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. They smiled and laughed in recognition. Many of them grew up on farms and realized the truth of this comment from the Honduran campesinos.

As I reflected on this, I realized that there was another dimension to this event.

Where would young donkeys, never mounted, calmly carry a person?

In the Garden of Eden of Genesis and in the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11: 1-9.

The wolf will dwell with the lamb…
The calf and the lion cub shall feed together,
and a little child will lead them…
They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord…

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Jesus, mounted on a peaceful donkey, enters the city of Jerusalem, the holy mountain. Jesus brings the Reign of Peace with His personal presence.

But we reject the peaceful Messiah, the harbinger of the Reign of Peace. We seek power and domination, with weapons of war and all sorts of violence.

But our God comes in peace, willing to sacrifice himself for peace. He does not kill but allows himself to be killed by those who have the power and the violence in their hands.

Will we follow Jesus, our Peace?

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The first photo is from the 2015 Palm Sunday procession in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, Dulce Nombre de Copán, Honduras.

The second photo is of a postcard of a painting of Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom. Note the presence of William Penn making a treaty with the native peoples.

The third photo is from The Cloisters in New York City.

 

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Contemplation

Contemplation, for me, is awakening to wonder.

It starts with letting myself be surprised, awed, astonished – at whatever. It may be a beautiful landscape or a smile from a friend.

I have the blessing of a valley I can see from my house and birds that come to my window.

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But last week I also had the blessing of seeing the smiles on the faces of a couple in their eighties who were married in their poor, dirt-floor home at the bedside of the ill husband.

If we open our eyes, our hearts, we can experience these as signs of God, of God’s joyful embrace of all creation – not only in the beautiful but even in the painful.

But it is not mere than emotion or aesthetic appreciation. Thomas Merton puts it well in New Seeds of Contemplation”:

Contemplation is the highest expression of [our] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. [Italics mine.]

When we receive the gift of contemplation, we can experience what the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “God’s Grandeur,” calls “the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Opening ourselves to beauty, to the interconnection of all that is, to the creator of all that is, make a space in our hearts, so that they can be contemplative, literally “temples with” God.

Contemplation is not only a way of prayer; it is a way of living, open to God in the little things of this world. It enables us to recover what William Blake wrote about:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

Open the temple of your heart, so that God may dwell therein.


This is an article that Franciscan Common Venture asked me to write for their March newsletter.