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Bishop Denis’ Homily on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday:                                                                                       23.03.2024

St. Coca Church, Kilcock


Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday marks the triumphant entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. There were people everywhere, singing, shouting, waving palms, whatever they could lay their hands on. This was some celebration. A few days later things would change, but for the moment, its celebration time.

I have come to conclude your Novena, a celebration that began in Lent but concludes in Holy Week. Several nights reflecting on your own triumphs and losses, celebrations and sadnesses. Conscious of those moments of loss, of less, of letting God down, we return to our understanding of God offered to us by Pope Francis, God “whose name is mercy” and so we pray …

  • Is tusa Tobar na Trócaire – You are the wellspring of mercy: A Thiarna, déan trócaire 
  • Is tusa Slí na Fírinne – You are the way of Truth:  A Chríost, déan trócaire
  • Bí linn i gconaí, ós ár gcomhair amachBe with us always, showing us the way. A Thiarna, déan trócaire


The Czech writer Tomas Halik most recent book is titled ‘Afternoon of Christianity: The Courage to Change’, I always think the procession into Jerusalem was an afternoon or early evening affair. Halik challenges us to ask how the Spirit is guiding the Church to a new cultural home. The Church is always on the move, when its stagnant, it is no longer a Church, but something for our smug self-preservation.

Let’s return to that first Palm Sunday. It was also a journey. Who was in the crowd? Maybe the forgiven son, the healed leper, the woman who walked away from the stone throwers. There were many who would be there to thank Jesus, to praise Jesus, to celebrate Jesus. Those on the margins, on the edges, on the peripheries. Today’s occupants of the many beds and trollies in our field hospitals.

Mark’s gospel for Year B stretches to 119 verses; our shorter version, for the sake of tonight’s Novena is a condensed text of 39 verses. It still holds the essentials. Those 39 verses bring us on a journey, a very painful one. We take up the text just after the cock has crowed and Jesus has been completely disowned. He couldn’t be more despondent.

The text begins “First thing in the morning …[1] So what happened earlier was on Holy Thursday night. We take up the text on Good Friday morning, beginning with the  binding of Jesus and handing Him over to Pilate. What follows is a mock trial with the baying of the crowd for blood. A murderer good for nothing is set free as the innocent One is led to His death. The shorter text concludes with the crucifixion, leading to His death and that memorable recognition from the centurion at the foot of the Cross. A centurion who was doing his job, minding his business, a centurion who was in the pocket of the guards and still he acknowledges Jesus.

There are only two lines uttered by Jesus in all these 39 verses: “It is you who say it[2] and “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani[3]. Only two lines that the presider or ordained minister says, in the name of Christ. Of course all our voices are heard as we recite this evenings Passion Narrative. On that first Palm Sunday Procession there were many voices, some we recognise, others we don’t, those who were healed, who were welcomed, who felt accepted, those who followed and all those who drifted away. Where is our voice this Palm Sunday?

As we prepare to celebrate the Paschal mysteries over the coming week, we are reminded that in the midst of darkness, light always shines. Palm Sunday also serves as a reminder of the fleeting nature of earthly triumph. The gold medallist feted in one Olympics loses her crown four years later. The politician carried shoulder high on election day loses the seat at a later election and leaves the count centre alone. The man of the match in the football final is dropped from the panel. We have too many examples where triumphs were indeed fleeting.

Holy Week offers us that opportunity of walking in His shoes. Mark write his narrative as the Christians in Rome were suffering persecution. Some might ask where was God in this injustice and suffering? Mark answers Jesus suffered the most brutal of deaths; he suffers with those who suffer today. There is no heart-wrenching cry greater than “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani[4] (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?) Whatever and wherever we are suffering, He is there with us. The acknowledgement by the centurion is the first time in Mark’s gospel that anybody recognises exactly who Jesus is. This is Mark’s answer to those who might reasonably ask where is God in the suffering in Gaza, on the Kibbutz, in Ukraine; He is with us because He has entered into solidarity with all who suffer. And so …

“ .. as we enter this Holy Week door

where I am, who am I in it all?

Like the crowd, fervent then fickle

the disciples, sincere but prey to fear,

the leaders, self-serving and vengeful

the women, constant and close

or the colt, generous and faithful?

Help me, Lord, hear my simple prayer

in these most sacred of days

that I may stay by your side

and learn from your ways[5].

Holy Week is not about one moment of betrayal, a half hearted kiss on the cheek in Gethsemane; a denial around a charcoal fire as a cock began to crow or not wanting to be seen around the Cross at Calvary but the many ways we continue to betray not only Jesus, but one another and ourselves. Returning to Tomas Halik’s book, it may be the afternoon of Christianity, but we have time to muster up the courage to change.

[1] Mk.15:1

[2] Mk.15:2

[3] Mk.15:34

[4] ibid

[5] Nesbitt, Fr. Richard: Holy Week Voices from the Holy Land, 2021, pg. 12.