The sermon at Mass should be short today because the Passion of Jesus is long. And the presence of so many themes tempts the preacher to talk too much. But there is one theme that is largely ignored and that is the meaning of the palm branch itself. We're perhaps used to hearing that palm branches are ancient signs of victory. Branches were waved in front of generals and armies returning from victories. Even successful athletes were surrounded by palm branches. Images of martyrs hold palm branches.
But I'd suggest there is a symbolism that is much closer to each of us personally. It has to do with the nature of religion itself. I suppose there are as many meanings or emphases of religion as there are people. Religion is: dogmas and doctrines, laws, clergy and hierarchies, authority, vows, liturgical worship, morality, sexual ethic, good deeds, institutions. And while I'm in no position to say what other religions are, including all the denominations of a splintered Christianity, it seems to me that Catholicism, with its Gospel, is supposed to be a spiritual way for people. I fear we often lose that awareness and call.
Oaks, Maples, Aspens and Birches lose all their leaves within a few days or weeks each fall. But a palm tree renews itself continuously throughout the year; as it loses a leaf it at once starts to grow another. It is never without its leaves, renewing itself little by little, one leaf at at time. It is a very apt symbol of our personal and steady self-renewal, revival, restoring or freshening. Sad to say, the cultural understanding of personal renewal isn't very deep, often no deeper than our skin and hair: get the right creams, the right body augmentation, the right style, the right look and your good to go. It makes for an empty person.
But if Resurrection only means what happened to Jesus and the promise of life on the other side of the grave, I believe we have sold Jesus short. Personal renewal is the heart of our religion. It isn't just a Lenten thing or an Eastertime thing. Renewal is our way of life. So, can you think of some life-approaches that might effect (palm tree like) personal and on-going renewal? I had a spiritual director who at the end of each session together always prayed over me, that God would grow-me-up. How I valued that prayer!
Here are some ideas for renewal that come to mind:
- Read the book I bought and never read.
- Make the visit I've been procrastinating over.
- Lose 5 lbs (or more if needed).
- Go for a walk every day - get sunlight and new air.
- Clean out a closet, an attic, a basement: St. Basil says, "If you haven't used it in a year it no longer belongs to you, but to the poor."
- Keep a garden - if even a couple of houseplants well-tended.
- Give myself ten minutes of hermit time each day - God alone.
- Learn to say yes if I know how I can be selfish.
- Learn to say no if I'm wearying out.
- Quit the cigarettes and give the money to an organization that takes care of the most hungry children.
- Restore Sunday as an old-fashioned rest day: break the crazy cultural cycle of making money, spending money, noise and haste.
- Take an evening or summer class (even online) to study something that's always interested you but you never explored.
- Get free of something that's dumb-ing you down.
- Read the New Testament from cover to cover over a period of weeks or months.
- Commit to a charity and keep the commitment.
- Restore Friday as a day of penance.