Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne highlighted the tension between who people thought the Messiah would be and how he actually accomplished God’s plan — it is a tension that persists today.
“I am asking myself two questions,” the archbishop said in his April 14 homily at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage. “What kind of God do we have?” and “What kind of people are we?”
The Palm Sunday homily, which recalls Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem just days before his Passion, death and triumphant resurrection at Easter, was delivered to a full church.
In answering the question — “What kind of people are we?” — the archbishop drew attention to the creation narrative, which reveals a “God who created all things, and found them good, who created man and woman in his image and found them very good.” This account of God’s creative action “reveals that the human person is created for communion with God, to walk with God in perfect love and harmony,” Archbishop Etienne said.
He then turned to the question, “What kind of God do we have?” Here, archbishop noted that God’s faithfulness to humanity persisted after the first parents fell into sin. God looked to reconcile his people through covenants, prophets, priests and kings. All his efforts converge and culminate in Jesus Christ, Archbishop Etienne observed.
The Palm Sunday liturgy highlights that the long history of God’s saving actions unfolds “as Jesus makes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem,” Archbishop Etienne noted.
As to the practice in which Catholics process into the church with branches on Palm Sunday, the archbishop said the tradition recalls that “Jesus is the one whom the Scriptures foretold as the Great Prophet, the Eternal High Priest, the King of Kings, the one who will establish the new and eternal covenant between God and his people.”
Archbishop Etienne highlighted the tension between how people understood who the Messiah would be and how he actually went about accomplishing God’s plan — it is a tension that persists today.
He spoke of an eternal God, all powerful, all knowing, who sends his son to earth from heaven.
“Why does such a God choose the path of humility and service, to dwell among us, his people?” Archbishop Etienne asked. The answer: God is Love. “God … created us out of love, redeemed us out of love,” he said.
“What kind of people are able to deny this faithful, infinite love of God?” Archbishop Etienne asked — a love in which Jesus showed himself to be the Son of God through his life and teachings. What sort of people would choose to kill him?
“Could it be that this is a people who are afraid of the demands of such a loving God?” Archbishop Etienne asked.
He then posed questions to those who fear the consequences of embracing such love, who have, perhaps, grown comfortable with personal constructs of God.
“Are we all that different from the Pharisees and Scribes who were more concerned about maintaining their power and the status quo rather than believing in Jesus as the promised one sent by God — who is God?” Archbishop Etienne asked.
To truly know the Lord Jesus who entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the faithful must have hearts devoted to God, the archbishop said.
He quoted from a book by Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” wherein the writer says, “Jesus knows himself to be the Messiah, the anointed one par excellence. He is the king. His realm consists of those human hearts that are devoted to God, of the world that such hearts have transformed.”
Guardini stated that Jesus lifts to the Father hearts that are made malleable by love. This action comes not through force, but through prophetic power.
“Through Him, the living one, heaven addresses earth, and man’s will is directed to heaven,” Archbishop Etienne quoted from Guardini.
In conclusion, Archbishop Etienne invited the faithful to surrender everything in order to see the Son of God as he truly is, “in order to respond with our own free gift of love.”