In his Palm Sunday homily, given in Westminster Cathedral on Sunday, 28 March, President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, calls on us to fix our heart on Jesus and recognise in him our own humanity.
Today we start our journey of Holy Week. I hope you will join me every step of the way, especially on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil, whether you are at home, joining in by the live streaming, or present in the Cathedral.
As a guide for us each day, I have chosen words of Pope Leo the Great who tells us that we are to fix the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognise in him our own humanity (Sermon 15 on the Passion, 3-4). So we will make our journey in his company too!
Today we fix our eyes on Jesus in his entry into Jerusalem, even though we could not celebrate that procession. Jesus rides down the steep mount of Olives to the Kedron Valley and up again into the ancient city amidst cheering crowds, all saluting him in the hope that here is their answer, their messiah! He is at the centre of praise and adulation, yet his focus is elsewhere – on doing only his Father’s will in all that is about to take place.
We too must have that same focus, not just today, but every day.
So often we too are surrounded by voices crowding in on us, voices of distress, of resentment, of weariness, voices on social media, in newspapers, in casual chatter. We often listen out intently for the voices of praise that may be there, hoping for a touch of approval or even adulation.
But today, on Palm Sunday we are invited to put all that into a new perspective and fix our eyes on Jesus and see in him how we are to behave.
The gaze of Jesus never wavers from the face of his Father. No matter how lonely his path will become – as we well know – the eyes of his heart will not be distracted. This is his first lesson for us. ‘I have come to do the will of Him who sent me’ (John 6.38).
Yes, our pathway too can become long and lonely. It may well be so now, in these long months of being kept away from family and friends. That makes keeping our attention on our Heavenly Father even more difficult and yet important.
Remember the words of the First Reading from Isaiah: ‘Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple’. So the question becomes: what do I listen to each morning? What shapes my day? Is it the latest worry? The last bit of gossip? Newspaper headlines? The football scores? All these are like the clamour of the crowd on that day of the Palms. Yet the quieter voice is that of the Father, the one to whom we are to listen, the one who says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!’ (Mt 17.5). This is the invitation: to fix the eyes of our heart on him and try to follow him.
We know the path that we are to follow with Jesus is not easy. The Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians has given us our road map: this Jesus, on whom we fix the eyes of our heart, is the presence of God, here in our flesh; he humbly empties himself for our sake, he embraces the degradation of the cross; he pours out his life-blood; he is raised on high, and becomes the key to life, and so we bend the knee before him and acclaim him to be Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
His path is our path, too. Our path becomes his path, for he has taken on our flesh and is one with us.
Following in his steps we love greatly, we endure much anxiety and suffering, often just hanging on, we are moved by compassion for many, we let go of our selfishness in generous service. Step by step, we come into his final embrace in our dying in this world to enter into the next. Every step of the way he is with us, carrying us, filling our emptiness and forgiving our foolishness. So let us stay close to him this week, with the eyes of our hearts fixed on Jesus crucified and recognising in him our own humanity. He is indeed our Way, our Truth and our Life. Thanks be to God. Amen.