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Palm Sunday Homily, 24.03.24: To cling or to empty

Loch Fearna is about 10 miles’ drive north of Lochinver. It took me 6 hours to get there when I went on retreat the other week. Once you get to the other side of Perth, the landscape gets more and more beautiful. The house I had taken looks directly onto Loch Fearna and in the distance there was a solitary mountain, still snow-capped, though not visible every day. The total silence was broken dimly only by the ducks and, at night, by the barking of the deer. One day the winds were especially high, which brought its own kind of contemplative beauty. A few fishermen appeared on the Saturday but they, too, were silent – though for other reasons.

What matters on retreat, of course, is inner silence, the quiet of the heart and mind. As we all know, that’s not easy to achieve. It is rather so easy to go on retreat with many plans and ideas, or with issues to sort out, all of which carries its own noise and can stop the Lord getting a word in. So, instead, I simply asked Him to grant me whatever grace He desired me to pass on to you during the solemn liturgies of Holy Week. As the retreat passed, it wasn’t clear to me precisely what that grace might be, but then what right have I to know what He desires for you? What He needs of me is just to trust Him and to be led by Him at His pace and in His way.

And that itself is perhaps the first grace He gives us on Palm Sunday: that we be open, attentive and ready to go where He leads us. Life isn’t about where I want to go, but about where He wants to take me. At root, this is what Christ Himself shows us. He doesn’t cling to His own plans, or even to His condition as God. Instead, St. Paul tells us in the second reading, He empties himself and assumes the condition of an obedient servant of the Father. He is not about Himself, but about the Father and us. In the same way, we are not about ourselves, but about Christ and one another.

To cling to self  or to empty self: these represent two very different and opposed lifestyles, and we have to choose. And they both have very different outcomes. To cling to self may seem the better option and yet it comes at the price of losing God and so ultimately even oneself. To empty self and cling to God seems less attractive, yet it is this which leads to the prize of not only life with God but of finding one’s true self in Him.

Clinging to myself closes me in on myself, on my own ideas and judgments, wishes, needs and pleasures. I see everyone and everything in terms of myself, including God. I come across as self-absorbed, and others like me may well hosanna me for it, but theirs would be a vacuous, self-referential praise. To empty myself opens me up and out to others, and especially to God, to His truth, will and love for me. I will live for others and for God and so find myself. To empty myself, is not to reject myself but to understand that my truest self will reach its fullest potential only in giving myself to others and especially to God. It is the lover who knows how to empty self and find fulfilment according to the measure of God.

Christ invites us during this Holy Week to join Him: not to cling to self but to empty self. Let Him take us by the hand and grace us with his Spirit to let ourselves be led outwards more and more by the Father’s will and love. Certainly, it will, for it must, cost us. But what love worth the name ever came without real sacrifice?