Palm Sunday is a bit like a manifesto from Jesus. It is a statement of what he stands for, of the issues for which he was cast out and crucified.
I wonder if we have been present at another manifesto, from him, in our lifetime, and I wonder if it is still going on.
Vatican Council II closed on December 7, 1965. On November 16, a group of 40 bishops gathered in the Roman Catacombs of Domitilla. They were invited by Bishop Himmer of Tournai, Belgium. Most of them were Latin Americans. They offered Mass, and prayed for fidelity to the gospel and to the poor. This meant, according to them, a change in their quality of life. It meant a more public simplicity and poverty of life. A document was signed.
In a humorous sense, this document was known as Schema XIV. [Prior to Vatican 2, the Vatican Curia had prepared 13 Schemas for the council.] This document was called the Pact of the Catacombs.
This is the background of the better known expression ‘preferential option for the poor’, for which Dom Helder Camara gave his life.
This is the background of the challenge, ‘a poor church among the poor’, issued by Pope Francis in the first days of his time as bishop of Rome.
All this is not just a call to humility. It is a redefinition of humility as service. It is not important to be humble, period. It is not important to be poor, as if poverty in itself were something desirable. We are asked to learn a new kind of humility, and live a real kind of poverty, in order to serve one another, especially those not adequately served. It is an active thing. It binds those we serve into a communion with us. It is a mutual thing. We show them we need their help too. This is the point of the washing of the feet. Once Jesus washed their feet, he told them all to wash one another’s feet. Mutually.
We discover that we must find our own identity, our own identity as poor and as servants of the poor, different from anyone else’s, in our own scene. We find our identity from those we thought we were serving, when they, in turn, share their identity with us.
“I will not serve”, man says to his Creator. “Then I will serve you”, his Creator says to man. “You sit down, I will minister, I will wash your feet. You rest, I will bear your weariness, your infirmities. Use me as you like in all your needs, not only as your slave but also as your beast of burden and as your property. If you are tired or burdened I will carry both you and your burden.” Guerric of Igny, First Sermon for Palm Sunday.