The Church of Ss. Peter and Paul in Alton is the original cathedral for our diocese. Our first two bishops are buried in the crypt below the sanctuary of the church. The church itself has been beautifully restored and decorated several years ago to mark both our diocesan sesquicentennial and the 150th anniversary of the founding of the parish. I invite you to visit this important church if you have the chance, both for its historic significance and for its present beauty.
I made a pastoral visit to Ss. Peter and Paul myself recently. As I looked around the church, I made particular note of the Stations of the Cross. I am reminded of what I saw as we begin Holy Week. The depiction of each of the stations is large and detailed. A great deal of activity and numerous people are shown at each station. However, it is all done in a very neutral tone. Only the figure of Jesus is shown in color. We meet a number of interesting figures along the way of the cross: Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, Mary. The events that lead to Calvary are riveting and horrible. Jesus is not simply another actor being swept along by events. He alone is accomplishing something extraordinary, and our focus is on him.
As we begin the holiest week of the year, the sacred liturgy and our private prayer lead us through the remembrance of dramatic, life-giving events that have meant salvation for us. But, strictly speaking, we have not been saved by events, as if to say that somehow things have worked out well for us. We are saved by a person, Jesus Christ. Holy Week is all about him and his invitation to us to participate here and now in his paschal mystery. The instruction at the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass says, in part: "Let us remember with devotion this entry which began his saving work and follow him with a lively faith. United with him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life."
Jesus had planned his final entry into Jerusalem. Although he had never encouraged efforts to crown him king, he allows himself to receive a royal or messianic welcome. He wants people to know that he will bring about the coming of his kingdom soon. Few are able to imagine that he will accomplish this not with a triumphant takeover, but instead with the new Passover of his death and resurrection. During our participation in the liturgy of Palm Sunday, we acclaim Jesus as our true savior.
As we move through the special liturgies this week, we recall the type of savior that our Lord has chosen to be. He is the true suffering servant, spoken of by the prophet, who bears the sins of the many. He is also the perfect paschal lamb, whose blood will ensure our Passover from slavery and sin, to redemption and life. Jesus is not simply forced to suffer; he willingly empties himself. As we celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper, we recall the humility of our savior, who washed the feet of his apostles, and who turned this meal into a memorial of the offering he was about to make on the cross.
Jesus knows and loves us as he chooses to be enthroned on the cross. We are the focus of his love. Our salvation is the desire of his heart. He invites us to focus on him on Good Friday. We are aware of the bland tones of our sins, but Jesus stands out in full color, fully human as well as fully divine.
An increased awareness of sin helps us look to Jesus for redemption, to put all our hope in him. In keeping the spirit of Lent, we recognize again that without the grace won by the blood of Jesus, we are mostly powerless to make ourselves better. There is power for transformation and new life in the cross of Christ and in his resurrection that we will soon celebrate.