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4/2/23 Homily: The True Epic

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

In the Roman Missal, there are instructions on how to celebrate the liturgy written in small red print. For today—Palm Sunday, there’s an instruction, that the homily should be brief; so brief it shall be, relatively speaking.

I suppose the intent is to allow the proclaimed Passion to speak for itself. There’s great wisdom in that. The event that we recall today speaks to the human heart at the deepest level; not only to us as Catholics, but to every human heart. The soul is created to encounter the gospel we hear today, and pines after it, even unknowingly, until it’s at last received. What do I mean?

A very long time ago, a secular poet, we might describe him, who was perhaps the greatest poet of the ancient world, wrote two great epics: The Illiad and The Odyssey.

In the Illiad, the poet Homer tells the story of the Trojan War. The Achaean armies wage war against the Trojans over the abduction of Queen Helen. Twenty Greek gods and goddesses take sides in the war; and many battles take place over the course of a ten-year siege, ending with Troy’s destruction.

But the poem concludes in a surprising way. It doesn’t end with any mention of the politics between Greek gods and goddesses; it doesn’t end glorifying Agamemnon’s eventual victory over Troy; nor does it end glorifying the many victories of Achilles in battle. Rather, the poem ends, honoring Hector, the slain prince of Troy, the first born and beloved son of Priam, the defeated king of Troy.

In Homer’s other famous poem, the Odyssey, King Odysseus journeys back to his homeland after the Fall of Troy. Odysseus was the genius who devised, “The Trojan Horse”, through which Greek soldiers were able to sneak into Troy under the cover of darkness, which led to the downfall of Troy.

Even though the premise of the Odyssey is a king’s return to his country, we discover that the real hero of the poem is actually Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. In Odysseus’s absence, 108 men had wanted to marry Penelope, because many had assumed that Odysseus had died during the war.

But Penelope was able to delay her suitors. For many years, she continued to hope that her husband would come back to her one day. And eventually he did—disguised as a beggar. Despite her sorrow at her husband’s absence, Penelope remained faithful to the very end. The poem ends at their bedside, Penelope consoled at the king’s return.

In an ancient culture that valued power, glory, and honor, usually achieved through battle and war, what could possibly move the heart of their greatest poet to glorify a defeated king and a slain prince; and to honor a sorrowful woman?

The world would have its answer, 800 years after those poems were written, when the world witnessed the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of the Virgin Mother.

Today, we retell that glorious epic, on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. We honor the defeated king; our slain prince, crowned with thorns, who pardons us with pierced and glorious hands. And we marvel at the beauty of the sorrowful woman, who remains faithful forever.

That’s the message we were created for. We are evangelists of that message. Any other message—any other gospel—pales in comparison. Today, Saint Paul so beautifully heralds this message.

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in the likeness of men; And being found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has greatly exalted him, and bestowed upon him the Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus, every knee should bend, those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

My dear brothers and sisters, we bathe in this message this week. Our Holy Week has begun!

Christ Crucified, by Diego Velázquez, c. 1632, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, [Public Domain]


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