Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday is a day when so much is celebrated liturgically, it is hard to take it all in. We seem to either focus on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, or the readings relating to the Passion. They are so different to each other, that one cannot but be struck by the stark contrast in it all. The joy of the procession is almost like a foretaste of Easter. And yet there is great anguish too, because even while the triumphal entry was happening, Jesus was fully aware that in going up to Jerusalem, He was going to His death.
The apostles must have been really delighted with themselves to be seen with Jesus on that day, this man who was being so ecstatically heralded as the Messiah. And, Jesus knew that it was right that there be this joy, because He proclaimed when He was being asked to silence the people, "If these keep silence the stones will cry out". It is a day of great joy. But, it already carries the seeds of all the sorrow that will come and is itself a seed of the suffering and death that lies ahead, because it arouses the wrath of the authorities. So, it is a day of contrasts. Even though Jesus knows the end is near, He still goes ahead because He knows that His suffering and death are necessary to redeem the people.
Palm Sunday was the day that St Clare left home to join St Francis and so it was the start of her new life. She was a woman on fire with love and it was her burning love that enabled her to make this choice and embrace this new life with the Lord. But also, she knew the effect that it was going to have on her family so her decision to leave home was a bittersweet one. Although it was the birth of a new life, it also signalled the death to her old life. And, although there was the joy at starting out on a new life, she had to have known that her new life was also the way of death, in the sense that the seed must die in order to bring forth new life. So, all of the contrasts that appear to us in the liturgy of Palm Sunday were also present in Clare's heart as she ran away from home that night.
Neither Our Lord nor St. Clare wanted suffering for the sake of suffering. It is part of life for everyone and none of us can avoid it but, we can transform it into something redemptive for humanity. They embraced it because they were on fire with love for humanity and so they gave their all. They looked ahead to the final goal and this gave them the perspective to see that it was worth the cost.
Though St Clare lived in the cloister, she broke the alabaster jar of her body and the fragrance filled the Church.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all."
(from the hymn "When I behold the Wondrous Cross")
We know that this is true. The love of Christ which we have all experienced in some measure, although sometimes it may seem like a distant memory, is so amazing. The fact that we have experienced it is also amazing and nothing that we can offer is sufficient to repay the Lord for it. Even if we had all of nature at our beck and call, it is nothing. This love "demands my soul, my life, my all." That is how Jesus responded to the love of the Father and He gave His life for us. That was how Clare responded to the love of Christ.
As we "Put out into the Deep" during Holy Week let us keep the words of St. Clare in mind:
"If you suffer with him, you shall reign with him; if you weep with him, you shall rejoice with him; if in union with him you die on the cross of tribulation you shall possess the heavenly mansions with him in the splendour of the saints"
(2nd Letter to St. Agnes)
"When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself" (Jn. 12:32). Raised up on the cross, Jesus has become God's offer of salvation for the whole human race. As we follow Francis in his missionary journeys we are led to La Verna and the stigmata; following Clare in her cloistered life leads to her sick-bed, since her illness began around the time Francis received the stigmata and continued through the second half of her life. Once again we can trace a remarkable correspondence in their charisms: they follow two paths that are equally 'missionary', itinerant preaching and the cloister, both culminating at the same point: the cross. These lovers desire to remain close to the Beloved not only along the path of poverty but also in his suffering (Cf. 2nd letter to St Agnes), desiring to fill up in their own flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. It is not enough simply to listen to Jesus and be willing to become a servant: it is necessary, above and beyond that, to embrace his destiny by making his cross one's own.
The 'success' of Francis and Clare lies in their complete abandonment of self to the One who never ceases to have incredible confidence in us. They responded with passionate love to the passionate love God has for us humans. They dared to risk everything. They threw themselves with complete abandon into a life of poverty, knowing it would lead them straight to the cross, to powerlessness and insignificance. Their logic was the Gospel logic of the seed that must die in order to bear fruit.