Lent is moving along and this Sunday, it’s carried on the shoulders of an ass. Today, Christians throughout the world commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into the Holy City Jerusalem. Since this sacred observance is celebrated every year, it can become almost mundane to Christians who regularly practice and live their faith.
If we’re not intentional, Palm Sunday can come and go and mean very little to us.
In the face of such a challenge, we have to slow the pace, look at the sacred event, and apply it to our lives by asking pointed questions, such as: Why is Palm Sunday important to me? What lessons can I draw from this event that can help me to be a better person and believer?
Of the many possible answers that we can draw from Palm Sunday, we should not overlook some of the obvious ones. In particular, we can look at the Beatitudes, which are the eight principal counsels and promises of happiness given to the human family by the Lord Jesus.
Of the eight promises, Palm Sunday directs us to the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” This association might surprise some people. Isn’t this the beatitude that’s all about sexual ethics?
While certainly this beatitude can be applied to the treatment of our bodies (or the bodies of others), its wisdom goes much deeper. And it is precisely this depth that allows it to be applied to Palm Sunday. But what lessons are contained in the depth of this beatitude?
What makes the heart pure is not just the absence of sin but also the transparency, kindness, and self-donation of love for God and our neighbor. When exercised selflessly, love purifies and orders our intellect, will, and emotions to God’s goodness.
This goodness motivates our love and allows our affections and desires to mature and our bodies to be disciplined according to virtue. A world marked by the impurity of selfishness often misrepresents love, but Saint John clarifies it for us in his New Testament letters when he writes: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Building off this, St. Paul gives a most excellent description of love: “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Often our affections and desires can challenge the purity of our hearts. Such an allure is given not only by lust but also by self-pity, immodesty, anger, disrespect, envy, and rash judgment. In the end, however it’s expressed, an impure heart seeks to objectify other people. It’s permeated by self-absorption and filled with such thoughts as: What can I get from this person? How can this other person give me pleasure or serve my purpose?
In contrast to this inclination, we are invited to seek a pure heart. And so, we must practice temperance, which always weighs what we want with our relationship with God, our own best good, and the authentic good of our neighbor. We must realize that our desires and affections are not an inviolate standard unto themselves. Simply because we feel something or want something does not make it right or good.
Our emotions and inclinations, our attractions and moments of arousal, all require the discernment of our reason and the scrutiny of temperance. Our passions can be whimsical and capricious at times, they can be dark and misguided, and so they must be ordered by virtue and our love for God and neighbor.
In understanding this beatitude more profoundly, we can see how it’s connected to the Lord Jesus on this Palm Sunday. The Lord entered the Holy City with a clean heart. He approached Jerusalem with no malice or vanity. He entered as himself, riding on an ass, and with a pure heart.
The Lord entered the Holy City seeking only goodness and the fulfillment of his vocation before God. He rode into Jerusalem with neither an ax to grind or a sword to wield. He approached with docility and love.
This is one of the beatitudinal lessons of Palm Sunday. And so, as the Lord rides upon an ass into his Passion, we are invited to pay attention, to see his witness, and to seek his purity of heart in ourselves and in the dealings of our world today.