The texts that Christians typically read on Palm Sunday have become so familiar to them that they probably don't sense their properly revolutionary power. But no first-century Jew would have missed the excitement and danger implicit in the coded language of the accounts describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem just a few days before his death.
Artistic representations of the Ten Commandments often depict two stone tablets on which there are two tables of inscriptions. This portrayal follows from a classical division of the commandments in which there are two specific categories—those that order humanity’s relationship with God and those that order human relationships with one another. If we consider the Bible as a totality, it becomes apparent that the Scriptures give priority to the first table, those commands dealing with God.
Some years ago, Holy Cross Father James Burtchaell published a seminal book entitled The Dying of the Light. The central thesis of this study was that hundreds of universities that began under religious auspices and for religious purposes—the University of Chicago, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, to name just some of the most prominent—have undergone so thorough an erosion of their original identities that now they are utterly secular in orientation. A particularly interesting feature of Burtchaell’s book was his analysis of the slow, subtle process by which the change from fervently religious to blandly secular took place: slight changes, little adjustments, tiny concessions barely noticed at the time, but all of them conducing finally toward the inevitable secularization. The Dying of the Light was meant to be a sobering lesson and a wake-up call to many Catholic universities today, which find themselves on a similar path to compromise.
One of the great icons in the Catholic Church today is Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York making his way up the aisle to commence Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While the congregation belts out the opening hymn, the good Archbishop thumps his episcopal crozier on the ground, beams at all and sundry, kisses babies, embraces young and old, calls out the names of friends he recognizes, and generally speaking, spreads good cheer in every direction. One would have to be either catatonic or positively Scroogian in temperament not to find the scene utterly delightful.
In my years as an observer of and commentator upon things religious, I’ve become rather accustomed to radical positions. There is just something about religion that can bring out the irrational in both its advocates and opponents. For the most part, therefore, over-the-top opinion pieces and Internet commentary just roll off my back, but occasionally something comes along that is so egregious and indefensible that I sit up and take notice. This happened twice last Sunday when I read editorials in the pages of the two major newspapers in my hometown.