An illuminating video from the always interesting Fr. Barron
The Nazareth Measure, Fr. Vincent McNabb (from an open letter to the Prime Minister)
From Greenwich learn the significance of Nazareth. Jerusalem was a metropolis as London is a metropolis. Nazareth was a village as, compared with London, Greenwich is a village. But Nazareth, like Greenwich, is the place where all the Sovereign Measures are verified and kept.
Greenwich time measures our day. Nazareth time is the measure of eternity. All our personal and social building, to be lasting, must be trued by the measures of that little school of seers whose names are the very music of life — Jesus, Mary, Joseph!
Most humbly, then, do I beseech your wisdom, if not you power, to pilgrim ever and anon to Nazareth lest you be found to have builded in vain. The time measure of Nazareth is nothing less than eternity; and the master of the measures none other than the Ancient of Days. Therefore in all your law-making be what Plato wished all men, and especially all lawmakers, to be: “spectators of all time and all existence.” The home of Nazareth recalls our poets words: “They dreamed not of a perishable home who thus could build”. Moreover the Nazareth Measure of length and weight and worth is the family — that terrestrial “Holy and Unduivided Three.” Let no guile of social usefulness betray you into hurting the authority of the Father, the chastity of the Mother, the rights and therefore the propety of the Child. Social and economic laws are more subtle but not less infallible than physical law. No programme of good intentions will undo mischief caused by an inteference with family life. As well try to arrest a thrown bomb by a plea of good intentions as try to prevent the final ruin of the state by the plea that our ruin of the family was well intentioned. Give no heed to the buyers and sellers who would make Whitehall seek its ultimate measures from Lombard Street and not from Greenwich. Englands final doom is not with the trader and his wares, but with the seer and his stars. And Nazareth, not Jerusalem, is the City of the Measures of God’s Kingdom on earth.
Fr. Vincent McNabb (1868 – 1943), was a Dominican monk and prolific author. He was both a popular Hyde Park preacher, and a respected Professor of philosophy. A close friend of both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, he was a leading advocate of Distributism and the Catholic land Movement. McNabb believed that industrialisation, urbanisation, and the wage-system had done immense harm to the spiritual health and happiness of society. Like many other distibutists McNabb believed that the solution to the ills of the modern world was a return to a small scale economy of independent small landowners, local self-reliance, and a renewal of Christian family life away from the over-crowding, inequality, and exploitation, of the industrial cities. Though influential in his time today McNabb is less well known than Chesterton and Belloc. The following extract is from his 1925 work The Church and the Land. It conveys the lyrical quality of his writing, and his passionate love for the joys of family, community, and simplicity.
From The Decay of Dancing, in The Church and the Land, FR. Vincent McNabb, 1925.
When Adam and his wife Eve walked through the paradise of earth, the birds made music in the trees. To that music the feet of the happy two wedded a dance. Song and dance ended when the serpent came; for in hell there is no song, but only noise; nor any graceful dance, but only hideous grimaces.
I have a thought that the dance, which met its death in the Garden with the coming of the serpent, came to life again when Adam took his first-born in his arms and dandled him in sheer joy of fatherhood. It was born again when Adam, reaped with song the first autumn fruits of seeds he had sown with tears in the darkness of winter. It is always a dance I see when I look upon the sewer casting his seed or the ploughman turning over the furrow, or the harvester swinging his sickle. Again, what can a man do but dance when he hears the flail song in threshing time — or the music of the churn when butter is a-making?
Only those who, through love of things as against tokens things, live on the land know what the dance is in its heart and being. Only away from the compression of the town have the feet of men and women room enough to shake off the divine fire of dancing. At the crossways they can dance when the sun or the moon is up. When rain falls or the storm is master of the sky and earth, each homestead has a threshing floor where the feet of these who dance come into their own on the noiseless clay.
A thousand pleas for dancing are found by those who live on the land. No men and women make such wedding feasts, or can find such good cheer to give their guests, or have such spacious places for the ritual of the dance. Mostly the dance is a lovely liturgy fitly caried out in the hallowed building of the home. The young and old take part in it; the young as actors, the old as judges and spectators. There in the sanctuary of home this ritual dance is a social thing, of as much joy to them who quietly sit and watch as to them who nimbly play their part in the thing or act itself.
Alas! as men have given up the land for the city, and home and homestead, for “rooms” or “flats”, even their dancing is under sentence of death. Where in Bayswater or Kilburn or Rotherhithe is there any home where a wedding dance can be housed? Just as men’s city eyes, that are now so far from green fields or the seas must be content with the “films” of these good things which they find to their cost in a Coliseum or Paladium (save the mark!), so when their feet are hungry and thirsty for the dance must they buy their place and perhaps their partner in some hall where the divine thing, which the blessed Angelico of Fiesole painted as the occupation of heaven, is set on foot by someone keen on the making of money! Industrialism has turned full wheel when even the divine act of dancing is but a device for increasing dividends.
The better sort of men and women lull their town restlessness for the dance by paying to see the professional dancer. Against these artists of a noble art we will allow no word to be said. But we would allow almost any word to be said against the state of things that has made it necessary for some of these artistes to make such gains by selling their art. When every home was a homestead and every homestead had its kitchen floor, or its spinning floor, or its threshing floor, and every lad or lass could hope to dance at countless village feasts or wedding banquets, there was no need for them to be spectators, being themselves actors. But now the spinning wheels have gone from the kitchen, the flail from the threshing floor, the ploughman from the furrow, and dancing from the land that dances in the autumn breeze, we must drug our grief by paying the professional to show us our dead selves in a maze of artificial art. R.I.P.
Pope Benedict XVI, Palm Sunday 2012
Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a “great multitude” following Jesus (cf. 10:46).
On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked. And the reply: “Master, let me receive my sight” (v. 51). Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry “Son of David”, a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?
The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.
But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen 12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.
Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).
Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?
Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994). Amen!
Poet Laurence Whistler wrote The English Festivals in 1947, a compendium of traditional customs and festivities that were then fast fading from English life. The reformation, the industrial revolution, and urbanisation, have all undermined the traditional cycle of festivals that once added so much colour, rythm and meaning to the year. The book is long since out of print, here is the chapter on Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday, Laurence Whistler. From The English Festivals, 1947.
On this Sunday, when boughs were bare and winds sharp in our dilatory Spring, it was the custom to go out into the woods and water-meadows, and cut, and bring into the house long wands of the willow or sallow, thick-studded with velvety buds, grey, pale-yellow or delicately pink, softer to touch than the bumble-bees they resembled.
About a century ago, when the woods and fields round London were still only a moderate walk from the centre — though year by year the gas lamps pushed them further away — the men and boys went ‘palming’ in good numbers. Presently they could be seen returning, slips of willow in their hats, buds of willow in their buttonholes, and even between their lips, and with their hands full of the branches. But these were townsmen: in the maze of new brickwork no accurate knowledge of flora survived. To them the tree they robbed was simply the palm, the authentic palm. And why did they rob it? Many could hardly have told us. They had always done it; and the expedition in an April dawn was enjoyable. If any were better informed, they certainly imagined those very same boughs thrown down on the road to Jerusalem.
“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way: others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.” In the Roman world, palm branches had always been strewn in the path of a hero. But here in the North, where the Mediterranean palm is unknown, we chose the willow to replace it because no other tree is so well advanced at this time of year. Brought into a warm room and stood in water, it continues to burgeon through-out Holy Week.
In the centuries before the Western Church was divided, we in England made much of this Sunday, when we brought our palms to the altar to be blessed. “I conjure thee, thou creature of flowers and branches… ” We circled the church by opposite routes, one file with a cross wrapped up, representing the world before Christ; one file with a glittering jewelled cross, “pricked full of palms.” No sooner had they met than “the bumbled cross vanished away”, and then there was singing and waving of boughs, the children throwing down flowers and cakes from the battlements. (Thomas Brecon, The Potation of Lent, 1542). So we walked in procession, “with the Blessed Sacrament reverently carried, as if it were Christ upon the Ass, with strawing of Bushes and Flowers, bearing of Palms, speading and hanging of the richest Clothes, the Quire and Quiristers singing, the Children and the People. And all done” we thought, “in a very godly ceremony, to the Honour of Christ, and the memory of his Triumph upon this day.”
But later we thought differently, and denounced the people we had been as if we were strangers to them, and so indeed we had become. “You Palm-Sunday Procession was horrible idolatry,” we now declared, “you turn the Holy Mystery of Christ’s riding to Jerusalem, to a May-game and Pageant Play.” (Henry Bourne, Antiquitates Vulgares, ed. Brand, 1777, p. 237).
A reasonable practice may become corrupt, and then the unmaskers of that corruption may fall into an opposite error. Opinions vary. Better to observe that in many houses the willow boughs are still to be seen on Palm Sunday, and in many churches little strips of the true palm, now sent from Spain, are looped and folded into the shape of a cross, blessed at the altar and there given away.
The Donkey, by G.K. Chesterton
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.