LISTEN TO THE STONES

This Palm Sunday homily is based on Luke 19:28-40.

rocks

The liturgy of Palm Sunday is marked by the jubilant waving of palm leaves and the somber reading of the Passion narrative.

Talk about contrasts!

To the cheers of the crowd, our Lord enters the city of Jerusalem, riding a humble donkey. He does that not only to fulfill Scripture, but also to demonstrate the kind of kingdom he is inaugurating. In just a few days, Jesus will be exiting the same gate with the same crowd singing to a different tune: A total failure by every appearance, Jesus marches to a brutal death reserved for the worst criminals of the Roman Empire.

Two opposite extremes capture the great paradox that Holy Week divulges to us: The kingship of Jesus, but also his servanthood; his highness, but also his lowliness. We cannot appreciate the mysteries of Lent without taking this paradox to heart. And as in all paradoxes, they must always come together as a mystery.

The Holy Week liturgies will be full of stories and prayers about this paradox, and I hope we will all be able to participate in the services as much as we can. But the words we read and the stories we hear will not mean anything if we are not ready to receive the mysteries they offer.

Today’s Gospel reading on our Lord’s entry to Jerusalem provides a clue on how best to prepare ourselves. As our Lord enters the city, he is greeted with loud “Hosannas!” prompting the Jewish leaders to scold him. They ask him to tell the crowd to shut up.

But Jesus tells them, “I tell you, If these people were silent, the very stones would cry out!”

I think if we want to prepare for Holy Week, we need to learn to listen to the stones.

Yesterday a good friend took me to a redwood forest near San Francisco, and as expected, the national monument was swarming with tourists and tree-lovers. For there in Muir Wood you can find some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world, with the tallest measuring about 258 feet, and the oldest at least a thousand years old.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods

As we made our way through those magnificent trees, we invariably fell silent, gripped by a sense of awe for them.  What had these ancient trees seen and heard? Something about the texture of their bark reminded me of the calloused hands of laborers who have worked endless hours or the creased face of someone who has seen much joy and endured perhaps even more pain. They were so real, so full of wisdom.

Walking through these woods gave me a reverence not only for the trees, but also for the creeks, the stones, and the vast diversity of all created things. In that moment I remembered what it’s like to listen to the stones.

There is one reason we often no longer recognize their inanimate voices: We’ve lost our sense of the mystery of things. Thanks to the advances of science, we’ve convinced ourselves that we understand all these things completely. What we know about trees and stones, about the universe, what makes it tick–that’s all valuable scientific knowledge, but it’s not complete knowledge. We’ve forgotten that despite all the things we know about the universe, there is still much that we don’t know. The problem is not science, but scientism–the arrogant belief that we already have everything figured out.

As a result, the universe has ceased to enchant us. We’ve lost touch with its mystery, and we are in dire need of what the late philosopher Roy Bhaskar calls “a re-enchantment with reality.” To do this, we need to create enough space in our hearts and muster enough silence there lest we miss out on the graces in store for us this holy season.

The silence of stones and trees is like the silence of God. They seem wordless, even voiceless, but their silence speaks volumes and have the power to transform us. If we slow down enough and quiet down enough, we may hear it again: the whispering of trees and the singing of stones.

Let us pray that we will be granted the grace to walk humbly among God’s creation, knowing that we are called not so much to obtain the mastery of things, but only to behold their mystery–and that is enough.

As we enter into Jerusalem with Jesus, let us seek to hear the singing of stones. For only with a recognition and reverence for mystery will we catch a glimpse of the face of God as he hangs crucified on the cross.

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13 thoughts on “LISTEN TO THE STONES”

  1. Father, thank you for this point for reflection. I just read your piece in preparation for your Holy Week retreat and the actual silent retreat I am now on. Your line about silence allowing one to hear the whispers of the trees and the singing of stones is almost like the sign I saw outside my room — in silence, we might actually hear God’s footsteps. Thanks in advance for making us more in tune with God this Holy Week. Can’t wait for what’s in store.

  2. I was lucky enough, after 4 years of studying the Bible at Viterbo college, to take a trip to the holy land. Looking and touching the 2-3000 year old trees in the Garden of Gethsemane where our Lord prayed so fervently, was life changing, as was every aspect of the trip. The Gospel readings were never the same…they came alive… I’d been there…seen that..walked where Jesus walked. Saw the upper room and where they most likely dumped his bruied and broken body after the flogging before his Crucifixion. The Church of the Crucifixion, can’t remember name, but the church dedicated to the Crucifixion and where his body was layed. These are all PROBABILITIES as no one really knows for sure….but being in close proximity was life changing.

  3. Thanks for this reflection. I had a very similar experience at Muir Woods – the silence, light and shadows and the clarity of the flowing water and the reflections spoke of something ancient but ever new, still but alive. I was at Palm Sunday mass and interestingly the song that struck me was Tree of Life by Aaron Thompson with Ed Bolduc.

    “Turn our hearts,
    turn our minds,
    make us branches
    holding fast to the vine.

    Patient Keeper,
    draw us to Your tender mercy,
    Tree of Life. . .

    Deep within us we are needful
    of a clean heart day by day. . .

    As we travel on our journey
    take our hearts and make them new.
    Jesus walked this road before us
    as our God, but human, too.”

    Thank you for your reflection which prepares us for the mysteries of these upcoming holy days.

  4. Dear Fr Johnny

    How much I agree with your sentence: ” The problem is not science, but scientism–the arrogant belief that we already have everything figured out.” Scientism, this drift of scientific knowledge, is a arrogant pretentiousness of the human being to reduce the real, the universe and therefore the truth only to capabilities of his reasoning and to things and phenomena he perceives through his 5 senses which are naturally limited. Your sentence strikes our human vanity and invites us to be modest.
    Shouldn’t we go looking for the origin of this assumption in the Cartesian postulate “I think therefore I am” which establishes the “I” in the subjective center of the universe? To say this is not to reject the immense scope of scientific knowledge and its beneficial contributions for the mankind but is refusing the pretentiousness of scientism. I cannot answer this question of a erudite or philosophical way.
    However it seems to me that beyond the frontiers of well established scientific knowledge, extends an immense reality which Jesus suggests by his “numerous miracles” and especially by its elliptical reply to Pilate (John 18, 36) ” My kingdom is not of this world ”
    Does not our earth, our earthly world, God’s creation, reflect the infinitely beauty of His otherworldly realm? Great thanks to you to remind us in this Palm Sunday that if we can “create enough space in our hearts and muster enough silence, ..; we may hear it again: the whispering of trees and the singing of stones.” And so to hear His truth by listening to His voice. Because “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

  5. The value, importance of silence to be able to hear the whispering of trees, the singing of stones, that’s the challege I face today.

  6. Captivating! The “singing of stones”, the “whispering of trees”__ the “sound of silence”. Father J, this must be the “stillness” that you reflected on a few homilies ago. May we be blessed with the grace to be still and listen. Thank you. I am so looking forward to this week’s retreat.

  7. A fitting piece to mark the beginning of Holy Week. And with so many of us planning the annual exodus out of the city, may your reflection serve as a base from which more reflecting can be done, when many will be getting reacquainted with God’s gifts—the trees, the water and the stones outside the chaos of Manila. Here’s hoping such reflections can be done with the quiet that is needed—to hear His response to our prayers…..

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