Sunday, April 5, 2009


A blessed Palm Sunday to all!

If you got your palms at a later Mass today, or if you kept your palms damp enough to work with, you might like these instructions for making a palm cross.

Of course, if you had the presence of mind to keep your palms damp you probably don't need the instructions; in fact, you've probably been making palm crucifixes complete with Corpus, "INRI" posted at the top, and other elaborate details. Or maybe you borrow from the Hindu craftsmen and make palm birds, which are dovelike enough to represent the Holy Spirit:

In either case, you're way too crafty for this blog. :)

As you've probably guessed by now, I have never successfully made a palm cross. It doesn't look all that hard, but somehow the minute I try it I find that several of my fingers have unaccountably become thumbs, the palm itself has the flexibility of either a pencil or a well-boiled piece of spaghetti--or both at the same time, which doesn't make sense to me either--and that the little folds and tucks you're supposed to make are impossibly complex, and don't work anyway.

But every Palm Sunday I see everyone from a busy mom (who seriously made the most elaborate palm cross I think I've ever seen) to tiny children happily weaving their palms into crosses, while the palms my family takes home end up in a loopy bunch as a bouquet in a simple green raiku pottery vase on top of my computer desk, where the Texas summer heat will further suck the moisture from them and shrink them down to a tiny fraction of their original size.

I've done other things with blessed palms, such as tuck them behind a religious picture or crucifix; but that only really works when you're bringing home one or two small palm fronds a year. Add some children, those same children's propensity for getting the largest palm branches available handed to them (you know, the kind that are really three or four palm fronds stuck together), and a few dozen years of bringing home anywhere from five to what seemed like three hundred palms at a time, and I had to find a new way to give these blessed items a place of honor where they could remind us of Christ's suffering, His gift of grace, and our struggle to live lives of holiness.

This raiku pottery vase is the newest iteration of my "palms in a vase" solution; there are still some displayed in a crystal bowl in the master bedroom, and those migrated from a smaller vase which they outgrew. I know that one can dispose of them, as one can of any blessed object which is no longer capable of use, by burning or by burying them; but I don't really mind having them around--it's such a "Catholic home" thing to have stashes of Palm Sunday palms, the botanical ghosts of Palm Sundays past, even to the point when they're rather dry unrecognizable sticks which will probably fall into ash by the slow action of the southwestern climate before anyone has to take a more active step toward their respectful disposal.

I've seen writings about burning the palms and burying the ashes in one's garden, or around the foundation of one's home, or of simply burying the palms in these places. It's a beatiful idea, and maybe when we truly reach palm overload we will attempt one of these things; I think that Thad has burned some old palms in the past, especially when we were moving from our old house (if it had been left to me, I'd have packed them in a box marked "kitchen and religious," but that's another story). But I like having the palms around in various states of decay, and I think I've finally figured out why.

The new palms from today are tall and still edged with green. They bend, but don't break unless you were to tear them. They seem flexible, but paradoxically they will spring back up to their upright position if I unfold them from their position in the vase.

Next to them are palms from last year (I got the vase last year, so I've only got two years' worth in them so far). They are fragile, becoming more brittle with each passing day. They've taken on a bowed appearance, content to remain curved in half even if they're removed from the vase.

In the bedroom are some truly old ones. Their sides have curled in upon themselves, making them like hollow tubes; they crackle when you hold them, and could easily be crushed. They probably ought to be burned or buried at this point; there is no use for them.

Palms symbolize triumph and victory. Through His glorious Passion, death on the Cross, and Resurrection Jesus was and is triumphant over sin and death. When the ashes of burned palms are smeared on our faces on Ash Wednesday, we hear "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." So we will still die; so where is the victory?

The victory, of course, is not over the death of the flesh, but over the eternal death of the soul. The victory is over sin and its power of enslavement to those evils which by our free choice cause us to turn from God and choose Hell and never ending punishment. The victory is over our fallen nature, our separation from God, and the habits of sin which keep us from Him.

So when I see those dessicated palms from years ago, I think of old sins, old bad habits, old ways of thinking and being which were once "full of life" in my daily existence, and which have now been rooted out long enough to have no power to tempt me, no allures to offer. When I see the branches from last year, humbly bowed in submission to the vase, I think of my Lenten intentions and resolutions from last year and of the ones I have, with more success than failure, succeeded in taming and thus in turning further away from sin. And when I see the branches from this year which still spring defiantly upright if I take them out of the vase for a second, I think of those sins I've tackled this Lent, and how without a resolution to remain steadfast in good practices beyond the Easter festival my sinfulness will be like those branches, impossible to humble, incapable of being reformed.

But this is not a depressing thought; it is a hopeful one. For as it took time, patience, and the actions of God through the natural world to turn those old palm branches into dusty shadows of their erstwhile glory, so does it take time, patience, and the abundant graces of God for us to be able to drain the allure of sin from those sins which tempt us most, and to see them for what they always were--small dead things that ought to have no power over us at all.

Hosanna to the King! Hosanna to the One Who brings the victory!


eutychus said...

If I may quibble, "The victory, of course, is not over the death of the flesh,..."

but it is a victory over the flesh as well is it not? Sure we creatures will see something akin to death this side of heaven, but Paul does not use the word, only referring to the saints which "have fallen asleep." On Easter morn we face an empty tomb and the promise of our own full resurrection in God's time. For we are more than spirit (like the angels) and more than flesh (like the animals) but a psychosomatic whole of spirit and flesh. When Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room, passing though the locked door his disciples thought him a ghost. But the wounds were there and he later ate that broiled fish. This says to me that the victory is indeed over the flesh as well as over the other areas which you so aptly described.
BTW- I see the broiled fish as a hopeful sign that in the great eschatological banquet there will be BBQ.

Red Cardigan said...

Quibble away, Eutychus! I never get theological terms right. :(

What I meant was that Christ didn't come to end the physical death we've all got to endure, and that it's best for us if our "death to sin" predates that event.

Is that better?

eutychus said...

Yup! Thanks for your patience with me.