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Putting the Palm in Palm Sunday

I love Lent. I love the opportunity that this season gives us to reflect and come closer to God. I love Ash Wednesday, meatless Fridays, and all the other reminders this season gives us to help us come closer to God. I   love how this season gives us several weeks-worth of opportunities to improve our spiritual lives and develops new habits that ultimately help us become better people.

I also love Palm Sunday. During the readings in mass today, I left the missal on the pew and simply listened to the scripture unfold before me. I imagined the woman anointing Christ with the oil from the alabaster jar. I imagined the indignation of the apostles as they rebuked her for wasting such an expensive item. I imagined Christ's response to her faith and remorse...his acceptance of her gift and his appreciation for her act and faith. I imagined Christ accepting all of this and this acceptance giving her a sense of peace. I imagined the comfort she must have felt when someone as holy and wonderful as Christ...someone who had ridden through the streets as people from all walks of life greeted him with palms and love. I imagined his acceptance having a great impact on her life...especially because she had been deemed imperfect and unworthy by so many others. Perhaps it was this reconciliation that bothered Judas...this willingness for Christ to simply love a woman like this...this willingness to accept such a frivolous child-like gift.

Yes, the jar of oil was ridiculously expensive and the money it was worth could have been used for a lot of great things. However, Christ saw beyond the value we put on material things. He saw, instead, the intense love and faith behind this woman's act...and he was moved by it. Perhaps it was this acceptance and forgiveness that ultimately led Judas to give in to that temptation that ultimately led to his betrayal. Perhaps he saw Christ's acceptance of this woman and so many other sinners before her as an act of betrayal and it was this love for the lowly that set him over the edge. We may never know.

So here's a little known fact about me...I, for the most part, cannot make a palm cross to save my life. Over the years, as my sisters mastered the art of folding the Palm Sunday palms into sturdy crosses that decorate the house for the next year (or longer), I end up giving up on the crosses I attempt and weaving it into rings....folding them up...tearing them into thin strips...and then placing them on some piece of furniture to act as some form of decor. Though I did manage to weave a palm into a mini-basket when I was in fifth grade...my toils are often in vain. I simply, for whatever reason, could not figure out how to make a cross. The closest I ever came was making crosses that fell apart into crumpled pieces of palm once I let go....

One of the only crafts I ever failed at...time and time again....
It only LOOKS this easy...
...THAT IS, UNTIL THIS YEAR.

This sounds really bad, but I spent most of mass working on my cross. Don't worry, I still paid attention to mass (and allowed my imagination to run free simply imagining Christ's Passion and imagining myself in the Gospel as the padre and parishioners read on). I am pretty great at multitasking when it allows my hands to make things, so I guess you can say that I prayerfully worked on the cross as I listened and envisioned Christ's sacrifice and love. I split the tough edges of the palm into tough twine-like pieces and tore them off. I then folded one of the palms (I had two or three) over itself and took the ends, folding them so that they fit perpendicular to the first piece. I wove them into each other to form a center to the cross that resembled a Celtic knot. It looked cool, but it wasn't finished. As the Roman soldiers placed the crown of thorns on Christ's head, I took one of the tough twine-like pieces and wove it around the top and base of the cross. It looked like a mini crown of thorns as I worked it. It did not seem to fit into the cross, but with enough work, it started blending into the whole appearance.

Forget awesome Celtic knot cross, my cross (once shaped with the threading of the tough palm edge) began to resemble a wooden St. Benedict cross necklace I own (it's a wooden teutonic cross with the St. Benedict cross and prayer medal in the middle). I modeled it a bit and had a crazy idea to make it a bit more like a maltese cross. I did this by splitting each of the 4 ends a few times, as I imagined the curtain of the temple tearing from top to bottom after Christ's death on the cross. The twine-like threads and Celtic knotting in the middle kept everything tightly bound at the center. By the time we were kneeling during the transubstantiation miracle part of mass, my cross had been complete for some time. However, I held onto it as I prayed.



I fell in love with it. In my own mind, it was perfect. It was so beautifully made...and I HAD MADE IT. It was the first cross that did not fall apart on itself by the time I had finished it. It looked absolutely awesome and I could not wait to give it a place of honor in my house or lab desk. I was SO excited about this cross.

Toward the end of mass, as we were collecting our things, one of the women sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I thought I had dropped something. However, it turned out that she really liked my cross and was offering me her own palms with the hope that I could make her one as well. Without a second thought and much to her delighted surprise, I offered her a trade. I parted with my awesome cross and took her palms. Yes, it was the first cross I had ever finished successfully. Yes, I fell in love with the cross and had awesome plans for it. However, she really liked it and I knew there was nowhere near enough time for me to make another one. Also, the readings were over and I could not be inspired to create another cross with as much prayer, love, and faith as I had had while I listened to the Gospel and worked through the first cross. I handed over my cross and explained to her that it was the first cross I had ever made. She was as surprised as I had been and I loved seeing her so excited about it. Her happiness (coupled with the Divine Mercy medal she wore) made it all worth it.

So what did I do with the palms she had given me? Well. I gave those away too. I thought of my Tio Ze during mass and felt compelled to visit his grave. I asked my dad if we could visit the grave at some point, but he ended up taking us all that very day after mass. We never found the grave. It is still recent and may not have a marker on it yet considering the fact that the cemetery only puts stones on the graves well after the ground has settled. Also, there were a number of new graves there...making it a lot harder to find the right one. However, as I looked for my uncle's grave, I found the grave of my cousin...his son. This cousin had been born with the same illness I had as a newborn. However, unlike me, this cousin had not survived beyond 5 days. Though I never knew this cousin (he had died well before I was born), I always felt a special tie to him. I could not help but cry when I stood before the grave, moved with pity for a child that had only lived a few days. I had crafted another cross between mass and our trip there and I left it nestled in a potted plant that had been left at his grave. I know he's in a better place now (my uncle had seen him along with my grandparents as he was passing away), but I cannot help but wish that I had gotten to know him.

I made a tiny, fragile cross out of the last bits of palm that I had gotten from the woman behind me. This one I left with my mom. We have a photograph of hers on a small table by the window in our living room. Behind her picture is a huge bouquet bouquet of red-hued flowers I bought at Michaels a year or so ago in a huge (and very beautiful) vase/candle centerpiece I won at a bridal shower. I placed the cross by this centerpiece, right next to the palm circlet I had woven together last Palm Sunday after failing miserably at my attempt to make a cross.

Pax Vobiscum

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