Photo: Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square in Rome in April 2015
Like many people around the world, I’m participating in the mass to the extent that livestream and personal intention makes possible. Today, my friends and I watched a live broadcast of Bishop Barron’s Sunday mass for Palm Sunday. And as usual, Bishop Barron gave a wonderful homily about the Passion narrative we heard in today’s gospel. While it’s a long gospel that offers us much upon which to reflect, I found it striking that Bishop Barron did not discuss the pandemic at all.
Or did he?
I’m reminded of a literary and rhetorical device called “paralipsis” which comes from Greek and means “to omit,” or “to leave something on one side.” According to this source, “[Paralipsis] is defined as a rhetorical device in which an idea is deliberately suggested through a brief treatment of a subject, while most of the significant points are omitted. It is explained through the use of this device that some points are too obvious to mention. Also, paralipsis is a way of emphasizing a subject by apparently passing over it.”
In Bishop Barron’s homily, he spoke about “the downward trajectory of the Incarnation [… that] “though He was in the form of God, Jesus lowered Himself to share our humanity, but then He went all the way down, sharing our death, and even this terrible torturous death of the cross.”
He proceeds to say: “Now what’s being communicated? God’s own descent into our sin. […] So what we see now in this beautiful Passion reading from St. Matthew is a vivid description of Jesus’ entry into all of the dynamics of sin and death.”
Then, going through all the aspects of the narrative, Bishop Barron highlights the moral dysfunction of Jesus’ disciples — the pride, sloth, violence, denial, betrayal, cowardice, selfishness, and scapegoating exhibited throughout the story.
For a moment, this shepherd of the Church seemingly omits the drama of our own lives, leaving to the side that which is obvious and immediate to us. But in fact, it’s like an instance of paralipsis because what Bishop Barron is really offering is an examination of conscience, an opportunity for us to see the drama of sin and death in our own lives and, equally, to realize that that’s where “Jesus inserts Himself amidst all of it, going to the bottom of all of it.”
In not weaving the Passion and the pandemic together explicitly, Bishop Barron invites each of us to do so spiritually and reflectively as we live this Holy Week. And, as some friends pointed out, another purpose of not mentioning the pandemic explicitly might have been to remind the faithful that we live our lives as story within the Story (of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ) and that no matter how unprecedented these times may seem for us, nothing will be without precedent and without parallel compared to the major events that define our faith and that we celebrate this week.