Sunday, April 1, 2007
Pope Benedict XVI Celebrates Palm Sunday

Pope Benedict XVI presided at Mass to commemorate Palm Sunday today. Below is his homily, as translated by Zenit. Bold statements are my own emphasis.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Palm Sunday procession we join ourselves to the crowd of disciples who, in festive joy, accompany the Lord in his entrance into Jerusalem. Like them we praise the Lord in a loud voice for all the great deeds we have seen. Yes, we too have seen and continue to see the great deeds of Christ: how he brings men and women to renounce the comforts of life and put themselves completely at the service of the suffering; how he gives courage to men and women to oppose violence and lies, to make a place in the world for truth; how he, in secret, leads men and women to do good for others, to bring about reconciliation where there was hate, to create peace where enmity reigned.

This procession is above all a joyous testimony that we give to Christ, in whom the face of God is made visible to us and thanks to whom the heart of God is open to all of us. In the Gospel of Luke, the account of the beginning of the procession on the outskirts of Jerusalem is composed in part on the model of the rite of coronation with which, according to the First Book of Kings, Solomon was made heir to David's kingship (cf. 1 Kings 1:33-35).

Thus the procession of palms is also a procession of Christ the King: We profess the kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as son of David, the true Solomon -- the King of peace and justice. Recognizing him as King means accepting him as the one who shows us the way, the one to whom we entrust ourselves and whom we follow. It means accepting his word every day as the valid criterion for our life. It means seeing in him the authority to whom we submit ourselves. We submit ourselves to him because his authority is the authority of truth.

The procession of palms is -- as it was then for the disciples -- above all an expression of joy, because we can know Jesus, because he allows us to be his friends, and because he has given us the key of life. This joy, that is at the beginning, is also, however, the expression of our "yes" to Jesus and of our availability to go with him wherever he takes us. The exhortation at the beginning of today's liturgy therefore rightly interprets the procession also as a symbolic representation of that which we call "the following of Christ": "Let us ask for the grace to follow him," we said. The expression "the following of Christ" is a description of the whole Christian existence. In what does it consist? What does "the following of Christ" mean concretely?

At the beginning, with the first disciples, the meaning was very simple and immediate: It meant that these persons had decided to leave their profession, their affairs, their whole life, to go with Jesus. It meant a new profession: that of disciple. The basic content of this profession was to go with the master, to entrust oneself entirely to his guidance. Thus the following was an external thing and at the same time something very internal.

The external aspect was walking behind Jesus in his travels through Palestine; the internal aspect was the new existential orientation, which no longer had its points of reference in matters, in the career that determined one's life previously, in one's personal will; instead one surrendered oneself totally to the will of an Other. Being at his service had by now become the reason for living. The renunciation that this demanded from what one once possessed, the detachment from self, we can see in a very clear way in certain scenes of the Gospel.

But with that, it is also evident what the following means and what its true essence is for us: It has to do with an interior change of life. It demands that I no longer be closed in considering my self-realization as the principal purpose of my life. It demands that I give myself freely to an Other -- for truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, precedes me and points out the way.

What we are talking about here is the fundamental decision to no longer consider utility and gain, career and success as the ultimate goal of life, but to recognize truth and love instead as the authentic criteria. We are talking about the choice between living for myself and giving myself -- for what is greater. And let us understand that truth and love are not abstract values; in Jesus Christ they have become a person. Following him, I enter into the service of truth and love. Losing myself, I find myself.
Let us return to the liturgy and to the procession of palms. The liturgy provides Psalm 24 for the song; this was also used in Israel as a processional song for the ascent of the temple mount. The psalm interprets the interior ascent of which the external ascent is an image, and explains to us once again what it means to ascend with Christ.

"Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?" the psalm asks, and it indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and really want to get to the top, to arrive at the true height, must be persons who ask themselves about God. They must be persons who look about themselves in search of God, in search of his face. My dear young friends, how important this is today: not allowing yourselves to be carried here and there by life; not being satisfied with what everyone thinks, says and does. Be attentive to God, seek God. We must not let the question about God dissolve in our souls. The desire for what is greater. The desire to know him -- his face …

The other very concrete condition for the ascent is this: "He who has innocent hands and a pure heart" can stand in the holy place. Innocent hands -- hands that are not used for acts of violence. They are hands that are not dirtied by corruption, by bribes. A pure heart -- when is the heart pure? That heart is pure that does not pretend and does not sully itself with lies and hypocrisy. A heart that remains transparent like water rises up, for it does not know duplicity. That heart is pure that does not weary itself with the drunkenness of pleasure; a heart whose love is true and not only a passion of the moment. Innocent hands and a pure heart: If we walk with Jesus, we will ascend and find purification that carry us truly to that height for which man is destined: friendship with God himself.

Psalm 24 that speaks of the ascent ends with an entrance liturgy before the temple gate: "Lift up your heads, O gates; rise up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter." In the old liturgy of Palm Sunday, the priest, once he arrived at the church doors, knocked loudly with the staff of the cross at the closed doors, which were then opened. It was a beautiful image of Jesus himself who, with the wood of the cross, with the power of his love which he gives, knocked from the side of the world on God's door; from the side of a world that was unable to find access to God.
With the cross, Jesus opens wide the door of God, the door between God and men. Now it is open. But also from the other side the Lord knocks with his cross: He knocks at the door of the world, at the doors of our hearts, which so often and in such great numbers are closed to God. And he speaks to us more or less in this way: If the proofs that God gives of himself in creation do not succeed in opening you to him; if the word of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent -- then look at me, your Lord and your God.

It is this call that in this hour we let penetrate our hearts. May the Lord help us to open the door of our heart, the heart of the world, so that he, the living God, might, in his Son, arrive in our time and touch our lives. Amen.

Image Source: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

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