POPE BENEDICT XVI HOMILIES ON PALM SUNDAY YEAR B
POPE BENEDICT XVI
HOMILIES ON PALM SUNDAY YEAR B
Palm Sunday Year B,
1st April 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign for ever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had set out towards Jerusalem in company with the Twelve, and that little by little a growing crowd of pilgrims had joined them. Saint Mark tells us that as they were leaving Jericho, there was a “great multitude” following Jesus (cf. 10:46).
On the final stage of the journey, a particular event stands out, one which heightens the sense of expectation of what is about to unfold and focuses attention even more sharply upon Jesus. Along the way, as they were leaving Jericho, a blind man was sitting begging, Bartimaeus by name. As soon as he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, he began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). People tried to silence him, but to no avail; until Jesus had them call him over and invited him to approach. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked. And the reply: “Master, let me receive my sight” (v. 51). Jesus said: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regained his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way (cf. v. 52). And so it was that, after this miraculous sign, accompanied by the cry “Son of David”, a tremor of Messianic hope spread through the crowd, causing many of them to ask: this Jesus, going ahead of us towards Jerusalem, could he be the Messiah, the new David? And as he was about to enter the Holy City, had the moment come when God would finally restore the Davidic kingdom?
The preparations made by Jesus, with the help of his disciples, serve to increase this hope. As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Mk 11:1-10), Jesus arrives in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, that is, the route by which the Messiah was supposed to come. From there, he sent two disciples ahead of him, telling them to bring him a young donkey that they would find along the way. They did indeed find the donkey, they untied it and brought it to Jesus. At this point, the spirits of the disciples and of the other pilgrims were swept up with excitement: they took their coats and placed them on the colt; others spread them out on the street in Jesus’ path as he approached, riding on the donkey. Then they cut branches from the trees and began to shout phrases from Psalm 118, ancient pilgrim blessings, which in that setting took on the character of messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (v. 9-10). This festive acclamation, reported by all four evangelists, is a cry of blessing, a hymn of exultation: it expresses the unanimous conviction that, in Jesus, God has visited his people and the longed-for Messiah has finally come. And everyone is there, growing in expectation of the work that Christ will accomplish once he has entered the city.
But what is the content, the inner resonance of this cry of jubilation? The answer is found throughout the Scripture, which reminds us that the Messiah fulfils the promise of God’s blessing, God’s original promise to Abraham, father of all believers: “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you … and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen 12:2-3). It is the promise that Israel had always kept alive in prayer, especially the prayer of the Psalms. Hence he whom the crowd acclaims as the blessed one is also he in whom the whole of humanity will be blessed. Thus, in the light of Christ, humanity sees itself profoundly united and, as it were, enfolded within the cloak of divine blessing, a blessing that permeates, sustains, redeems and sanctifies all things.
Here we find the first great message that today’s feast brings us: the invitation to adopt a proper outlook upon all humanity, on the peoples who make up the world, on its different cultures and civilizations. The look that the believer receives from Christ is a look of blessing: a wise and loving look, capable of grasping the world’s beauty and having compassion on its fragility. Shining through this look is God’s own look upon those he loves and upon Creation, the work of his hands. We read in the Book of Wisdom: “But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made … thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living” (11:23-24, 26).
Let us return to today’s Gospel passage and ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: “Crucify him!”, while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, was disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?
Dear young people, present here today, this, in a particular way, is your Day, wherever the Church is present throughout the world. So I greet you with great affection! May Palm Sunday be a day of decision for you, the decision to say yes to the Lord and to follow him all the way, the decision to make his Passover, his death and resurrection, the very focus of your Christian lives. It is the decision that leads to true joy, as I reminded you in this year’s World Youth Day Message – “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). So it was for Saint Clare of Assisi when, on Palm Sunday 800 years ago, inspired by the example of Saint Francis and his first companions, she left her father’s house to consecrate herself totally to the Lord. She was eighteen years old and she had the courage of faith and love to decide for Christ, finding in him true joy and peace.
Dear brothers and sisters, may these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their “Hosanna!”, and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. But we must respond worthily to so great a gift, that is to say, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us. The early Church Fathers saw a symbol of all this in the gesture of the people who followed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem, the gesture of spreading out their coats before the Lord. Before Christ – the Fathers said – we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. As we conclude, let us listen once again to the words of one of these early Fathers, Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete: “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ … so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet … let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death. Today let us too give voice with the children to that sacred chant, as we wave the spiritual branches of our soul: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel’” (PG 97, 994). Amen!
© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Palm Sunday Year B,
24th World Youth Day
Sunday, 5 April 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young People,
Together with a growing multitude of pilgrims, Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover. In the final stage of the journey, near Jericho, he had healed blind Bartimaeus, who called upon him as Son of David, pleading for mercy. Now – having received his sight – he had gratefully joined the group of pilgrims. At the gates of Jerusalem, when Jesus sat upon a donkey, an animal symbolizing the Davidic kingship, there spontaneously arose among the pilgrims the joyful conviction: It is He, the Son of David! Accordingly, they greet Jesus with the messianic acclamation: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, and they add: “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mk 11:9f.). We do not know exactly what the enthusiastic pilgrims imagined the coming kingdom of David would be like. But what about us, have we truly understood the message of Jesus, the Son of David? Have we grasped what is meant by the Kingdom of which He speaks during his interrogation with Pilate? Do we understand what it means to say that this Kingdom is not of this world? Or would we actually prefer that it were of this world?
In Saint John’s Gospel, after the account of the entry into Jerusalem, there follows a series of sayings in which Jesus explains the essential content of this new kind of Kingdom. On a first reading of these texts, we can distinguish three different images of the Kingdom in which the same mystery is reflected in a number of different ways. John recounts, first of all, that during the feast there were some Greeks among the pilgrims who “wanted to adore God” (cf. 12:20). Let us note the fact that the true intention of these pilgrims was to adore God. This corresponds perfectly to what Jesus says on the occasion of the cleansing of the Temple: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mk 11:17). The true purpose of the pilgrimage must be that of encountering God; adoring him, and thus rightly ordering the fundamental relationship of our life. The Greeks are searching for God, their lives are a journey towards God. Now, through the two Greek-speaking Apostles, Philip and Andrew, they convey this request to the Lord: “We wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). These are stirring words. Dear friends, we have gathered here for the same reason: we wish to see Jesus. With this end in view, thousands of young people travelled to Sydney last year. No doubt they will have had many different expectations in making this pilgrimage. But the essential objective was this: we wish to see Jesus.
Concerning this request, what did Jesus say and do at the time? It does not emerge clearly from the Gospel whether any meeting took place between those Greeks and Jesus. Jesus takes a much longer view. The essence of his response to those people’s request is this: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). In other words: what matters here is not a brief conversation with one or two people who then return home. I will come, like a grain of wheat that has died and is risen, in a manner that is totally new and beyond the limits of the moment, to encounter the world of the Greeks. Through the resurrection, Jesus surpasses the limits of space and time. As the Risen One, he is journeying towards the vast horizon of the world and of history. Yes indeed, as the Risen One he goes to the Greeks and speaks with them, he shows himself to them in such a way that they who are far away become near, and it is in their language, in their culture, that his word is carried forward in a new way and understood in a new way – his Kingdom comes. Thus we can recognize two essential characteristics of this Kingdom. The first is that it comes by way of the cross. Since Jesus gives himself completely, then as the Risen One he can belong to all and become present to all. In the holy Eucharist, we receive the fruit of the grain of wheat that died, the multiplication of the loaves that continues to the end of the world and throughout all time. The second characteristic is this: his Kingdom is universal. The ancient hope of Israel is fulfilled: this Davidic kingship no longer has boundaries. It extends “from sea to sea” – as the prophet Zechariah says (9:10) – in other words, it embraces the whole world. Yet this is possible only because it is not a kingship of political power, but is based solely on the free adherence of love – a love which, for its part, is a response to the love of Jesus Christ who gave himself for all. I think that above all we must learn these two things over and over again – universality and catholicity. This means that no-one can propose himself, his culture, his generation and his world as an absolute. It means that we all have to accept one another, renouncing something of ourselves. Universality includes the mystery of the cross – going beyond ourselves, obeying the communal word of Jesus Christ in the communal Church. Universality is always a transcending of ourselves, a renunciation of something that is ours. Universality and the cross go together. Only thus is peace created.
The saying about the grain of wheat that dies is still located within Jesus’ response to the Greeks, in fact it is his response. Then, however, he goes on to formulate once again the fundamental law of human existence: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). In other words, the one who wants to have his life for himself, living only for himself, keeping everything to himself and exploiting all its possibilities – is actually the one who loses his life. Life becomes boring and empty. Only by self-abandonment, only by the disinterested gift of the “I” in favour of the “you”, only in the “yes” to the greater life, the life of God, does our life also become broad and great. Thus this fundamental principle established by the Lord is ultimately identical to the principle of love. Love, in fact, means letting go of oneself, giving oneself, not wanting to possess oneself, but becoming free from oneself: not retiring into oneself – (what will become of me?) – but looking ahead, towards the other – towards God and towards the men that he sends to me. And once again, this principle of love, which defines man’s path, is identical to the mystery of the cross, to the mystery of death and resurrection that we encounter in Christ. Dear friends, perhaps it is relatively easy to accept this as the fundamental great vision of life. In practice, however, it is not a question of simply recognizing a principle, but of living according to the truth that it contains, the truth of the cross and resurrection. Hence, once again, a single great decision is not enough. It is certainly important, it is essential to dare to take the great fundamental decision once, to dare to utter the great “yes” that the Lord asks of us at a certain moment of our lives. But the great “yes” of the decisive moment in our life – the “yes” to the truth that the Lord puts before us – must then be won afresh every day in the situations of daily life when we have to abandon our “I” over and over again, placing ourselves at the Lord’s disposal when deep down we would prefer to cling to our “I”. An upright life always involves sacrifice, renunciation. To hold out the promise of a life without this constant re-giving of self, is to mislead. There is no such thing as a successful life without sacrifice. If I cast a glance back over my whole life, I have to say that it was precisely the moments when I said “yes” to renunciation that were the great and important moments of my life.
At the end of the passage, Saint John uses a modified form of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Olives in his redaction of our Lord’s “Palm Sunday” sayings. First comes the statement: “my soul is troubled” (12:27). Here we see Jesus’ fear, amply illustrated by the other three evangelists – his fear before the power of death, before the whole abyss of evil that he sees and into which he must descend. The Lord suffers our fears together with us, he accompanies us through the final anguish into the light. Then, in John’s narrative, Jesus makes two petitions. The first, expressed only conditionally, is this: “What shall I say – Father, save me from this hour?” (12:27). As a human being, even Jesus feels impelled to ask that he be spared the terror of the passion. We too can pray in this way. We too can grumble before the Lord, like Job, we can present him with all the pleas that arise within us when we are faced with the injustice of the world and the difficulty of our own “I”. When we come before him, we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a world of make-believe. Praying always also means struggling with God, and like Jacob, we can say to him: “I will not let you go, unless you bless me!” (Gen 32:26). But then comes Jesus’ second petition: “Glorify your name!” (Jn 12:28). In the Synoptics, it is expressed in another way: “Not my will, but yours be done!” (Lk 22:42). In the end, God’s glory, his lordship, his will, is always more important and more true than my thought and my will. And this is the essential point in our prayer and in our life: learning this right order of reality, accepting it intimately; trusting in God and believing that he is doing what is right; that his will is truth and love; that my life becomes good if I learn to adhere to this right order. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are for us the guarantee that we can truly trust God. It is in this way that his Kingdom is realized.
Dear Friends! At the end of this liturgy, the young people of Australia will hand over the World Youth Day Cross to their counterparts from Spain. The Cross is on a journey from one side of the world to the other, from sea to sea. And we are accompanying it. With the Cross, we move forward along its path and thus we find our own path. When we touch the Cross, or rather, when we carry it, we touch the mystery of God, the mystery of Jesus Christ. The mystery that God so loved the world – us – that he gave his only-begotten Son for us (cf. Jn 3:16). We touch the marvellous mystery of God’s love, the only genuinely redemptive truth. But we also touch the fundamental law, the constitutive norm of our lives, namely the fact that without this “yes” to the Cross, without walking in communion with Christ day by day, life cannot succeed. The more we can make some sacrifice, out of love for the great truth and the great love, out of love for the truth and for God’s love, the greater and richer life becomes. Anyone who wants to keep his life for himself loses it. Anyone who gives his life – day by day in small acts, which form part of the great decision – that person finds it. This is the challenging, but also profoundly beautiful and liberating truth that we wish to enter into, step by step, as the Cross makes its journey across the continents. May the Lord bless this journey. Amen.
© Copyright 2009 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Palm Sunday Year B,
Saint Peter’s Square
XXI World Youth Day
Sunday, 9 April 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
For 20 years, thanks to Pope John Paul II, Palm Sunday has become in a special way a day for youth – the day on which all young people across the world go to meet Christ, eager to accompany him to their cities and their countries, so that he may be among us and establish his peace in the world. However, if we want to encounter Jesus and then to walk with him on his path, we must ask: on what path does he want to lead us? What do we expect of him? What does he expect of us?
To understand what happens on Palm Sunday and to know what this means, not only for that hour but for all time, one detail has proved to be important; it also became the key to understanding the event for his disciples too, when they looked back after Easter with new eyes at those tumultuous days.
Jesus entered the Holy City riding on a donkey, that is, the animal of the simple, common country people, and moreover, it was an ass that did not belong to him but one he had asked to borrow for the occasion.
He did not arrive in an ostentatious royal carriage or on horseback like the great figures of the world, but on a borrowed donkey. John tells us that at first the disciples did not understand his action. Only after Easter did they realize that Jesus, by so acting, was fulfilling what the prophets had foretold: that his action derived from God’s Word and was bringing it to fulfilment.
It should be remembered, John said, that in the Book of the Prophet Zechariah we read: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on the colt of an ass” (Jn 12: 15; cf. Zec 9: 9). To understand the significance of the prophecy and, consequently, of Jesus’ behaviour, we must listen to the whole of Zechariah’s text, which continues thus: “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (cf. 9: 10).
With that, the Prophet says three things about the future king. In the first place he says that he will be a king of the poor, a poor man among the poor and for the poor. In this case poverty is meant in the sense of the anawim of Israel, of those believing and trusting souls that we meet around Jesus – in the perspective of the first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount.
A person can be materially poor yet his heart can be full of greed for wealth and for the power that derives from it. The very fact that he lives with envy and covetousness shows that, in his heart, he is one of the rich. He wants to reverse the division of goods so that he himself can take over the situation that was previously theirs.
The poverty that Jesus means – that the prophets mean – presupposes above all inner freedom from the greed for possession and the mania for power. This is a greater reality than merely a different distribution of possessions, which would still be in the material domain and thereby make hearts even harder. It is first and foremost a matter of purification of heart, through which one recognizes possession as responsibility, as a duty towards others, placing oneself under God’s gaze and letting oneself be guided by Christ, who from being rich became poor for our sake (cf. II Cor 8: 9).
Inner freedom is the prerequisite for overcoming the corruption and greed that devastate the world today. This freedom can only be found if God becomes our richness; it can only be found in the patience of daily sacrifices, in which, as it were, true freedom develops. It is the King who points out to us the way to this goal: Jesus, whom we acclaim on Palm Sunday, whom we ask to take us with him on his way.
The second thing the prophet shows us is that this king will be a king of peace: he will cause chariots of war and war horses to vanish, he will break bows and proclaim peace.
This is brought about in Jesus through the sign of the Cross. The Cross is the broken bow, in a certain way, God’s new, true rainbow which connects the heavens and the earth and bridges the abysses between the continents. The new weapon that Jesus places in our hands is the Cross – a sign of reconciliation, of forgiveness, a sign of love that is stronger than death.
Every time we make the Sign of the Cross we should remember not to confront injustice with other injustice or violence with other violence: let us remember that we can only overcome evil with good and never by paying evil back with evil.
The third affirmation of the prophet is the preannouncement of universality. Zechariah says that the kingdom of the king of peace extends “from sea to sea… to the ends of the earth”. The ancient promise of the earth, made to Abraham and to the Fathers, is replaced here by a new vision: the domain of the Messianic King is no longer a specific country that would later necessarily be separated from other countries and hence, inevitably, would take a stance against them. His country is the earth, the whole world.
He creates unity in the multiplicity of cultures, overcoming every boundary. By perceptively penetrating the clouds of history that separated the Prophet from Jesus, we see in this prophecy, emerging from the distant horizon of prophecy, the network of Eucharistic communities that embraces the earth, the whole world – a network of communities that constitutes Jesus’ “Kingdom of peace”, which extends from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth.
He comes in all cultures and all parts of the world, everywhere, in wretched huts and in poor rural areas as well as in the splendour of cathedrals. He is the same everywhere, the One, and thus all those gathered with him in prayer and communion are also united in one body. Christ rules by making himself our Bread and giving himself to us. It is in this way that he builds his Kingdom.
This connection becomes quite clear in the other words from the Old Testament which characterize and explain the Palm Sunday liturgy and its special atmosphere. The crowds acclaim Jesus: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Mk 11: 9; Ps 118: 25ff.).
These words are part of the rite of the Feast of Tabernacles, during which the faithful move in a circle around the altar, holding in their hands branches of palm, myrtle and willow.
Now, their palms in their hands, the people raise this cry before Jesus, in whom they see the One who comes in the name of the Lord. The phrase: “He who comes in the name of the Lord”, in fact, had long before become the designation of the Messiah.
In Jesus, they recognize the One who truly comes in the name of the Lord and brings God’s presence among them. In the Church, this cry of hope of Israel, this acclamation of Jesus during his entry into Jerusalem, has with good reason become the acclamation of the One who comes in the Eucharist to meet us in a new way. We greet with the cry of “Hosanna!”, the One who brought God’s glory to the earth in flesh and blood.
We greet the One who came yet always remains, the One who is to come. We greet the One who, in the Eucharist, always comes to us again in the name of the Lord, thus joining the ends of the earth in God’s peace.
This experience of universality is an essential part of the Eucharist. Since the Lord comes, we emerge from our exclusive forms of particularism and enter into the great community of all who are celebrating this holy sacrament. We enter his Kingdom of peace and in him, in a certain way, we greet all our brothers and sisters to whom he comes, to become truly a kingdom of peace in the midst of this lacerated world.
All three characteristics announced by the Prophet – poverty, peace, universality – are summed up in the sign of the Cross. Therefore, with good reason, the Cross has become the centre of the World Youth Days.
There was a time – and it has not yet been completely surmounted – in which Christianity was rejected precisely because of the Cross. The Cross speaks of sacrifice, it was said, the Cross is the sign of the denial of life. Instead, we want life in its entirety, without restrictions and without sacrifices. We want to live, all we want is to live. Let us not allow ourselves to be limited by precepts and prohibitions; we want richness and fullness – this is what was said and is still being said.
All this sounds convincing and seductive; it is the language of the serpent that says to us: “Do not be afraid! Quietly eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden!”.
Palm Sunday, however, tells us that the great “Yes” is precisely the Cross, that the Cross itself is the true tree of life. We do not find life by possessing it, but by giving it. Love is a gift of oneself, and for this reason it is the way of true life symbolized by the Cross.
Today, the Cross that was recently the focus of the World Youth Day in Cologne is being consigned to a special delegation so that it may begin the journey to Sydney, where in 2008 the youth of the world are planning to meet again around Christ to build with him the Kingdom of peace.
From Cologne to Sydney – a journey across continents and cultures, a journey through a world torn and tormented by violence! Symbolically, it is like the journey the prophet pointed out from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth. It is the journey of the One who, in the sign of the Cross, gives us peace and makes us become messengers of reconciliation and of his peace.
I thank the young people who will now carry this Cross, in which we can as it were touch the mystery of Jesus on the highways of the world. Let us pray that at the same time, it will touch us and open our hearts, so that by following his Cross we will become messengers of his love and his peace. Amen.
© Copyright 2006 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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