“Humility is above all God’s Way” and, it “must be the way of Christians”, Pope Francis said in his homily at mass on Palm Sunday in St Peter’s Square, attended by some 100,000 pilgrims and followed on TV by an estimated global audience of hundreds of millions.
The way of humility - “God’s way” – is “a way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!” he added.
But Christians are ever tempted by “the other way” – the way of the Evil One – “the way of vanity, pride and success”, he said. He urged them to reject that other way, just as the martyrs are doing in many places toda. Thus seemed to be a reference to the suffering of Christians in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as in Nigeria and Pakistan.
He delivered his profoundly challenging homily from the steps of St Peter’s, standing under a canopy, as the sun beat down from a clear blue sky on some 100 cardinals and bishops, and an enormous crowd from all continents, including thousands of young people. The young had come especially for the occasion ever since 1985 when John Paul II designated Palm Sunday as the World Day of Youth, in memory of the fact that young people hailed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the last time.
The Pope from Argentina recalled that throughout history “God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity” and lead them “on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.” And he walked with them in a very unique way in Jesus.
Earlier, at the start of the Palm Sunday ceremony, Francis blessed palms at the obelisk in the center of St Peter’s Square, and then followed the cardinals, bishops, clergy and young people in procession to the altar, singing hymns and carrying palms, in commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem before his passion and death.
Speaking after the reading of the Passion of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, the Pope told the pilgrims in the square and Christians worldwide, “This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!”
He recalled the various humiliations and sufferings that Jesus underwent at the end of his life and reaffirmed that, “God’s way is the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation”.
The first Jesuit pope in history explained that “humility also means service. It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says. This – the pouring out of oneself - is the greatest humiliation of all”.
But he warned Christians that “there is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ. It is worldliness, the way of the world. The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way”. His words re-echoed what he had first said to the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on 14 March 2013, in his first mass on the day after his election as pope.
On this Palm Sunday, he recalled how “the Evil One proposed this (other) way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it”. And he continues to propose it to Christians today but, the pontiff added, “With Jesus, and only by his grace, with his help, we too can overcome this temptation to vanity, to worldliness, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well”.
Pope Francis told his global audience that in following the path of humility, “We are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others : a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless…”
Christians are also helped to follow this path of humility, he said, when they reflect on “the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price”.
They are helped to take that path too, “When we think of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” – the martyrs of our own time.”
He concluded by encouraging Christians on this Holy Week to “set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for Jesus, our Lord and Savior”.
After the homily and the singing of the Credo, prayers were read in different languages: in Polish, for the Church worldwide; in French, for persecuted Christians; in Indonesian, for young people everywhere; in Chinese, “for those who seek the truth”; and in Swahili, for the poor and suffering of this world.
At the end of mass, before giving his blessing, the Pope prayed for the victims of the recent Germanwings air crash in the French Alps, in which 150 were killed, including many students.
He got a big cheer when he greeted the thousands of young people present in the square and encouraged them to continue the preparation in their home dioceses for the next World Youth Day (25-31 July 2016) which will be held in Krakow, Poland, “the homeland of St. John Paul II”, who initiated this event. He recalled that the theme for this international gathering is: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”, and added that this fits in well with the Holy Year of Mercy. He urged the young people, “Let yourselves be filled by the tenderness of the Father, so you can spread it around you!”
Note: Text of the Pope’s homily in English can be found here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150329_omelia-palme.html