March 24, 2013, Sunday — “Prepare well”

“Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”–Pope Francis, Homily, Palm Sunday Mass, this morning in St. Peter’s Square, to young people planning to go to World Youth Day in Brazil in July

Also, will the Pope go to Jerusalem? He’s been invited… (see below…)

The Unique King: Joy, the Cross, the Young….

Pope Francis today, 11 days after his election as Pope, celebrated the first, joyous, Palm Sunday Mass of his pontificate.

He used the occasion, in his homily, to emphasize the contrast between the joy of Jesus’ wonderful entry in Jerusalem — “praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air” — and the suffering that awaits Jesus in just a few short days — “Jesus enters Jerusalem to die on the cross.”

(Pope Francis this morning in front of the Vatican obelisk to bless the palms for Palm Sunday. Behind him to the right is his Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, who was also Master of Ceremonies under Pope Benedict XVI)

Special note: On the obelisk are written the words: “Plebem suam defendat.” Not shown are the words above, which say “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat, ab omni malo“; so the words taken together mean “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules, may He defend his people from every evil.”)

Francis built his homily around three words: joy, cross, youth.

But, as on a several other occasions in the first days of his pontificate, he also referred to “the Evil One” (the devil), saying: “We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins! We must never grow accustomed to evil! With Christ we can transform ourselves and the world.”

His references to the devil, to the Evil One, as a reality, as a real factor (that is, actor, agent, doer, and so, evidently, as a personal being) in our world, have struck many, across the spectrum of Catholic and secular thought.

It will take time to grasp this Pope’s true meaning, the dimensions and nuances of his teaching on this subject, but we can take a first stab at an analysis. Clearly Francis is saying there is something “out there” that deceives, harms, must be fought against… or should I say, actually, someone who deceives, harms, must be fought against?

At the bedrock, in any case, Francis is saying that there is a real battle, that not everything, or everyone, is good, that choices must be made, difficult ones, to overcome “violence, corruption, injustice” and, not least, to overcome “your sins”…

In this sense, the essence of the Pope’s preaching is to return to reality. Christian realism. Far from “pie in the sky” Christian avoidance of tough struggles for earthly social justice, but also, and importantly, personal sanctity.

Francis’s actions have shown us that he wishes to live simply, poorly, with the poor. And his teaching is now echoing that: that we must work, and struggle, and be committed, first to Christ, then to our brothers and sisters, and in this way, with great realism, to “Incarnate” our faith.

And it is in this sense that he then turned to the question of World Youth Day, which is planned for July in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in July. He confirmed that he will go personally to Brazil (God willing), and he asked the young people to “prepare themselves,” saying: “Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”

Again, “prepare well” means to take the journey seriously, as one would prepare for any trip, gathering together what one needs, but in this case, the preparations are those of faith, of the spirit. We could imagine that more specific recommendations for this “preparation” may soon be given — prayer, study of the scriptures, discussion of the faith, spiritual reading, perhaps a study of Franciscan and Ignatian spirituality, a re-commitment to Christian life, a deepening participation in the sacraments. In short, a program of formation, which is also a program of renewal and reform, beginning with the young.

That seems to be Pope Francis’s meaning.

After celebrating Palm Sunday Mass, Pope Francis made his way through St. Peter’s Square in an open popemobile. He stopped many times along the way, blessing and kissing many babies and toddlers along the way. Once, the Pope got out of the vehicle to greet a group of people. He also blessed many pilgrims with physical disabilities.

In those minutes, he seemed to share the joy that Jesus himself may have felt entering Jerusalem.

Here is a link to a video showing these joyous moments: Pope Francis and the children.

(Full text of the papal homily at bottom below)

Will Francis travel to Jerusalem in the next 12 months?

“I’ve invited Pope Francis to the Holy Land”–Latin-rite Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem, speaking two days ago to the Aid to the Church in Need news service

by Oliver Maksan (ACN News, Friday, March 22, Israel)

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, has invited Pope Francis to visit the Holy Land. The Patriarch announced this to the Catholic charity “Aid to the Church in Need” in Jerusalem.

At the same time he spoke about how he knew the new Pope:

“I met Pope Francis when he was still the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. That was on the occasion of my visit to the Palestinian diaspora in Argentina about two years ago.

“Cardinal Bergoglio, as he then was, knew the situation of the Palestinians in Argentina and other Latin American countries very well.

“At that time I gave a talk in his presence in which I called for a just peace in the Middle East and for mutual respect and tolerance between the different peoples there. Cardinal Bergoglio expressed his agreement.

“But independently of this he will, I am sure, love the Holy Land as all Popes have done and will be concerned about us here.”

Twal continued that this hope was also justified in the light of the Holy Father’s reputation as the Pope of the poor: “Here in the Middle East, and especially in Syria, there are many people who live in poverty and are suffering.”

In addition to the Latin Patriarch, both the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, and the President of the autonomous Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, have invited the Holy Father to visit the Holy Land.

Peres said that the new Pope was a welcome guest. He could help bring peace to a turbulent area.

Abbas has invited the Pope to visit Christ’s place of birth in Bethlehem. In his letter of congratulation on the election he expressed his wish that Pope Francis would commit himself to the cause of peace in the Holy Land.

In the meantime the media are reporting that Pope Francis intends to visit Jerusalem in the coming year together with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

The Pope had accepted a suggestion to this effect from the Patriarch when the latter traveled to Rome for the inauguration.

The Church leaders thus intended to recall the historical meeting between Pope Paul VI and the then Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in the Holy City 50 years ago.

The Vatican has not yet confirmed this information.

Papal Tweets

Here are the five Twitter messages that Pope Francis has “tweeted” since his election as Pope: two today, two on March 19 (Feast of St. Joseph, day of his inaugural Mass and installation) and one on March 17.

The powerful thing about “Twitter” that its brief messages can be “re-tweeted” to “lists” ranging from a handful of people to thousands of people, so that a “tweet” can be spread quickly to millions, even if those millions are not actually signed up for the Pope’s tweet. So this method of communication, even though seemingly superficial — the messages are limited to 140 characters, or about 20 words — can be very powerful for instantaneously contacting millions of people.

Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 2h
We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us that there is nothing we can do in the face of violence, injustice and sin.

Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 2h
I am looking forward to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I hope to see all of you in that great Brazilian city!

Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 19 Mar
True power is service. The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.

Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 19 Mar
Let us keep a place for Christ in our lives, let us care for one another and let us be loving custodians of creation.

Pope Francis ‏@Pontifex 17 Mar
Dear friends, I thank you from my heart and I ask you to continue to pray for me. Pope Francis.

Complete text of today’s Palm Sunday homily, March 24, 2013

“What counts is not earthly power”

By Pope Francis

“Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).

Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul. Now he enters the Holy City! It is a beautiful scene, full of light, joy, celebration.

At the beginning of Mass, we repeated all this. We waved our palms, our olive branches, we sang “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (Antiphon); we too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives.

And here the first word that comes to mind is “joy!

Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!

Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world of ours. Let us bring the joy of the faith to everyone!

2. But we have to ask: why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem?

The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40).

But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk.

Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6).

He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood.

And this brings us to the second word: Cross.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross!

Our thoughts turn to the choosing of King David: God does not choose the strongest, the bravest, he chooses the last, the youngest, the one no one had considered. What counts is not earthly power.

Before Pilate, Jesus says: “I am a King”; but his power is God’s power which confronts the world’s evil and the sin that disfigures man’s face.

Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including our own sin, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God.

Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money, power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation!

And our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation.

Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection.

Dear friends, we can all conquer the evil that is in us and in the world: with Christ, with the force of good!

Do we feel weak, inadequate, powerless? But God is not looking for powerful means: it is through the Cross that he has conquered evil!

We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins! We must never grow accustomed to evil! With Christ we can transform ourselves and the world. We must bear the victory of Christ’s Cross to everyone everywhere, we must bear this great love of God.

And this requires all of us not to be afraid to step outside ourselves, to reach out to others. In the Second Reading, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself, assuming our condition, and he came to meet us (cf. Phil 2:7).

Let us learn to look up towards God, but also down towards others, towards the least of all! And we must not be afraid of sacrifice.

Think of a mother or a father: what sacrifices they make! But why? For love! And how do they bear those sacrifices? With joy, because they are made for their loved ones.

Christ’s Cross embraced with love does not lead to sadness, but to joy!

3. Today in this Square, there are many young people: for 28 years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day!

This is our third word: youth!

Dear young people, I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always, even at the age of seventy or eighty.

With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love.

And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves that we have true joy and that God has conquered evil through love.

You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace.

Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of Christ’s Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil!

Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.

We are living out the joy of walking with Jesus, being with Him, carrying his Cross, with love, with a spirit that is always young!

Let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. She teaches us the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives. Amen.”

“Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw love out.” –St. John of the Cross

Francis’s schedule for the next few days

In Holy Week, Pope Francis with carry out a full schedule of liturgical celebrations.

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