Sacrifice and love for others the key, Pope tells Palm Sunday congregants
By John Thavis
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Daily self-sacrifice in imitation of Christ was the key to the Christian life, Pope Benedict XVI said on Palm Sunday.
“Sacrifice and renunciation belong to the just life. Whoever promises a life without this continuing gift of self is fooling people,” the Pope said during the liturgy in St Peter’s Square.
The papal liturgy began with a procession of hundreds of cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people, who carried palms and olive branches in commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before his passion and death.
At the head of the procession, nine young people from Australia carried the World Youth Day cross to the altar, where it was later consigned to a group of Spanish youths for the next international celebration of World Youth Day in Madrid.
The Pope, his red vestments resplendent in the sunshine, carried a braided garland of palm fronds across the cobblestoned square. It was the first of seven major Holy Week events for the Pope, who turns 82 later in the month.
In his homily, Pope Benedict commented on Jesus’ words after his entry into Jerusalem: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
Christ’s message was that the person who wants to live only for himself and exploit all life’s possibilities for personal gain finds that life itself becomes “boring and empty,” the Pope said.
The principle of love, which is at the heart of the Christian faith and is exemplified in Christ’s crucifixion, demands a more universal vision that looks outward and not just inward, he said.
This orientation toward others involves not only a “single great decision” in a person’s life, which is relatively easy, the Pope said, but must be a continuing attitude implemented daily in everyday situations.
“No successful life exists without sacrifice,” he said.
“When I look back on my personal life, I have to say that precisely the times when I said ‘Yes’ to a sacrifice were the greatest and most important moments of my life,” he said.
The Pope said the days Jesus spent in Jerusalem also highlight the fact that self-sacrifice produces inner doubt and anguish. Even Jesus asked whether he should turn to God and say: “Father, save me from this hour.”
That Jesus suffered in this way offers an insight into prayer, which sometimes involves questioning and lament in the face of suffering and injustice, the Pope said. Everyone can and should pray this way, he said.
“Before God, we shouldn’t take refuge in pious phrases, in a fictitious world. To pray always signifies struggling with God, too,” he said.
At the end of the liturgy, the Australian young people transferred the tall wooden cross and an icon of Mary to a group of young Spaniards, who were taking the two symbols on a spiritual pilgrimage ahead of the next World Youth Day international gathering in Madrid in 2011.