Pope John Paul II: Be embraced by the Paschal Mystery

Homily of the Palm Sunday Liturgy, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 12 May 1987

"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16).

1. "Hosanna to the Son of David" (Mt 21:9).

Today the Church throughout the world repeats these words with which the crowd, gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, acclaimed Jesus of Nazareth.

"Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest!" (Mt 21:9).

Jesus, in the company of his disciples, entered the holy city,

mounted on a mule. On that occasion also, as the evangelist underlines, the words spoken by the Prophet were fulfilled: "Tell the daughter of Zion:

Your king comes to you without display

astride an ass, astride a colt, the foal of a beast of burden." (Mt 21:5 ).

The Church calls this day Palm Sunday, in remembrance of the palms strewn by the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the pilgrims as Jesus passed by, acclaimed enthusiastically by the crowd.

The liturgical canticles of this Sunday remind us that young people had a special part in that enthusiasm: they are the "pueri Hebraeorum", the "Hebrew children" who appear in those songs as the voices of popular acclamation for the Son of David.

It is as if the young people present at Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem wanted to accompany him always in a special way every time the Church celebrates the feast which belongs so much to you.

World Day of Youth

2. In the Holy Year of the Redemption, 1983-1984, great numbers, of young people from different parts of the world came on pilgrimage to Rome on Palm Sunday to celebrate the Jubilee with me. It was a wonderful and unforgettable day which we were able to recall the following year on the occasion of the International Youth Year. Since then Palm Sunday has been proclaimed Youth Day for the Church throughout the world. This year we are celebrating it here together, in Buenos Aires. Together with you, the youth of Argentina, there are young people who have come from various parts of America and the rest of the world; there is also a group from Rome, the Pope's diocese, along with different associations and international movements.

I affectionately greet all of you who are part of the great youth community in every part of the world. At the same time I wish to greet the pastors of the Church who are present here: Cardinal Juan Carlos Aramburu, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires; Cardinal Raul Francisco Primatesta, the Archbishop of Cordoba and President of the Conference of Argentinian Bishops; Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Laity, the organization which is responsible for preparing these world youth days. I greet especially the bishops who have come from near and far to be with the young people of their dioceses and to celebrate this day of special significance for the Church with the Pope. I also greet the priests, religious and all those who have come along with the young people on this pilgrimage. Thank you all for being here.

In the capital of the Republic of Argentina, we are united in spirit with St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the centre of the universal Church, where it was the Lord's wish that this youth celebration should be born. We feel equally united with all those places in the world where this annual feast is celebrated, in unity with the pastors, whether it be on Palm Sunday or on some other day of the year to suit local conditions and circumstances.

3. In joining Palm Sunday and Youth Day, highlighting the presence of young people in the joyful Hosanna which greeted Christ on his entry to the Holy City, the Church is thinking not only of the enthusiasm of youth at all times; she is thinking most of all of the significance which that entry had in the life of Christ, and hence in the life of each person, of each young person.

Yes, today's Liturgy reminds us that Jesus' solemn entry into Jerusalem was the prelude or introduction to the events of Holy Week. Those who on seeing Jesus asked "who is this?", will only find the full answer by following his steps through each of the decisive days of his death and resurrection. You too, young people, will reach a full understanding of the meaning of your lives, your vocation, by looking at Christ in his death and resurrection. To the natural attraction which Christ awakens in your hearts and which the young people in Jerusalem expressed with the enthusiasm of their Hosanna, add a peaceful and attentive consideration of the events of Holy Week.

Today we listened to the narration of those events as given to us in St Matthew's Gospel. Even though these words are not new they still arouse deep feelings in us. When in the text we see the figure of the Son of man emerge, subject to interrogation and torture, the words of the Prophet in today's liturgy, which were said many centuries before they were fulfilled, take on a new reality and eloquence.

Isaiah wrote of the future Messiah: "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting" (Is 50:6).

When we compare his words to the tragic events that took place between Thursday night and Friday morning, the similarity is astonishing; the prophet writes as if he had been a witness of those events.

With the same precision the Psalm in today's liturgy foretells the sufferings of Christ:

"All who see me scoff at me,

they mock me with parted lips,

they wag their heads;

He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,

let him rescue him, if he loves him" (Ps 21 [22]:8-9).

These are words which the Gospel text will confirm, even almost to the smallest detail, in recounting the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha. Then too the words of the Psalmist describing Christ's wounds will be fulfilled: "They have pierced my hands and my feet, I can count all my bones" (Ps 22:16-17) and the division of his garments: "they divide my garments among them and for my vesture they cast lots" (ibid. v. 18).

Enter into the Paschal Mystery

4. Today's account of the Lord's Passion takes us right up to the moment when the body of Jesus, taken down from the cross, is laid in the rock tomb. At the same time today's liturgy is intended to introduce us more deeply into Christ's paschal mystery.

Hence the text of the second reading, taken from the Letter of St Paul to the Philippians, is the key to help us understand the full dimension of the divine mystery behind the events of Holy Week.

Who is Jesus Christ? We too can ask ourselves this question like those who saw him entering Jerusalem.

Jesus Christ "though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:6-7).

Jesus Christ is therefore true God, the Son of God, who, having taken human form, became man. He lived on this earth as the Son of man. In him, precisely as the Son of man, the figure of the Servant of Yahweh announced by the prophet Isaiah, was fulfilled.

5. While Jesus makes his entry to Jerusalem mounted on a mule, we follow asking ourselves, probably not unlike the crowd that pressed around him, "what did Jesus Christ do in his life?".

Then we are reminded of that synthesis of his missionary activity, which we find in the inspired texts: "He did and taught" (cf. Acts 1:1); "he went around doing good... for all..." (cf. Acts 10:38); "No man ever spoke like that before" (Jn 7:46). Even so, all our answers about Christ would be incomplete if we did not speak about his death on the Cross. On the Cross the life of Christ takes on its full meaning; his death is the fundamental act of the life of Christ. Therefore the text from St Paul responds very well to the question which we asked before: "He was known to be of human state, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting death, death on a cross!" (Phil 2:7-8).

The centre of Christ's entire life is the cross; it is the fundamental and definitive act of his messianic mission. In his death "his hour" is fulfilled (cf. Jn 18:37). Christ took on our flesh, he was born and lived among us in order to die for us.

It is important to emphasize the Pauline statement: "he humbled himself, obediently accepting death". It would not be right to measure Christ's death with our present-day measure of human weakness and limitation. It must be viewed in the true measure of salvific obedience. His death is not just the end of life. Christ freely became obedient even to his death on the Cross, so that by his death he might give a new beginning to life: "Death came through a man; hence the resurrection of the dead comes through a man also. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again" (1 Cor 15:21-22).

6. At the same time that he proclaims the infinite self-emptying of Christ, the Son who is one in substance with the Father and became man, Servant of Yahweh and Man of Sorrows, the apostle proclaims his exaltation. The paschal mystery embraces both the death and the glorious resurrection of Christ, his exaltation. This exaltation begins with the Cross which is not only the place of execution but also the glorious throne of God made man. By dying on the Cross, Christ gained true life for us; on the Cross, Christ overcame sin and death.

Therefore God exalted Christ, who gave himself up for us on the Cross. He exalts him across the horizon of the entire history of humanity subjected to death, and this exaltation has a cosmic dimension.

St Paul writes: "Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil 2:9-11).

Yes, Jesus Christ is Lord. We believe in Jesus Christ our Lord.

7. Dear friends, why has this day, Palm Sunday, become your Day?

This came about little by little; for some time past this day was drawing and bringing together, especially in Rome, large numbers of young pilgrims.

Maybe in this way you wanted to join with the young men and women in Jerusalem, the pueri Hebraeorum, who were present when Jesus arrived for the feast. You wanted to take on their enthusiasm, which was expressed in the words: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!".

Nevertheless, enthusiasm does not last long. It can come to an end in a matter of a day. On the other hand, Palm Sunday leads us into the events of Holy Week, into the entire mystery of Jesus Christ: in his commitment even unto death on the Cross in obedience to the Father; the self-emptying of the Son, who, equal to the Father, took on the condition of a slave even to the last consequences.

It might be said that you young people were attracted by the Cross of Christ; that your enthusiasm, preceded by that of the pueri Hebraeorum and expressed also in your "Hosanna... Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" finds its full meaning in the paschal mystery. In praising the prophet of Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, you proclaim at the same time your faith in Jesus Christ as God and Man, Redeemer of humanity and of the world.

The gift of God's love

8. Yes, Palm Sunday leads us into the entire mystery of Jesus Christ, that is, into the paschal mystery, where all things come to fulfilment and where the truth of the words and the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth are fully confirmed. Here also the extent to which "God is love" is revealed (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). At the same time we are given a consciousness of the true dignity of the human person, ransomed by the price of the Blood of the Son of God and destined to live eternally with him in his love.

"We have come to know and to believe in the love which God has for us" (1 Jn 4:16). That is how St John expresses himself in the text that we are meditating upon as the theme of World Youth Day.

Dear young people, always celebrate the paschal mystery of Jesus in your lives. Take into your hearts the gift of God's love: "He loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Immersed in the divine power of love, commit your youthful energies to the construction of the civilization of love.

Guided by your "sense of faith", follow both the voice of that which is deepest and noblest in the human heart and conscience, and the voice of that which corresponds to the interior truth of humanity and his dignity. In this way you will be able to understand the divine logic, to go beyond the poverty of human reasoning and to penetrate the new dimension of the love which Christ has shown for us.

That is the real reason why you have come to celebrate this day.

Come, young people! Gather around Christ, the Redeemer of humanity!

That is the meaning of your presence in St Peter's Square in Rome, and today in this great avenue in the capital of Argentina. Christ draws you here; it is he who calls you. Together with Jesus Christ, Mary, our Mother is here also; her image has been brought from the shrine of Lujan to be with us. At the end of this celebration I will commend you to her. I know very well what Our Lady of Lujan means to you, young people of Argentina. She is the focal point of your annual pilgrimages, in which many of you participate, filled with devotion for the Mother of God, and a generosity and hope that is there for all to see.

In you I see all who belong to your age group: the young men and women whom I have had the pleasure of meeting in many parts of the world as well as those I have never met. We are united in spirit with all of them, inviting them to draw closer to Christ on this blessed day.

9. To all of you I say: let yourselves be embraced by the mystery of the Son of man, the mystery of Christ who died and rose again. Let yourselves be embraced by the paschal mystery!

Let this mystery penetrate the depths of your being, your lives, your consciences, feelings, heart, so that it will give the truest meaning to your conduct.

The paschal mystery is salvific and creative. It is only in the mystery of Christ that humanity can truly and fully be understood; only in the death and resurrection of Christ can humanity understand its divine vocation and reach its final and definitive destiny.

Therefore, let the mystery act in you. For a person, especially a young person, it is essential that he know himself, that he know his value, his true value, the meaning of his existence, of his life, that he know his vocation. Only in this way can the meaning of one's life be defined.

10. It is only by accepting the paschal mystery in your lives that you will be able to respond to "anyone who should ask you the reason for this hope of yours" (1 Pet 3:15). Only by accepting Christ who died and rose again, will you be able to respond to the great and noble desires in your hearts.

Young people, Christ, the Church, the world, all depend and wait upon the witness of your lives, founded in the truth which Christ has revealed to us!

Young people, the Pope thanks you for your witness and he encourages you always to be witnesses to the love of Christ, sowers of hope and builders of peace!

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).

The One who gave himself, making himself obedient even to death on the Cross; he alone has the words of eternal life.

Listen to his words. Learn them deeply. Build your lives with the words and the life of Christ ever before you. Even more: learn to be Christ himself, by being identified with him in everything.