Homily of the Palm Sunday Liturgy, Rome, 27 March
1. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have
the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).
We celebrate the liturgy of Palm Sunday in St
Peter's Square. This is also International Youth Day. Every year Palm
Sunday brings together in this Square many young people who feel called to
the event commemorated today. In fact, during Christ's messianic entrance into
Jerusalem, there was no lack of young people among those who were shouting
"Hosanna to the son of David". The liturgical hymn sings: "Pueri
Hebraeorum portantes ramos olivarum obviaverunt Domino".
that is, the young Jews. Obviaverunt, that is, they went to meet
Christ. They sang "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord"
(Mt 21:9). Every year on Palm Sunday the same thing happens; the young
people go to meet Christ, they wave palm branches, they sing the messianic hymn
to greet him who comes in the name of the Lord. It is so here in Rome, and in
other places in the world. Last year it was so in Buenos Aires, where I had the
opportunity to celebrate Youth Day, especially with the young people of Latin
Wherever you are,
and on whatever day you assemble to celebrate your feast, all of you young
people feel the need to repeat Peter's words: "Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life". You alone.
"words of eternal life" today describe for us Christ's Passion and
death according to St Mark's Gospel.
We have listened to this description. We have
listened also to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who from the
distant centuries foretells the Messiah as a man of sorrows: "I gave my
back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not
my face from shame and spitting" (Is 50:6).
In fact, it was exactly so,
as the prophet had foreseen.
It was also as the Psalmist—he too from ancient
times—had proclaimed: "They have pierced my bands and feet—I can count
all my bones... they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast
lots" (Ps 21 :16-18).
It was so, and still more. The
words with which the Prophet (David) begins his psalm are found on Christ's
lips during the agony on the Cross: "My God, my God, why hast thou
abandoned me?" (Elì, Elì, lemà sabactani?) (Mt 27:46; Ps 21 :1).
It emerges from the Old Testament texts that
Christ's Passion and death are the decisive fact of God's new and eternal
Covenant with humanity.
Synthesis of the entire paschal mystery
3. Finally, we have listened to the Apostle
Paul's disquieting words in the Letter to the Philippians. They are a
synthesis of the entire paschal mystery. The text is concise, but at the same
time its content is unfathomable, in keeping with the mystery. St Paul takes us
to the very limit of that which began to exist between God and man in the story
of creation, and which has reached its summit and fullness in Jesus Christ; in
the final analysis, in the Cross and resurrection.
Christ Jesus, "though he was in the form of
God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found
in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death
on a cross. Because of this God has exalted him..." (Phil 2:6-9).
Thus "the words of eternal life" are
spoken by means of the Cross and death. They are not mere theory. They remain a
reality between him who "Is" from eternity, who does not pass
away, and him who passes away, for whom it has been laid down that he must die
once only. At the same time man, who is created in the image and likeness
of God, waits for the words of eternal life. He discovers them in
Christ's gospel. They prove themselves definitively in his death and
To whom shall we go?
Christ is he who "by the revelation of the
mystery of the Father and his love, fully reveals man to man himself and
makes his supreme calling clear" (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
4. Why, then, has the "feast of youth"
taken place for some years in the Church precisely on this day, Palm Sunday? It
is true that this Youth Day is celebrated at different times in individual
countries, but Palm Sunday remains a central point of reference for it.
Why? It seems that the young people themselves
give a spontaneous answer to this question. One such response has been given
by all of you who for years come on pilgrimage to Rome especially to celebrate
this day. (This was verified particularly during the Year of the Redemption and
the year dedicated to youth).
By this fact, do you yourselves not wish to
indicate that you seek Christ in the centre of his mystery? You seek
him in the fullness of that truth which is he himself in human history:
"For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear
witness to the truth" Jn 18:37). You seek Christ in the definitive words of
the gospel, just as the Apostle Paul has done; in the Cross, which is "the
power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Cor 1:24), as the
resurrection has confirmed.
In Christ, crucified and risen, you seek this
very power and wisdom.
5. Christ reveals man to man, to each of us. Could
he have shown himself "fully" if he had not undergone this
suffering and this self-emptying without limit? If, in short, he had not
exclaimed on the Cross: "Why hast thou forsaken me?" (cf. Mt 27:46)?
The subject is beyond human experience. Ineffable
was the scale of his sufferings. He who has "the words of eternal
life" did not hesitate to secure this word in all the dimensions of
"For this God has exalted him". For
this, "Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (cf. Phil 2:9,
11). In this way he testifies to "his most high calling" (cf. Gaudium
et Spes, 22). No disadvantage, no suffering or shame, can
separate us from the love of God (cf. Rom 8:35), from that love which is in
6. This "Youth Day" in the Church is an
eloquent moment in your "pilgrimage through faith".
In this year we turn our gaze towards the Mother
of God, present in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, present also at the
agony on Calvary. Precisely there the culmination of Mary's pilgrimage is
found. In this regard, the Council, following the directions of tradition,
teaches us that she precedes all of us on the way; she goes forward on the
pilgrimage "of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ" (cf. Lumen
I hope that
in the Marian Year all young people, looking on Mary as a guide, may
discover all the depths hidden in the mystery of Christ.
Therefore Christ always says anew to young people
as he said in the gospel: "Follow me" (Lk 8:22). A study of this call
is found in the Letter to the Youth of the World, in the year 1985.
It is necessary that you hear this call. It is
necessary that you constantly mature by giving your response to it.
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the
words of eternal life".