HUMILITY IS GOD’S WAY, JESUS’ WAY AND MUST BE OUR WAY
Sunday at 9.30 am Pope Francis began the solemn liturgical celebration of Palm Sunday in St. Peter’s Square where, at the center of the square, at the obelisk, he blessed the palm and olive branches and, continuing the procession, celebrated Mass for the Passion of the Lord. Palm Sunday marks Word Youth Day on a diocesan leval and thousands of Young people from Rome and other dioceses were present for the 30th WYD on the theme “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
The Pope’s homily focused on humility, during which he remembered “our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many.”
In his homily, following the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord according to Mark, Francis said, “At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: ‘He humbled himself’. Jesus’ humiliation. These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!
“Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity. This is clear when we read the the story of the Exodus. How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.
“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. We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. “We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted. We will hear Peter, the ‘rock’ among the disciples, deny him three times. We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified. “We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God. This is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation.
“Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the ‘form of a slave’. In the end, 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.
“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. The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert. But Jesus immediately rejected it. With him, 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. In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and concealment, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person, the homeless.
“We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price. We think too 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 ìcloud of witnesses’ – the martyrs of our own time.
“During this week, let us set about with determination along this same path of humility, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour. Love will guide us and give us strength. For where he is, we too shall be.”
In brief remarks after Mass at the Angelus, the Holy Father spoke of World Youth Day, including the 2016 celebration in Krakow, Poland. He entrusted that celebration to Mary and also entrusted to “her intercession the victims of last Tuesday’s aviation tragedy, among whom there was also a group of German students.”
PALM SUNDAY: THE STORY OF A SAILOR, AN OBELISK AND A PAPAL PROMISE
It is time once again to tell you the marvelous story of how a sailor from Liguria saved an obelisk from falling and extracted a papal promise for an honor for his native city.
In 1586, Pope Sixtus V, to complete the design of St. Peter’s Square, ordered architect Domenico Fontana to place in the center of the square a giant Egyptian obelisk which had been brought to Rome in 39 A.D. by Emperor Caligula. For centuries it has been in the emperor’s circus in what today is Vatican City, and moving the obelisk from that point to the center of St. Peter’s Square would be a herculean task.
The obelisk had been in the Vatican gardens, near the Constantinian basilica (the first one) and had laid there, forgotten for many years under layers of mud and stagnant water. Giacomo della Porta was asked by Sixtus V to recover the obelisk and, struck by its majestic beauty, the Pope asked that projects to raise the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square be studied.
On September 10, the day the 85-foot high, 350-ton obelisk was transported by 900 workers, 140 horses and 44 winches, Benedetto Bresca, a ship’s captain from the Italian Riviera area of San Remo-Bordighera, was in the square.
The head engineer had told Pope Sixtus that total silence was needed to raise the obelisk, once it was in the square. Thus, the Pope announced to the huge crowd that had assembled to watch the manoeuvre that anyone who spoke during the delicate and risky operation would face the death penalty. As work was underway, the ropes used to raise the obelisk gave signs of fraying and weakening and the obelisk itself began to sway. However, Benedetto, as a sailor, knew what the problem was – and how to solve it and so, notwithstanding the pontiff’s ultimatum, he shouted “water on the cords, water on the cords.” The head engineer realized the sailor was right, the cords were watered, they became taut and strong and the obelisk was raised, without further danger to anyone.
Instead of punishing the audacious sailor, Pope Sixtus rewarded him by giving Benedetto and his descendants the privilege of providing the Vatican with the famous Ligurian palms used for Holy Week ceremonies in the Vatican. And so it has been for over four centuries, with only a few brief interruptions.
Known as parmureli, the leaves from date palm trees in San Remo and Bordighera are woven and braided into intricate sculptures, some only inches high, while others are perhaps two meters high. Many years, more than 200 of the six-foot high parmureli are sent to the Vatican from Liguria for Palm Sunday – for the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, etc.
Many years ago, when the parmureli arrived by sea, the ship that carried them placed one of the palm leaf sculptures on the mast that usually displayed a flag. The palm “flag” thus gave that vessel from San Remo-Bordighera precedence into the port over all other vessels.
Click here to watch my “Joan’s Rome” video about the obelisk; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WVysLk0Kk8&index=16&list=PL69B6AD83630DB515