As Pope Francis celebrated the second Palm Sunday of his pontificate, the Holy Father chose to ignore his prepared text and give a spontaneous homily on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in a packed St. Peters Square. Pope Francis held a wooden pastoral staff that had been carved by Italian prisoners. The pope wanted to use this staff to put the people on the margins of life in the center of the Church's attention.
Pope Francis' off-the-cuff homily challenged the faithful to discern "Who am I before my Lord"?
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: the entire populace welcomes Jesus. The children and young people sing , praising Jesus.
But this week continues in the mystery of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord. We might well ask ourselves just one question: Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?
We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?
We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like Judas, who feigns loved and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?
Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?
Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.
Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?
Am I like the Cyrenean, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?
Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….
Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?
Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?
Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?
Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?
Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.
This ad libbed homily seems to use elements of Ignatian contemplation which involves the faithful in scripture by inserting oneself into scripture. A fuller version of this pillar of Ignatian spirituality encourages participants to immerse themselves imaginatively by using all of their senses and surrendering themselves to the story. Obviously, standard Ignatian contemplation would be difficult among 100,000 Romans and tourists, so a guided meditation seemed more apt.
Pope Francis' contemplative homily invites Christians to fully engage in Holy Week by identifying withthe participants in this crucial juncture of salvific history and discern where the Lord wants us to be.
Commentators observed that Pope Francis sounded winded as he gave his fifteen minute homily but regained his stamina during the 2 1/2 hour liturgy. This may be attributed to Pope Francis' boyhood pulmonary injury which reduced capacity in one lung.
After the Palm Sunday Mass, the New World Pontiff greeted the crowd by jumping off the Popemobile a couple of times to take selfies with young Catholics from Rio de Janeiro and from Poland. Pope Francis also accepted a sip of herbal mate tea presumably from an Argentine admirer.