ROME — Opening the holiest period on the Christian calendar, Pope Francis on Palm Sunday spoke about the battle between God and the “prince of this world,” saying those who follow Jesus are called to fight temptation and evil with silence and humility, not by being “superstars.”
The pontiff said that just as Jesus was welcomed joyfully into Jerusalem, the devil had a “card up his sleeve: the card of triumphalism.”
“Yet the Lord responded by holding fast to his own way, the way of humility,” Francis said, before telling thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square that they, too, are called to do the same.
Triumphalism, Francis said during his Palm Sunday homily, lives off gestures and words “that are not forged in the crucible of the cross,” growing off looks askance at others and by judging others as “inferior, wanting, failures.”
“One subtle form of triumphalism is spiritual worldliness, which represents the greatest danger, the most treacherous temptation threatening the Church,” Francis said, quoting the late French theologian Father Henri de Lubac: “Jesus destroyed triumphalism by his Passion.”
Jesus knows, the pontiff continued, that true triumph involves “making room for God,” and that the only way to achieve such a triumph is by remaining silent, prayerful, accepting humiliation.
“There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it,” Francis said. “By his self-abasement, Jesus wanted to open up to us the path of faith and to precede us on that path.”
Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which leads up to his crucifixion on Good Friday. The Gospel reading is that of Christ’s Passion: “Festive acclamations and brutal torture,” as the pope noted in his homily.
Jesus’ silence throughout his Passion is “impressive,” the pope said, as, among other things, he is called to overcome the temptation to answer back or to act like a “superstar.”
Catholics, he argued, are called to follow the same path, to keep silent and to find the courage not to speak, in a silence that is meek “and not full of anger.” This attitude of meekness, Francis said, will “make us appear even weaker, humbler.”
It’s then that the devil will stir, he said, but “we need to resist him in silence, holding our position,” following Jesus’ attitude and knowing that the battle is between “God and the prince of this world,” so the way to combat evil is not with the sword but remaining “firm in the faith.”
“Our place of safety will be beneath the mantle of the holy Mother of God,” he said. “By our silent witness in prayer, we give ourselves and others an accounting for the hope that is within [us].”
“This will help us to live in the sacred tension between the memory of the promises made, the suffering present in the cross, and the hope of the resurrection,” Francis said.
Jesus, Francis said, shows those who follow him how to face moments of difficulty: “Preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, which bestows life and mercy.”
Towards the end, Francis noted that around the world Palm Sunday is also considered by the Catholic Church as the day of the youth. Speaking to young people, he urged them not to be ashamed to show their enthusiasm for Jesus, but at the same time, not to fear following “him on the way of the cross.”
The next World Youth Day, the global festival of Catholic youth launched by St. John Paul II, will be in Portugal in 2021.
The Palm Sunday Mass opened a busy Holy Week for Pope Francis, which will include the celebration of the Lord’s last supper at a local prison, the Good Friday service, leading thousands in the recitation of the Way of the Cross in Rome’s Coliseum, and then the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday celebrations.
As is tradition, Sunday Mass began with Francis blessing the palms for the service in front of the towering obelisk in St. Peter’s Square.