A brief reflection of what Pope Francis shared on Palm Sunday.
For the first time in living memory, a pope celebrated a Palm Sunday liturgy without the participation of the people, as Pope Francis did that morning in a virtually empty St. Peter’s Basilica. Holy Week began in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has led to severe restrictions on movement being placed on almost half of the world’s population.
Pope Francis began the liturgy by blessing a handmade palm, and then walked with it to the altar without the traditional procession. He celebrated the Mass in Italian, while a downsized Sistine Choir of around 9 men—standing at a distance from one another—sang the Credo, Sanctus and other prayers in Gregorian chant. There was no offertory procession or kiss of peace.
In his homily, Pope Francis sought to encourage his global audience of countless millions who were following this unique celebration by television, radio or social media. Drawing on the Gospel account of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, he recalled that Jesus “descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment,” and said that from this experience Jesus’s message to us today is this: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you.”
“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled,” Francis said, “in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you’.” He told the small congregation in the basilica of some thirty persons standing at a distance from each other and the larger global audience that Jesus had “served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned,” and that, “we were put in this world to love him and our neighbors. Everything else passes away, only this remains.
Francis added that “the tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love.” He continued:
So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.
As we reflect on holy week and the journey Christ walked on our behalf; may we be encouraged that we do not need to be afraid but can find comfort in the Lord.