The "Sequela Christi"
Grazie mille e píu to one of the illustrious ops del nord for preparing this fulltext translation of Benedict XVI's meditation from the Mass of Palm Sunday, celebrated earlier today on the steps of St Peter's.
In the procession of Palm Sunday we associate ourselves with the crowd of disciples who, with festive joy, accompany the Lord during his entry into Jerusalem. Like them we praise the Lord with loud voices for all the wonders we have seen. Yes, we also have seen and continue to see the wonders of Christ: how He moves men and women to renounce the comfort of their lives and to give themselves totally to the service of the suffering; how He gives courage to men and women in order to oppose violence and lies, to make a place in the world for truth; how He secretly brings men and women to do good to others, to bring about reconciliation where there was hatred, to create peace where previously strife had reigned.
The procession is above all a joyful testimony that we give to Jesus Christ, in whom the Face of God is made visible to us and thanks to whom the heart of God is opened for all of us. In the Gospel of Luke the recounting of the beginning of the procession outside of Jerusalem is modelled, almost literally on the Rite of Incoronation, with which, according to the First book of Kings, Solomon was clothed with the Kingship of David for his inheritance. In this way, the procession of palms is also a procession of Christ the King: we profess the kingship of Jesus Christ, we recognize Jesus as the Son of David, the true Solomon – the King of peace and justice. Recognizing him as King means accepting Him as the One who indicates the way, which we accept and which we follow. It means accepting his words day by day as the valid criteria for our lives. It means seeing in Him the authority to which we submit ourselves. We submit ourselves to Him because his authority is that of truth.
The procession of palms is – like that carried out for the disciples – above all an expression of joy, so that we can get to know Jesus, because He allows us to become his friends and because he has given us the keys to life. This joy, that was from the beginning, and so also is an expression of our “yes” to Jesus and of our availability to go with Him wherever he takes us. The exhortation that we heard today at the beginning of our liturgy therefore justly interprets the procession as the symbolic representation of what we call the “sequela Christi”: we have said that “We ask for the grace to follow Him.” The expression “follower of Christ” is a description of the whole Christian existence in general. In what does it consist? Concretely, what does it mean “to follow Christ?”
At the beginning, with the first disciples, the sense was very simple and immediate: it meant that they had decided to leave their profession, their things, their entire lives to go with Jesus. It meant undertaking a new profession: that of disciple. The fundamental content of this profession was to go along with the master, the total entrusting of self to his guidance. In this way, following him was an external thing, but, at the same time, very interior. The external aspect was walking behind Jesus during his pilgrimages throughout Palestine, the interior aspect was the new orientation of one’s existence that no longer had its reference point in their own will, or in the business or the trade from which they made their living. Rather, they abandoned themselves totally to the will of another. Being totally available to Him had become their reason for being. We can see in a clear manner the sorts of renunciations that bring us to what is properly Christian, that is, self-detachment, in certain Gospel scenes.
With these we can also clearly see what the meaning of the following of Christ is for us: it has to do with an interior change in our existence. It requires that I no longer be closed off in my self considering my self-realization to be the purpose of my being. It requires that I give myself freely to another – for the truth, for love, for God who, in Jesus Christ, goes before me and shows me the way. It deals with the fundamental decision to no longer consider the utility and the reward, my career and success as the ultimate end of my life. Instead, I must recognize as authentic criteria truth and love. It deals with the choice between living only for myself and or in giving myself – for the greatest of all things. Let us consider well that truth and love are not abstract values, in Jesus Christ they have become a person. Following Him we enter into the service of the truth and of love. In losing myself, I find myself.
We now return to the liturgy and the procession of Palms. In this, the Liturgy foresees as its chant Psalm 24 , that was, even in Israel a processional chant used in ascending the temple mount. The Psalm interprets the interior ascent of which the exterior one is an image and it explains to us once more what it means to ascend with Christ. “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?” asks the Psalm, and it indicates to us two essential conditions. Those who ascend and who want to go high, to arrive at the true heights must be people who ask themselves about God. People who search inside themselves in order to find God, to find his Face. Dear young people – how important is precisely this, today: don’t allow yourselves to be carried here and there in life, don’t content yourselves with that which everyone thinks and says and does. Look to God and seek Him. May we not allow our quest for God to dissolve itself in our souls. The desire for that which is much bigger. The desire to know Him – His Face...
The other condition, very concrete for ascent is this: the only ones who are able to stay in the holy place are those “whose hands are innocent and whose hearts are pure.” Innocent hands – these are hands that are not dirtied by corruption, or pay-offs. Pure hearts – when is the heart pure? A heart is pure when it doesn’t deceive and is not stained by lies and hypocrisy. A Heart that remains transparent as water from the spring, because it knows not duplicity. A Heart is pure that knows not the intoxication of pleasure, a heart whose love is real and not only the passion of a moment. Innocent hands and pure hearts: if we walk with Jesus, we will ascend and we will find the purifications that bring us truly to those heights to which man is destined: friendship with God himself.
Psalm 24  that speaks of ascent ends with a liturgy of entrance in front of the doors of the temple. “O gates, lift up your heads! Grow higher, ancient doors! Let him enter, the King of Glory.” In the old liturgy of Palm Sunday, the priest, having arrived in front of the Church, knocked forcefully with the bar of the processional cross on the still closed door, which, following this knocking, was opened. It was a beautiful image for the mystery of the same Jesus Christ who, with the wood of his cross, with the force of his love that he gives to us, has knocked from the side of the world on the door of God; from the side of a world that was not able to find access to God. By the cross Jesus has thrown open the door to God, the door between God and man. Now it is open. But, even from the other side the Lord knocks with his cross: he knocks on the door of the world, on the door of our hearts that so often and in so many ways are closed for God. And he speaks to us more or less like this: if the trials that God gives you in creation don’t succeed in opening you up for Him, if the words of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent – then, look at me, your Lord and your God.
This is the call that at this moment we need to allow to penetrate our hearts. The Lord will help us to open the door of our hearts, the door of the world, so that He, the living God, can arrive, in these our times, in the person of His Son to gain our lives. Amen.
PHOTO 1: AP/Alessandra Tarantino
PHOTOS 2-3: Reuters/Dario Pignatelli
PHOTO 4-5: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi