Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Ascent to Jerusalem

Its thinly-veiled reference to the looming abuse scandals might've shot quickly across the world's wires, but a full English translation of B16's homily at this morning's Palm Sunday liturgy in St Peter's Square has finally emerged.

The pontiff's explicit focus far less on the news-cycle than the Procession Gospel's account of the ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem to begin his public ministry -- yet with a couple other oblique but ostensible references to the backdrop of these days tucked within its lines -- here's a snip of Zenit's rendering from the original Italian:
[I]n the breadth of Jesus' ascent the dimensions of our following of him become visible -- the goal to which he wants to lead us: to the heights of God, to communion with God, to being-with-God. This is the true goal, and communion with him is the way. Communion with Christ is being on a journey, a permanent ascent to the true height of our calling. Journeying together with Jesus is always at the same time a traveling together in the "we" of those who want to follow him. It brings us into this community. Because this journey to true life, to being men conformed to the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ is beyond our powers, this journeying is also always a state of being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, in a "roped party" with Jesus Christ -- together with him in the ascent to the heights of God. He pulls us and supports us. Letting oneself be part of a roped party is part of following Christ; we accept that we cannot do it on our own. The humble act of entering into the "we" of the Church is part of it -- holding on to the roped party, the responsibility of communion, not letting go of the rope because of our bullheadedness and conceit.

Humbly believing with the Church, like being bound together in a roped party ascending to God, is an essential condition for following Christ. Not acting as the owners of the Word of God, not chasing after a mistaken idea of emancipation -- this is also part of being together in the roped party. The humility of "being-with" is essential to the ascent. Letting the Lord take us by the hand through the sacraments is another part of it. We let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him, we let ourselves accept the discipline of the ascent, even if we are tired.
Finally, we must again say that the cross is part of the ascent toward the height of Jesus Christ, the ascent to the height of God. Just as in the affairs of this world great things cannot be done without renunciation and hard work (joy in great discoveries and joy in a true capacity for activity are linked to discipline, indeed, to the effort of learning) so also the way to life itself, to the realization of one's own humanity is linked to him who climbed to the height of God through the cross. In the final analysis, the cross is the expression of that which is meant by love: Only he who loses himself will find himself.

Let us summarize: Following Christ demands as a first step the reawakening of the nostalgia for being authentically human and thus the reawakening for God. It then demands that one enter into the roped party of those who climb, into the communion of the Church. In the "we" of the Church we enter into the communion with the "Thou" of Jesus Christ and therefore reach the way to God. Moreover, listening to and living Jesus Christ's word in faith, hope and love is also required. We are thus on the way to the definitive Jerusalem and already, from this point forward, we already find ourselves there in the communion of all God's saints.

Our pilgrimage in following Christ, then, is not directed toward any earthly city, but toward the new City of God that grows in the midst of this world. The pilgrimage to the earthly Jerusalem, nevertheless, can be something useful for us Christians for that greater voyage....

Let us return once more to the liturgy of Palm Sunday. The prayer with which the palms are blessed we pray so that in communion with Christ we can bear the fruit of good works. Following a mistaken interpretation of St. Paul, there has repeatedly developed over the course of history and today too, the opinion that good works are not part of being Christian, in any case they would not be significant for man's salvation. But if Paul says that works cannot justify man, he does not intend by this to oppose the importance of right action and, if he speaks of the end of the Law, he does not declare the Ten Commandments obsolete and irrelevant. It is not necessary at the moment to reflect on the whole question that the Apostle was concerned with. It is important to stress that by the term "Law" he does not mean the Ten Commandments, but the complex way of life by which Israel had to protect itself against paganism. Now, however, Christ has brought God to the pagans. This form of distinction was not to be imposed upon them.
Christ alone was given to them as Law. But this means the love of God and neighbor and all that pertains to it. The Ten Commandments read in a new and deeper way beginning with Christ are part of this love. These commandments are nothing other than the basic rules of true love: first of all and as fundamental principle, the worship of God, the primacy of God, which the first three commandments express. They tell us: Without God nothing comes out right. Who this God is and how he is, we know from the person of Jesus Christ. The sanctity of the family follows (fourth commandment), holiness of life (fifth commandment), the ordering of matrimony (sixth commandment), the regulation of society (seventh commandment) and finally the inviolability of the truth (eighth commandment). All of this is of maximum relevance today and precisely also in St. Paul's sense -- if we read all of his letters. "Bear fruit with good works:" At the beginning of Holy Week we pray to the Lord to grant all of us this fruit more and more.

At the end of the Gospel for the blessing of the palms we hear the acclamation with which the pilgrims greet Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem. They are the words of Psalm 118 (117), that originally the priests proclaimed to the pilgrims from the Holy City but that, after a period, became an expression of messianic hope: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Psalm 118[117]:26; Luke 19:38). The pilgrims see in Jesus the one whom they have waited for, who comes in the name of the Lord, indeed, according to the St. Luke's Gospel, they insert another word: "Blessed is he who comes, the king, in the name of the Lord."

And they follow this with an acclamation that recalls the message of the angels at Christmas, but they modify it in a way that gives pause. The angels had spoken of the glory of God in the highest heavens and of peace on earth for men of divine goodwill. The pilgrims at the entrance to the Holy City say: "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!" They know well that there is no peace on earth. And they know that the place of peace is in heaven. Thus this acclamation is an expression of a profound suffering and it is also a prayer of hope: May he who comes in the name of the Lord bring to earth what is in heaven. The Church, before the Eucharistic consecration, sings the words of the Psalm with which Jesus is greeted before his entrance into the Holy City: It greets Jesus as the King who, coming from God, enters in our midst in God's name.
Today too this joyous greeting is always supplication and hope. Let us pray to the Lord that he bring heaven to us: God's glory and peace among men. We understand such a greeting in the spirit of the request of the Our Father: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!" We know that heaven is heaven, a place of glory and peace, because there the will of God rules completely. And we know that earth is not heaven until the will of God is accomplished on it. So we greet Jesus, who comes from heaven and we pray to him to help us know and do God's will. May the royalty of God enter into the world and in this way it be filled with the splendor of peace. Amen.