Pope Francis presided at the Solemn Mass for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion this morning, his first public appearance after being released from Rome’s Gemelli Hospital on Saturday April 1st. An estimated sixty thousand faithful took part in the the celebration that concluded with the recitation of the Angelus prayer.
In his homily following the recitation of the Passion, Pope Francis reflected on Christ’s cry from the Cross: ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ “Those words bring us to the very heart of Christ’s Passion, the culmination of the sufferings He endured for our salvation,” the Pope said, noting that these are the only words from the Cross reported in St Matthew’s Gospel.”
The Holy Father noted that the sufferings of Jesus were many, and that whenever we listen to the account of the Passion, “they pierce our hearts”. Pope Francis explained that these were sufferings of the body, but also of the soul and of the spirit but that amid all these sorrows, Jesus remained certain of one thing: the closeness of the Father.
The suffering of the spirit, continued Pope Francis, reflected in Jesus’ exclamation “My God, why have you forsaken me?” is the most searing of all sufferings, continued the Pope, as “at his most tragic hour, Jesus experiences abandonment by God”, noted the Pope, adding that prior to that moment, “he had never called the Father by his generic name, ‘God'”.
Pope Francis then went on to explain that feeling this distance from God is a totally alien feeling to Jesus’ being; the only reason can be that He did it for us. “He became one of us to the very end, in order to be completely and definitively one with us so that none of us would ever again feel alone and beyond hope”. He experienced abandonment in order not to leave us prey to despair, in order to stay at our side forever.
The Holy Father asked the faithful gathered to remember that it is in this way that the Lord saves us and recalled that “on the cross, even as he felt utter abandonment, Jesus refused to yield to despair; instead, he prayed and trusted, commending himself into the hands of the Father, despite the distance he felt.
“Brothers and sisters, a love like this, embracing us totally and to the very end, can turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, and make them capable of mercy, tenderness, and compassion”, continued Pope Francis. He explained that Christ, in his abandonment, “stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves abandoned”.
The Pope remembered the abandoned around us today, recalling in particular a German homeless man, Burkhard Scheffler, who died in november 2022 underneath the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Square. So many people need our closeness, so many are abandoned, he added. And just as we all need the closeness of Jesus in our lives, we also must go out to find Jesus in the abandoned, those who are alone.
Bringing his homily to a close, the Pope asked those following to remember that “the rejected and the excluded are living icons of Christ: they remind us of his reckless love, his forsakenness that delivers us from every form of loneliness and isolation”. Today, concluded the Pope, let us implore this grace: “to love Jesus in his abandonment and to love Jesus in the abandoned all around us”, as then, and only then, “will we be of one mind and heart with the one who, for our sake, ’emptied himself'”.