VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) - On Palm Sunday Pope Francis said the path toward salvation can be summed up by humility and service, and encouraged pilgrims to contemplate Jesus' shameful Passion and Death throughout Holy Week.
"Today's liturgy teaches us that the Lord has not saved us by his triumphal entry or by means of powerful miracles," the Pope said March 20.
Instead, in the day's second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians, the apostle "epitomizes in two verbs the path of redemption: Jesus 'emptied' and 'humbled' himself."
These two verbs, Francis said, "show the boundlessness of God's love for us. Jesus emptied himself: he did not cling to the glory that was his as the Son of God, but became the Son of man in order to be in solidarity with us sinners in all things; yet he was without sin."
Jesus chose to take on the condition of a servant rather than that of a king or a prince, the Pope observed, adding that "the abyss" of Jesus' humiliation seems to be "bottomless" as Holy Week approaches.
However, just as he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus also wants to enter our lives and cities in the same way, Francis said. "He comes to us in humility; he comes in the name of the Lord."
Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his Palm Sunday Mass.
Before opening the celebration, he blessed the palms used in the day's liturgy from the obelisk in St. Peter's Square, and led a procession up to the main altar.
After listening to the lengthy account of Jesus' Passion and Death from the Gospel of Luke, Francis told attendees that the first sign of Jesus' humble and endless love in Holy Week is expressed in the washing of his disciples' feet on Holy Thursday.
By washing their feet, Jesus shows us by example "that we need to allow his love to reach us, a love which bends down to us," he said.
"We cannot do any less, we cannot love without letting ourselves be loved by him first, without experiencing his surprising tenderness and without accepting that true love consists in concrete service."
However, Francis noted that this act is "only the beginning," and that Jesus' humiliation reaches its climax during his Passion, when he is sold for 30 pieces of silver and betrayed by the kiss of a man whom he had chosen and called as his disciple, and whom he called a friend.
In addition to Judas' betrayal, Jesus is abandoned by nearly all the rest of his disciples, he is denied by Peter three times, and is humiliated by mockery, spitting, insults and physical beatings.
Jesus "suffers in his body terrible brutality: the blows, the scourging and the crown of thorns make his face unrecognizable," the Pope said, noting how Jesus was also shamed by the condemnation of religious and political leaders.
In being sent from Pilate to Herod and then back to the Roman governor, Jesus experiences indifference "in his own flesh," because "no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate," Francis observed.
Even the crowd, who had previously welcomed him, call for his crucifixion and ask that a murderer be released instead, the Pope recalled. This then leads to Jesus' death in the "most painful form of shame" intended for traitors, slaves and the worst of criminals.
However, as if his isolation, defamation and pain weren't enough, Jesus takes it a step further, Pope Francis said, explaining that in order to be in complete solidarity with man, "he also experiences on the Cross the mysterious abandonment of the Father."
Jesus faces his final temptation while hanging from the Cross, when he is challenged to come down and save himself. Though instead of giving in, the Lord entrusts himself to his Father in order to conquer evil for good and show the face "of a powerful and invincible God," he said.
Francis explained that even at "the height of his annihilation, (Jesus) reveals the true face of God, which is mercy," by forgiving those who crucify him, moving the heart of the centurion and promising paradise to the repentant thief.
"If the mystery of evil is unfathomable, then the reality of Love poured out through him is infinite, reaching even to the tomb and to hell," the Pope said.
Jesus, he added, "takes upon himself all our pain that he may redeem it, bringing light to darkness, life to death, love to hatred."
Pope Francis concluded his homily by noting how God's way of acting seems to be distant from our own, since "he was annihilated for our sake, while it seems difficult for us to even forget ourselves a little."
"He comes to save us; we are called to choose his way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves," he said, and encouraged attendees to pause during Holy Week to contemplate the Crucifix.
By humbling himself, Jesus invites us to walk the same path, Francis said, urging pilgrims to ask him "for the grace to understand something of the mystery of his obliteration for our sake; and then, in silence, let us contemplate the mystery of this week."
After Mass Pope Francis greeted youth present for the 31st World Youth Day, the national celebration of which will take place July 25-31 in Krakow, and led pilgrims in praying the Angelus.