VATICAN CITY, APRIL 17, 2011 ( Accompanied by thousands of pilgrims waiving palms in memory of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Benedict XVI today asked if the symbolism of today's liturgy is merely a "ritual" and a "quaint custom."

The answer, the Pope said, can only be understood if we are "clear about what Jesus himself wished to do and actually did."

This was the way the Holy Father introduced his homily today as he celebrated Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. With today's Mass, the Pope, who turned 84 on Saturday, began the intense celebrations of Holy Week.

Regarding Christ's entry into Jerusalem, the Pontiff noted that Jesus "knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross."

"He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love," the Pope said. "The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being."

Today's procession then, is meant "to be an image of something deeper," Benedict XVI affirmed. It is meant "to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God. This is the ascent that matters. This is the journey which Jesus invites us to make."

Evil and good

The Bishop of Rome went on to explain that such an ascent can only happen with the strength of God.

"Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth," he observed. "And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months."

Man is thus "betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom."

Human strength is too weak to "lift up our hearts to the heights of God," the Pope continued. "We cannot do it. The very pride of thinking that we are able to do it on our own drags us down and estranges us from God. God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross."

The Holy Father concluded his homily with an invitation to show Christ a desire for righteousness.

"We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights," he said. "We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure!"

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