Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Since time immemorial, mankind has tried to attain the heights, "to be like God," but a "force of gravity pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil". From this contradiction, we are saved by " the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high".

This human condition of light and shadow, of faith in the efficacy of the sacrifice of Jesus and the invitation to follow him was the focus of Benedict XVI’s homily today after the chanting of the Passion, the Mass of Palm Sunday that opens Holy Week for the Catholic Church.

Between the encircling colonnades of St Peter's Square, there were about 50 thousand people, mostly young people of Rome and representatives from other continents. Today the 26th World Youth Day is celebrated at diocesan level, pending the worldwide celebration which will take place in Madrid next 16 to 21 August.

And it was especially to the young people that the Pope addressed his homily, inspired by the procession of the Palms. It marks the ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem and his ultimate sacrifice, "He was making his way to the heights of the Cross, to the moment of self-giving love. The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being". Benedict XVI urged young people to reflect on the meaning of travelling “together with Jesus,… setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God”.

“From the beginning– said the Pope - men and women have been filled – and this is as true today as ever – with a desire to "be like God", to attain the heights of God by their own powers. All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. 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. 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”.

Human beings – continued the Pope – “stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards”.

And once again the heart; “where will, feeling and understanding become one in the knowledge and love of God. This is the "heart" which must be lifted up. But to repeat: of ourselves, we are too weak to lift up our hearts to the heights of God. 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. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. He humbled himself, as the second reading says. Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God’s humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards”.

Confirming this human drama, Benedict XVI cites St. Augustine. Arguing with some Platonic philosophers, who believed they had found the "means of purification" so that man "could break free from the heavy weight that pulls him down," he said; " recognize that human power and all these purifications are not enough to bring man in truth to the heights of the divine, to his own heights. And he added that he should have despaired of himself and human existence had he not found the One who accomplishes what we of ourselves cannot accomplish; the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high".

"Let us show the Lord - concluded the pope - that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, "which seeks your face, O God of Jacob" '(Ps 24.6). Amen.

Before concluding the Mass, Benedict XVI recited the Angelus, preceded by greetings in various languages to all the young people present, inviting them to Madrid for the next World Youth Day.