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Monday, March 24, 2014

0340: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Lent by Pope Benedict XVI



Entry 0340: Reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Lent  
by 
Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate 



On seven occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, on 26 March 2006, 18 March 2007, 2 March 2008, 22 March 2009, 14 March 2010, 3 April 2011, and 19 March 2012. Here are the texts of seven brief reflections before the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 26 March 2006.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Consistory held in the past few days for the appointment of 15 new Cardinals was an intense ecclesial experience that enabled us to sample the spiritual riches of collegiality, of being together with brothers from various provenances, all of us sharing in one love for Christ and for his Church.

In a certain way we relived the reality of the first Christian community, gathered round Mary, Mother of Jesus, and Peter, to receive the gift of the Spirit and to commit themselves to spreading the Gospel throughout the world.

Fidelity to this mission to the point of sacrificing their life is a distinctive feature of Cardinals, as their oath attests, and is, as it were, symbolized by scarlet, which is the colour of blood.

By a providential coincidence, the Consistory took place on 24 March, when we commemorated the missionaries who died during the past year on the frontiers of evangelization and in the service of humanity in various parts of the globe.

Thus, the Consistory was an opportunity to feel closer than ever to all those Christians who suffer persecution in the cause of the faith. Their witness, news of which we receive every day, and especially the sacrifice of those who were killed, is edifying to us and spurs us to make an ever more sincere and generous commitment to evangelize.

My thoughts go in particular to those communities who live in countries where religious freedom is lacking or where, despite the fact that it is allowed on paper, it is actually restricted in many ways. I send them warm encouragement to persevere patiently in the love of Christ, a seed of the Kingdom of God that is coming, indeed, already exists in the world.

On behalf of the entire Church, I would like to express the warmest solidarity to all who work at the service of the Gospel in these difficult situations, and at the same time I assure them of my daily remembrance in prayer.

The Church moves on in history and spreads throughout the earth accompanied by Mary, Queen of the Apostles. For Christians, as in the Upper Room, the Blessed Virgin always constitutes the living memorial of Jesus. It is she who enlivens their prayers and sustains their hope. Let us ask her to guide us on our daily journey and to protect with special love those Christian communities that live in conditions of greater difficulty and suffering.


PASTORAL VISIT TO THE ROMAN PARISH OF «DIO PADRE MISERICORDIOSO»

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Fourth Sunday of Lent, 26 March 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as “Laetare Sunday”, is permeated with a joy which, to some extent, attenuates the penitential atmosphere of this holy season:  “Rejoice Jerusalem!”, the Church says in the Entrance Antiphon, “Be glad for her... you who mourned for her”.

The refrain of the Responsorial Psalm echoes this invitation:  “The memory of you, Lord, is our joy”.

To think of God gives joy. We spontaneously ask ourselves:  but why should we rejoice? One reason, of course, is the approach of Easter. The expectation of Easter gives us a foretaste of the joy of the encounter with the Risen Christ.

The deepest reason, however, lies in the message offered by the biblical readings that the liturgy presents to us today and that we have heard. They remind us that despite our unworthiness, God’s infinite mercy is destined for us. God loves us in a way that we might call “obstinate” and enfolds us in his inexhaustible tenderness.

This is what already emerges from the First Reading from the Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament (see II Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23). The sacred author offers us a concise and meaningful interpretation of the history of the Chosen People, who suffered God’s punishment as a consequence of their rebellious behaviour:  the temple was destroyed and the people in exile no longer had a land; it truly seemed that God had forgotten them.

Then, however, they saw that God, through punishment, pursues a plan of mercy. It was to be the destruction of the Holy City and the temple - as I said -, it was to be an exile that would move the people’s hearts and bring them back to their God so that they might know him more deeply.

And then the Lord, demonstrating the absolute primacy of his initiative over every purely human effort, was to make use of a pagan, King Cyrus of Persia, to set Israel free.

In the text we have heard, the anger and mercy of the Lord alternate in a dramatic sequence, but love triumphs in the end, for God is love.

How can we fail to grasp from the memory of those distant events a message valid for all times, including our own? In thinking of the past centuries, we can see that God continues to love us even when he punishes us. Even when God’s plans pass through trial and punishment, they always aim at an outcome of mercy and forgiveness.

This is what the Apostle Paul confirmed for us in the Second Reading, recalling that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2: 4-5).

To express this reality of salvation the Apostle, together with the term “mercy”, eleos in Greek, uses the word for love, agape, taken up and further amplified in the most beautiful statement which we heard in the Gospel passage:  “God so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3: 16).

As we know, that “giving” on the part of the Father had a dramatic development:  it even went to the point of the sacrifice of the Son on the Cross.

If Jesus’ entire mission in history is an eloquent sign of God’s love, his death, in which God’s redeeming tenderness is fully expressed, is quite uniquely so. Always, but particularly in this Lenten Season, our meditation must be centred on the Cross. In it we contemplate the glory of the Lord that shines out in the martyred body of Jesus.

God’s greatness, his being love, becomes visible precisely in this total gift of himself. It is the glory of the Crucified One that every Christian is called to understand, live and bear witness to with his life.

The Cross - the giving of himself on the part of the Son of God - is the definitive “sign” par excellence given to us so that we might understand the truth about man and the truth about God:  we have all been created and redeemed by a God who sacrificed his only Son out of love.

This is why the Crucifixion, as I wrote in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, “is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form” (no. 12).

How should we respond to this radical love of the Lord?

The Gospel presents to us a person by the name of Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem who sought out Jesus by night. He was a well-to-do man, attracted by the Lord’s words and example, but one who hesitated to take the leap of faith because he was fearful of others. He felt the fascination of this Rabbi, so different from the others, but could not manage to rid himself of the conditioning of his environment that was hostile to Jesus, and stood irresolute on the threshold of faith.

How many people also in our time are in search of God, in search of Jesus and of his Church, in search of divine mercy, and are waiting for a “sign” that will touch their minds and their hearts!

Today, as then, the Evangelist reminds us that the only “sign” is Jesus raised on the Cross:  Jesus who died and rose is the absolutely sufficient sign. Through him we can understand the truth about life and obtain salvation.

This is the principal proclamation of the Church, which remains unchanged down the ages.

The Christian faith, therefore, is not an ideology but a personal encounter with the Crucified and Risen Christ. From this experience, both individual and communitarian, flows a new way of thinking and acting:  an existence marked by love is born, as the saints testify.

Dear friends, this mystery is particularly eloquent in your parish, dedicated to “God, the merciful Father”. It was desired, as we well know, by my beloved Predecessor John Paul II in memory of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, to effectively condense that extraordinary spiritual event.

In meditating on the Lord’s mercy that was revealed totally and definitively in the mystery of the Cross, the text that John Paul II had prepared for his meeting with the faithful on 3 April, Sunday in Albis, the Second Sunday of Easter last year, comes to my mind.

In the divine plans it was written that he would leave us precisely on the eve of that day, Saturday, 2 April - we all remember it well -, and for that reason he was unable to address his words to you. I would like to address them to you now, dear brothers and sisters.  “To humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and reopens hearts to hope. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace”.

The Pope, in this last text which is like a testament, then added:  “How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!” (Regina Caeli Reflection, read by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square, 3 April 2005; L’Osservatore Romano English Edition, 6 April, p. 1, no. 2).

To understand and accept God’s merciful love:  may this be your commitment, first of all in your families and then in every neighbourhood milieu.

I hope for this with all my heart as I offer you my cordial greeting, starting with the priests who care for your community under the guidance of the parish priest, Fr Gianfranco Corbino, to whom I offer sincere thanks for having interpreted your sentiments in a beautiful presentation of this building, this “barque” of Peter and of the Lord.

I next extend my greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and to Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the titular of your church, to the Vicegerent and the Bishop of the Eastern Sector of Rome and to all those who cooperate actively in the various parish services.

I know that yours is a young community, barely 10 years old, which spent its early days in precarious conditions while waiting for the completion of its current structures.

I also know that rather than discouraging you, the initial problems impelled you to unanimous apostolic work with special attention to the area of catechesis, the liturgy and charity.

Continue, dear friends, on the path on which you have set out, striving to make your parish a true family in which fidelity to the Word of God and the Church’s Tradition may become, day after day, more and more your rule of life.

I know, moreover, that because of its original architectural structure, your church attracts many visitors. Make them appreciate not only the particular beauty of this sacred building, but especially the riches of a lively Community, eager to witness to the love of God, the merciful Father. That love is the true secret of Christian joy to which today, Laetare Sunday, invites us.

As we turn our gaze to Mary, “Mother of holy joy”, let us ask her to help us deepen the reasons for our faith, so that, as today’s liturgy urges us, renewed in the spirit and with a joyful heart, we may respond to the eternal and boundless love of God. Amen!


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 18 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I have just returned from Casal del Marmo, the reformatory for minors in Rome, where I went to visit on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, in Latin called Laetare Sunday, that is, “Rejoice”, from the first word of the entrance antiphon in the liturgy of Mass.

The liturgy today invites us to rejoice because Easter, the day of Christ’s victory over sin and death, is approaching. But where is the source of Christian joy to be found if not in the Eucharist, which Christ left us as spiritual Food while we are pilgrims on this earth?

The Eucharist nurtures in believers of every epoch that deep joy which makes us one with love and peace and originates from communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.

Last Tuesday the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis was presented. Its theme, precisely, is the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission. I wrote it gathering the fruits of the 11th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in the Vatican in October 2005.

I mean to return to this important text, but I want to emphasize from this moment that it is an expression of the universal Church’s faith in the Eucharistic Mystery and is in continuity with the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of my venerable Predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II.

In this Document, I wanted among other things to highlight its connection with the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: that is why I chose as its title Sacramentum Caritatis, taking up St Thomas Aquinas’ beautiful definition of the Eucharist (see Summa Th. III, q. 73, a. 3, ad 3), the “Sacrament of charity”.

Yes, in the Eucharist Christ wanted to give us his love, which impelled him to offer his life for us on the Cross. At the Last Supper, in washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus left us the commandment of love: “even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13: 34).

However, since this is only possible by remaining united to him like branches to the vine (see Jn 15: 1-8), he chose to remain with us himself in the Eucharist so that we could remain in him.

When, therefore, we nourish ourselves with faith on his Body and Blood, his love passes into us and makes us capable in turn of laying down our lives for our brethren (see I Jn 3: 16) and not to grasp it for ourselves. From this flows Christian joy, the joy of love and the joy to be loved.

Mary is the “Woman of the Eucharist” par excellence, a masterpiece of divine grace: the love of God has made her immaculate, “holy and blameless before him” (see Eph 1: 4).

At her side, as Custodian of the Redeemer, God placed St Joseph, whose liturgical Solemnity we will be celebrating tomorrow. I invoke this great Saint, my Patron, in particular so that by believing, celebrating and living the Eucharistic Mystery with faith, the People of God will be pervaded by Christ’s love and spread its fruits of joy and peace to all humanity.


VISIT TO ROME’S PRISON FOR MINORS, “CASAL DEL MARMO”

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

Chapel of the Merciful Father, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 18 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Boys and Girls,

I have willingly come to pay you a Visit, and the most important moment of our meeting is Holy Mass, where the gift of God’s love is renewed: a love that comforts us and gives us peace, especially in life’s difficult moments.

In this prayerful atmosphere I would like to address my greeting to each one of you: to the Hon. Mr Clemente Mastella, Minister of Justice, to whom I express a special “thank you”; to Mrs Melìta Cavallo, Department Head of Justice for Minors, to the other Authorities who have spoken, to those in charge, to the operators, teachers and personnel of this juvenile penitentiary, to the volunteers, to your relatives and to everyone present.

I greet the Cardinal Vicar and Auxiliary Bishop Benedetto Tùzia.

I greet in particular, Mons. Giorgio Caniato, General Inspector of the Prisons Chaplaincy, and your Chaplain, whom I thank for expressing your sentiments at the beginning of Holy Mass.

In the Eucharistic celebration it is Christ himself who becomes present among us; indeed, even more: he comes to enlighten us with his teaching - in the Liturgy of the Word - and to nourish us with his Body and his Blood - in the Eucharistic Liturgy and in Communion.

Thus, he comes to teach us to love, to make us capable of loving and thereby capable of living.

But perhaps you will say, how difficult it is to love seriously and to live well! What is the secret of love, the secret of life? Let us return to the Gospel [of the Prodigal Son].

In this Gospel three persons appear: the father and two sons. But these people represent two rather different life projects. Both sons lived peacefully, they were fairly well-off farmers so they had enough to live on, selling their produce profitably, and life seemed good.

Yet little by little the younger son came to find this life boring and unsatisfying: “All of life can’t be like this”, he thought: rising every day, say at six o’clock, then according to Israel’s traditions, there must have been a prayer, a reading from the Holy Bible, then they went to work and at the end of the day another prayer.

Thus, day after day he thought: “But no, life is something more. I must find another life where I am truly free, where I can do what I like; a life free from this discipline, from these norms of God’s commandments, from my father’s orders; I would like to be on my own and have life with all its beauties totally for myself. Now, instead, it is nothing but work...”.

And so he decided to claim the whole of his share of his inheritance and leave. His father was very respectful and generous and respected the son’s freedom: it was he who had to find his own life project. And he departed, as the Gospel says, to a far-away country. It was probably geographically distant because he wanted a change, but also inwardly distant because he wanted a completely different life.

So his idea was: freedom, doing what I want to do, not recognizing these laws of a God who is remote, not being in the prison of this domestic discipline, but rather doing what is beautiful, what I like, possessing life with all its beauty and fullness.

And at first - we might imagine, perhaps for a few months - everything went smoothly: he found it beautiful to have attained life at last, he felt happy.

Then, however, little by little, he felt bored here, too; here too everything was always the same. And in the end, he was left with an emptiness that was even more disturbing: the feeling that this was still not life became ever more acute; indeed, going ahead with all these things, life drifted further and further away. Everything became empty: the slavery of doing the same things then also re-emerged. And in the end, his money ran out and the young man found that his standard of living was lower than that of swine.

It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others, to contribute to building the world, to the growth of the human community....

So it was that he set out on a new journey, an inner journey. The boy pondered and considered all these new aspects of the problem and began to see that he had been far freer at home, since he had also been a landowner contributing to building his home and society in communion with the Creator, knowing the purpose of his life and guessing the project that God had in store for him.

During this interior journey, during this development of a new life project and at the same time living the exterior journey, the younger son was motivated to return, to start his life anew because he now understood that he had taken the wrong track. I must start out afresh with a different concept, he said to himself; I must begin again.

And he arrived at the home of the father who had left him his freedom to give him the chance to understand inwardly what life is and what life is not. The father embraced him with all his love, he offered him a feast and life could start again beginning from this celebration.

The son realized that it is precisely work, humility and daily discipline that create the true feast and true freedom. So he returned home, inwardly matured and purified: he had understood what living is.

Of course, in the future his life would not be easy either, temptations would return, but he was henceforth fully aware that life without God does not work; it lacks the essential, it lacks light, it lacks reason, it lacks the great sense of being human. He understood that we can only know God on the basis of his Word.

We Christians can add that we know who God is from Jesus, in whom the face of God has been truly shown to us. The young man understood that God’s Commandments are not obstacles to freedom and to a beautiful life, but signposts on the road on which to travel to find life.

He realized too that work and the discipline of being committed, not to oneself but to others, extends life. And precisely this effort of dedicating oneself through work gives depth to life, because one experiences the pleasure of having at last made a contribution to the growth of this world that becomes freer and more beautiful.

I do not wish at this point to speak of the other son who stayed at home, but in his reaction of envy we see that inwardly he too was dreaming that perhaps it would be far better to take all the freedoms for himself. He too in his heart was “returning home” and understanding once again what life is, understanding that it is truly possible to live only with God, with his Word, in the communion of one’s own family, of work; in the communion of the great Family of God.

I do not wish to enter into these details now: let each one of us apply this Gospel to himself in his own way. Our situations are different and each one has his own world. Nonetheless, the fact remains that we are all moved and that we can all enter with our inner journey into the depths of the Gospel.

Only a few more remarks: the Gospel helps us understand who God truly is. He is the Merciful Father who in Jesus loves us beyond all measure.

The errors we commit, even if they are serious, do not corrode the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always start out afresh in life. He welcomes us, he restores to us our dignity as his children.

Let us therefore rediscover this sacrament of forgiveness that makes joy well up in a heart reborn to true life.

Furthermore, this parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a “monad”, an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone.

On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image, a creature who is attracted to the horizon of his Grace, but he is also a frail creature exposed to evil but also capable of good. And lastly, the human being is a free person.

We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil and thus also to lose freedom and our dignity.

Dear friends, we are in the Season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. In this Season of Lent, the Church helps us to make this interior journey and invites us to conversion, which always, even before being an important effort to change our behaviour, is an opportunity to decide to get up and set out again, to abandon sin and to choose to return to God.

Let us - this is the imperative of Lent - make this journey of inner liberation together.

Every time, such as today, that we participate in the Eucharist, the source and school of love, we become capable of living this love, of proclaiming it and witnessing to it with our life.

Nevertheless, we need to decide to walk towards Jesus as the Prodigal Son did, returning inwardly and outwardly to his father.

At the same time, we must abandon the selfish attitude of the older son who was sure of himself, quick to condemn others and closed in his heart to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of his brother, and who forgot that he too was in need of forgiveness.

May the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, my Patron Saint whose Feast it will be tomorrow, obtain this gift for us; I now invoke him in a special way for each one of you and for your loved ones.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2 March 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On these Sundays in Lent the liturgy takes us on a true and proper baptismal route through the texts of John’s Gospel: last Sunday, Jesus promised the gift of “living water” to the Samaritan woman; today, by healing the man born blind, he reveals himself as “the light of the world”; next Sunday, in raising his friend Lazarus, he will present himself as “the resurrection and the life”. Water, light and life are symbols of Baptism, the Sacrament that “immerses” believers in the mystery of the death and Resurrection of Christ, liberating them from the slavery of sin and giving them eternal life.

Let us reflect briefly on the account of the man born blind (Jn 9: 1-41). According to the common mentality of the time, the disciples take it for granted that his blindness was the result of a sin committed by him or his parents. Jesus, however, rejects this prejudice and says: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (Jn 9: 3).

What comfort these words offer us! They let us hear the living voice of God, who is provident and wise Love! In the face of men and women marked by limitations and suffering, Jesus did not think of their possible guilt but rather of the will of God who created man for life. And so he solemnly declares: “We must work the works of him who sent me.... As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn 9: 5).

And he immediately takes action: mixing a little earth with saliva he made mud and spread it on the eyes of the blind man. This act alludes to the creation of man, which the Bible recounts using the symbol of dust from the ground, fashioned and enlivened by God’s breath (Gn 2: 7). In fact, “Adam” means “ground” and the human body was in effect formed of particles of soil. By healing the blind man Jesus worked a new creation.

But this healing sparked heated debate because Jesus did it on the Sabbath, thereby in the Pharisees’ opinion violating the feast-day precept. Thus, at the end of the account, Jesus and the blind man are both cast out, the former because he broke the law and the latter because, despite being healed, he remained marked as a sinner from birth.

Jesus reveals to the blind man whom he had healed that he had come into the world for judgement, to separate the blind who can be healed from those who do not allow themselves to be healed because they consider themselves healthy. Indeed, the temptation to build himself an ideological security system is strong in man: even religion can become an element of this system, as can atheism or secularism, but in letting this happen one is blinded by one’s own selfishness.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be healed by Jesus, who can and wants to give us God’s light! Let us confess our blindness, our shortsightedness, and especially what the Bible calls the “great transgression” (see Ps 19[18]: 13): pride. May Mary Most Holy, who by conceiving Christ in the flesh gave the world the true light, help us to do this.


APOSTOLIC JOURNEY
OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
TO CAMEROON AND ANGOLA

(MARCH 17-23, 2009)

BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Cimangola Square in Luanda, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 22 March 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At the conclusion of our Eucharistic celebration, as my Pastoral Visit to Africa comes to its close, let us now turn to Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, to implore her loving intercession upon us, our families, and our world.

In this Angelus prayer, we recall Mary’s complete “yes” to the will of God. Through Mary’s obedience of faith, the Son of God came into the world to bring us forgiveness, salvation and life in abundance. By becoming a man like us in all things but sin, Christ taught us the dignity and worth of each member of the human family. He died for our sins, to gather us together into God’s family.

Our prayer rises today from Angola, from Africa, and embraces the whole world. May the men and women from throughout the world who join us in our prayer, turn their eyes to Africa, to this great Continent so filled with hope, yet so thirsty for justice, for peace, for a sound and integral development that can ensure a future of progress and peace for its people.

Today I commend to your prayers the work of preparation for the coming Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled to meet in October. Inspired by faith in God and trust in Christ’s promises, may the Catholics of this Continent become ever more fully a leaven of evangelical hope for all people of good will who love Africa, who are committed to the material and spiritual advancement of its children, and the spread of freedom, prosperity, justice and solidarity in the pursuit of the common good.

May Mary, Queen of Peace, continue to guide Angola’s people in the task of national reconciliation following the devastating and inhuman experience of the civil war. May her prayers obtain for all Angolans the grace of authentic forgiveness, respect for others, and cooperation which alone can carry forward the immense work of rebuilding. May the Holy Mother of God, who points us to her Son, our brother, remind Christians everywhere of our duty to love our neighbour, to be peacemakers, to be the first to forgive those who have sinned against us, even as we have been forgiven.

Here in Southern Africa, let us ask our Lady in a particular way to intercede for peace, the conversion of hearts, and an end to the conflict in the neighbouring Great Lakes region. May her Son, the Prince of Peace, bring healing to the suffering, consolation to those who mourn, and strength to all who carry forward the difficult process of dialogue, negotiation and the cessation of violence.

With this confidence, then, we now turn to Mary, our Mother, and, in reciting this Angelus prayer, let us pray for the peace and salvation of the whole human family.


APOSTOLIC JOURNEY
OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
TO CAMEROON AND ANGOLA

(MARCH 17-23, 2009)

EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION WITH THE BISHOPS OF I.M.B.I.S.A.
(INTER-REGIONAL MEETING OF BISHOPS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA)

HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI

Cimangola Square in Luanda, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). These words fill us with joy and hope, as we await the fulfilment of God’s promises! Today it is my particular joy, as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, to celebrate this Mass with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ from throughout Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, and so many other countries. With great affection in the Lord I greet the Catholic communities from Luanda, Bengo, Cabinda, Benguela, Huambo, Huìla, Kuàndo Kubàngo, Kunène, North Kwanza, South Kwanza, North Lunda, South Lunda, Malanje, Namibe, Moxico, Uíje and Zàire.

In a special way, I greet my brother Bishops, the members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, assembled around this altar of the Lord’s sacrifice. I thank the President of CEAST, Archbishop Damião Franklin, for his kind words of welcome, and, in the person of their Pastors, I greet all the faithful in the nations of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Today’s first reading has a particular resonance for God’s people in Angola. It is a message of hope addressed to the Chosen People in the land of their Exile, a summons to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Lord’s Temple. Its vivid description of the destruction and ruin caused by war echoes the personal experience of so many people in this country amid the terrible ravages of the civil war. How true it is that war can “destroy everything of value” (see 2 Chr 36:19): families, whole communities, the fruit of men’s labour, the hopes which guide and sustain their lives and work! This experience is all too familiar to Africa as a whole: the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people. When God’s word – a word meant to build up individuals, communities and the whole human family – is neglected, and when God’s law is “ridiculed, despised, laughed at” (ibid., v. 16), the result can only be destruction and injustice: the abasement of our common humanity and the betrayal of our vocation to be sons and daughters of a merciful Father, brothers and sisters of his beloved Son.

So let us draw comfort from the consoling words which we have heard in the first reading! The call to return and rebuild God’s Temple has a particular meaning for each of us. Saint Paul, the two thousandth anniversary of whose birth we celebrate this year, tells us that “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). God dwells, we know, in the hearts of all who put their faith in Christ, who are reborn in Baptism and are made temples of the Holy Spirit. Even now, in the unity of the Body of Christ which is the Church, God is calling us to acknowledge the power of his presence within us, to reappropriate the gift of his love and forgiveness, and to become messengers of that merciful love within our families and communities, at school and in the workplace, in every sector of social and political life.

Here in Angola, this Sunday has been set aside as a day of prayer and sacrifice for national reconciliation. The Gospel teaches us that reconciliation, true reconciliation, can only be the fruit of conversion, a change of heart, a new way of thinking. It teaches us that only the power of God’s love can change our hearts and make us triumph over the power of sin and division. When we were “dead through our sins” (Eph 2:5), his love and mercy brought us reconciliation and new life in Christ. This is the heart of the Apostle Paul’s teaching, and it is important for us to remind ourselves: only God’s grace can create a new heart in us! Only his love can change our “hearts of stone” (see Ezek 11:19) and enable us to build up, rather than tear down. Only God can make all things new!

It is to preach this message of forgiveness, hope and new life in Christ that I have come to Africa. Three days ago, in Yaoundé, I had the joy of promulgating the Instrumentum Laboris for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will be devoted to the theme: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. I ask you today, in union with all our brothers and sisters throughout Africa, to pray for this intention: that every Christian on this great continent will experience the healing touch of God’s merciful love, and that the Church in Africa will become “for all, through the witness borne by its sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation” (Ecclesia in Africa, 79).

Dear friends, this is the message that the Pope is bringing to you and your children. You have received power from the Holy Spirit to be the builders of a better tomorrow for your beloved country. In Baptism you were given the Spirit in order to be heralds of God’s Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace (see Roman Missal, Preface of Christ the King). On the day of your Baptism you received the light of Christ. Be faithful to that gift! Be confident that the Gospel can affirm, purify and ennoble the profound human values present in your native culture and traditions: your strong families, your deep religious sense, your joyful celebration of the gift of life, your appreciation of the wisdom of the elderly and the aspirations of the young. Be grateful, then, for the light of Christ! Be grateful for those who brought it, the generations of missionaries who contributed – and continue to contribute – so much to this country’s human and spiritual development. Be grateful for the witness of so many Christian parents, teachers, catechists, priests and religious, who made personal sacrifices in order to pass this precious treasure down to you! And take up the challenge which this great legacy sets before you. Realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is meant to be a sign before the world of that unity to which the whole human family is called, through faith in Christ the Redeemer.

The words which Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel are quite striking: He tells us that God’s sentence has already been pronounced upon this world (see Jn 3:19ff). The light has already come into the world. Yet men preferred the darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil. How much darkness there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men’s hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society – a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values. And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?

Yet the word of God is a word of unbounded hope. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son … so that through him, the world might be saved” (Jn 3:16-17). God does not give up on us! He continues to lift our eyes to a future of hope, and he promises us the strength to accomplish it. As Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading, God created us in Christ Jesus “to live the good life”, a life of good deeds, in accordance with his will (see Eph 2:10). He gave us his commandments, not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good. God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us! This is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: “The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God” (Jn 3:21).

“Live”, then, “by the truth!” Radiate the light of faith, hope and love in your families and communities! Be witnesses of the holy truth that sets men and women free! You know from bitter experience that, in comparison with the sudden, destructive fury of evil, the work of rebuilding is painfully slow and arduous. Living by the truth takes time, effort and perseverance: it has to begin in our own hearts, in the small daily sacrifices required if we are to be faithful to God’s law, in the little acts by which we demonstrate that we love our neighbours, all our neighbours, regardless of race, ethnicity or language, and by our readiness to work with them to build together on foundations that will endure. Let your parishes become communities where the light of God’s truth and the power of Christ’s reconciling love are not only celebrated, but proclaimed in concrete works of charity. And do not be afraid! Even if it means being a “sign of contradiction” (Lk 2:34) in the face of hardened attitudes and a mentality that sees others as a means to be used, rather than as brothers and sisters to be loved, cherished and helped along the path of freedom, life and hope.

Let me close by addressing a special word to the young people of Angola, and to all young people throughout Africa. Dear young friends: you are the hope of your country’s future, the promise of a better tomorrow! Begin today to grow in your friendship with Jesus, who is “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6): a friendship nurtured and deepened by humble and persevering prayer. Seek his will for you by listening to his word daily, and by allowing his law to shape your lives and your relationships. In this way you will become wise and generous prophets of God’s saving love. Become evangelizers of your own peers, leading them by your own example to an appreciation of the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and the hope of a future shaped by the values of God’s Kingdom. The Church needs your witness! Do not be afraid to respond generously to God’s call, whether it be to serve him as a priest or a religious, as a Christian parent, or in the many forms of service to others which the Church sets before you.

Dear brothers and sisters! At the end of today’s first reading, Cyrus, King of Persia, inspired by God, calls the Chosen People to return to their beloved land and to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. May his words be a summons to all God’s People in Angola and throughout Southern Africa: Arise! Ponde-vos a caminho!(see 2 Chr 36:23) Look to the future with hope, trust in God’s promises, and live in his truth. In this way, you will build something destined to endure, and leave to future generations a lasting inheritance of reconciliation, justice and peace. Amen.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 14 March 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of the father and the two sons better known as the Parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Lk 15:11-32) is proclaimed. This passage of St Luke constitutes one of the peaks of spirituality and literature of all time. Indeed, what would our culture, art and more generally our civilization be without this revelation of a God the Father so full of mercy? It never fails to move us and every time we hear or read it, it can suggest to us ever new meanings. Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know his Face and, better still, his Heart. After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before. We now know God; he is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return. For this reason, our relationship with him is built up through events, just as it happens for every child with his parents: at first he depends on them, then he asserts his autonomy; and, in the end if he develops well he reaches a mature relationship based on gratitude and authentic love.

In these stages we can also identify moments along man’s journey in his relationship with God. There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence. As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face. Fortunately for us, God never fails in his faithfulness and even if we distance ourselves and get lost he continues to follow us with his love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to him. In this parable the sons behave in opposite ways: the younger son leaves home and sinks ever lower whereas the elder son stays at home, but he too has an immature relationship with the Father. In fact, when his brother comes back, the elder brother does not rejoice like the Father; on the contrary he becomes angry and refuses to enter the house. The two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God: rebellion and childish obedience. Both these forms are surmounted through the experience of mercy. Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

Dear friends, let us meditate on this parable. Let us compare ourselves to the two sons and, especially, contemplate the Heart of the Father. Let us throw ourselves into his arms and be regenerated by his merciful love. May the Virgin Mary, Mater Misericordiae, help us to do this.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St Peter’s Square, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 3 April 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lenten journey that we are taking is a special time of grace during which we can experience the gift of the Lord’s kindness to us. The Liturgy of this Sunday, called “Laetare”, invites us to be glad and rejoice as the Entrance Antiphon of the Eucharistic celebration proclaims: “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts” (see Is 66: 10-11).

What is the profound reason for this joy? Today’s Gospel in which Jesus heals a man blind from birth tells us. The question which the Lord Jesus asks the blind man is the high point of the story: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn 9:35). The man recognizes the sign worked by Jesus and he passes from the light of his eyes to the light of faith: “Lord, I believe!” (Jn 9:38).

It should be noted that as a simple and sincere person he gradually completes the journey of faith. In the beginning he thinks of Jesus as a “man” among others, then he considers him a “prophet” and finally his eyes are opened and he proclaims him “Lord”. In opposition to the faith of the healed blind man is the hardening of the hearts of the Pharisees who do not want to accept the miracle because they refuse to receive Jesus as the Messiah. Instead the crowd pauses to discuss the event and continues to be distant and indifferent. Even the blind man’s parents are overcome by the fear of what others might think.

And what attitude to Jesus should we adopt? Because of Adam’s sin we too are born “blind” but in the baptismal font we are illumined by the grace of Christ. Sin wounded humanity and destined it to the darkness of death, but the newness of life shines out in Christ, as well as the destination to which we are called. In him, reinvigorated by the Holy Spirit, we receive the strength to defeat evil and to do good.

In fact the Christian life is a continuous conformation to Christ, image of the new man, in order to reach full communion with God. The Lord Jesus is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12), because in him shines “the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6) that continues in the complex plot of the story to reveal the meaning of human existence.

In the rite of Baptism, the presentation of the candle lit from the large Paschal candle, a symbol of the Risen Christ, is a sign that helps us to understand what happens in the Sacrament. When our lives are enlightened by the mystery of Christ, we experience the joy of being liberated from all that threatens the full realization.

In these days which prepare us for Easter let us rekindle within us the gift received in Baptism, that flame which sometimes risks being extinguished. Let us nourish it with prayer and love for others. Let us entrust our Lenten journey to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church so that all may encounter Christ, Saviour of the world.


BENEDICT XVI

ANGELUS

St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On our way towards Easter we have reached the Fourth Sunday of Lent. It is a journey with Jesus through the “wilderness”, that is, a time in which to listen more attentively to God’s voice and also to unmask the temptations that speak within us. The Cross is silhouetted against the horizon of this wilderness. Jesus knows that it is the culmination of his mission: in fact the Cross of Christ is the apex of love which gives us salvation. Christ himself says so in today’s Gospel: just “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).

The reference is to the episode in which, during the Exodus from Egypt, the Jews were attacked by poisonous serpents and many of them died. God then commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and to set it on a pole; anyone bitten by serpents was cured by looking at the bronze serpent (see Num 21:4-9). Jesus was to be raised likewise on the Cross, so that anyone in danger of death because of sin, may be saved by turning with faith to him who died for our sake: “for God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

St Augustine comments: “So far, then, as it lies with the physician, he has come to heal the sick. He that will not observe the orders of the physician destroys himself. He has come a Saviour to the world... You will not be saved by him; you shall be judged of yourself”. (On the Gospel of John 12, 12: PL 35, 1190). Therefore, if the merciful love of God — who went so far as to give his only Son to redeem our life — is infinite, we have a great responsibility: each one of us, in fact, must recognize that he is sick in order to be healed. Each one must confess his sin so that God’s forgiveness, already granted on the Cross, may have an effect in his heart and in his life.

St Augustine writes further: “God accuses your sins: and if you also accuse them, you are united to God.... When your own deeds will begin to displease you, from that time your good works begin, as you find fault with your evil works. The confession of evil works is the beginning of good works” (ibid., 13: PL 35, 1191).

Sometimes men and women prefer the darkness to the light because they are attached to their sins. Nevertheless it is only by opening oneself to the light and only by sincerely confessing one’s sins to God that one finds true peace and true joy. It is therefore important to receive the Sacrament of Penance regularly, especially during Lent, in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness and to intensify our process of conversion.

Dear friends, tomorrow we shall be celebrating the solemn Feast of St Joseph. I warmly thank all those who remember me in their prayers on my name day. In particular, I ask you to pray for my Apostolic Journey to Mexico and Cuba, on which I shall be setting out next Friday. Let us entrust it to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so beloved and venerated in these two countries which I am preparing to visit. 



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