Monday, March 6, 2023

Reflections on the Third Sunday
of Lent by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0338: Reflections on the Third Sunday of Lent  
Pope Benedict XVI 

On seven occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Third Sunday of Lent, on 19 March 2006, 11 March 2007, 24 February 2008, 15 March 2009, 7 March 2010, 27 March 2011, and 11 March 2012. Here are the texts of seven brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.



Saint Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 19 March 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, 19 March, is the Solemnity of St Joseph, but as it coincides with the Third Sunday of Lent, its liturgical celebration is postponed until tomorrow. However, the Marian context of the Angelus invites us to reflect today with veneration on the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s spouse and Patron of the universal Church.

I like to recall that beloved John Paul II was also very devoted to St Joseph, to whom he dedicated the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, Guardian of the Redeemer, and who surely experienced his assistance at the hour of death.

The figure of this great Saint, even though remaining somewhat hidden, is of fundamental importance in the history of salvation. Above all, as part of the tribe of Judah, he united Jesus to the Davidic lineage so that, fulfilling the promises regarding the Messiah, the Son of the Virgin Mary may truly be called the “son of David”.

The Gospel of Matthew highlights in a special way the Messianic prophecies which reached fulfilment through the role that Joseph played:  the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (2: 1-6); his journey through Egypt, where the Holy Family took refuge (2: 13-15); the nickname, the “Nazarene” (2: 22-23).

In all of this he showed himself, like his spouse Mary, an authentic heir of Abraham’s faith:  faith in God who guides the events of history according to his mysterious salvific plan. His greatness, like Mary’s, stands out even more because his mission was carried out in the humility and hiddenness of the house of Nazareth. Moreover, God himself, in the person of his Incarnate Son, chose this way and style of life - humility and hiddenness - in his earthly existence.

From the example of St Joseph we all receive a strong invitation to carry out with fidelity, simplicity and modesty the task that Providence has entrusted to us. I think especially of fathers and mothers of families, and I pray that they will always be able to appreciate the beauty of a simple and industrious life, cultivating the conjugal relationship with care and fulfilling with enthusiasm the great and difficult educational mission.

To priests, who exercise a paternal role over Ecclesial Communities, may St Joseph help them love the Church with affection and complete dedication, and may he support consecrated persons in their joyous and faithful observance of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. May he protect workers throughout the world so that they contribute with their different professions to the progress of the whole of humanity, and may he help every Christian to fulfil God’s will with confidence and love, thereby cooperating in the fulfilment of the work of salvation.



Vatican Basilica, Third Sunday of Lent, 19 March 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have listened together to a famous and beautiful passage from the Book of Exodus, in which the sacred author tells of God’s presentation of the Decalogue to Israel. One detail makes an immediate impression:  the announcement of the Ten Commandments is introduced by a significant reference to the liberation of the People of Israel. The text says:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20: 2).

Thus, the Decalogue is intended as a confirmation of the freedom gained. Indeed, at a closer look, the Commandments are the means that the Lord gives us to protect our freedom, both from the internal conditioning of passions and from the external abuse of those with evil intentions. The “nos” of the Commandments are as many “yeses” to the growth of true freedom.

There is a second dimension of the Decalogue that should also be emphasized:  by the Law which he gave through Moses, the Lord revealed that he wanted to make a covenant with Israel. The Law, therefore, is a gift more than an imposition. Rather than commanding what the human being ought to do, its intention is to reveal to all the choice of God:  He takes the side of the Chosen People; he set them free from slavery and surrounds them with his merciful goodness. The Decalogue is a proof of his special love.

Today’s liturgy offers us a second message:  The Mosaic Law was totally fulfilled in Jesus, who revealed God’s wisdom and love through the mystery of the Cross, “a stumbling block to Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Cor 1: 23-24).

The Gospel just proclaimed refers precisely to this:  Jesus drove the merchants and money-changers out of the temple. Through the verse of a Psalm:  “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (see Ps 69[68]: 10), the Evangelist provides a key for the interpretation of this significant episode. And Jesus was “consumed” by this “zeal” for the “house of God”, which was being used for purposes other than those for which it was intended.

To the amazement of everyone present, he responded to the request of the religious leaders who demand evidence of his authority by saying:  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2: 19). These are mysterious words that were incomprehensible at the time; John, however, paraphrased them for his Christian readers, saying:  “Actually, he was talking about the temple of his body” (Jn 2: 21).

His enemies were to destroy that “temple”, but after three days he would rebuild it through the Resurrection. The distressful “stumbling block” of Christ’s death was to be crowned by the triumph of his glorious Resurrection.

In this Lenten season, while we are preparing to relive this central event of our salvation in the Easter triduum, we are already looking at the Crucified One, seeing in him the brightness of the Risen One.

Dear brothers and sisters, today’s Eucharistic Celebration, which combines the commemoration of St Joseph with meditation on the liturgical texts of the Third Sunday of Lent, gives us the opportunity to consider in the light of the Paschal Mystery another important aspect of human life. I am referring to the reality of work, which exists today in the midst of rapid and complex changes.

In many passages, the Bible shows that work is one of the original conditions of the human being. When the Creator shaped man in his image and likeness, he asked him to till the land (see Gn 2: 5-6). It was because of the sin of our first parents that work became a burden and an affliction (see Gn 3: 6-8), but in the divine plan it retains its value, unaltered.

The Son of God, by making himself like us in all things, dedicated himself for many years to manual activities, so that he was known as “the carpenter’s son” (see Mt 13: 55). The Church has always, but especially in the last century, shown attention and concern for this social context, as the many social interventions of the Magisterium testify and the action of many associations of Christian inspiration show; some of them are gathered here today and represent the whole world of workers.

I am pleased to welcome you, dear friends, and I address my cordial greeting to each one of you. A special thought goes to Bishop Arrigo Miglio of Ivrea and President of the Italian Episcopal Commission for Social Problems and Work, Justice and Peace, who has interpreted your common sentiments and addressed courteous good wishes to me for my name day. I am deeply grateful to him.

Work is of fundamental importance to the fulfilment of the human being and to the development of society. Thus, it must always be organized and carried out with full respect for human dignity and must always serve the common good.

At the same time, it is indispensable that people not allow themselves to be enslaved by work or idolize it, claiming to find in it the ultimate and definitive meaning of life.

The invitation contained in the First Reading is appropriate in this regard:  “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God” (Ex 20:  8-9). The Sabbath is a holy day, that is, a day consecrated to God on which man understands better the meaning of his life and his work. It can therefore be said that the biblical teaching on work is crowned by the commandment of rest.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church speaks opportunely of this:  “For man, bound as he is to the necessity of work, this rest opens to the prospect of a fuller freedom, that of the eternal Sabbath (see Heb 4: 9-10). Rest gives men and women the possibility to remember and experience anew God’s work from Creation to Redemption, in order to recognize themselves as his work (see Eph 2: 10), and to give thanks for their lives and for their subsistence to him who is their author” (no. 258).

Work must serve the true good of humanity, permitting “men as individuals and as members of society to pursue and fulfil their total vocation” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 35). For this to happen, technical and professional qualifications, although necessary, do not suffice; nor does the creation of a just social order, attentive to the common good.

It is necessary to live a spirituality that helps believers to sanctify themselves through their work, imitating St Joseph, who had to provide with his own hands for the daily needs of the Holy Family and whom, consequently, the Church holds up as Patron of workers. His witness shows that man is the subject and protagonist of work.

I would like to entrust to St Joseph those young people who are finding integration into the working world difficult, the unemployed and everyone who is suffering hardship due to the widespread employment crisis.

Together with Mary, his Spouse, may St Joseph watch over all workers and obtain serenity and peace for families and for the whole of humanity.

May Christians, looking at this great Saint, learn to witness in every working environment to the love of Christ, the source of true solidarity and lasting peace. Amen!



St Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 11 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The passage of Luke’s Gospel that is proclaimed on this Third Sunday of Lent relates Jesus’ comments on two events of his time. The first: the uprising of some Galileans, which Pilate repressed with bloodshed. The second: the fall of the tower of Jerusalem, which claimed 18 victims. Two very distinct, tragic events: one caused by man, the other accidental.

According to the mentality of the time, people were inclined to think that the disgrace which struck the victims was due to some grave fault of their own. Jesus instead says: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans.... Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?” (Lk 13: 2, 4). And in both cases he concludes: “I tell you, No: but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (13: 3, 5).

This, then, is the point to which Jesus wants to bring his listeners: the necessity for conversion. He does not propose it in legalistic terms, but rather in realistic ones, as the only adequate response to the events that place human certainties in crisis.

In the face of certain disgraces, he warns, it does no good to blame the victims. Rather, true wisdom allows one to question the precariousness of existence and to acquire an attitude of responsibility: to do penance and to improve our lives.

This is wisdom, this is the most effective response to evil on every level: interpersonal, social and international.

Christ invites us to respond to evil, first of all, with a serious examination of conscience and the commitment to purify our lives. Otherwise, he says, we will perish, we will all perish in the same way.

In effect, people and societies that live without ever questioning themselves have ruin as their only final destination. Conversion, on the other hand, while not preserving one from problems and misfortunes, allows one to face them in a different “way”.

First of all, it helps to prevent evil, disengaging some of its threats. And in any case, it allows one to overcome evil with good: if not always on a factual level, which sometimes is independent of our will, certainly on a spiritual level.

In summary: conversion overcomes the root of evil, which is sin, even if it cannot always avoid its consequences.

Let us pray to Mary Most Holy, who accompanies and sustains us on our Lenten journey, so that she may help every Christian to rediscover the greatness, I would say, the beauty, of conversion.

May she help us understand that doing penance and correcting one’s conduct is not simply moralism, but the most effective way to change oneself and society for the better.

An adage expresses it well: to light a candle is worth more than to curse the darkness.



St Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 24 February 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year, on this Third Sunday of Lent, the liturgy again presents one of the most beautiful and profound passages of the Bible: the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (see Jn 4: 5-42). St Augustine, of whom I am speaking extensively in the Wednesday Catecheses, was justifiably fascinated by this narrative, and he made a memorable comment on it. It is impossible to give a brief explanation of the wealth of this Gospel passage. One must read and meditate on it personally, identifying oneself with that woman who, one day like so many other days, went to draw water from the well and found Jesus there, sitting next to it, “tired from the journey” in the midday heat. “Give me a drink”, he said, leaving her very surprised: it was in fact completely out of the ordinary that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman, and all the more so to a stranger. But the woman’s bewilderment was destined to increase. Jesus spoke of a “living water” able to quench her thirst and become in her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”; in addition, he demonstrated that he knew her personal life; he revealed that the hour has come to adore the one true God in spirit and truth; and lastly, he entrusted her with something extremely rare: that he is the Messiah.

All this began from the real and notable experience of thirst. The theme of thirst runs throughout John’s Gospel: from the meeting with the Samaritan woman to the great prophecy during the feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7: 37-38), even to the Cross, when Jesus, before he dies, said to fulfil the Scriptures: “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28). Christ’s thirst is an entranceway to the mystery of God, who became thirsty to satisfy our thirst, just as he became poor to make us rich (see II Cor 8: 9). Yes, God thirsts for our faith and our love. As a good and merciful father, he wants our total, possible good, and this good is he himself. The Samaritan woman, on the other hand, represents the existential dissatisfaction of one who does not find what he seeks. She had “five husbands” and now she lives with another man; her going to and from the well to draw water expresses a repetitive and resigned life. However, everything changes for her that day, thanks to the conversation with the Lord Jesus, who upsets her to the point that she leaves her pitcher of water and runs to tell the villagers: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4: 29).

Dear brothers and sisters, like the Samaritan woman, let us also open our hearts to listen trustingly to God’s Word in order to encounter Jesus who reveals his love to us and tells us: “I who speak to you am he” (Jn 4: 26), the Messiah, your Saviour. May Mary, the first and most perfect disciple of the Word made flesh, obtain this gift for us.



Third Sunday of Lent, 24 February 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After the example of my venerable Predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II, who visited your parish respectively on 20 March 1966 and 14 January 1979, I too have come among you today to meet your community and preside at the Eucharistic celebration in your beautiful church dedicated to St Mary “Liberatrice”. I have come for a very special event, the centenary of the consecration of the present-day church and the transfer of the title of the parish of “Our Lady of Providence”, which already existed in this neighbourhood of Testaccio, to “Santa Maria Liberatrice”. It was St Pius X who entrusted the parish to the spiritual sons of Don Bosco, and under the indefatigable guidance of Bl. Fr Michele Rua, St John Bosco’s first disciple, they built the church in which we are now gathered. The Salesians were really already carrying out their social and apostolic activity here in Testaccio, a district that has preserved its own specific territorial and cultural character. Although we are in the heart of the Roman metropolis, very familiar relations among people have persisted and while the situation has somewhat changed in the past 20 years, the people are still strongly rooted in their own territory, in the identity of the neighbourhood and in their attachment to religious traditions. I know, for example, that your patronal feast of St Mary “Liberatrice” every year gathers families and citizens who for various reasons have moved elsewhere.

Dear friends, I have willingly come to share your joy in the jubilee you are celebrating and I have desired to enrich it with the possibility of gaining a Plenary Indulgence throughout the centenary year. I greet you all with affection. First of all, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, Auxiliary Bishop Ernesto Mandara of the Central Sector and Fr Manfredo Leone, your parish priest. I warmly thank him and his Salesian confreres for the pastoral service they carry out together in your parish, and I am also grateful to him for his kind words to me on behalf of you all. I also greet the guests of the Salesian residence for priests whose headquarters are located on the parish premises, and the various Religious Communities present in the territory: the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians; the Daughters of Divine Providence and the Good Shepherd Sisters. I greet the men and women Cooperators and Salesian alumni, the parish associations, the various groups committed to the animation of catechesis, the liturgy, charity and the reading and deepening of the Word of God, the Confraternity of Santa Maria Liberatrice, the youth groups and those who encourage meetings and formation for engaged couples and established families. I address an affectionate greeting to the children of the catechism classes and to all who attend the prayer and recreation centre run by the parish and the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians. I would then like to extend my thoughts to all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, especially the elderly, the sick and people who are alone and in difficulty. I am remembering each and all at this Holy Mass.

Dear brothers and sisters, let me now ask myself, together with you, what is the Lord telling us on this most important anniversary for your parish? In today’s biblical texts for the Third Sunday of Lent, useful ideas for meditation can be found that are particularly appropriate for this important occasion. Through the symbol of water, which we find in the First Reading and in the Gospel passage on the Samaritan woman, the Word of God transmits to us an ever lively and timely message: God thirsts for our faith and wants us to find the source of our authentic happiness in him. Every believer is in danger of practising a false religiosity, of not seeking in God the answer to the most intimate expectations of the heart but on the contrary, treating God as though he were at the service of our desires and projects.

In the First Reading we see the Jewish People suffer in the desert from lack of water and, in the grip of discouragement, complain and react violently, as on other occasions. They even reached the point of rebelling against Moses and almost of rebelling against God. The sacred author says: “They put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?’“ (Ex 17: 7). The people demanded from God that he meet their expectations and needs, rather than abandoning themselves trustfully into his hands, and in their trial lost their trust in him. How often does this also happen in our lives? In how many circumstances, rather than conforming docilely to the divine will, do we want God to implement our own plans and grant our every desire? On how many occasions does our faith prove frail, our trust weak, our religious sense contaminated by magical and merely earthly elements? In this Lenten Season, as the Church invites us to make a journey of true conversion, let us accept with humble docility the recommendation of the Responsorial Psalm: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works’“ (Ps 95[94]: 7-9).

The symbolism of water returns with great eloquence in the famous Gospel passage that recounts Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman in Sychar, by Jacob’s well. We immediately perceive a link between the well, built by the great patriarch of Israel to guarantee his family water, and salvation history where God gives humanity water welling up to eternal life. If there is a physical thirst for water that is indispensable for life on this earth, there is also a spiritual thirst in man that God alone can satisfy. This is clearly visible in the dialogue between Jesus and the woman who came to Jacob’s well to draw water. Everything begins with Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (see Jn 4: 5-7). At first sight it seems a simple request for a little water in the hot midday sun. In fact, with this question, addressed moreover to a Samaritan woman - there was bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans - Jesus triggers in the woman to whom he is talking an inner process that kindles within her the desire for something more profound. St Augustine comments: “Although Jesus asked for a drink, his real thirst was for this woman’s faith (In Io ev. Tract. XV, 11: PL 35, 1514). In fact, at a certain point, it was the woman herself who asked Jesus for the water (see Jn 4: 15), thereby demonstrating that in every person there is an inherent need for God and for salvation that only God can satisfy. It is a thirst for the infinite which only the water that Jesus offers, the living water of the Spirit, can quench. In a little while, in the Preface we shall hear these words: Jesus “asked the woman of Samaria for water to drink, and had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In his thirst to receive her faith, he awakened in her heart the fire of your love”.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman we see outlined the spiritual itinerary that each one of us, that every Christian community, is ceaselessly called to rediscover and follow. Proclaimed in this Lenten Season, this Gospel passage acquires a particularly important value for catechumens who are already approaching Baptism. This Third Sunday of Lent is in fact linked to the so-called “first scrutiny”, which is a sacramental rite of purification and grace. The Samaritan woman thus becomes the figure of the catechumen enlightened and converted to the faith, who longs for the living water and is purified by the Lord’s action and words. Yet we who have already been baptized but are also still on the way to becoming true Christians, find in this Gospel episode an incentive to rediscover the importance and meaning of our Christian life, the true desire of God who lives in us. As he did with the Samaritan woman, Jesus wishes to bring us to powerfully profess our faith in him so that we may then proclaim and witness to our brethren the joy of the encounter with him and the marvels that his love works in our existence. Faith is born from the encounter with Jesus, recognized and accepted as the definitive Revealer and Saviour in whom God’s Face is revealed. Once that the Lord has won the Samaritan woman’s heart, her life is transformed and she runs without delay to take the Good News to her people (see Jn 4: 29).

Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of Santa Maria Liberatrice! This morning, Christ’s invitation to let ourselves be involved in his demanding Gospel proposal rings out loud and clear for every member of your parish community. St Augustine said that God thirsts after our thirst for him, that is, he desires to be desired. The further the human being distances himself from God, the more closely God pursues him with his merciful love. The liturgy encourages us today, also taking into account the Lenten Season in which we are living, to review our relationship with Jesus, to tirelessly seek his Face. And this is indispensable so that you, dear friends, can continue in the new cultural and social context the work of evangelization and human and Christian education carried out for more than a century by this parish, which also includes in the ranks of her parish priests Venerable Luigi Maria Olivares. Always open your hearts wider to the pastoral work in the missionary context, which impels every Christian to meet people - particularly youth and families - where they live, work and spend their leisure time, in order to proclaim to them God’s merciful love. I know that you are dedicating similar attention and concern to the care of vocations to the Priesthood and the Consecrated Life, proposing to children, young people and families the topic of vocations, which is of the utmost importance for the future of the Church. I encourage you then to persevere in the task of education, which constitutes the typical charism of every Salesian parish. May the after school prayer and recreation centre, the school and the moments for catechesis and prayer be enlivened by authentic educators, witnesses whose hearts are especially close to children, adolescents and youth. May St Mary “Liberatrice”, whom you love and venerate so deeply and who raised Jesus as a child and adolescent together with her husband Joseph, protect families and Religious in their task as formators and give them the joy, as Don Bosco desired, of seeing “good Christians and honest citizens” grow up in this neighbourhood. Amen!



Saint Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 15 March 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I shall be making my first Apostolic Journey to Africa from Tuesday 17 to Monday 23 March. I shall go to Cameroon, to the capital, Yaoundé, to present the “Instrumentum Laboris”, [working document] of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops that will be celebrated here in the Vatican in October. I shall then go on to Luanda, the capital of Angola, a country which has rediscovered peace after the long civil war and is now called to rebuild itself in justice. With this Visit I intend to embrace in spirit the entire African continent: its thousands of differences and its profoundly religious soul; its ancient cultures and its laborious process of development and reconciliation; its grave problems, its painful wounds and its enormous potential and hopes. I intend to strengthen Catholics in the faith, to encourage Christians in their ecumenical commitment and to bring to all the announcement of peace, entrusted to the Church of the Risen Lord.

As I prepare myself for this missionary Journey the words of the Apostle Paul, which today, on the Third Sunday of Lent, the liturgy proposes for our meditation, resound in my mind: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God”, the Apostle writes to the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 1: 23-24). Yes, dear brothers and sisters! I am leaving for Africa aware that I have nothing to propose or give to those whom I shall meet except Christ and the Good News of his Cross, a mystery of supreme love, of divine love that overcomes all human resistence and even makes forgiveness and love for one’s enemies possible. This is the grace of the Gospel that is capable of transforming the world; this is the grace that can also renew Africa, because it generates an irresistible force of peace and a profound and radical reconciliation. The Church, therefore, does not pursue economic, social or political objectives; the Church proclaims Christ, certain that the Gospel can move the hearts of all and transform them, thereby renewing people and societies from within.

On 19 March, precisely during my Pastoral Visit to Africa, we shall celebrate the Solemnity of St Joseph, Patron of the universal Church and my personal Patron too. St Joseph, warned by an angel in a dream, had to flee with Mary to Egypt in Africa, to take Jesus, whom King Herod wanted to kill, to safety. Thus the Scriptures were fulfilled; Jesus trod in the footsteps of the ancient patriarchs, and, like the People of Israel, returned to the Promised Land after having been in exile in Egypt. I entrust to the heavenly intercession of this great Saint my upcoming Pilgrimage and the populations of the whole of Africa, together with the challenges that mark them and the hopes that enliven them. I am thinking in particular of the victims of hunger, disease, injustice, fratricidal conflicts and of every form of violence which unfortunately continues to afflict adults and children, without sparing missionaries, priests, men and women religious and voluntary workers. Brothers and sisters, accompany me on this Journey with your prayers, invoking Mary, Mother and Queen of Africa.



St Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 7 March 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Liturgy of this Third Sunday of Lent presents to us the topic of conversion. In the First Reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses, while tending his flock, sees a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames. He goes closer to look at this miracle when a voice calls him by name and, reminding him of his unworthiness, orders him to take off his sandals because that place is holy. The voice says to him, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob”. And he adds, “I am who am” (Ex 3: 6a, 14). God likewise shows himself in various ways in each of our lives. To be able to recognize his presence, however, we must approach him with an awareness of our wretchedness and with deep respect. Otherwise we would make ourselves incapable of encountering him and entering into communion with him. As the Apostle Paul writes, this event is also recounted as a warning to us: it reminds us that God does not reveal himself to those in whom are entrenched self-sufficiency and frivolity but rather to those who are poor and humble before him.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is questioned on certain distressing events: the killing of several Galileans in the temple, on the orders of Pontius Pilate, and the collapse of a tower on some passers by (see Lk 13: 1-5). In the face of the easy conclusion of considering evil as an effect of divine punishment, Jesus restores the true image of God who is good and cannot desire evil. And guarding us against believing that misfortunes are the immediate effect of the personal sins of those whom they afflict, says: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13: 2-3). Jesus asks us interpret these events differently, putting them in the perspective of conversion: misfortunes, sorrowful events must not awaken curiosity in us or the quest for presumed sins; instead they must be opportunities for reflection, in order to overcome the illusion of being able to live without God and to reinforce, with the Lord’s help, the commitment to change our way of life. With regard to sin, God shows himself to be full of mercy and never fails to remind sinners to avoid evil, to grow in love for him and to offer practical help to our neighbour in need, to live the joy of grace and not to go towards eternal death. However, the possibility of conversion demands that we learn to read the events of life in the perspective of faith, animated, that is, by holy fear of God. In the presence of suffering and bereavement, the true wisdom is to let ourselves be called into question by the precarious state of existence and to see human history with the eyes of God who, desiring always and only the good of his children, through an inscrutable design of his love sometimes permits us to be tried by suffering in order to lead us to a greater good.

Dear friends, let us pray Mary Most Holy, who accompanies us on our Lenten journey, that she may help every Christian to return to the Lord with his whole heart. May she sustain our firm decision to renounce evil and to accept the will of God in our lives with faith.




Third Sunday of Lent, 7 March 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

““Repent’, says the Lord, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’“, we proclaimed before the Gospel of this Third Sunday of Lent that presents us with the fundamental theme of this “strong season” of the liturgical year: the invitation to change our lives and to do works worthy of penance.

Jesus, as we heard, recalls two items of news: a brutal repression in the Temple by the Roman police (see Lk 13: 1) and the tragic death of 18 people, killed when the tower in Siloam collapsed (v. 4). People interpret these events as divine punishment for those victims’ sins, and thinking they are upright, believe they are safe from such accidents and that they have nothing in their own lives that they should change. Jesus, however, denounces this attitude as an illusion: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (vv. 2-3). And he invites us to reflect on these events for a greater commitment on the journey of conversion, for it is precisely the closure of ourselves to the Lord and the failure to take the path of our own conversion that lead to death, to the death of the soul. In Lent, each one of us is asked by God to mark a turning point in our life, thinking and living in accordance with the Gospel, correcting some aspect of our way of praying, acting or working and of our relations with others. Jesus makes this appeal to us, not with a severity that is an end in itself but precisely because he is concerned for our good, our happiness and our salvation. On our part, we must respond to him with a sincere inner effort, asking him to make us understand which particular ways we should change.

The conclusion of the Gospel passage reverts to the prospect of mercy, showing the urgent need to return to God, to renew life in accordance with God. Referring to a custom of the time, Jesus presents the parable of a fig tree planted in the vineyard. However, this fig tree was barren, it produced no fruit (see Lk 13: 6-9). The dialogue that develops between the master and the vinedresser shows on the one hand the mercy of God who is patient and allows human beings, all of us, time in which to convert; and on the other, the need to start to change both our interior and exterior way of life straight away in order not to miss the opportunities that God’s mercy affords us to overcome our spiritual laziness and respond to God’s love with our own filial love.

Moreover, in the passage we have heard, St Paul urges us not to deceive ourselves: it is not enough to have been baptized and nourished at the Eucharistic table if we do not live as Christians and are not attentive to the Lord’s signs (see 1 Cor 10: 1-4).

Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of San Giovanni della Croce, I am very glad to be with you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day with you. I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector, Fr Enrico Gemma, your parish priest whom I thank for his beautiful words on behalf of you all, and the other priests who help him. I would then like to extend my thoughts to all the inhabitants of the district, especially the elderly, the sick and those who are lonely and in difficulty. I remember each and every one to the Lord at this Holy Mass.

I know that your parish is a young community. Indeed, it began its pastoral activity in 1989. It spent 12 years in temporary premises and then in the new parish complex. Now that you have a new sacred building, I would like my Visit to be an encouragement to you to become more and more the Church of living stones that you are. I know that the experience of the first 12 years marked a lifestyle that still endures. The lack of suitable premises and consolidated traditions, in fact, impelled you to trust in the power of God’s word which has been a lamp to light you on your way and has brought practical results of conversion, participation in the Sacraments, especially in the Sunday Eucharist, and service. I now urge you to make this Church a place in which people learn to listen better and better to the Lord who speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures. May these never cease to be the life-giving centre of your community so that it may become a continuous school of Christian life from which every pastoral activity stems.

The building of the new parish church has spurred you to a unanimous apostolic commitment, with special attention to the areas of catechesis and the Liturgy. I congratulate you on the pastoral efforts you are making. I know that various groups of the faithful gather to pray, to be trained at the school of the Gospel, to participate in the Sacraments especially Penance and the Eucharist and to live that dimension essential to Christian life which is charity. I am thinking gratefully of all who help make the liturgical celebrations livelier and increase the number of participants, as well as of those who, together with the parish Caritas and the Sant’Egidio group, seek to meet the many needs in the territory, especially the expectations of the poorest and neediest. Lastly, I am thinking of all your praiseworthy efforts for families and for the Christian education of children and of those who attend the after-school prayer and recreation centre.

Since it came into being this parish has been open to the new Movements and Ecclesial Communities, thereby developing a broader awareness of Church and experiencing new forms of evangelization. I urge you to continue courageously in this direction, but make sure you combine all the realities present in a uniform pastoral project. I learned with pleasure that with regard to vocations and the role of consecrated and lay people, your community is proposing to promote the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God. As I have already had the opportunity to recall, this requires a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people: “They must no longer be viewed as “collaborators’, of the clergy but truly recognized as “co-responsible’, for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity” (Address to the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 26 May 2009).

Dear Christian families, dear young people who live in this neighbourhood and attend the parish, let the wish to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all involve you more and more. Do not wait for others to come and bring you other messages that do not lead to life; rather, make yourselves missionaries of Christ for your brothers and sisters, where they live, work and study or merely spend their leisure time. Here too, start a far-reaching and thorough vocations ministry, consisting of the education of families and young people in prayer and in living life as a gift that comes from God.

Dear brothers and sisters, the strong season of Lent invites each one of us to recognize the mystery of God that becomes present in our life, just as we heard in the First Reading. Moses sees a bush in the wilderness that is burning but without being consumed. First of all impelled by curiosity, he approaches it to see the mysterious event when suddenly a voice comes from the bush that says: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex 3: 6). And it is precisely this God who sent him to Egypt, charging him to lead the People of Israel to the Promised Land and to ask the Pharaoh, on his behalf, to set Israel free. At this point Moses asks God what his Name is, the Name with which God manifests his special authority, in order to present God to the people and then to the Pharaoh. God’s answer may seem strange; it seems both an answer and not an answer. He says of himself simply: “I am who I am”. “He is”, and this must suffice. God, therefore, does not reject Moses’ request. He pronounces his Name, thus creating the possibility of invoking him, of calling on him, of a relationship with him. By revealing his Name, God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He enables us to invoke him, he enters into relations with us and gives us the possibility of being in a relationship with him. This means that he gives himself, in a certain way, to our human world, becoming accessible, as if he were one of us. He faces the risk of the relationship, of being with us. What began in the burning bush in the desert is accomplished in the burning bush of the Cross where God, having become accessible in his Son made man, really became one of us, is put into our hands and, in this way, realizes the liberation of humanity. On Golgotha God, who during the night of the flight from Egypt revealed himself as the One who frees us from slavery, revealed himself as the One who embraces every human being with the saving power of the Cross and the Resurrection and liberates him from sin and death, accepts him in the embrace of his love.

Let us remain in contemplation of this mystery of God’s Name, the better to understand the mystery of Lent and to live as individuals and as communities in permanent conversion, so as to be a constant epiphany in the world, a witness of the living God who sets us free us and saves us out of love. Amen.



St Peter’s Square, Third Sunday of Lent, 27 March 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This third Sunday of Lent is characterized by the Jesus’ famous conversation with the Samaritan woman, recounted by the Evangelist John. The woman went every day to draw water from an ancient well that dated back to the Patriarch Jacob and on that day she found Jesus sitting beside the well, “wearied from his journey” (Jn 4:6). St Augustine comments: “Not for nothing was Jesus tried…. The strength of Christ created you, the weakness of Christ recreated you…. With his strength he created us, with his weakness he came to seek us out” (In Ioh. Ev., 15, 2).

Jesus’ weariness, a sign of his true humanity, can be seen as a prelude to the Passion with which he brought to fulfilment the work of our redemption. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, the topic of Christ’s “thirst” stands out in particular. It culminated in his cry on the Cross “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). This thirst, like his weariness, had a physical basis. Yet Jesus, as St Augustine says further, “thirsted for the faith of that woman” (In Ioh. Ev. 15,11), as he thirsted for the faith of us all.

God the Father sent him to quench our thirst for eternal life, giving us his love, but to give us this gift Jesus asks for our faith. The omnipotence of Love always respects human freedom; it knocks at the door of man’s heart and waits patiently for his answer.

In the encounter with the Samaritan woman the symbol of water stands out in the foreground, alluding clearly to the sacrament of Baptism, the source of new life for faith in God’s Grace. This Gospel, in fact — as I recalled in my Catechesis on Ash Wednesday — is part of the ancient journey of the catechumen’s preparation for Christian Initiation, which took place at the great Easter Vigil. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him”, Jesus said, “will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

This water represents the Holy Spirit, the “gift” par excellence that Jesus came to bring on the part of God the Father. Whoever is reborn by water and by the Holy Spirit, that is, in Baptism, enters into a real relationship with God, a filial relationship, and can worship him “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23, 24), as Jesus went on to reveal to the Samaritan woman. Thanks to the meeting with Jesus Christ and to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the human being’s faith attains fulfilment, as a response to the fullness of God’s revelation.

Each one of us can identify himself with the Samaritan woman: Jesus is waiting for us, especially in this Season of Lent, to speak to our hearts, to my heart. Let us pause a moment in silence, in our room or in a church or in a separate place. Let us listen to his voice which tells us “If you knew the gift of God…”. May the Virgin Mary help us not to miss this appointment, on which our true happiness depends.

Lastly, my thoughts turn to the authorities and citizens of the Middle East, where in the past few days various episodes of violence have occurred, so that there too priority may be given to the way of dialogue and reconciliation in the search for a just and fraternal coexistence.



St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Third Sunday of Lent the Gospel — in St John’s version — refers to the famous episode of Jesus who drives the animal dealers and the money-changers out of the Temple of Jerusalem (see Jn 2:13-25). The event, recorded by all the Evangelists, happened in the Passover Feast and made a deep impression on both the crowd and the disciples. How should we interpret Jesus’ action?

First of all it should be noted that it did not provoke any repression from the keepers of public order because it was seen as a typical prophetic action: indeed, in God’s name prophets often reported abuse and sometimes did so with symbolic gestures. The problem, if there was one, concerned their authority. For this reason the Jews asked Jesus: “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” (Jn 2:18), show us that you are truly acting in God’s name.

The expulsion of the dealers from the Temple has also been interpreted in a political and revolutionary sense, placing Jesus on a par with the zealots’ movement. The zealots were, precisely, “zealous” for God’s law and prepared to use violence to enforce respect for it. In Jesus’ day they were awaiting a Messiah who would free Israel from Roman domination. But Jesus did not fulfil this expectation, so much so that some disciples abandoned him and Judas Iscariot even betrayed him.

In fact it is impossible to interpret Jesus as violent: violence is contrary to the Kingdom of God, it is a tool of the antichrist. Violence is never useful to humanity but dehumanizes it.

Let us, therefore, listen to the words that Jesus spoke while he was carrying out this action. “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade”. And the disciples then remembered that in a Psalm is written: “zeal for your house has consumed me” (69[68]:10).

This Psalm is a call for help in a situation of extreme danger, because of the hatred of enemies: the plight that Jesus was to live through in his Passion. Zeal for the Father and for his house was to bring him to the cross: his was the zeal of love that pays in person, not the zeal that would like to serve God through violence.

In fact the “sign” that Jesus was to give as proof of his authority would be his very death and Resurrection. “Destroy this temple”, he said, “and in three days I will raise it up”. And St John recorded: “he spoke of the temple of his body” (Jn 2:20-21). With the Pasch of Jesus a new form of worship begins, the cult of love, and a new temple which is he himself, the Risen Christ, through whom every believer can worship God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23).

Dear friends, the Holy Spirit began to build this new temple in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Let us pray through his intercession that every Christian may become a living stone of this spiritual building. 

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