Monday, March 31, 2014

Reflections on the Fifth Sunday
of Lent by Pope Benedict XVI

Entry 0341: Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Lent  
Pope Benedict XVI 

On seven occasions during his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, on 2 April 2006, 25 March 2007, 9 March 2008, 29 March 2009, 21 March 2010, 10 April 2011, and 25 March 2012. Here are the texts of seven brief reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus and four homilies delivered on these occasions.



Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2 April 2006.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On 2 April last year, just as today, in these very hours and here in this very apartment, beloved Pope John Paul II was living the last stage of his earthly pilgrimage, a pilgrimage of faith, love and hope which left a profound mark on the history of the Church and of humanity. His agony and death constitute, as it were, an extension of the Easter Triduum.

We all remember the images of his last Way of the Cross on Good Friday:  being unable to go to the Colosseum, he followed it in his Private Chapel, a cross in his hands. Then, on Easter morning he imparted the Urbi et Orbi Blessing, unable to speak, solely with the gesture of his hand. Let us never forget that Blessing. It was the most heartfelt and moving Blessing which he left us as the last testimony of his desire to carry out his ministry to the very end.

John Paul II died as he had always lived, inspired by the indomitable courage of faith, abandoning himself to God and entrusting himself to Mary Most Holy. This evening we will commemorate him with a Marian Prayer Vigil in St Peter’s Square, where tomorrow afternoon we will celebrate Mass for him.

A year after his departure from this earth to the Father’s house, we can ask ourselves:  what did this great Pope who led the Church into the third millennium leave us?

His legacy is immense but the message of his very long Pontificate can be summed up well in the words he chose to inaugurate it, here in St Peter’s Square on 22 October 1978:  “Open wide the doors to Christ!” (Inauguration Homily; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 November 1978, p. 12).

John Paul II incarnated this unforgettable appeal, which I feel resounding within me as if it were yesterday, in the whole of himself and in the whole of his mission as Successor of Peter, especially with his extraordinary programme of Apostolic Journeys. In visiting the countries of the entire world, meeting the crowds, the Ecclesial Communities, the Heads of Government, Religious Leaders and various social realities, he was making, as it were, a great gesture to confirm his initial words. He always proclaimed Christ, presenting him to everyone, as did the Second Vatican Council, as an answer to man’s expectations, expectations of freedom, justice and peace. Christ is the Redeemer of man, he was fond of repeating, the one genuine Savior of every person and the entire human race.

In his last years, the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, to make him fully resemble him. And when henceforth he could no longer travel or even walk, or finally even speak, his gesture, his proclamation, was reduced to the essential:  to the gift of himself to the very end. His death was the fulfilment of a consistent witness of faith that moved the hearts of so many people of good will.

John Paul II departed from us on a Saturday dedicated especially to Mary, for whom he had always had a filial devotion. Let us now ask the heavenly Mother of God to help us treasure what this great Pope gave and taught us.



St Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 25 March 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The 25th of March is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. This year it coincides with a Sunday in Lent and will therefore be celebrated tomorrow. I would now like, however, to reflect on this amazing mystery of faith which we contemplate every day in the recitation of the Angelus.

The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event - no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it -, but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity. When the Virgin said her “yes” to the Angel’s announcement, Jesus was conceived and with him began the new era of history that was to be ratified in Easter as the “new and eternal Covenant”.

In fact, Mary’s “yes” perfectly mirrors that of Christ himself when he entered the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, interpreting Psalm 40[39]: “As is written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10: 7). The Son’s obedience was reflected in that of the Mother and thus, through the encounter of these two “yeses”, God was able to take on a human face.

This is why the Annunciation is a Christological feast as well, because it celebrates a central mystery of Christ: the Incarnation.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word”. Mary’s reply to the Angel is extended in the Church, which is called to make Christ present in history, offering her own availability so that God may continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The “yes” of Jesus and Mary is thus renewed in the “yes” of the saints, especially martyrs who are killed because of the Gospel.

I stress this because yesterday, 24 March, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, we celebrated the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Missionary Martyrs: Bishops, priests, Religious and lay people struck down while carrying out their mission of evangelization and human promotion.

These missionary martyrs, as this year’s theme says, are the “hope of the world”, because they bear witness that Christ’s love is stronger than violence and hatred. They did not seek martyrdom, but they were ready to give their lives in order to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom is only justified when it is a supreme act of love for God and our brethren.

In this Lenten Season we often contemplate Our Lady, who on Calvary sealed the “yes” she pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, Witness of the Father’s love, Mary lived martyrdom of the soul. Let us call on her intercession with confidence, so that the Church, faithful to her mission, may offer to the whole world a courageous witness of God’s love.



Sunday, 25 March 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Parish of St Felicity and her Children, Martyrs,

I have willingly come to visit you on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, also known as Passion Sunday. I offer you all my cordial greeting. I first address my thoughts to the Cardinal Vicar and to Auxiliary Bishop Enzo Dieci. I then greet with affection the Vocationist Fathers, to whom the Parish has been entrusted since its foundation in 1958, and especially to Fr Eusebio Mosca, your parish priest, whom I thank for the beautiful words with which he has briefly presented to me your community’s situation. I greet the other priests, men and women religious, catechists and committed lay people, and all those who make their own contribution in various ways to the multiple activities of the Parish - pastoral, educational and for human advancement -, directed with priority attention to children, young people and families. I greet the Filipino community, quite numerous in your territory, who meet here every Sunday for Holy Mass celebrated in their own language. I extend my greeting to all the inhabitants of the Fidene neighborhood; they are very numerous and increasingly consist of people from other parts of Italy and various countries in the world.

Here, as elsewhere, situations of both material and moral hardship are not absent, situations that require of you, dear friends, a constant commitment to witnessing that God’s love, fully manifested in the Crucified and Risen Christ, actually embraces everyone without distinctions of race and culture.

This is basically the mission of every parish community, called to proclaim the Gospel and to be a place of acceptance and listening, formation and fraternal sharing, dialogue and forgiveness.

How can a Christian community stay faithful to this mandate? How can it become increasingly a family of brothers and sisters enlivened by Love? The Word of God we have just heard, which resounds with special eloquence in our hearts during this Lenten Season, reminds us that our earthly pilgrimage is fraught with difficulties and trials, as was the journey through the desert of the Chosen People before they reached the Promised Land. But divine intervention, Isaiah assures us in the First Reading, can make it easy, transforming the wilderness into a luxuriant country flowing with water (see Is 43: 19-20). The Responsorial Psalm echoes the Prophet:  while it evokes the joy of the return from the Babylonian Exile, it implores the Lord to intervene on behalf of the “prisoners” who depart weeping but who return rejoicing because God is present and, as in the past, will also do “great things for us” in the future.

This very awareness, this hope that after difficult times the Lord will always show us his presence and love, must enliven every Christian community, provided by its Lord with abundant spiritual provisions in order to cross the desert of this world and make it into a fertile garden. These provisions are docile listening to his Word, the Sacraments and every other spiritual resource of the liturgy and of personal prayer. The love that impelled Jesus to sacrifice himself for us transforms us and makes us capable in turn of following him faithfully. Continuing what the liturgy presented to us last Sunday, today’s Gospel passage helps us understand that only God’s love can change man’s life and thus every society from within, for it is God’s infinite love alone that sets him free from sin, which is the root of all evil. If it is true that God is justice, we should not forget that above all he is love. If he hates sin, it is because he loves every human person infinitely. He loves each one of us and his fidelity is so deep that it does not allow him to feel discouraged even by our rejection.

Today, in particular, Jesus brings us to inner conversion:  he explains why he forgives us and teaches us to make forgiveness received from and given to our brothers and sisters the “daily bread” of our existence.

The Gospel passage recounts the episode of the adulterous woman in two vivid scenes:  in the first, we witness a dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees concerning a woman caught in flagrant adultery who, in accordance with the prescriptions of the Book of Leviticus (see 20: 10), was condemned to stoning. In the second scene, a brief but moving dialogue develops between Jesus and the sinner-woman. The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the law of Moses, provoke Jesus - they call him “Teacher” (Didáskale) -, asking him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of his mercy and his love for sinners and were curious to see how he would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear. But Jesus immediately took the side of the woman. In the first place, he wrote mysterious words on the ground, which the Evangelist does not reveal but which impressed him, and Jesus then spoke the sentence that was to become famous:  “Let him who is without sin among you (he uses the term anamártetos here, which is the only time it appears in the New Testament) be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8: 7) and begin the stoning. St Augustine noted, commenting on John’s Gospel, that:  “The Lord, in his response, neither failed to respect the law nor departed from his meekness”. And Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, “pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew” (in Io. Ev. tract 33, 5).

So it was, therefore, that the accusers who had wished to provoke Jesus went away one by one, “beginning with the eldest to the last”. When they had all left, the divine Teacher remained alone with the woman. St Augustine’s comment is concise and effective:  “relicti sunt duo:  misera et Misericordia, the two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy” (ibid.). Let us pause, dear brothers and sisters, to contemplate this scene where the wretchedness of man and Divine Mercy come face to face, a woman accused of a grave sin and the One who, although he was sinless, burdened himself with our sins, the sins of the whole world. The One who had bent down to write in the dust, now raised his eyes and met those of the woman. He did not ask for explanations. Is it not ironic when he asked the woman:  “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (8: 10). And his reply was overwhelming:  “neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (8: 11). Again, St Augustine in his Commentary observed:  “The Lord did also condemn, but condemned sins, not man. For if he were a patron of sin, he would say, “neither will I condemn you; go, live as you will; be secure in my deliverance; however much you sin, I will deliver you from all punishment’. He said not this” (Io Ev. tract. 33, 6).

Dear friends, from the Word of God we have just heard emerge practical instructions for our life. Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with his interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law; he is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but his goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love. This is why he came down to the earth, this is why he was to die on the Cross and why the Father was to raise him on the third day. Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all in Paradise and that hell, about which little is said in our time, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love.

In this episode too, therefore, we understand that our real enemy is attachment to sin, which can lead us to failure in our lives. Jesus sent the adulterous woman away with this recommendation:  “Go, and do not sin again”. He forgives her so that “from now on” she will sin no more. In a similar episode, that of the repentant woman, a former sinner whom we come across in Luke’s Gospel (see 7: 36-50), he welcomed a woman who had repented and sent her peacefully on her way. Here, instead, the adulterous woman simply receives an unconditional pardon. In both cases - for the repentant woman sinner and for the adulterous woman - the message is the same. In one case it is stressed that there is no forgiveness without the desire for forgiveness, without opening the heart to forgiveness; here it is highlighted that only divine forgiveness and divine love received with an open and sincere heart give us the strength to resist evil and “to sin no more”, to let ourselves be struck by God’s love so that it becomes our strength. Jesus’ attitude thus becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to make love and forgiveness the vibrant heart of its life.

Dear brothers and sisters, on the Lenten journey we are taking, which is rapidly reaching its end, we are accompanied by the certainty that God never abandons us and that his love is a source of joy and peace; it is a powerful force that impels us on the path of holiness, if necessary even to martyrdom. This is what happened to the children and then to their brave mother, Felicity, the patron Saints of your Parish. Through their intercession, may the Lord grant you an ever deeper encounter with Christ and docile fidelity to follow him, so that, as happened for the Apostle Paul, you too may sincerely proclaim:  “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ...” (Phil 3: 8). May the example and intercession of these Saints be a constant encouragement to you to follow the path of the Gospel without hesitation and without compromise. May the Virgin Mary, whom we will contemplate tomorrow in the mystery of the Annunciation of the Lord and to whom I entrust all of you and the entire population of this suburb of Fidene, obtain for you this generous fidelity. Amen.



St Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 9 March 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our Lenten journey we have reached the Fifth Sunday, characterized by the Gospel of the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn 11: 1-45). It concerns the last “sign” fulfilled by Jesus, after which the chief priests convened the Sanhedrin and deliberated killing him, and decided to kill the same Lazarus who was living proof of the divinity of Christ, the Lord of life and death. Actually, this Gospel passage shows Jesus as true Man and true God. First of all, the Evangelist insists on his friendship with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. He emphasizes that “Jesus loved” them (Jn 11: 5), and this is why he wanted to accomplish the great wonder. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him out of sleep” (Jn 11: 11), he tells his disciples, expressing God’s viewpoint on physical death with the metaphor of sleep. God sees it exactly as sleep, from which he can awaken us. Jesus has shown an absolute power regarding this death, seen when he gives life back to the widow of Nain’s young son (see Lk 7: 11-17) and to the 12 year-old girl (see Mk 5: 35-43). Precisely concerning her he said:  “The child is not dead but sleeping” (Mk 5: 39), attracting the derision of those present. But in truth it is exactly like this: bodily death is a sleep from which God can awaken us at any moment.

This lordship over death does not impede Jesus from feeling sincere “com-passion” for the sorrow of detachment. Seeing Martha and Mary and those who had come to console them weeping, Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”, and lastly, “wept” (Jn 11: 33, 35). Christ’s heart is divine-human:  in him God and man meet perfectly, without separation and without confusion. He is the image, or rather, the incarnation of God who is love, mercy, paternal and maternal tenderness, of God who is Life. Therefore, he solemnly declared to Martha:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”. And he adds, “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25-26). It is a question that Jesus addresses to each one of us:  a question that certainly rises above us, rises above our capacity to understand, and it asks us to entrust ourselves to him as he entrusted himself to the Father. Martha’s response is exemplary:  “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (Jn 11: 27). Yes, O Lord! We also believe, notwithstanding our doubts and darkness; we believe in you because you have the words of eternal life. We want to believe in you, who give us a trustworthy hope of life beyond life, of authentic and full life in your Kingdom of light and peace.

We entrust this prayer to Mary Most Holy. May her intercession strengthen our faith and hope in Jesus, especially in moments of greater trial and difficulty.


I survived because “I knew I was expected’

On Sunday, 9 March, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father visited San Lorenzo International Youth Centre and celebrated Mass in the tiny Church of San Lorenzo in Piscibus, close to the Vatican. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Homily, given in Italian and part extemporaneously.

Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great joy to commemorate together with you, in this beautiful Romanesque Church, the 25th anniversary of the San Lorenzo International Youth Centre which Pope John Paul II wanted to be located in the vicinity of St Peter’s Basilica and which he inaugurated on 13 March 1983.

The Holy Mass celebrated here every Friday evening is an important spiritual event for many young people who have come from various parts of the world to study at the Roman Universities. It is also an important spiritual encounter and a significant opportunity to make contact with the Cardinals and Bishops of the Roman Curia as well as with Bishops from the five Continents as they pass through Rome on their ad limina visits.

As you have mentioned, I too came here often to celebrate the Eucharist when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it was always a beautiful experience to meet boys and girls from all corners of the earth who find this Centre an important and hospitable reference point.

And it is precisely to you, dear young people, that I first address my cordial greeting, while I thank you for your warm welcome. I also greet all of you who have desired to speak at this solemn and at the same time family celebration.

I greet in a special way the Cardinals and Prelates present. Among them, may I mention in particular Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, the titular of this Church of San Lorenzo in Piscibus, and Cardinal Stanis³aw Ry³ko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, whom I thank for his kind words of welcome addressed to me at the beginning of Holy Mass, as well as to the two spokespersons for the young people.

I greet Bishop Josef Clemens, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, the youth team, priests and seminarians who animate this Centre under the guidance of the Youth Section of this Dicastery, and all who in various capacities make their contribution.

I am referring to the Associations, Movements and Communities represented here, with a special mention to the Emmanuel Community which has coordinated the various initiatives for the past 20 years with great fidelity. It has also created a Mission School in Rome from which come several of the young people who are present here.

I also greet the chaplains and volunteers who for the past 25 years have worked at the service of youth. My affectionate greeting to each and every one.

Life, death:  basic questions

We now come to today’s Gospel, which is dedicated to an important, fundamental theme:  what is life? What is death? How should one live? How should one die?

To enable us to understand better this mystery of life and Jesus’ answer, St John uses two different terms for this unique reality to suggest the different dimensions in this reality of “life”; the word bíos and the word zoé.

Bíos, as can easily be understood, means this great biocosmos, this biosphere that extends from individual, primitive cells to the most organized, most developed organisms; this great tree of life where all the possibilities of this reality, bios, are developed. Man belongs to this tree of life; he is part of this living cosmos that begins with a miracle:  in inert matter a vital centre develops, the reality that we call an organism.

But although man is part of this great biocosmos, he transcends it, for he is also part of that reality which St John calls zoé. It is a new level of life in which the being is open to knowledge. Of course, man is always man with all his dignity, even if he is in a comatose state, even if he is at the embryonic stage, but if he lives only biologically, the full potential of his being is not fulfilled. Man is called to open himself to new dimensions. He is a being who knows.

Certainly, animals know too, but only things that concern their biological life. Human knowledge goes further; the human being desires to know everything, all reality, reality in its totality; he wants to know what his being is and what the world is. He thirsts for knowledge of the infinite, he desires to arrive at the font of life, he desires to drink at this font, to find life itself.

Thus, we have touched on a second dimension:  man is not only a being who knows; he also lives in a relationship of friendship, of love. In addition to the dimension of the knowledge of truth and being, and inseparable from it, exists the dimension of the relationship of love. And here the human being comes closer to the source of life from which he wants to drink in order to have life in abundance, to have life itself.

We could say that science, and medicine in particular, is one great struggle for life. In the end, medicine seeks to counter death; it is the search for immortality. But can we find a medicine that will guarantee us immortality? The question of today’s Gospel is precisely this.

Spiritual immortality

Let us try to imagine that medicine succeeds in finding the recipe against death, the recipe for immortality. Even in this case it would always be a medicine that fitted into the biosphere, a useful medicine of course for our spiritual and human lives, but in itself confined to within this biosphere.

It is easy to imagine what would happen if the biological life of man lasted for ever; we would find ourselves in an ageing world, a world full of old people, a world that would no longer leave room for the young, for the renewal of life. We can therefore understand that this cannot be the type of immortality to which we aspire; this is not the possibility of drinking at the source of life for which we all long.

Precisely at this point, when on the one hand we realize that we cannot hope for biological life to be infinitely prolonged, yet on the other, we desire to drink from the very source of life to enjoy life without end, it is precisely at this point that the Lord intervenes.

He speaks to us in the Gospel, saying:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”.

“I am the Resurrection”:  to drink from the source of life is to enter into communion with this infinite love which is the source of life. In encountering Christ, we enter into contact, indeed, into communion with life itself and we have already crossed the threshold of death because, beyond biological life, we are in touch with true life.

The Church Fathers have called the Eucharist a drug of immortality. And so it is, for in the Eucharist we come into contact, indeed, we enter into communion with the Risen Body of Christ, we enter the space of life already raised, eternal life. Let us enter into communion with this Body which is enlivened by immortal life and thus, from this moment and for ever, we will dwell in the space of life itself.

In this way, this Gospel is also a profound interpretation of what the Eucharist is and invites us to live truly on the Eucharist, to be able thus to be transformed into the communion of love. This is true life. In John’s Gospel the Lord says:  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

Life in abundance is not as some think:  to consume everything, to have all, to be able to do all that one wants. In that case we would live for inanimate things, we would live for death.

Life in abundance means being in communion with true life, with infinite love. It is in this way that we truly enter into the abundance of life and also become messengers of life for others.

On their return, prisoners of war who had been in Russia for 10 years or more, exposed to cold and hunger, have said:  “I was able to survive because I knew I was expected. I knew people were looking forward to my arrival, that I was necessary and awaited”.

This love that awaited them was the effective medicine of life against all ills.

In reality, we are all awaited. The Lord waits for us and not only does he wait for us; he is present and stretches out his hand to us.

Let us take the Lord’s hand and pray to him to grant that we may truly live, live the abundance of life and thus also be able to communicate true life to our contemporaries, life in abundance. Amen.



Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 29 March 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I would first of all like to thank God and all those who collaborated in various ways in the success of the Apostolic Journey that I was able to make to Africa in the past few days and I invoke upon the seeds scattered on African soil an abundance of Blessings from Heaven. I propose to expand on this significant pastoral experience next Wednesday at the General Audience, but I cannot let this opportunity pass without expressing the deep emotion I felt on encountering the Catholic communities and peoples of Cameroon and Angola. Two aspects impressed me above all, both of which are very important. The first was the visible joy on the faces of the people, the joy of feeling part of the one family of God, and I thank the Lord for having been able to share moments of simple celebration, choral and full of faith, with the multitudes of these our brothers and sisters. The second aspect is the strong feeling of sacredness in the air at the Liturgical Celebrations, characteristic of all African peoples and which, I can say, emerged at every moment of my stay among these dear peoples. The Visit enabled me to see and understand better the reality of the Church in Africa, in the variety of her experiences and the challenges she has to face in this period.

In thinking precisely of the challenges that mark the path of the Church on the African continent and in every other part of the world, we realize how timely are the words of the Gospel this Fifth Sunday of Lent. In the imminence of his Passion Jesus declared: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12: 24). Now is no longer the time for words and discourses; indeed the crucial hour has come for which the Son of God came into the world and although his soul is troubled, he makes himself available to fulfill the Father’s will to the end. And this is the will of God: to give eternal life to us who have lost it. However, in order for this to be brought about Jesus dies, like a grain of wheat that God the Father has sown in the world. Indeed, only in this way can a new humanity germinate and grow, free from the dominion of sin and able to live in brotherhood, as sons and daughters of the one Father who is in Heaven.

In the great celebration of faith lived together in Africa, we experienced that this new humanity is alive, even with its human limitations. Abundant fruits are gathered wherever missionaries, like Jesus, have given their life and continue to spend it for the Gospel. I would like to address a special thought of gratitude to them for the good that they do. They are women and men both religious and lay. It was beautiful for me to see the fruit of their love for Christ and to observe the Christian’s profound gratitude to them. Let us give thanks to God and pray to Most Holy Mary that Christ’s message of hope and love may spread throughout the world.



Fifth Sunday of Lent, 29 March 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s Gospel passage St John refers to an episode that occurred during the last phase of Christ’s public ministry, just before the Jewish Passover, which was to be the Passover of his death and Resurrection. While Jesus was in Jerusalem, the Evangelist recounts, some Greeks, proselytes of Judaism who were curious and attracted by what he was doing, approached Philip, one of the Twelve who had a Greek name and came from Galilee. “Sir”, they said to him, “ we wish to see Jesus”. Philip in turn went to Andrew, one of the first Apostles very close to the Lord and who also had a Greek name, and they both went and “told Jesus” (see Jn 12: 20-21).

In the request of these anonymous Greeks we can interpret the thirst to see and to know Christ which is in every person’s heart; and Jesus’ answer orients us to the mystery of Easter, the glorious manifestation of his saving mission. “The hour has come”, he declared, “for the Son of man to be glorified (Jn 12: 23). Yes! The hour of the glorification of the Son of man is at hand, but it will entail the sorrowful passage through his Passion and death on the Cross. Indeed the divine plan of salvation which is for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike will only be brought about in this manner. Actually, everyone is invited to be a member of the one people of the new and definitive Covenant. In this light, we also understand the solemn proclamation with which the Gospel passage ends: “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12: 32), and likewise the Evangelist’s comment: “He said this to show by what death he was to die” (Jn 12: 33). The Cross: the height loftiness of love is the loftiness of Jesus and he attracts all to these heights.

Very appropriately, the liturgy brings us to meditate on this text of John’s Gospel today, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, while the days of the Lord’s Passion draw near in which we will immerse ourselves spiritually as from next Sunday which is called, precisely, Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. It is as if the Church were encouraging us to share Jesus’ state of mind, desiring to prepare us to relive the mystery of his Crucifixion, death and Resurrection not as foreign spectators but on the contrary as protagonists, involved together with him in his mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection. Indeed, where Christ is his disciples called to follow him, to be in solidarity with him at the moment of the combat must also be in order to share in his victory.

What our association with his mission consists of is explained by the Lord himself. In speaking of his forthcoming glorious death, he uses a simple and at the same time evocative image: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12: 24).

He compares himself to a “grain of wheat which has split open, to bring much fruit to others”, according to an effective statement of St Athanasius; it is only through death, through the Cross that Christ bears much fruit for all the centuries. Indeed, it was not enough for the Son of God to become incarnate. To bring the divine plan of universal salvation to completion he had to be killed and buried: only in this way was human reality to be accepted, and, through his death and Resurrection, the triumph of Life, the triumph of Love to be made manifest; it was to be proven that love is stronger than death.

Yet the man Jesus who was a true man with the same sentiments as ours felt the burden of the trial and bitter sorrow at the tragic end that awaited him. Precisely since he was God-Man he felt terror even more acutely as he faced the abyss of human sin and all that is unclean in humanity which he had to carry with him and consume in the fire of his love. He had to carry all this with him and transform it in his love. “Now is my soul troubled”, he confessed. “And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” (Jn 12: 27). The temptation to ask: “Save me, do not permit the Cross, give me life!” surfaces. In the distress of his invocation we may grasp in anticipation the anguished prayer of Gethsemane, when, experiencing the drama of loneliness and fear, he implored the Father to take from him the cup of the Passion. At the same time, however, his filial adherence to the divine plan did not fail, because it is precisely this that enables him to know that his hour has come and with trust he prays: “Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12: 28). By this he means “I accept the Cross” in which the name of God is glorified, that is, the greatness of his love. Here too Jesus anticipates the words of the Mount of Olives, the process that must be fundamentally brought about in all our prayers: to transform, to allow grace to transform our selfish will and open it to comply with the divine will. The same sentiments surface in the passage of the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed in the Second Reading. Prostrated by extreme anguish because of the death that was hanging over him, Jesus offers up prayers and supplications to God “with loud cries and tears” (Heb 5: 7). He invokes help from the One who can set him free but always remaining abandoned in the Father’s hands. And precisely because of his filial trust in God, the author notes, he was heard, in the sense that he was raised, he received new and definitive life. The Letter to the Hebrews makes us understand that these insistent prayers, of Jesus with tears and cries, were the true act of the High Priest with which he offered himself and humanity to the Father, there by transforming the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the demanding way of the Cross that Jesus points out to all his disciples. On several occasions he said, “If anyone wants to serve me, let him follow me”. There is no alternative for the Christian who wishes to fulfill his vocation. It is the “law” of the Cross, described with the image of the grain of wheat that dies in order that new life may germinate; it is the “logic” of the Cross, recalled also in today’s Gospel: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life”. “To hate” one’s life is a strong and paradoxical Semitic expression that clearly emphasizes the radical totality which must distinguish those who follow Christ and, out of love for him, put themselves at the service of their brethren. They lose their life and thus find it. There is no other way to experience the joy and the true fruitfulness of Love: the way of giving oneself, of self-giving, of losing oneself in order to find oneself.

Dear friends, Jesus’ invitation rings out with particular eloquence at today’s celebration in this Parish of yours. Indeed, it is dedicated to the Holy Face of Jesus: that Face which “some Greeks”, of which the Gospel speaks, wished to see; that Face which in the coming days of the Passion we shall contemplate disfigured by human sins, indifference and ingratitude; that Face, radiant with light and dazzling with glory that will shine out at dawn on Easter Day. Let us keep our hearts and minds fixed on the Face of Christ, dear faithful whom I greet with affection, starting with Fr Luigi Coluzzi, your Parish Priest, to whom I am also grateful for expressing your sentiments. Thank you for your cordial welcome: I am truly glad to be among you on the occasion of the third anniversary of the dedication of your church and I greet you all with affection. I extend a special greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, as well as to Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, who has contributed to the realization of this new parish centre, to the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector, to Bishop Marcello Costalunga and to the other Prelates present, to the priests who collaborate in the parish, to the praiseworthy women religious of the Congregation of the Poor Daughters of the Visitation who take care of the residents in their Rest Home for the elderly right opposite this beautiful church. I greet the catechists, the Council and the parish workers and those who collaborate in the life of the Parish; I greet the children, the young people and their families. I extend my thoughts with pleasure to the inhabitants of Magliana, especially the elderly, the sick, people who are lonely and in difficulty. I am praying for each and everyone at this Holy Mass.

Dear brothers and sisters, let yourselves be enlightened by the splendor of the Face of Christ, and your young community which can now benefit from a new parish complex, with modern and functional structures will walk united, united by the commitment to proclaim and witness to the Gospel in this neighborhood. I know what great care you devote to liturgical formation, making the most of every resource of your community: the readers, the choir and all those who are dedicated to enlivening the celebrations. It is important to put always personal and liturgical prayer first in our life. I am aware of the great commitment you devote to catechesis to ensure that it lives up to the expectations of the children, both those preparing to receive the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation and those who attend the After-School Prayer and Recreation Centre. You are also anxious to provide a suitable catechesis for parents, whom you invite to take a course of Christian formation together with their children. In this way you seek to help families to live the sacramental events together, educating and being educated in the faith “in the family”, which must be the first and natural “school” of Christian life for all its members. I congratulate you on your open and welcoming parish. It is motivated and enlivened by a sincere love for God and for all the brethren, in imitation of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe to whom it was originally dedicated. In Auschwitz, with heroic courage, he sacrificed himself to save the life of another. In our time, marked by a general social and economic crisis, the effort you are making, above all through the parish Caritas and the Sant’Egidio group, in order, as far as possible, to meet the expectations of the poorest and neediest people is most praiseworthy.

I would like to say a special word of encouragement to you, dear young people: let yourselves be attracted by the fascination of Christ! Fixing his Face with the eyes of the faith, ask him: “Jesus what do you want me to do with you and for you?”. Thus, keep listening. Be guided by his Spirit, second the plan he has for you. Prepare yourselves seriously and build families that are united and faithful to the Gospel and to be his witnesses in society; then, if he calls you, be ready to dedicate your whole life to his service in the Church as priests or as men and women religious. I assure you of my prayers; in particular I am expecting you next Thursday in St Peter’s Basilica to prepare ourselves for the World Youth Day, which as you know, is being celebrated this year at the diocesan level, next Sunday. We shall remember together my beloved and venerable Predecessor John Paul II on the fourth anniversary of his death. In many circumstances he encouraged young people to encounter Christ and to follow him with enthusiasm and generosity.

Dear brothers and sisters of this parish community, may the infinite love of Christ that shines in his Face be radiant in your every attitude, and become your “daily life”. As St Augustine urged in an Easter homily, “Christ has suffered; let us die to sin. Christ is risen; let us live for God. Christ has passsed from this world to the Father; let us not be attached to this earth with our hearts but follow him in the things of above. Our Lord was hung on the wood of the Cross; let us crucify concupiscence of the flesh. he lay in the tomb; buried with him, let us forget past things; he is seated in Heaven; let us concentrate our longing on our desires to supreme things” (S. Agostino, Discourse 229/D, 1).

Heartened by this knowledge, let us continue the Eucharistic celebration, invoking the motherly intercession of Mary, so that our life may become a reflection of Christ’s. Let us pray that all those whom we meet may always perceive in our gestures and in our words the pacifying and comforting goodness of his Face. Amen!



Saint Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 21 March 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have reached the Fifth Sunday of Lent in which the Liturgy this year presents to us the Gospel episode of Jesus who saves an adulterous woman condemned to death (Jn 8: 1-11). While he is teaching at the Temple the Scribes and Pharisees bring Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery for which Mosaic law prescribed stoning. Those men ask Jesus to judge the sinful woman in order “to test him” and impel him to take a false step. The scene is full with drama: the life of that person and also his own life depend on Jesus. Indeed, the hypocritical accusers pretend to entrust the judgment to him whereas it is actually he himself whom they wish to accuse and judge. Jesus, on the other hand, is “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1: 14): he can read every human heart, he wants to condemn the sin but save the sinner, and unmask hypocrisy. St John the Evangelist highlights one detail: while his accusers are insistently interrogating him, Jesus bends down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. St Augustine notes that this gesture portrays Christ as the divine legislator: in fact, God wrote the law with his finger on tablets of stone (see Commentary on John’s Gospel, 33, 5). Thus Jesus is the Legislator, he is Justice in person. And what is his sentence? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. These words are full of the disarming power of truth that pulls down the wall of hypocrisy and opens consciences to a greater justice, that of love, in which consists the fulfilment of every precept (see Rom 13: 8-10). This is the justice that also saved Saul of Tarsus, transforming him into St Paul (see Phil 3: 8-14).

When his accusers “went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest”, Jesus, absolving the woman of her sin, ushers her into a new life oriented to good. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again”. It is the same grace that was to make the Apostle say: “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3: 13-14). God wants only goodness and life for us; he provides for the health of our soul through his ministers, delivering us from evil with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that no one may be lost but all may have the opportunity to convert. In this Year for Priests I would like to urge Pastors to imitate the holy Curé d’Ars in the ministry of sacramental pardon so that the faithful may discover its meaning and beauty and be healed by the merciful love of God, who “even forces himself to forget the future so that he can grant us his forgiveness!” (Letter to Priests for the Inauguration of the Year for Priests, 16 June 2009).

Dear friends, let us learn from the Lord Jesus not to judge and not to condemn our neighbour. Let us learn to be intransigent with sin starting with our own! and indulgent with people. May the holy Mother of God, free from all sin, who is the mediatrix of grace for every repentant sinner, help us in this.



St Peter’s Square, Fifth Sunday of Lent, 10 April 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

There are only two weeks to go until Easter and the Bible Readings of this Sunday all speak about resurrection. It is not yet that of Jesus, which bursts in as an absolute innovation, but our own resurrection, to which we aspire and which Christ himself gave to us, in rising from the dead. Indeed, death represents a wall as it were, which prevents us from seeing beyond it; yet our hearts reach out beyond this wall and even though we cannot understand what it conceals, we nevertheless think about it and imagine it, expressing with symbols our desire for eternity.

The Prophet Ezekiel proclaimed to the Jewish people, exiled far from the land of Israel, that God would open the graves of the dead and bring them home to rest in peace (see Ez 37:12-14). This ancestral aspiration of man to be buried together with his forefathers is the longing for a “homeland” which welcomes us at the end of our earthly toil. This concept does not yet contain the idea of a personal resurrection from death, which only appears towards the end of the Old Testament, and even in Jesus’ time was not accepted by all Judeans. Among Christians too, faith in the resurrection and in life is often accompanied by many doubts and much confusion because it also always concerns a reality which goes beyond the limits of our reason and requires an act of faith.

In today’s Gospel — the raising of Lazarus — we listen to the voice of faith from the lips of Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Jesus said to her: “Your brother will rise again,” and she replies: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (Jn 11:23-24). But Jesus repeats: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (Jn 11:25-26). This is the true newness which abounds and exceeds every border! Christ pulls down the wall of death and in him dwells all the fullness of God, who is life, eternal life. Therefore death did not have power over him and the raising of Lazarus is a sign of his full dominion over physical death which, before God, resembles sleep (see Jn 11:11).

However there is another death, which cost Christ the hardest struggle, even the price of the Cross: it is spiritual death and sin which threaten to ruin the existence of every human being. To overcome this death, Christ died and his Resurrection is not a return to past life, but an opening to a new reality, a “new land” united at last with God’s Heaven. Therefore St Paul writes: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us turn to the Virgin Mary, who previously shared in this Resurrection, so that she may help us to say faithfully: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn 11:27), to truly discover that he is our salvation.


(MARCH 23-29, 2012)



Expo Bicentenario Park, León, Sunday, 25 March 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground, dies and bears much fruit. This is his response to some Greeks who approached Philip asking: “we would like to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). Today we invoke Mary Most Holy and we ask her: “show Jesus to us”.

As we now pray the Angelus and remember the Annunciation of the Lord, our eyes too turn spiritually towards the hill of Tepeyac, to the place where the Mother of God, under the title of “the Ever-Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe” has been fervently honored for centuries as a sign of reconciliation and of God’s infinite goodness towards the world.

My predecessors on the Chair of Saint Peter honored her with affectionate titles such as Our Lady of Mexico, Heavenly Patroness of Latin America, Mother and Empress of this continent. Her faithful children, in their turn, who experience her help, invoke her confidently with such affectionate and familiar names as the Rose of Mexico, Our Lady of Heaven, Virgin Morena, Mother of Tepeyac, Noble Indita.

Dear brothers and sisters, do not forget that true devotion to the Virgin Mary always takes us to Jesus, and “consists neither in sterile nor transitory feelings, nor in an empty credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues” (Lumen Gentium, no. 67). To love her means being committed to listening to her Son, to venerate the Guadalupana means living in accordance with the words of the blessed fruit of her womb.

At this time, when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime, we come to Mary in search of consolation, strength and hope. She is the Mother of the true God, who invites us to stay with faith and charity beneath her mantle, so as to overcome in this way all evil and to establish a more just and fraternal society.

With these sentiments, I place once again this country, all of Latin America and the Caribbean before the gentle gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I entrust all their sons and daughters to the Star of both the original and the new evangelization; she has inspired with her maternal love their Christian history, has given particular expression to their national achievements, to their communal and social initiatives, to family life, to personal devotion and to the Continental Mission which is now taking place across these noble lands. In times of trial and sorrow she was invoked by many martyrs who, in crying out “Long live Christ the King and Mary of Guadalupe” bore unyielding witness of fidelity to the Gospel and devotion to the Church. I now ask that her presence in this nation may continue to serve as a summons to defence and respect for human life. May it promote fraternity, setting aside futile acts of revenge and banishing all divisive hatred. May Holy Mary of Guadalupe bless us and obtain for us the abundant graces that, through her intercession, we request from heaven.


(MARCH 23-29, 2012)



Expo Bicentenario Park, León, Sunday, 25 March 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very pleased to be among you today and I express my sincere gratitude to the Most Reverend José Guadalupe Martín Rábago, Archbishop of León, for his kind words of welcome. I greet the Mexican Bishops, and the Cardinals and other Bishops present here, and in a special way those who have come from Latin America and the Caribbean. I also extend a warm greeting to the authorities that are with us, as well as all who have gathered for this Holy Mass presided by the Successor of Peter.

We said, “A pure heart, create for me, O God” (Ps 50:12) during the responsorial psalm. This exclamation shows us how profoundly we must prepare to celebrate next week the great mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. It also helps us to look deeply into the human heart, especially in times of sorrow as well as hope, as are the present times for the people of Mexico and of Latin America.

The desire for a heart that would be pure, sincere, humble, acceptable to God was very much felt by Israel as it became aware of the persistence in its midst of evil and sin as a power, practically implacable and impossible to overcome. There was nothing left but to trust in God’s mercy and in the hope that he would change from within, from the heart, an unbearable, dark and hopeless situation. In this way recourse gained ground to the infinite mercy of the Lord who does not wish the sinner to die but to convert and live (see Ez 33:11). A pure heart, a new heart, is one which recognizes that, of itself, it is impotent and places itself in God’s hands so as to continue hoping in his promises. Then the psalmist can say to the Lord with conviction: “Sinners will return to you” (Ps 50:15). And towards the end of the psalm he will give an explanation which is at the same time a firm conviction of faith: “A humble, contrite heart you will not spurn” (v. 19).

The history of Israel relates some great events and battles, but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud. This should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same through his Son Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel takes up the topic and shows us how this ancient desire for the fullness of life has actually been achieved in Christ. Saint John explains it in a passage in which the wish of some Greeks to see Jesus coincides with the moment in which the Lord is about to be glorified. Jesus responds to the question of the Greeks, who represent the pagan world, saying: “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). This is a strange response which seems inconsistent with the question asked by the Greeks. What has the glorification of Jesus to do with the request to meet him? But there is a relation. Someone might think – says Saint Augustine – that Jesus felt glorified because the Gentiles were coming to him. This would be similar to the applause of the multitudes who give “glory” to those who are grand in the world, as we would say today. But this is not so. “It was convenient that, before the wonder of his glorification, should come the humility of his passion” (In Joannis Ev. 51:9: PL 35, 1766).

Jesus’ answer, announcing his imminent passion, means that a casual encounter in those moments would have been superficial and perhaps deceptive. The Greeks will see the one they wished to meet raised up on the cross from which he will attract all to himself (see Jn 12:32). There his “glory” will begin, because of his sacrifice of expiation for all, as the grain of wheat fallen to the ground that by dying germinates and produces abundant fruit. They will find the one whom, unknown to them, they were seeking in their hearts, the true God who is made visible to all peoples. This was how Our Lady of Guadalupe showed her divine Son to Saint Juan Diego, not as a powerful legendary hero but as the very God of the living, by whom all live, the Creator of persons, of closeness and immediacy, of heaven and earth (see Nican Mopohua, v.33). At that moment she did what she had done previously at the wedding feast of Cana. Faced with the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine, she told the servants clearly that the path to follow was her Son: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Dear brothers and sisters, by coming here I have been able to visit the monument to Christ the King situated on top of the Cubilete. My venerable predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, although he ardently desired to do so, was unable on his several journeys to this beloved land to visit this site of such significance for the faith of the Mexican people. I am sure that in heaven he is happy that the Lord has granted me the grace to be here with you and that he has blessed the millions of Mexicans who have venerated his relics in every corner of the country. This monument represents Christ the King. But his crowns, one of a sovereign, the other of thorns, indicate that his royal status does not correspond to how it has been or is understood by many. His kingdom does not stand on the power of his armies subduing others through force or violence. It rests on a higher power than wins over hearts: the love of God that he brought into the world with his sacrifice and the truth to which he bore witness. This is his sovereignty which no one can take from him and which no one should forget. Hence it is right that this shrine should be above all a place of pilgrimage, of fervent prayer, of conversion, of reconciliation, of the search for truth and the acceptance of grace. We ask Christ, to reign in our hearts, making them pure, docile, filled with hope and courageous in humility.

From this park, foreseen as a memorial of the bicentenary of the birth of the Mexican nation, bringing together many differences towards one destiny and one common quest, we ask Christ for a pure heart, where he as Prince of Peace may dwell “thanks to the power of God who is the power of goodness, the power of love”. But for God to dwell in us, we need to listen to him; we must allow his Word to challenge us every day, meditating upon it in our hearts after the example of Mary (see Lk 2:51). In this way we grow in friendship with him, we learn to understand what he expects from us and we are encouraged to make him known to others.

At Aparecida, the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean saw with clarity the need to confirm, renew and revitalize the newness of the Gospel rooted deeply in the history of these lands “on the basis of a personal and community encounter with Jesus Christ which raises up disciples and missionaries” (Final Document, 11). The Continental Mission now taking place in the various dioceses of this continent has the specific task of transmitting this conviction to all Christians and ecclesial communities so that they may resist the temptation of a faith that is superficial and routine, at times fragmentary and incoherent. Here we need to overcome fatigue related to faith and rediscover “the joy of being Christians, of being sustained by the inner happiness of knowing Christ and belonging to his Church. From this joy spring the energies that are needed to serve Christ in distressing situations of human suffering, placing oneself at his disposition and not falling back on one’s own comfort” (Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2011). This can be seen clearly in the saints who dedicated themselves fully to the cause of the Gospel with enthusiasm and joy without counting the cost, even of life itself. Their heart was centered entirely on Christ from whom they had learned what it means to love until the end.

In this sense the Year of Faith, to which I have convoked the whole Church, “is an invitation to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the only Savior of the world […]. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy” (Porta Fidei 6, 7).

Let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist us in purifying our hearts, especially in view of the coming Easter celebrations, that we may enter more deeply the salvific mystery of her Son, as she made it known in this land. And let us also ask her to continue accompanying and protecting her Mexican and Latin American children, that Christ may reign in their lives and help them boldly to promote peace, harmony, justice and solidarity. Amen. 

© Copyright 2014 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reflections on the Fourth Sunday
of Lent by Pope Benedict XVI

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

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 prior to the recitation of the Angelus and three homilies delivered on these occasions.



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.



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!



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.



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.



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.


(MARCH 17-23, 2009)



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.


(MARCH 17-23, 2009)



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.



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.



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.



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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