VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2003 ( In discovering Christ, we realize that God's only force is love, the Pope and other retreatants at the Vatican heard at their yearly Spiritual Exercises.

Archbishop Angelo Comastri of the Shrine of Loreto dedicated today's meditation to contemplating the face of Jesus, with the conviction that "he is the only one who can fully manifest God."

The preacher recalled the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son."

"Then, if we contemplate Jesus, we discover the mystery of God," the archbishop said. "And here is the surprise: In contemplating Jesus we realize that God's face is totally different from what we imagined."

John Paul II and his aides in the Roman Curia heard the preacher in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

To illustrate his message, Archbishop Comastri recalled a saying of Father Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need: "Man is much better than we think; but allow me to say that God is also much better than we think."

"In contemplating Jesus we realize the truth of this affirmation," Archbishop Comastri said.

The archbishop went on to reflect on Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, where the people began to murmur when they saw Jesus drawing near to sinners and eating with them -- "something scandalous," the preacher added.

"It seemed somewhat absurd to them, which could not come from God," he stressed.

"Jesus answered them: You do not know God," the archbishop continued. "It is the premise that Jesus does not pronounce but leads one to understand. God is like a shepherd who, having a hundred sheep, when losing one, does not say: 'I already have ninety-nine,' but goes out to look for the one that is lost."

"When he finds it, he does not punish it, but lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing, and returns it to the sheepfold," he recalled. "This is the mystery of God."

He added: "There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

Jesus added another word, Archbishop Comastri said. God is like a woman who has ten silver coins, and loses her peace when she loses one coin. How can God be identified behind this image? It seems paradoxical to us, but it was Jesus who used it. Yes, God is like this woman who loses her peace when she loses a precious coin."

"Man is a precious coin for God. We are precious to God," the preacher said. "Before God each one of us is precious and this certainty should fill our hearts with immense consolation."

He pointed to another parable, also in Luke 15. "God is like a father. A father who has two sons and, paradoxically, both go away. You will say to me: 'Only one left!' No, no, they both went.

"The first one left physically, the other left in heart. But both went away. He is a wounded father; a father with a bleeding heart. And, what does this father do? When the son returns, who slammed the door when he left, the father seeing him at a distance is 'moved,' as Luke's text in Greek says.

"The verb makes reference to the feminine viscera. He was profoundly moved, as a woman, as a mother, and running to meet him, embraced him and kissed him. This father's face is wonderful!"

"And, when the second son reveals a heart that is different from the father's -- he is a son who has also gone away -- the Gospel tells us that the father went out to meet him," the preacher said. "This face of God is paradoxical. God is love and God's only force is the force of love, the omnipotence of love."

"This is the great Christian news," he added. "This is the Gospel, the good news that only Christianity has, and that only Christianity proclaims, because Christianity is not a religion made by men, but a revelation that comes from God."