Papal Homily at Roman Parish

«He Is Concerned About Our Good, Our Happiness, Our Salvation»

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ROME, MARCH 7, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the homily that Benedict XVI gave during a pastoral visit this morning to the parish of San Giovanni della Croce in Colle Salario in the northern part of the Diocese of Rome.


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Dear brothers and sisters!

“Convert, says the Lord, the kingdom of heaven is near!” We pronounced these words before the Gospel for this Third Sunday of Lent. They present us with the fundamental theme of this “difficult time” of the liturgical year: the invitation to conversion and the doing of works of penitence. Jesus, as we heard, mentions two historical events: the Romans’ brutal treatment of a group of Jews in the temple (cf. Luke 13:1) and the tragedy of the 18 people who were killed when a tower in Siloam collapsed (13:4). The people took these episodes to be divine punishment of the victims for their sins and, thinking themselves righteous, believe that they are safe from such things, not being in need of conversion in their lives. But Jesus denounces this attitude as an illusion: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (13:2-3). And he invites us to reflect on these facts in view of a greater commitment to conversion, for it is precisely closing oneself to the Lord, not walking the road of the conversion of ourselves, that leads to death, the death of the soul. 

During Lent each of us is invited by God to bring about a change in our lives, thinking and living according to the Gospel, correcting something in our way of praying, of acting, of working and in our relations with others. Jesus makes this appeal to us not with a severity that is an end in itself but precisely because he is concerned about our good, our happiness, our salvation. On our part we have to answer him with a sincere interior effort, asking him to make us understand those particular things about us that we need to change.

The conclusion of the Gospel passage returns to the perspective of mercy, showing the necessity and the urgency of the return to God, the renewal of life according to God’s will. Referring to a custom of his time, Jesus presents the parable of the fig tree planted in an orchard; this fig tree does not bear fruit (cf. Luke 13:6-9). The dialogue that develops between the owner and the gardener manifests, on one hand, God’s mercy, which is patient and allows man, all of us, time for conversion; and, on the other hand, the necessity of immediately making the interior and exterior changes of life so as not to lose the opportunities that God’s mercy offers us to overcome our spiritual laziness and to return God’s love with our filial love. St. Paul too, in the reading that we heard, exhorts us not to deceive ourselves: It is not enough to be baptized and be nourished at the same Eucharistic meal if one does not live as a Christian and is not attentive to the signs from the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). 

Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of San Giovanni della Croce! I am very glad to be among you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day. I cordially greet the cardinal vicar, the auxiliary bishop of the district, your pastor, Father Enrico Gemma, whom I thank for the beautiful words he addressed to me on your behalf, and the other priests who assist him. My thoughts go out to all those who live in this quarter, especially the elderly, the sick, those who are alone and those in difficulty. I remember all of you in this Holy Mass.

I know that your parish is young. In fact, it began its pastoral activity in 1989, for a period of 12 years in a provisory location, and then in the new parish complex. Now that you have a new sacred edifice, my visit aims to encourage you to realize more and more that Church of living stones that you are. I know that the experience of the first 12 years formed a way of life that still remains. The lack of adequate structures and consolidated traditions moved you, indeed, to entrust yourselves to the strength of the Word of God, which has been the light along your way and bore concrete fruit of conversion, of participation in the sacraments, especially the Sunday Eucharist, and of service. 

I exhort you now to make this Church a place in which you learn the Lord better and listen to him who speaks to us in the sacred Scriptures. These will remain the vivifying center of your community so that it becomes a continual school of Christian life, from which every pastoral activity begins. The building of the new parish church has led you to a joint apostolic commitment, with special attention to the field of catechesis and the liturgy. I congratulate you on the pastoral efforts that you are undertaking. I know that various groups of the faithful gather to pray, form themselves in the school of the Gospel, participate in the sacraments — above all penance and the Eucharist — and live that essential dimension of the Christian life that is charity. I acknowledge with gratitude those who contribute to help the community to participate more in the liturgical celebrations and make them more lively as well as those who, with the parish Caritas and the Sant’Egidio group, try to meet the many exigencies of the area, especially those of the poor and needy. Finally, I acknowledge those who praiseworthily help families by seeing to the Christian education of the children and those who come to the oratory.

From the very beginning this parish was open to the movements and to the new ecclesial communities, thus developing a wider awareness of the Church and experiencing new forms of evangelization. I call on you to continue in this direction with courage but also to dedicate yourselves to bring all of these realities together into a unified pastoral project. I was happy to hear that your community wishes to promote, in regard to the vocations and the role of consecrated persons and the laity, the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God. As I already noted, this demands a change in mentality, above all with regard to the laity, “moving from considering them ‘collaborators’ of the clergy to recognizing them as truly ‘co-responsible’ for the being and action of the Church, promoting a mature and dedicated laity in this way” (cf. “Address a the Opening of the Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of Rome,” May 26, 2009).

Dear Christian families, dear young people, who live in this area and who attend this parish, let yourselves be more and more drawn by the desire to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not wait until others bring you other messages that do not lead to life, but make yourselves missionaries of Christ for the brothers and sisters where you live, work, study or only pass your free time. You should also establish here a strong and organic vocational program that educates families and young people in prayer and the living of life as a gift that comes from God.

Dear brothers and sisters! The difficult time of Lent invites all of us to recognize the mystery of God, which makes itself present in our life, as we heard in the first reading. Moses sees a burning bush in the desert, but the fire does not consume the bush. In a first moment, moved by curiosity he comes nearer to see this mysterious event when a voice from the bush calls to him, saying: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). And it is precisely this God who sends him into Egypt with the task of leading the people of Israel into the promised land, demanding from Pharaoh, in the name of this God, the freedom of Israel. 

At this point Moses asks God what his name is, the name with which God shows his particular authority so that he can present it to the people and then to Pharaoh. God’s answer might seem strange; it seems to be an answer and not an answer. God simply says of himself: “I
am he who is!” “He is,” and this must suffice. Thus, God did not reject Moses request, he manifests his name and in this way made it possible to invoke him, to call him, enter into relation with him. This means that he delivers himself over, in a certain way, to our human world, becoming accessible, almost one of us. He confronts the risk of relation, of being with us. What began at the burning bush in the desert finishes at the burning bush of the cross, where God, who became accessible in his Son made man, made truly one of us, is delivered into our hands and, in this way, realizes the liberation of humanity. On Golgotha, God, who during the night of the flight from Egypt revealed himself as he who frees from slavery, reveals himself as he who embraces every man with the salvific power of the cross and resurrection and frees man from sin and death. He accepts him in his embrace of love.

Let us remain in the contemplation of this mystery of the name of God to better understand the mystery of Lent, and to live as individuals and as community in permanent conversion, in a way to be a constant epiphany in the world, witness of the living God, for love, frees and saves. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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