VATICAN CITY, MARCH 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Sunday when he visited the Roman parish of San Giovanni Battista de La Salle.
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Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of San Giovanni Battista de La Salle!
Before all else I would like to say thank you with my whole heart for this very cordial and warm welcome. I thank the good pastor for his kind words. And thank you for this family spirit that I find here. We are truly family in God and the fact that you see the Pope as a father too is for me something beautiful and encouraging! But we must also see that the Pope is not the ultimate instance [of fatherhood]: the ultimate instance is the Lord and we look to the Lord to grasp, to understand – insofar as it is possible – something of the message of this second Sunday of Lent.
Today’s liturgy prepares us both for the mystery of the Passion – we heard this in the first reading – and for the joy of the Resurrection.
The first reading points us to the episode in which God tests Abraham (cf. Genesis 22:1-8). He had one son, Isaac, born to him in his old age. He was the child promised to Abraham, the son who was also supposed to bring salvation to the nations. But one day Abraham received the command to offer him up as a sacrifice. The elderly patriarch found himself faced with a prospect that for him, a father, was certainly the greatest he could imagine. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate one moment and, after having made the necessary preparations, departs with Isaac for the place to which he had been ordered to travel. And we can imagine this journey to the top of the mountain, what must have been going on in his heart and in the heart of his son. He built the altar, gathered wood and, having bound the boy, raised the knife to kill him. Abraham puts himself totally in God’s hands, ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son, the future, because without his son the promise of the land was pointless, it is nothing. And sacrificing his son, he sacrifices himself, his whole future, the whole promise. It is truly a most radical act of faith. In this very moment he is stopped by an order from on high: God does not want death but life, the true sacrifice does not give death, but it is life, and Abraham’s obedience became the source of a great blessing from thence forward, even to today. Let us move on but we can meditate on this mystery.
In the second reading St. Paul says that God himself made a sacrifice: he gave us his own Son, he gave him to us upon the cross to conquer sin and death, to conquer the devil and to overcome all of the wickedness that exists in the world. And this extraordinary mercy of God arouses the admiration of the Apostle and a profound confidence in the power of God’s love for us; in fact St. Paul writes: “Will [God], who did not spare his only Son but delivered him up for us, not give us everything together with him?” (Romans 8:32). If God gives himself in his Son, he gives us everything. And Paul insists on the power of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ against every other power that can infect our life. Paul asks himself: “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?” (8:33-34). We are in the heart of God, this is our great confidence. This creates love and in love we go to God. If God gave his own Son for us all, then no one can accuse us, no one can condemn us, no one can separate us from his immense love. Precisely the supreme sacrifice of death upon the cross, that the Son of God accepted and willingly chose, becomes the source of our justification, of our salvation. And let us remember that in the Holy Eucharist this act of the Lord is ever present, it remains eternally in his heart, and this act of his heart draws us, it unites us with itself.
Finally, the Gospel tells us about the episode of the transfiguration (cf. Mark 9:2-10): Jesus manifests himself in his glory before the sacrifice of the cross and God the Father proclaims him his favored Son, his beloved, and invites the disciples to listen to him. Jesus climbs a high mountain and brings three disciples with him – Peter, James and John – who will be particularly close to him in his extreme agony on another mountain, the Mount of Olives. Not long ago Jesus had announced his passion and Peter was not able to understand why the Lord, the Son of God, spoke of suffering, of rejection, of death, of the cross, indeed, he was decisively opposed to this prospect. Now Jesus takes the three disciples with him to help them understand that the path to glory, the path of the luminous love that conquers the darkness, passes through the total gift of self, passes through the scandal of the cross. And the Lord must continually take us with him too, at least to help us begin to see that this is the necessary way. The transfiguration is an anticipatory moment of light that helps us as well to look upon Jesus’ passion with the eyes of faith. It is certainly a mystery of suffering, but it is also the “blessed passion” because it is – in its core – a mystery of God’s extraordinary love; it is the definitive exodus that opens for us the gates to freedom and the newness of the Resurrection, of salvation from evil. We need this for our daily journey, which is often marked by the darkness of evil!
Dear brothers and sisters! As I already said, I am very happy to be with you today to celebrate the Lord’s Day. I cordially greet the cardinal vicar, the auxiliary bishop of the sector, your pastor, Don Giampaolo Perugini, whom I thank, once more, for the kind words that he addressed to me on your behalf and also for the nice presents you have given me. I greet the parochial vicars. And I greet the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Heart of Mary Immaculate, who have been present here for so many years and are especially responsible for the life of this parish, which was housed in their convent for the first three years of its life. I also extend my greetings to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, naturally affectionate toward this parish that bears the name of their founder. Furthermore, I greet those who are active in the Parish: I am speaking of the catechists, the members of the associations and movements, and the various parish groups. I would finally like to acknowledge all of the residents of this quarter, particularly the elderly, the sick, persons who are alone and those in difficulty.
Coming among you today I observed the particular position of this church, placed in the highest point of the quarter with a narrow belfry, almost like a finger or arrow pointed toward heaven. I think that this is an important indication: similar to the three apostles of the Gospel, we too need to climb the mountain of the transfiguration to receive God’s light so that his countenance might shine upon ours. And it is in personal and communal prayer that we encounter the Lord, not as an idea or a moral proposal, but as a person who wants to enter into relationship with us, who wants to become a friend and wants to renew our life to make it like his. And this encounter is not only a personal event; this church of yours situated in the highest point of the quarter, reminds you that the Gospel must be communicated, announced to all. We do not await others to bring different messages, which do not lead to true life; you yourselves must become Christ’s missionaries to your brothers where they live, work, study or just pass their free time. I know of the many significant efforts of evangelization that you are undertaking, especially through the oratory called “Stella polare” (polar star) – I am also happy to wear this shirt [a t-shirt of the oratory] – where competent and generous volunteers, with the involvement of families, promote gatherings of young people through sports activities, without however neglecting cultural formation, through art and music, and above all provide formation for having a relationship with God, Christian values and an ever mo
re conscious participation in the Sunday eucharistic celebration.
I am glad that the sense of belonging to the parish community has grown more and more and solidified over the course of the years. Faith must be lived together and the parish is a place in which one learns how to live his faith within the “we” of the Church. And I would like to encourage you so that the shared responsibility for pastoral work grows, in the perspective of an authentic communion among all the groups present, which are called to walk together, to live complementarity in diversity, to witness to the “we” of the Church, of the family of God. I know of the work you put into preparing young people for the sacraments of the Christian life. May the upcoming “Year of Faith” be a propitious occasion also for this parish to cause the experience of catechesis in the great truths of the Christian faith to grow and solidify in a way that allows the whole quarter to know and reflect upon the Credo of the Church, and to overcome that “religious illiteracy,” which is one of greatest problems of our day.
Dear friends! Yours is a young community – you see it – made up of young families, and –thanks be to God – there are so many children and young people who belong to it. In this connection I would like to recall the task of the family and of the whole Christian community to educate in the faith, helped in this by the theme of the current pastoral year, by the pastoral directives of the Italian Bishops Conference and without forgetting the always relevant teaching of St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle. In particular, dear families, you are the environment in which the first steps of faith are taken; may you be the community in which one learns to know and love the Lord always, the community in which we enrich each other to live a truly adult faith.
I would like, finally, to remind all of you of the importance and the centrality of the Eucharist in personal and communal life. May the Holy Mass be at the center of your Sunday, which must be rediscovered and lived as the day of God and the community, a day to praise and celebrate him who died and rose for our salvation, a day to live together in the joy of an open community ready to welcome every person who is alone or in difficulty. Gathered around the Eucharist, in fact, we sense more easily that the mission of every Christian community is that of bringing the message of God’s love to all men. This is why it is important that the Eucharist be always at the heart of the life of the faithful, as it is today.
Dear brothers and sisters! From Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Lenten journey leads us to Golgotha, the mountain of supreme sacrifice of love of the one Priest of the new and eternal covenant. In that sacrifice is contained the greatest force for transformation in human history. Taking upon himself every consequence of evil and sin, Jesus rose on the third day as conqueror of death and the Evil One. Lent prepares us to personally participate in this great mystery of faith, which we will celebrate in the Triduum of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Let us entrust our Lenten journey and that of the whole Church to the Virgin Mary. May she who followed her Son Jesus to the cross, help us to be faithful disciples of Christ, mature Christians, to be able to participate together with her in the fullness of Easter joy. Amen![Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]