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Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of St. Patrick!
I am very happy to be with you and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with you and for you. I would like, first of all, to offer you some thoughts about the Word of God, which we have heard. On this third Sunday of Advent, called “Gaudete Sunday,” the liturgy invites us to be joyful. Advent is a time of personal effort and conversion to prepare for Lord’s coming, but today the Church gives us a foretaste of the joy of Christmas, which is near. In fact, Advent is also a time of joy, because during this season expectation of the Lord is reawakened in the hearts of believers, and awaiting the arrival of a person we love is always a reason for joy. This dimension of joy is also present in the first biblical readings this Sunday. The Gospel, however, corresponds to the other dimension of Advent: conversion in view of the Lord’s appearance announced by John the Baptist.
The first reading that we heard is an insistent invitation to joy. The passage begins with the words: “Rejoice, daughter of Zion … exult and acclaim with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem” (Zephaniah 3:14), which is similar to that announcement of the angel to Mary: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace” (Luke 1:26). The essential reason why the daughter of Zion is able to rejoice is expressed in the statement that we just heard: “The Lord is with you” (Zephaniah 3:15, 17); literally, it would be: “is in your womb,” with a clear reference to the God’s dwelling in the Ark of the Covenant, which is always with the people of Israel. The prophet wants to tell us that there is not mo longer any reason for despair, discouragement, sadness, whatever the situation is that we must face because we are certain of the Lord’s presence, who is able by himself to calm our hearts and make them rejoice. The prophet Zephaniah, moreover, makes it understood that this joy is reciprocal: we are invited to rejoice, but the Lord too rejoices in his relationship with us; in fact, the prophet writes: “He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will make you new with his love, he will be joyful over you in praise” (3:17). The joy that is promised in this prophetic text is finds its fulfillment in Jesus, who is in Mary’s womb, the “Daughter of Zion,” and in this way makes his dwelling among us (cf. John 1:14). In fact, coming into the world, he grants us his joy, as he himself tells his disciples: “I have told you these things so that my joy would be in you and your joy would be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus brings salvation to men, a new relationship with God that overcomes evil and death, and he brings true joy by his presence, which brings light to our journey, a journey that is often troubled by darkness and egoism. And we can reflect and see whether we are truly aware of this fact of the Lord’s presence among us, he who is not a distant God but a God who is with us, a God who is in our midst, who is here with us in the holy Eucharist, who is with us in the living Church. And we must be bearers of this presence of God. And thus God rejoices through us and we can have true joy: God exists, and God is good, and God is near.
In the second reading that we heard the Paul invites the Christians of Philippi to rejoice in the Lord. Can we rejoice? And why should we rejoice? St. Paul’s answer is: because “the Lord is near!” (Philippians 4:5). In a short time we will celebrate Christmas, the fast of God’s coming, God who became a child and our brother to be with us and share our human condition. We must rejoice over this nearness, this presence of God, and always try to better understand that he really is near, and in this way be penetrated by the reality and goodness of God, the joy over Christ being with us. In another letter Paul forcefully says that nothing can separate us from God’s love, which is manifested in Christ. Only sin distances us from him, but this is a factor of separation that we ourselves introduce into our relationship with the Lord. However, even when we distance ourselves from him, he does not cease to love us and continue to be near us with his mercy, with his readiness to forgive and welcome us back in his love. So, St. Paul continues, we must never be anxious, we can always make known our requests, our needs, our worries to the Lord “with prayers and supplications” (4:6). And this is an important reason to be joyful: knowing that it is always possible to pray to the Lord and that the Lord will hear us, that God is not distant but truly hears us and knows us, and to know that he never rejects our prayers, even if he does not always answer them as we would like, but answers them nonetheless. And the Apostle adds: pray “with thanksgiving” (4:6). The joy that the Lord communicates to us must find a grateful love in us. In fact, our joy is complete when we recognize his mercy, when we become attentive to the signs of his goodness, if we truly understand that this goodness of God is with us, and we thank him for what we receive from him every day. Those who accept God’s gifts in an egoistic way do not find true joy; those who take the occasion of the gifts received from God to love him with sincere gratitude and to communicate his love to others, they are the ones with hearts that are truly filled with joy! Let us remember this!
After the first 2 readings we come to the Gospel. Today’s Gospel tells us that to welcome the Lord who is coming we must prepare ourselves by taking a good look at how we live our lives. In reply to the various people who ask him what they must do to be ready for the coming of the Messiah (cf. Luke 3:10, 12, 14), John the Baptist says that God does not require anything extraordinary, but that we live according to the criteria of solidarity and justice; without these we cannot prepare well for the encounter with the Lord. So let us also ask the Lord what he wants and what he wishes us to do, and let us begin to understand that he does not demand extraordinary things but that we live our daily lives with rectitude and goodness. Lastly, John the Baptists says that we must follow [the Lord] with fidelity and courage. First he denies that he himself is the Messiah and firmly proclaims: “I baptize you with water; but one is coming is more powerful than I, the latch of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16). Here we see the great humility of John in acknowledging that his mission is that of preparing the way for Jesus. Saying that “I baptize you with water,” he means to indicate that his action is symbolic. He, in fact, cannot eliminate and forgive sins: baptizing with water, he can only make it clear that there is a need for the people to change their lives. At the same time John announces the coming of one “who is more powerful,” who “will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). And, as we have heard, this great prophet uses powerful images to invite the people to conversion. He does not do this with the aim of inciting fear, rather he does it to encourage them properly to welcome God’s Love, which alone is able truly to purify their lives. God becomes a man like us to give us a hope that is certain: if we follow him, if we live our Christian life with consistency, he will draw us to him, he will lead us to communion with him; and there will be true joy in our hearts and true peace, even in hard times, even in moments of weakness.
Dear friends! I am happy to pray with you to the Lord, who makes himself present in the Eucharist to be with us always. I cordially greet the cardinal vicar, the auxiliary bishop of the sector, your pastor Father Fabio Fasciani, whom I thank for speaking to me about the parish’s situation, the spiritual richness of the parish life, and I greet all the priests who are present. I greet those who are engaged in activities in the parish: the catechists, the choir and the various parish groups, and the members of the Neocatechumenal Way, who are undertaking a mission here. I am glad to see so many childr
en who follow the word of God at different levels, preparing for Communion, Confirmation and, after Confirmation, life. Welcome! I am happy to see here a Church that is alive! I also greet the Oblates of the Madonna of the Rosary, who are present in the area of the parish, and all the inhabitants of the quarter, especially the elderly, the sick, the people who are alone and in difficulty. I pray for each and every one in this Holy Mass.
Your parish was formed on the Prenestino Hill between the end of the 1960s and the middle of the 1980s, after the initial difficulties due to the lack of structures and services, a beautiful new church was inaugurated in 2007 after much waiting. May this sacred edifice thus be a privileged space to grow in the knowledge and love of him whom we will welcome shortly in the joy of his birth as Redeemer of the world and our Savior. Do not fail to come to see him often and more and more feel his presence, which gives strength. I rejoice in the sense of belonging that the parish community has, which in the course of these years, has matured and consolidated. I encourage you to ensure that the pastoral co-responsibility continue to grow with a vision of authentic communion among the different groups that are present, who are called to live complementarity in diversity. In a special way I would like to remind all of you of the importance of the centrality of the Eucharist in personal and communal life. May the Holy Mass be the center of your Sunday, which must be rediscovered as the Lord’s day and the community’s; it is a day to praise and celebrate him who died and rose for our salvation and asks us to live together in the joy of a community that is open and ready to welcome every person who is alone or in difficulty. At the same time I exhort all of you to approach the sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, especially in this season of Advent.
I am aware of the work you do to prepare children and young people for the Sacraments of the Christian life. The Year of Faith, that we are observing, must become an occasion to increase and consolidate the experience of catechesis in such a way as to permit the whole quarter to know and understand the Credo of the Church and to encounter the Lord as a living Person. I offer a special greeting to families, with the hope that they might fully realize their vocation of love with generosity and perseverance. And the Pope would like to direct a special word of affection and friendship to you too boys and girls and young people who are here, and also to your peers who live in this parish. Feel that you are truly protagonists of the new evangelization, putting your fresh energy, your enthusiasm and your talents in the service of God and others, in the community.
Dear brothers and sisters, as we said at the beginning of this celebration, today’s liturgy calls us to joy and to conversion. Let us open our spirit to this invitation; let us run to meet the Lord who is coming, invoking and imitating St. Patrick, the great evangelizer, and the Virgin Mary, who awaited and prepared, in silence and prayer, the birth of the Redeemer. Amen![ Translation by Joseph Trabbic]