Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Liturgy brings together two separate passages of Luke’s Gospel and presents them to us. The first (1:1-4) is the Prologue, addressed to a certain “Theophilus”. Since this name in Greek means “friend of God” we can see in him every believer who opens himself to God and wants to know the Gospel. Instead the second passage (4:14-21) presents Jesus who, “in the power of the Spirit”, goes to the Synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath. As a strict observer, the Lord does not disregard the pattern of the weekly liturgy and joins the assembly of his fellow citizens in prayer and in listening to the Scriptures. The ritual provides for the reading of a text from the Torah or the Prophets, followed by a commentary. That day Jesus stood up to read and found a passage from the Prophet Isaiah that begins this way: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted” (61:1-2). Origen’s comment was: “It is no coincidence that he opened the scroll and found the chapter of the reading that prophesies about him, this, too, was the work of God’s providence” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke, 32, 3). In fact when the reading was over in a silence charged with attention, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has [now] been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). St Cyril of Alexandria says that “today”, placed between the first and the final coming of Christ, is related to the believer’s ability to listen and to repent (PG 69, 1241). But in an even more radical sense, Jesus himself is “the today” of salvation in history, because he brings to completion the work of redemption. The word “today”, very dear to St Luke (19:9, 23:43), brings us back to the Christological title preferred by the Evangelist himself, namely: “Saviour” (sōtēr). Already in the infancy narratives, it is present in the words of the Angel to the shepherds: “For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11).
Dear friends, this Gospel passage also challenges us “today”. First of all, it makes us think about how we live Sunday, a day of rest and a day for the family. Above all, it is the day to devote to the Lord, by participating in the Eucharist, in which we are nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ and by his life-giving Word. Second, in our diversified and distracted time, this Gospel passage invites us to ask ourselves whether we are able to listen. Before we can speak of God and with God we must listen to him, and the liturgy of the Church is the “school” of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us. Finally, he tells us that every moment can be the propitious “day” for our conversion. Every day (kathçmeran) can become the today of our salvation, because salvation is a story that is ongoing for the Church and for every disciple of Christ. This is the Christian meaning of “carpe diem”: seize the day in which God is calling you to give you salvation!
May the Virgin Mary always be our model and our guide in knowing how to recognize and welcome the presence of God our Saviour and of all humanity every day of our lives.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
St Mark’s version of a part of Jesus’ discourse on the end times is proclaimed on this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year (cf. Mk 13:24-32). This discourse is also found in Matthew and Luke, with some variations, and is probably the most difficult Gospel text. This difficulty stems from both its content and its language: in fact, it speaks of a future that exceeds our own categories and for this reason Jesus uses images and words taken from the Old Testament; but above all he introduces a new centre, which is he himself, the mystery of his Person and of his death and Resurrection.
Today’s passage also opens with certain cosmic images that are apocalyptic in character: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (vv. 24-25); but this element is relativized by what follows: “then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v. 26). The “Son of man” is Jesus himself who links the present and the future; the ancient words of the prophets have finally found a centre in the Person of the Nazarene Messiah: he is the True Event which remains the firm and enduring point in the midst of the world’s upheavals.
Other words in today’s Gospel confirm this. Jesus says: “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (v. 31) Indeed we know that in the Bible the word of God is at the origin of the Creation: all the creatures, starting with the cosmic elements — sun, moon, the firmament — obey the word of God, they exist since they have been “called into being” by it. This creative force of the divine word is concentrated in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and also passes through his human words, which are the true “firmament” that directs the thought and journey of man on earth.
For this reason Jesus does not describe the end of the world and when he uses apocalyptic images, he does not act as a “seer”. On the contrary, he wishes to prevent his disciples in every epoch from being curious about dates and predictions; he wants instead to provide them with a key to a profound, essential interpretation and, above all, to point out to them the right way on which to walk, today and in the future, to enter eternal life.
Everything passes away, the Lord reminds us, but the word of God does not change and before it each one of us is responsible for his or her own behavior. We are judged on this basis.
Dear friends, in our day too there is no lack of natural disasters nor, unfortunately, of war and violence. Today too we need a permanent foundation for our life and our hope, especially because of the relativism in which we are immersed. May the Virgin Mary help us to accept this center in the Person of Christ and in his word.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Reading of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel continues in the Liturgy of the Word of this Sunday. We are in the synagogue of Capharnaum where Jesus was giving his well-known discourse after the multiplication of the loaves. The people had sought to make him king but Jesus had withdrawn, first, to the mountain with God, with the Father, and then to Capharnaum. Since they could not see him, they began to look for him, they boarded the boats in order to cross the lake to the other shore and had found him at last. However, Jesus was well aware of the reason for this great enthusiasm in following him and he says so, even clearly: “you seek me, not because you saw signs, [because you were deeply impressed] but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (v. 26).
Jesus wants to help the people go beyond the immediate satisfaction — albeit important — of their own material needs. He wants to open them to a horizon of existence that does not consist merely of the daily concerns of eating, of being clothed, of a career. Jesus speaks of a food that does not perish, which it is important to seek and to receive. He says: “do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you” (v. 27).
The crowd does not understand, it believes that Jesus is asking for the observance of precepts in order to obtain the continuation of that miracle, and asks: “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28). Jesus’ answer is unequivocal: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29). The centre of existence — which is what gives meaning and certain hope in the all too often difficult journey of life — is faith in Jesus, it is the encounter with Christ.
We too ask: “what must we do to have eternal life?”. And Jesus says: “believe in me”. Faith is the fundamental thing. It is not a matter here of following an idea or a project, but of encountering Jesus as a living Person, of letting ourselves be totally involved by him and by his Gospel. Jesus invites us not to stop at the purely human horizon and to open ourselves to the horizon of God, to the horizon of faith. He demands a single act: to accept God’s plan, namely, to “believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29).
Moses had given Israel manna, the bread from heaven with which God himself had nourished his people. Jesus does not give some thing, he gives himself: he is the “true bread that which comes down from heaven”. He is the living Word of the Father; in the encounter with him we meet the living God.
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (v. 28), the crowd asks, ready to act in order to perpetuate the miracle of the loaves. But Jesus, the true bread of life that satisfies our hunger for meaning and for truth, cannot be “earned” with human work; he comes to us only as a gift of God’s love, as a work of God to be asked for and received.
Dear friends, on days that are busy and full of problems, but also on days of rest and relaxation, the Lord asks us not to forget that if it is necessary to be concerned about material bread and to replenish our strength, it is even more fundamental to develop our relationship with him, to reinforce our faith in the One who is the “bread of life” which satisfies our desire for truth and love. May the Virgin Mary, on the day on which we recall the dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, sustain us on our journey of faith.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Word of God this Sunday presents us once again with a fundamental, ever fascinating theme of the Bible; it reminds us that God is the Shepherd of humanity. This means that God wants life for us, he wants to guide us to good pastures where we can be nourished and rest. He does not want us to be lost and to perish, but to reach the destination of our journey which is the fullness of life itself. This is what every father and mother desires for their children: their good, their happiness and their fulfillment.
In today’s Gospel Jesus presents himself as the Shepherd of the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He beholds the people, so to speak, with a “pastoral” gaze. For example, this Sunday’s Gospel says: As he disembarked, “he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). Jesus embodies God the Shepherd with his manner of preaching and his works, caring for the sick and sinners, for those who are “lost” (cf. Lk 19:10), in order to bring them back to safety through the Father’s mercy.
Among the “lost sheep” that Jesus rescued there was also a woman called Mary, a native of the village of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, who for this reason was known as “Magdalene”. It is her liturgical Memorial in the Church Calendar of today. Luke the Evangelist says that Jesus cast out seven demons from her (cf. Lk 8:2), that is, he saved her from total enslavement to the Evil One. In what does this profound healing which God works through Jesus consist? It consists in true, complete peace, brought about by the inner reconciliation of the person, as well as in every other relationship: with God, with other people and with the world. Indeed, the Evil One always seeks to spoil God’s work, sowing division in the human heart, between body and soul, between the individual and God, in interpersonal, social and international relations, as well as between human beings and creation. The Evil One sows discord; God creates peace. Indeed, as St Paul says, Christ is our peace, he who made us both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh (cf. Eph 2:14).
In order to carry out this work of radical reconciliation Jesus the Good Shepherd had to become a Lamb, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Only in this way could he keep the marvelous promise of the Psalm: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me / all the days of my life; / and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord / forever” (Ps 23:6).
Dear friends, these words make our heart beat fast for they express our deepest desire, they say what we are made for: life, eternal life! These are the words of those who, like Mary Magdalene, have experienced God in their life and know his peace. They are words truer than ever on the lips of the Virgin Mary, who already lives for eternity in the pastures of Heaven where the Shepherd-Lamb led her. Mary, Mother of Christ our peace, pray for us!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, is known as the Transfiguration of Christ. Indeed in the Lenten itinerary, having invited us to follow Jesus into the wilderness to face and overcome the temptations with him, the Liturgy now proposes that we climb the “mountain” of prayer with him to contemplate God’s glorious radiance on his human face. The episode of the Transfiguration of Christ is unanimously attested by the Evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke. There are two essential elements: first of all, Jesus leads the disciples Peter, James and John up a high mountain and there “he was transfigured before them” (Mk 9:2) and his face and his garments shone with dazzling light while Moses and Elijah appeared beside him; the second, a cloud overshadowed the mountain peak and from it came a voice saying: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Thus, light and the voice: the divine radiance on Jesus’ face, and the voice of the heavenly Father that witnesses to him and commands that he be listened to.
The mystery of the Transfiguration must not be separated from the context of the path Jesus is following. He is now decisively oriented to fulfilling his mission, knowing all too well that to arrive at the Resurrection he must pass through the Passion and death on the Cross. He had spoken openly of this to his disciples; but they did not understand, on the contrary they rejected this prospect because they were not reasoning in accordance with God, but in accordance with men (cf. Mt 16:23).
It is for this reason that Jesus takes three of them with him up the mountain and reveals his divine glory, the splendour of Truth and of Love. Jesus wants this light to illuminate their hearts when they pass through the thick darkness of his Passion and death, when the folly of the Cross becomes unbearable to them. God is light, and Jesus wishes to give his closest friends the experience of this light which dwells within him.
After this event, therefore, he will be an inner light within them that can protect them from any assault of darkness. Even on the darkest of nights, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out. St Augustine sums up this mystery in beautiful words, he says: “what this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is [Christ] to the eyes of the heart” (Sermones 78, 2: PL 38, 490).
Dear brothers and sisters, we all need inner light to overcome the trials of life. This light comes from God and it is Christ who gives it to us, the One in whom the fullness of deity dwells (cf. Col 2:9). Let us climb with Jesus the mountain of prayer and, contemplating his face full of love and truth, let us allow ourselves to be filled with his light. Let us ask the Virgin Mary, our guide on the journey of faith, to help us to live out this experience in the season of Lent, finding every day a few moments for silent prayer and for listening to the Word of God.
Third Sunday of Lent, 27 March 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters, This Third Sunday of Lent is characterized by Jesus’ famous conversation with the Samaritan woman, recounted by the Evangelist John. The woman went every day to draw water from an ancient well that dated back to the Patriarch Jacob and on that day she found Jesus sitting beside the well, “wearied from his journey” (Jn 4:6). St Augustine comments: “Not for nothing was Jesus tried…. The strength of Christ created you, the weakness of Christ recreated you…. With his strength he created us, with his weakness he came to seek us out” (Ioh. Ev., 15, 2). Jesus’ weariness, a sign of his true humanity, can be seen as a prelude to the Passion with which he brought to fulfillment the work of our redemption. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, the topic of Christ’s “thirst” stands out in particular. It culminated in his cry on the Cross “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). This thirst, like his weariness, had a physical basis. Yet Jesus, as St Augustine says further, “thirsted for the faith of that woman” (Ioh. Ev. 15,11), as he thirsted for the faith of us all. God the Father sent him to quench our thirst for eternal life, giving us his love, but to give us this gift Jesus asks for our faith. The omnipotence of Love always respects human freedom; it knocks at the door of man’s heart and waits patiently for his answer. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman the symbol of water stands out in the foreground, alluding clearly to the sacrament of Baptism, the source of new life for faith in God’s Grace. This Gospel, in fact — as I recalled in my Catechesis on Ash Wednesday — is part of the ancient journey of the catechumen’s preparation for Christian Initiation, which took place at the great Easter Vigil. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him”, Jesus said, “will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). This water represents the Holy Spirit, the “gift” par excellence that Jesus came to bring on the part of God the Father. Whoever is reborn by water and by the Holy Spirit, that is, in Baptism, enters into a real relationship with God, a filial relationship, and can worship him “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23, 24), as Jesus went on to reveal to the Samaritan woman. Thanks to the meeting with Jesus Christ and to the gift of the Holy Spirit, the human being’s faith attains fulfillment, as a response to the fullness of God’s revelation. Each one of us can identify himself with the Samaritan woman: Jesus is waiting for us, especially in this Season of Lent, to speak to our hearts, to my heart. Let us pause a moment in silence, in our room or in a church or in a separate place. Let us listen to his voice which tells us “If you knew the gift of God…”. May the Virgin Mary help us not to miss this appointment, on which our true happiness depends.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, In this Sunday’s Liturgy we continue to read Jesus’ so-called “Sermon on the Mount”. It is contained in chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel. After the Beatitudes, which are the program of his life, Jesus proclaims the new Law, his Torah, as our Jewish brothers and sisters call it. In fact, on his coming, the Messiah was also to bring the definitive revelation of the Law and this is precisely what Jesus declares: “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them”. And addressing his disciples, he adds: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:17,20). But what do this “fullness” of Christ’s Law and this “superior” justice that he demands consist in? Jesus explains it with a series of antitheses between the old commandments and his new way of propounding them. He begins each time: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old…”, and then he asserts: “but I say to you”…. For example, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘you shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:21- 22). And he does this six times. This manner of speaking made a great impression on the people, who were shocked, because those words: “I say to you” were equivalent to claiming the actual authority of God, the source of the Law. The newness of Jesus consists essentially in the fact that he himself “fulfills” the commandments with the love of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within him. And we, through faith in Christ, can open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit who makes us capable of living divine love. So it is that every precept becomes true as a requirement of love, and all join in a single commandment: love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law”, St Paul writes (Rom 13:10). With regard to this requirement, for example, the pitiful case of the four Rom children, who died last week when their shack caught fire on the outskirts of this city, forces us to ask ourselves whether a more supportive and fraternal society, more consistent in love, in other words more Christian, might not have been able to prevent this tragic event. And this question applies in the case of so many other grievous events, more or less known, which occur daily in our cities and our towns. Dear friends, perhaps it is not by chance that Jesus’ first great preaching is called the “Sermon on the Mount”! Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Law of God and bring it to the Chosen People. Jesus is the Son of God himself who came down from Heaven to lead us to Heaven, to God’s height, on the way of love. Indeed, he himself is this way; all we have to do in order to put into practice God’s will and to enter his Kingdom, eternal life, is to follow him.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, In this Sunday’s Gospel the Lord Jesus tells his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13,14). With these richly evocative images he wishes to pass on to them the meaning of their mission and their witness. Salt, in the cultures of the Middle East, calls to mind several values such as the Covenant, solidarity, life and wisdom. Light is the first work of God the Creator and is a source of life; the word of God is compared to light, as the Psalmist proclaims: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). And, again in today’s Liturgy, the Prophet Isaiah says: “If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday” (58:10). Wisdom sums up in itself the beneficial effects of salt and light: in fact, disciples of the Lord are called to give a new “taste” to the world and to keep it from corruption with the wisdom of God, which shines out in its full splendor on the Face of the Son because he is “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9). United to him, in the darkness of indifference and selfishness, Christians can diffuse the light of God’s love, true wisdom that gives meaning to human life and action. Next 11 February, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, we shall celebrate the World Day of the Sick. It is a favorable opportunity on which to reflect, to pray and to increase the sensitivity that the ecclesial communities and civil society show to our sick brothers and sisters. In the Message for this Day, inspired by a sentence from the First Letter of Peter, “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pt 2:24), I invite everyone to contemplate Jesus, the Son of God, who suffered and died but is Risen. God radically opposes the over-bearingness of evil. The Lord takes care of human beings in every situation, he shares in their suffering and opens their hearts to hope. I therefore urge all health-care workers to recognize in the sick person not only a body marked by frailty but first and foremost a person, to whom they should give full solidarity and offer appropriated and qualified help. In this context I also recall that today in Italy is the “Day for Life”. I hope that everyone will make an effort to increase the culture of life and to make the human being the centre in all circumstances. According to both faith and reason, the dignity of the person cannot be reduced to his or her faculties or visible capacity; thus human dignity is never lacking even when the person is weak, sick or in need of help. Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary so that parents, grandparents, teachers, priests and all who are involved in education may inculcate in the young generations wisdom of heart, to enable them to attain fullness of life.