The words, "Return to me with all your heart", are an appeal directed not only to individuals, but to the whole community. Again, in the first reading we heard the words: "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy" (vv. 15-16). The dimension of community is an essential part of Christian faith and life. Christ came "to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (cf. John 11:52). The "we" of the Church is a community in which Jesus draws us together to himself (cf. John 12:32): faith is necessarily ecclesial. It is important to keep this in mind and to experience it throughout this Lenten season: everyone should realize that we do not take up the path of repentance alone, but together with our many brothers and sisters in the Church.
Finally, the prophet considers the prayer of the priests, who turn to God with tears, saying: "Do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’" (v. 17). This prayer makes us think of the importance of the witness of Christian faith and life given by each of us and our communities for showing the face of the Church, and how that face is sometimes disfigured. I think in particular of sins against the unity of the Church, and divisions within the body of the Church. To experience Lent in a more intense and manifest ecclesial communion, overcoming individualism and rivalry, is a humble and valuable sign for those who are distant from the faith or indifferent.
"See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" (2 Corinthians 6:2). These words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth also echo in our hearts with an urgency which leaves no room for absence or inertia. The frequent repetition of the word "now" tells us that we cannot let this moment pass: it is given to us as a unique and unrepeatable opportunity. The Apostle fixes his gaze on the "sharing" which Christ wanted to characterize his life, by taking upon himself all that is human, even our sin. Saint Paul’s words are forceful: God "made him to be sin" for our sake. Jesus, the innocent one, the holy one, "he who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21), took upon himself the burden of sin by sharing with humanity its wages of death, even death on a cross. The reconciliation offered us had a high price, that of the cross raised on Golgotha on which the Son of God made man hung. In this, God’s immersion in human suffering and the abyss of evil, is the root of our justification. To "return to God with all your heart" on this Lenten journey means embracing the cross, following Christ along the path which leads to Calvary, unto complete self-giving. It is a journey which teaches us each day to abandon our selfishness and self-absorption in order to make room for God, who opens and transforms our hearts. Saint Paul reminds us that the preaching of the cross resonates within us as a result of the preaching of the word, of which the Apostle himself is an ambassador; it is an appeal to make this Lenten journey a time when we listen more attentively and regularly to the word of God, the light for our path.
In the page of Matthew’s Gospel, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentions three basic practices found in the law of Moses: almsgiving, prayer and fasting; these are also traditional signposts along the journey of Lent, pointing out how to respond to the call to "return to God with all your heart". But Jesus makes it clear that is the quality and the truthfulness of our relationship with God which reveals the authenticity of any religious practice. Consequently, he denounces religious hypocrisy, ways of acting meant to impress others and to garner applause and approval. The true disciple serves not himself or the "public", but his Lord, simply and generously: "and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:4,6,18). Our witness, then, will always be more effective the less we seek our own glory and the more we realize that the reward of the just is God himself: being one with him here below on the journey of faith, and, at life’s end, in the luminous peace of seeing him face to face for ever (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin our Lenten journey with joyful confidence. May we feel deep within us the call to conversion, to "return to God with all our heart", accepting his grace which makes us new men and women, with that astonishing newness which is a share in the very life of Jesus. May none of us be deaf to this appeal, which also comes to us in the austere rite, at once so simple and so evocative, of the imposition of ashes, which we are about to celebrate. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and the model of all authentic disciples of the Lord, accompany us throughout this Lenten season. Amen!
16 February 2013
20 February 2013
Saint Peter's Square
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In today’s liturgy, the Gospel according to Luke presents the story of the call of the first disciples, with an original version that differs from that of the other two Synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark (cf. Matthew 4: 18-22; Mark 1:16-20) . The call, in fact, was preceded by the teaching of Jesus to the crowd and a miraculous catch of fish, carried out by the will of the Lord (Luke 5:1-6). In fact, while the crowd rushes to the shore of Lake Gennesaret to hear Jesus, he sees Simon discouraged because he has caught nothing all night. First Jesus asks to get into Simon’s boat in order to preach to the people standing a short distance from the shore; then, having finished preaching, he commands Simon to go out into the deep with his friends and cast their nets (cf. v. 5). Simon obeys, and they catch an incredible amount of fish. In this way, the evangelist shows how the first disciples followed Jesus, trusting him, relying on his Word, all the while accompanied by miraculous signs. We note that, before this sign, Simon addresses Jesus, calling him “Master” (v. 5), while afterwards he addresses him as “Lord” (v. 7). This is the pedagogy of God’s call, which does not consider the quality of those who are chosen so much as their faith, like that of Simon that says: “At your word, I will let down the nets” (v. 5).
The image of the fish refers to the Church’s mission. St Augustine says in this regard, “Twice the disciples went out to fish at the Lord’s command: once before the Passion and the other time after the Resurrection. In the two scenes of fishing, the entire Church is depicted: the Church as it is now and as it will be after the resurrection of the dead. Now it gathers together a multitude, impossible to number, comprising the good and the bad; after the resurrection, it will include only the good” (Homily 248.1). The experience of Peter, certainly unique, is nonetheless representative of the call of every apostle of the Gospel, who must never be discouraged in proclaiming Christ to all men, even to the ends of the world. However, today’s text is a reflection on the vocation to the priesthood and the consecrated life. It is the work of God. The human person is not the author of his own vocation but responds to the divine call. Human weakness should not be afraid if God calls. It is necessary to have confidence in his strength, which acts in our poverty; we must rely more and more on the power of his mercy, which transforms and renews.
Dear brothers and sisters, may this Word of God revive in us and in our Christian communities courage, confidence and enthusiasm in proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel. Do not let failures and difficulties lead to discouragement: it is our task to cast our nets in faith — the Lord will do the rest. We must trust, too, in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Apostles. Well aware of her own smallness, she answered the Lord’s call with total confidence: “Here I am”. With her maternal help, let us renew our willingness to follow Jesus, Master and Lord.
After the Angelus:
Today, the various peoples of the Far East celebrate the Lunar New Year. Peace, harmony, and gratitude to Heaven are the universal values that are celebrated on this happy occasion and are desired by all to build their own family, society and nation. I hope that that those Peoples will be able to fulfill their aspirations for a happy and prosperous life. I send a special greeting to the Catholics of those countries, that in this Year of Faith they will be guided by the wisdom of Christ.
Tomorrow, the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also the World Day of the Sick. The solemn celebration will take place at the Marian Shrine of Altötting in Bavaria. With prayer and affection I shall be close to all the sick and I join in spirit all those who gather in the Shrine, which is particularly dear to me.
I am pleased to greet all the visitors present at today’s Angelus, especially the young people of Saint Patrick’s Evangelisation School, London. In today’s Gospel, the crowds press round Jesus, “listening to the word of God”. May we too listen attentively to Jesus’ words, as he calls us, like Simon Peter, to go out fearlessly and draw others to Christ. God bless you and your loved ones!
I wish you all a good Sunday, a good week. Happy Sunday. Thank you!
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the words of Pope Benedict XVI, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.