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Benedict XVI's March 26 Homily at Roman Parish

4/12/2006 - 6:30 AM PST

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"God Continues to Love Us Even When He Punishes Us"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 12, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered March 26 during his pastoral visit to the Parish of God the Merciful Father, in Rome.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as "Laetare Sunday," is permeated with a joy which, to some extent, attenuates the penitential atmosphere of this holy season: "Rejoice Jerusalem!" the Church says in the entrance antiphon. "Be glad for her ... you who mourned for her." The refrain of the responsorial psalm echoes this invitation: "The memory of you, Lord, is our joy."

To think of God gives joy. We spontaneously ask ourselves: But why should we rejoice? One reason, of course, is the approach of Easter. The expectation of Easter gives us a foretaste of the joy of the encounter with the Risen Christ.

The deepest reason, however, lies in the message offered by the biblical readings that the liturgy presents to us today and that we have heard. They remind us that despite our unworthiness, God's infinite mercy is destined for us. God loves us in a way that we might call "obstinate" and enfolds us in his inexhaustible tenderness.

This is what already emerges from the First Reading from the Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23). The sacred author offers us a concise and meaningful interpretation of the history of the Chosen People, who suffered God's punishment as a consequence of their rebellious behavior: The temple was destroyed and the people in exile no longer had a land; it truly seemed that God had forgotten them.

Then, however, they saw that God, through punishment, pursues a plan of mercy. It was to be the destruction of the Holy City and the temple -- as I said -- it was to be an exile that would move the people's hearts and bring them back to their God so that they might know him more deeply.

And then the Lord, demonstrating the absolute primacy of his initiative over every purely human effort, was to make use of a pagan, King Cyrus of Persia, to set Israel free. In the text we have heard, the anger and mercy of the Lord alternate in a dramatic sequence, but love triumphs in the end, for God is love.

How can we fail to grasp from the memory of those distant events a message valid for all times, including our own? In thinking of the past centuries, we can see that God continues to love us even when he punishes us. Even when God's plans pass through trial and punishment, they always aim at an outcome of mercy and forgiveness.

This is what the Apostle Paul confirmed for us in the Second Reading, recalling that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5).

To express this reality of salvation the Apostle, together with the term "mercy," "eleos" in Greek, uses the word for love, "agape," taken up and further amplified in the most beautiful statement which we heard in the Gospel passage: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

As we know, that "giving" on the part of the Father had a dramatic development: It even went to the point of the sacrifice of the Son on the Cross. If Jesus' entire mission in history is an eloquent sign of God's love, his death, in which God's redeeming tenderness is fully expressed, is quite uniquely so. Always, but particularly in this Lenten season, our meditation must be centered on the cross. In it we contemplate the glory of the Lord that shines out in the martyred body of Jesus.

God's greatness, his being love, becomes visible precisely in this total gift of himself. It is the glory of the Crucified One that every Christian is called to understand, live and bear witness to with his life. The cross -- the giving of himself on the part of the Son of God -- is the definitive "sign" par excellence given to us so that we might understand the truth about man and the truth about God: We have all been created and redeemed by a God who sacrificed his only Son out of love.

This is why the Crucifixion, as I wrote in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," "is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form" (No. 12).

How should we respond to this radical love of the Lord? The Gospel presents to us a person by the name of Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem who sought out Jesus by night. He was a well-to-do man, attracted by the Lord's words and example, but one who hesitated to take the leap of faith because he was fearful of others. He felt the ...

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