Sunday, March 29, 2009

Looking Upon the Holy Face of Jesus and Following the Way of the Cross

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at Santo Volto di Gesù Parish in Magliana

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today's Gospel passage, St. John refers to an episode that occurred during the last phase of Christ's public ministry, just before the Jewish Passover, which was to be the Passover of His death and Resurrection.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem, the Evangelist recounts, some Greeks, proselytes of Judaism who were curious and attracted by what He was doing, approached Philip, one of the Twelve who had a Greek name and came from Galilee. "Sir," they said to him, " we wish to see Jesus." Philip in turn went to Andrew, one of the first Apostles very close to the Lord and who also had a Greek name, and they both went and "told Jesus" (cf. Jn 12: 20-21).

In the request of these anonymous Greeks, we can interpret the thirst to see and to know Christ which is in every person's heart; and Jesus' answer orients us to the mystery of Easter, the glorious manifestation of His saving mission.

"The hour has come," He declared, "for the Son of man to be glorified (Jn 12: 23).

Yes! The hour of the glorification of the Son of Man is at hand, but it will entail the sorrowful passage through His Passion and death on the Cross. Indeed, only in this way could the divine plan of salvation, which is for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, be brought about.

Actually, everyone is invited to be a member of the one people of the new and definitive Covenant. In this light, we also understand the solemn proclamation with which the Gospel passage ends: "and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12: 32), and likewise the Evangelizist's comment: "He said this to show by what death He was to die" (Jn 12: 33). The Cross: the height of love is the lifting up of Jesus and He attracts all to these heights.

Very appropriately, the liturgy brings us to meditate on this text of John's Gospel today, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, while the days of the Lord's Passion draw near in which we will immerse ourselves spiritually as from next Sunday which is called, precisely, Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Lord's Passion. It is as if the Church were encouraging us to share Jesus' state of mind, desiring to prepare us to relive the mystery of His Crucifixion, death and Resurrection, not as foreign spectators, but, on the contrary, as protagonists, involved together with Him in His mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection. Indeed, where Christ is, His disciples called to follow Him, to be in in solidarity with Him at the moment of the combat, must also be in order to share in His victory.

What our association with His mission consists of is explained by the Lord Himself. In speaking of His forthcoming glorious death, He uses a simple and at the same time evocative image: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12: 24).

He compares Himself to a "grain of wheat which has split open, to bring much fruit to others," according to an effective statement of St. Athanasius; it is only through death, through the Cross, that Christ bears much fruit for all the centuries. Indeed, it was not enough for the Son of God to become incarnate. To bring the divine plan of universal salvation to completion, He had to be killed and buried: only in this way was human reality to be accepted, and, through His death and Resurrection, the triumph of Life, the triumph of Love to be made manifest; it was to be proven that love is stronger than death.

Yet the man Jesus, who was a true man with the same sentiments as ours, felt the burden of the trial and bitter sorrow at the tragic end that awaited Him.
Precisely because He was God-Man He felt terror even more acutely as He faced the abyss of human sin and all that is unclean in humanity, which He had to carry with Him and consume in the fire of His love. He had to carry all this with Him and transform it in His love.

"Now is my soul troubled," He confessed. "And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?" (Jn 12: 27).

The temptation to implore: "Save me, do not permit the Cross, give me life!" surfaces. In the distress of His invocation, we may grasp in anticipation the anguished prayer of Gethsemane when, experiencing the drama of loneliness and fear, He implored the Father to take from Him the cup of the Passion.

At the same time, however, His filial adherence to the divine plan did not fail, because He knew that it is for precisely this that this hour had come, and with trust He prays: "Father, glorify your name" (Jn 12: 28). By this He means, "I accept the Cross" in which the name of God is glorified, that is, the greatness of His love.

And this prayer also anticipates the words on the Mount of Olives: "Not my will, but Yours be done." He transforms His human will and identifies it with the will of God. This is the great process on the Mount of Olives, that which should be realized in every prayer we make: to transform our selfish will, to allow it to be transformed, to open it up so that it may be transformed to the divine will

The same sentiments surface in the passage of the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed in the Second Reading. Prostrated by extreme anguish because of the death that was hanging over Him, Jesus offers up prayers and supplications to God "with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5:7).

He invokes help from the One who could liberate Him, but always remaining abandoned in the Father's hands. And precisely because of His filial trust in God, the author notes, He was heard, in the sense that He was raised from death, receiving new and definitive life. The Letter to the Hebrews makes us understand that these insistent prayers of Jesus, with tears and cries, were the true act of the High Priest with which He offered Himself and humanity to the Father, thereby transforming the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the demanding way of the Cross that Jesus points out to all His disciples. On several occasions He said, "If anyone wants to serve me, let him follow me." There is no alternative for the Christian who wishes to fulfil his vocation.

It is the "law" of the Cross, described with the image of the grain of wheat that dies in order that new life may germinate; it is the "logic" of the Cross, recalled also in today's Gospel: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

"To hate" one's life is a strong and paradoxical Semitic expression that clearly emphasizes the radical totality which must distinguish those who follow Christ and, out of love for Him, put themselves at the service of their brethren. They lose their life and thus find it. There is no other way to experience the joy and the true fruitfulness of Love: the way of giving oneself, of self-giving, of losing oneself in order to find oneself.

Dear friends, Jesus' invitation rings out with particular eloquence at today's celebration in this Parish of yours. Indeed, it is dedicated to the Holy Face of Jesus: that Face which "some Greeks," of which the Gospel speaks, wished to see; that Face which in the coming days of the Passion we shall contemplate disfigured by human sins, indifference and ingratitude; that Face, radiant with light and dazzling with glory that will shine out at dawn on Easter Day. * * *

Dear brothers and sisters, let yourselves be elightened by the splendour of the Face of Christ * * * It is important to put always personal and liturgical prayer first in our life. I am aware of the great commitment you devote to catechesis to ensure that it lives up to the expectations of the children, both those preparing to receive the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation and those who attend the After-School Prayer and Recreation Centre. You are also anxious to provide a suitable catechesis for parents, whom you invite to take a course of Christian formation together with their children. In this way you seek to help families to live the sacramental events together, educating and being educated in the faith "in the family," which must be the first and natural "school" of Christian life for all its members. * * *

I would like to say a special word of encouragement to you, dear young people: let yourselves be attracted by the fascination of Christ! Fixing His Face with the eyes of the faith, ask Him: "Jesus what do you want me to do with you and for you?"

Thus, keep listening. Be guided by His Spirit, fulfill the plan He has for you. Prepare yourselves seriously and build families that are united and faithful to the Gospel and be His witnesses in society. Then, if He calls you, be ready to dedicate your whole life to His service in the Church as priests or as men and women religious

I assure you of my prayers; in particular I am expecting you next Thursday in St. Peter's Basilica to prepare ourselves for the World Youth Day, which as you know, is being celebrated this year at the diocesan level, next Sunday. We shall remember together my beloved and venerable Predecessor John Paul II on the fourth anniversary of his death. In many circumstances, he encouraged young people to encounter Christ and to follow Him with enthusiasm and generosity.

Dear brothers and sisters of this parish community, may the infinite love of Christ that shines in His Face be radiant in your every attitude, and become your "daily life." As St. Augustine urged in an Easter homily,

"Christ has suffered; let us die to sin. Christ is risen; let us live for God. Christ has passsed from this world to the Father; let us not be attached to this earth with our hearts but follow Him in the things of above. Our Lord was hung on the wood of the Cross; let us crucify concupiscence of the flesh. He lay in the tomb; buried with Him, let us forget past things; He is seated in Heaven; let us concentrate our longing on our desires to supreme things."

(Discourse 229/D, 1)

Heartened by this knowledge, let us continue the Eucharistic celebration, invoking the motherly intercession of Mary, so that our life may become a reflection of Christ's. Let us pray that all those whom we meet may always perceive in our gestures and in our words the pacifying and comforting goodness of His Face. Amen!

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