Pope's Message for Lent 2012
"We Must Not Remain Silent Before Evil"



"Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works"  (Heb 10:24)


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favourable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.

This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a brief biblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews: "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works". These words are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust in Jesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up a pathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the three theological virtues: it means approaching the Lord "sincere in heart and filled with faith" (v. 22), keeping firm "in the hope we profess" (v. 23) and ever mindful of living a life of "love and good works" (v. 24) together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain this life shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy and community prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God (v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on verse 24, which offers a succinct, valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness.

1. "Let us be concerned for each other": responsibility towards our brothers and sisters.

This first aspect is an invitation to be "concerned": the Greek verb used here is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observe carefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospel when Jesus invites the disciples to "think of" the ravens that, without striving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf. Lk 12:24), and to "observe" the plank in our own eye before looking at the splinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to "turn your minds to Jesus" (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for "privacy". Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be "guardians" of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant of God Pope Paul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lack of brotherhood: "Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations" (Populorum Progressio, 66).

Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail, because God is "generous and acts generously" (Ps 119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of "spiritual anesthesia" which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite "pass by", indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf.Lk 10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19). Both parables show examples of the opposite of "being concerned", of looking upon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of "showing mercy" towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. "The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it" (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of "those who mourn" (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.

"Being concerned for each other" also entails being concerned for their spiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten:fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: "Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more" (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction - elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included "admonishing sinners" among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: "If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way" (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even "the upright falls seven times" (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.

2. "Being concerned for each other": the gift of reciprocity.BenedictLentenMessage2012

This "custody" of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatological perspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. A society like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek "the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support one another" (Rom 14:19) for our neighbour’s good, "so that we support one another" (15:2), seeking not personal gain but rather "the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humility and charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.

The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. This reciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the community constantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of its members, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charity present in her midst. As Saint Paul says: "Each part should be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts of charity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, a practice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – is rooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good that the Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace that Almighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. When Christians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoice and give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).

3. "To stir a response in love and good works": walking together in holiness.

These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us to reflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of the spiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever more sublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for one another should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, "like the light of dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day" (Prov 4:18), makes us live each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. The time granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing good works in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously grows towards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation to encourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situated in this dynamic prospect of growth.

Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual or material riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the good of the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizing and proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is also meant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to "anticipate one another in showing honour" (Rom 12:10).

In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of the Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 3 November 2011

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the 40 Days of Lent
"Time Spent in the Desert Can Be Transformed Into a Time of Grace"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2012 - Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held in the Paul VI Hall. Today the Pope reflected on the liturgical season of Lent.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

In this Catechesis, I would like to reflect briefly upon the season of Lent, which begins today with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. It is a journey of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum -- the memorial of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, the heart of the mystery of our salvation. In the first centuries of the Church’s life, this was the time when those who had heard and received the announcement of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion on the way to receiving the sacrament of Baptism. It was a time of drawing near to the living God and an initiation into the faith, which was gradually to be accomplished through an inner transformation on the part of the catechumens; that is, on the part of those who desired to become Christians and to be incorporated into Christ and the Church.

Later on, also penitents and then all the faithful were invited to live out this journey of spiritual renewal and to increasingly conform their own lives to Christ’s. The participation of the entire community in the various stages of the Lenten journey underlines an important dimension of Christian spirituality: It is the redemption not of some, but of all, made possible thanks to the death and resurrection of Christ. For this reason, both those who were making the journey of faith as catechumens in order to receive Baptism, as well as those who had distanced themselves from God and from the community of faith and who were seeking reconciliation, and also those who were living the faith in full communion with the Church -- everyone together knew that the time preceding Easter was a time of metanoia; that is, of a change of heart, of penance. It is the season that identifies our human life and all of history as a process of conversion set in motion now so as to meet the Lord at the end of time.

Using an expression that has become customary in the Liturgy, the Church calls the season we have entered today “Lent”; that is, the season of 40 days; and with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, she thereby introduces us into a precise spiritual context. Forty, in fact, is the symbolic number that the Old and New Testaments use to represent the salient moments in the life and faith of Israel. It is a number that expresses the time of waiting, of purification, of return to the Lord, of knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological period of time, marked by the sum of its days. Rather, it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient length of time to witness the works of God and a time when it is necessary to decide to accept one’s responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.

The number 40 first appears in the story of Noah. This just man, on account of the flood, spends 40 days and 40 nights in the ark, together with his family and the animals that God had told him to take with him. And he waits another 40 days, after the flood, before touching down upon dry land, saved from destruction (cf. Genesis 7:4,12; 8:6). Then, the next stage: Moses remains on Mount Sinai, in the presence of the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights, to receive the Law. He fasts the entire time (cf. Exodus 24:18). For 40 years, the Hebrew people journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, a fitting time to experience the faithfulness of God. “And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness … your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years,” Moses says in Deuteronomy at the end of the 40 years of migration (Deuteronomy 8:2,4). The years of peace Israel enjoys under the Judges are 40 (cf. Judges 3:11,30); but once this time has passed, they begin to forget God’s gifts and to return to sin. The prophet Elijah takes 40 days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he encounters God (cf. 1 Kings 19:8). For 40 days, the inhabitants of Ninevah do penance in order to obtain God’s pardon (cf. Genesis 3:4). Forty is also the number of years of the reign of Saul (cf. Acts 13:21), of David (cf. 2 Samuel 5:4-5) and of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 11:41), the first three kings of Israel.

The Psalms also reflect the biblical significance of the 40 years; for example, Psalm 95, the passage we just heard: “O that today you would hearken to His voice! Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who err in heart, and they do not regard my ways’” (verses. 7c-10).

In the New Testament, before beginning His public ministry, Jesus retires into the desert for 40 days, neither eating nor drinking (cf. Matthew 4:2); His nourishment is the Word of God, which He uses as a weapon to conquer the devil. The temptations of Jesus recall those which the Jewish people faced in the desert, but which they were unable to overcome. For 40 days, the Risen Jesus instructs His disciples before ascending into Heaven and sending the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:3).

With the recurring number of 40, a spiritual atmosphere is described which remains relevant and valid. And the Church, precisely through these days of Lent, intends to preserve their enduring value and to make their efficacy present for us. The Christian Liturgy during Lent seeks to promote a path of spiritual renewal in light of this long biblical experience, above all for the sake of learning to imitate Jesus, who during the 40 days He spent in the desert, taught us to conquer temptation with the Word of God.

The 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert presents ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand, it is the season of first love with God, and between God and His people, when He speaks to their hearts, pointing out to them the path to follow. God, as it were, had taken up His abode with Israel; He went before them in a cloud and a column of fire; each day, He provided for their nourishment by making manna descend from the heavens and by making water gush forth from the rock. Therefore, the years Israel passed in the desert can be seen as the time of their being especially chosen by God and of their clinging to Him: the time of first love.

On the other hand, the Bible also portrays another image of Israel’s wandering in the desert: It is also the time of the greatest temptation and peril, when Israel murmurs against her God and wishes to return to paganism and to build her own idols, out of the need she feels to worship a God who is closer and more tangible. It is also the time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.

This ambivalence, a time of special closeness to God -- the time of first love -- as well as a time of temptation -- the temptation to return to paganism -- we surprisingly rediscover in Jesus’ earthy sojourn; naturally, however, without any compromise with sin. After His baptism of penance in the Jordan -- when He takes upon Himself the destiny of God’s Servant, who renounces himself and lives for others and takes his place among sinners in order to take upon himself the sin of the world -- Jesus goes into the desert and remains there for 40 days in profound union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel, all the rhythms of the 40 days or years I mentioned. This dynamic is a constant during the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude in order to pray to His Father and to remain in intimate communion, in intimate solitude with Him, in exclusive communion with Him, then to return among the people. But in this time of “desert” and of special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who proposes another Messianic way, one distant from God’s design, for it passes by way of power, success, and domination and not by way of the total gift of the Cross. These are the alternatives: a Messianism of power, of success, or a Messianism of love, of self-gift.

This situation of ambivalence also characterizes the condition of the Church as she journeys in the “desert” of the world and of history. In this “desert,” we who believe certainly have the opportunity to have a profound experience of God, who strengthens the spirit, confirms faith, nourishes hope and inspires charity. It is an experience that makes us sharers in Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the “desert” is also a negative aspect of the reality that surrounds us: aridity; the poverty of words of life and values; secularism and cultural materialism, which enclose people within the worldly horizons of an existence bereft of all reference to the transcendent. This is also the environment in which even heaven above us is obscured, for it is covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, also for the Church today, time spent in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, for we have the certainty that God can make the living water that quenches thirst and brings refreshment gush forth even from the hardest rock.

Dear brothers and sisters, we can find in these 40 days that lead us to the Easter of Resurrection the renewed hope that enables us to accept every difficulty, affliction and trial with patience and with faith, in the knowledge that out of the darkness the Lord will make a new day to dawn. And if we have been faithful to Jesus by following Him along the way of the Cross, the radiant world of God, the world of light, of truth and of joy will be restored to us: It will be the new dawn created by God Himself. I wish a blessed journey of Lent to you all!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert, a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

Pope's Ash Wednesday Homily
"God's Unthinkable Nearness ... Opens the Passage to the Resurrection"

ROME, FEB. 23, 2012 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave Wednesday evening, when he celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina. He had just presided over the traditional penitential procession from the church of St. Anselm on Rome's Aventine Hill to the basilica.

* * *

Venerable Brothers,

Dear brothers and sisters!

With this day of penance and fasting -- Ash Wednesday -- we begin a new journey toward the Easter of Resurrection: the journey of Lent. I would like to pause briefly to reflect on the liturgical sign of ashes, a material sign, an element of nature, which becomes a sacred symbol in the liturgy, a very important symbol on this day in which we start our Lenten journey. Historically, in the Jewish culture, the practice of sprinkling ashes upon one's head as a sign of penance was common and was often combined with the wearing of sackcloth or rags. For us Christians, however, this is the only time that we use ashes but it has a special ritual and spiritual relevance.

First of all, ashes are one of those material signs that bring the cosmos into the liturgy. The principal signs are of course those of the sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine, which become true and proper sacramental material through which the grace of Christ reaches us. But in the case of ashes there is a non-sacramental sign that is, nonetheless, always connected to the prayer and sanctification of the Christian people: a particular blessing of the ashes -- which we will perform shortly -- is, in fact, specified before they are applied to the person's forehead. There are two possible formulas for this blessing. In the first the ashes are defined as an "austere symbol"; in the second a blessing is requested directly upon them and reference is made to the text of the Book of Genesis, which may also accompany the imposition of the ashes: "Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return" (cf. Genesis 3:19).

Let us pause a moment over this passage of Genesis. It concludes the judgment pronounced by God after original sin: God curses the serpent, who made the man and woman fall into sin; then he punishes the woman, announcing to her the pains of birth and an unbalanced relationship with her husband; finally he punishes the man, he tells him of the toil of labor and curses the soil. "May the soil be cursed because of you" (Genesis 3:17), because of your sin. So, the man and the woman are not directly cursed as, however, the serpent is. Still because of Adam's sin the soil is cursed, the soil from which Adam was formed. Let us re-read the magnificent account of the creation of man from the earth: "Then the Lord God made the man from the dust of the soil and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and man became a living being. Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and there put the man he had made" (Genesis 2:7-8); thus the words of the Book of Genesis.

This is why the sign of ashes brings us back to the vast canvas depicting creation, in which it is said that the human being is a singular unity of matter and divine breath, as suggested by the image of the dust formed by God and the divine breath breathed into the nostrils of the new creature. We can see how in the account of Genesis the symbol of dust undergoes a negative transformation because of sin. While before the fall the soil is a potentiality that is completely good, fed by a spring of water (Genesis 2:6) and able, by God's handiwork, to bring forth "every sort of tree, fair to behold and pleasant to eat of" (Genesis 2:9), after the fall and the consequent divine malediction, it produces "thorns and thistles" and only through "toil" and "sweat of the brow" gives up its fruits to man (cf. Genesis 3:17-18). The dust of the earth no longer reminds us only of God's creative gesture, wholly open to life, but becomes a sign of an inescapable destiny of death: "You are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19).

It is evident in the biblical text that the earth participates in man's fate. Speaking of this in one of his homilies, St. John Chrysostom says: "See how after his disobedience everything is imposed upon [man] in a way contrary to his previous manner of life" (Homilies on Genesis 17, 9: PG 53, 146). This cursing of the soil has a medicinal purpose for man, who must from the earth's "resistance" be helped to keep himself within his limits and recognize his nature (cf. ibid.). Another ancient commentary expresses itself in this way in a beautiful summary: "Adam was made pure by God for his service. All of the creatures were given to him to serve him. But when evil reached him and conversed with him, he heard it by his external sense. Then it penetrated into his heart and took over his whole being. When he was thus captured, the creation that had helped and served him, was captured with him" (Pseudo-Macarius, Homilies 11, 5: PG 34, 547).

We said a little bit ago, quoting St. John Chrysostom, that the cursing of the soil has a "medicinal" purpose. That means that God's intention, which is always beneficent, is deeper than malediction. The latter, in fact, is not due to God but to sin, but God cannot fail to do it because he respects man's freedom and its consequences, even the negative ones. Therefore, in the punishment, and also in the malediction of the soil, there remains a good intention that comes from God. When he says to man, "You are dust and to dust you shall return!" together with the just punishment he also intends to announce a path of salvation, which will travel through the earth, through that "dust," that "flesh" that will be assumed by the Word.

It is in accord with this salvific perspective that the verse of Genesis is taken up by the Ash Wednesday liturgy: as an invitation to penance, to humility and to an awareness of our mortal condition, but not to end up in desperation, but rather to welcome, precisely in this mortality of ours, God's unthinkable nearness, which, beyond death, opens the passage to the resurrection, to paradise finally rediscovered. In this sense we are given orientation by a text of Origen, who says: "That which was at first flesh, of the earth, a man of dust (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:47), and which was dissolved through death and again made dust and ashes -- in fact it is written 'You are dust and to dust you shall return' -- was raised up once more from the earth. Afterward, by the merits of the soul that inhabits the body, the person advances toward the glory of a spiritual body" (On the Principles, 3, 6, 5: Sch, 268, 248).

The "merits of the soul," of which Origen speaks, are necessary; but Christ's merits are fundamental, the efficaciousness of his Paschal Mystery. St. Paul offered us a summary formulation in the second Letter to the Corinthians, today's second reading: "He who did not know sin God made sin for our benefit, that in him we might become the justice of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The possibility for us of divine pardon depends essentially on the fact that God himself, in the person of his Son, wanted to share our condition, but not the corruption of sin. And the Father raised him with the power of his Holy Spirit; and Jesus, the new Adam, became, as St. Paul says, "life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45), the first fruits of the new creation. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can transform our hearts from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (cf. Ezekiel 36:26).

We invoked him a moment ago with the Psalm "Miserere": "Create in me, O God, a pure heart, / renew in me a firm spirit. / Do not banish me from your presence / and do not deprive me of your holy spirit" (Psalm 50:12-13). That God who banished our first parents from Eden, sent his Son to our earth devastated by sin, he did not spare him, that we, prodigal sons, might return, contrite and redeemed by his mercy, to our true homeland. May it be so for each one of us, for all believers, for every man who humbly recognizes his need of salvation. Amen.

---------------------------------------------------------------------