Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
We asked the Lord to show the world the fullness of new life. After Jesus’ Resurrection a new life begins: as Jesus told Nicodemus, who, a little earlier had answered Jesus: ‘but how can a man be born again, return to his mother’s womb and be born anew?' Jesus was speaking of another dimension: ‘to be born from on high’, to be born of the Spirit . It is the new life we received in Baptism but which we must develop.
We must do our utmost to ensure that this life develops into new life. And what will this new life be like? It is not that we say today: ‘Yes, I was born today, that’s that, I am starting again’. It is a journey, an arduous journey we must toil to achieve. Yet it does not only depend on us: it depends mainly on the Spirit and we must open ourselves to the Spirit so that he creates this new life within us.
In the First Reading, we have as it were a foretaste, a preview of what ‘new life’ will and should be like. The multitude of those who had become believers were of one heart and one soul: that unity, unanimity and harmony of feelings of love, mutual love, thinking “others are better than me”, and this is lovely isn’t it?
But this does not happen automatically after Baptism. It must be brought about within us, “on the journey through life by the Spirit”. “This gentleness is a somewhat forgotten virtue: being gentle, making room for others. There are so many enemies of gentleness, aren’t there? Starting with gossip. When people prefer to tell tales, to gossip about others, to give others a few blows. These are daily events that happen to everyone, and to me too. They are temptations of the Evil One, who does not want the Spirit to create this gentleness, in Christian communities. In the parish the ladies of catechesis quarrel with the ladies of Caritas. These conflicts always exist, in the family, in the neighbourhood, even among friends. And this is not new life. When the Spirit causes us to be born to new life, he makes us gentle and kind, not judgmental: the only Judge is the Lord. The proposal to be silent fits in here. “If I have something to say, let me say it to the individual, not to the entire neighbourhood; only to the one who can remedy the situation”.
This, is only one step. If, with the grace of the Spirit, we succeed in never gossiping, it will be a great and beautiful step ahead and will do everyone good. Let us ask the Lord to show us and the world the beauty and fullness of this new life, of being born of the Spirit, of treating each other with kindness, with respect. Let us ask for this grace for us all.
Today the risen Lord appears to the disciples. To those who had abandoned him he offers his mercy and shows his wounds. The words he speaks to them are punctuated with a greeting that we hear three times in the Gospel: “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19.21.26). Peace be with you! These are the words of the risen Jesus as he encounters every human weakness and error. Let us reflect on the three times Jesus says those words. In them, we will discover three aspects of God’s mercy towards us. Those words first give joy, then grant forgiveness and finally offer comfort in every difficulty.
First, God’s mercy gives joy, a special joy, the joy of knowing that we have been freely forgiven. When, on the evening of Easter, the disciples see Jesus and hear him say for the first time, “Peace be with you”, they rejoice (v. 20). They were locked behind closed doors out of fear; but they were also closed in on themselves, burdened by a sense of failure. They were disciples who had abandoned their Master; at the moment of his arrest, they had run away. Peter even denied him three times, and one of their number – one from among them! – had betrayed him. They had good reason to feel not only afraid, but useless; they had failed. In the past, certainly, they had made courageous choices. They had followed the Master with enthusiasm, commitment and generosity. Yet in the end, everything had happened so fast. Fear prevailed and they committed the great sin: they left Jesus alone at his most tragic hour. Before Easter, they had thought that they were destined for greatness; they argued about who would be the greatest among them… Now they have hit rock bottom.
In this climate, they hear for the first time, “Peace be with you!” The disciples ought to have felt shame, yet they rejoice. Why? Because seeing his face and hearing his greeting turned their attention away from themselves and towards Jesus. As the Gospel tells us, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). They were distracted from themselves and their failures and attracted by his gaze, that brimmed not with severity but with mercy. Christ did not reproach them for what they had done, but showed them his usual kindness. And this revives them, fills their hearts with the peace they had lost and makes them new persons, purified by a forgiveness that is utterly unmerited.
That is the joy Jesus brings. It is the joy that we too feel whenever we experience his forgiveness. We ourselves know what those disciples were feeling on Easter, because of our own lapses, sins and failures. At such times, we may think that nothing can be done. Yet that is precisely when the Lord does everything. He gives us his peace, through a good Confession, through the words of someone who draws near to us, through an interior consolation of the Spirit, or through some unexpected and surprising event… In any number of ways, God shows that he wants to make us feel the embrace of his mercy, the joy born of receiving “pardon and peace”. The joy God gives is indeed born of forgiveness. It bestows peace. It is a joy that raises us up without humiliating us. It is as if the Lord does not understand what is happening. Brothers and sisters, let us think of all those times when we received the pardon and peace of Jesus. Each one of us has received them; each one of us has had that experience. It is good for us to remember those moments. Let us put the memory of God’s warm embrace before the memory of our own mistakes and failings. In this way, we will grow in joy. For nothing will ever be the same for anyone who has experienced God’s joy! It is a joy that transforms us.
Peace be with you! The Lord says these words a second time and adds, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 22). He then gives the disciples the Holy Spirit to make them agents of reconciliation: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (v. 23). Not only do the disciples receive mercy; they become dispensers of the mercy that they themselves received. They receive this power not on account of their merits or studies, but as a pure gift of grace, based however on their experience of having been themselves forgiven.
I am now speaking to you, missionaries of mercy: if you do not feel forgiven, do not carry out your service as a missionary of mercy until you feel that forgiveness. The mercy that we have received enables us to dispense a great deal of mercy and forgiveness. Today and every day, in the Church forgiveness must be received in this same way, through the humble goodness of a merciful confessor who sees himself not as the holder of some power but as a channel of mercy, who pours out upon others the forgiveness that he himself first received. From this arises the ability to forgive everything because God always forgives everything. We are the ones who tire of asking forgiveness but he always forgives. You must be channels of that forgiveness through your own experience of being forgiven. There is no need to torment the faithful when they come to Confession. It is necessary to understand their situation, to listen, to forgive and to offer good counsel so that they can move forward. God forgives everything and we must not close that door to people.
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”. These words stand at the origin of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but not only this as Jesus has made the entire Church a community that dispenses mercy, a sign and instrument of reconciliation for all humanity. Brothers and sisters, each of us, in baptism, received the gift of the Holy Spirit to be a man or woman of reconciliation. Whenever we experience the joy of being set free from the burden of our sins and failings; whenever we know at firsthand what it means to be reborn after a situation that appeared hopeless, we feel the need to share with those around us the bread of mercy. Let us feel called to this. And let us ask ourselves: at home, in my family, at work, in my community, do I foster fellowship, am I a weaver of reconciliation? Do I commit myself to defusing conflict, to bringing forgiveness in place of hatred, and peace in place of resentment? Do I avoid hurting others by not gossiping? Jesus wants us to be his witnesses before the world with those words: Peace be with you!
Peace be with you! The Lord says these words a third time when, eight days later, he appears to the disciples and strengthens the flagging faith of Thomas. Thomas wants to see and touch. The Lord is not offended by Thomas’s disbelief, but comes to his aid: “Put your finger here and see my hands” (v. 27). These are not words of defiance but of mercy. Jesus understands Thomas’s difficulty. He does not treat Thomas with harshness, and the apostle is deeply moved by this kindness. From a disbeliever, he becomes a believer, and makes the simplest and finest confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). These are beautiful words. We can make them our own and repeat them throughout the day, especially when, like Thomas, we experience doubts and difficulties.
For the story of Thomas is in fact the story of every believer. There are times of difficulty when life seems to belie faith, moments of crisis when we need to touch and see. Like Thomas, it is precisely in those moments that we rediscover the heart of Christ, the Lord’s mercy. In those situations, Jesus does not approach us in triumph and with overwhelming proofs. He does not perform earth-shattering miracles, but instead offers us heart-warming signs of his mercy. He comforts us in the same way he did in today’s Gospel: he offers us his wounds. We must not forget this fact. In response to our sin, the Lord is always present offering us his wounds. In our ministry as confessors, we must let the people see that in the midst of their sin, the Lord offers his wounds to them. The wounds of the Lord are stronger than sin.
Jesus makes us see the wounds of our brothers and sisters. In the midst of our own crises and our difficulties, divine mercy often makes us aware of the sufferings of our neighbour. We think that we are experiencing unbearable pain and situations of suffering, and we suddenly discover that others around us are silently enduring even worse things. If we care for the wounds of our neighbour and pour upon them the balm of mercy, we find being reborn within us a hope that comforts us in our weariness. Let us ask ourselves whether of late we have helped someone suffering in mind or body; whether we have brought peace to someone suffering physically or spiritually; whether we have spent some time simply listening, being present, or bringing comfort to another person. For whenever we do these things, we encounter Jesus. From the eyes of all those who are weighed down by the trials of life, he looks out at us with mercy and says: Peace be with you! In this regard, I think of Our Lady’s presence with the Apostles. I also recall that we commemorate her as Mother of the Church on the day following Pentecost and as Mother of Mercy on the Monday following Divine Mercy Sunday. May she help us move forward in our ministry.
“Born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
When, in the fullness of time, God became man, he did not come swooping down into the world from heaven on high. He was born of Mary. He was not born to a woman but of a woman. This is essentially different – it means that God wanted to take on flesh from her. He did not use her, but asked for her “yes”, for her consent. And so, with her began the slow journey of the gestation of a humanity free from sin and filled with grace and truth, filled with love and faithfulness. A beautiful, good and true humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, but at the same time, woven with our flesh offered by Mary…never without her…always with her consent…in freedom, gratuitously, respectfully, in love.
And this is the way God chose to enter into the world and to enter into history. This is the way. And this way is essential, as essential as the very fact that he came. The divine motherhood of Mary – virginal motherhood, fruitful virginity – is the way that reveals God’s utmost respect for our freedom. He who created us without us did not want to save us without us (cf. S. Agostino, Sermon CLXIX, 13).
The way he chose to come to save us is the way on which he also invites us to follow him so as to continue to weave humanity – new, free, reconciled – together with him. This is the word: reconciled humanity. It is a style, a way of relating to us, from which derives the multiplicity of human virtues of good and dignified living together. One of these virtues is kindness, as a way of life that fosters fraternity and social friendship (cf. Encyclical Fratelli tutti, 222-224).
And speaking of kindness, at this moment, my thought naturally goes to dear Pope emeritus Benedict XVI who left us this morning. We are moved as we recall him as such a noble person, so kind. And we feel such gratitude in our hearts: gratitude to God for having given him to the Church and to the world; gratitude to him for all the good he accomplished, and above all, for his witness of faith and prayer, especially in these last years of his recollected life. Only God knows the value and the power of his intercession, of the sacrifices he offered for the good of the Church.
And this evening, I would like to repropose kindness also as a civic virtue, thinking in particular of our diocese of Rome.
Kindness is an important aspect of the culture of dialogue, and dialogue is indispensable to live in peace, to live as brothers and sisters, who do not always agree – this is normal – but who nevertheless speak to each other, listen to each other and try to understand each other and to move toward one another. We only need to think of what the “world would be like without the patient dialogue of the many generous persons who keep families and communities together. Unlike disagreement and conflict, persistent and courageous dialogue does not make headlines, but quietly helps the world to live better” (ibid., 198). Kindness, then, is a part of dialogue. It is not only an issue of “good manners”; it is not a question of “etiquette”, of courteous behaviour…. No. This is not what we mean when speaking of kindness. Instead, it is a virtue to be retrieved and practiced every day in order to go against the tide and to humanize our societies.
The harm of consumeristic individualism is before everyone’s eyes. And the most serious damage is that others, the people who surround us, are perceived as obstacles to our tranquillity, to our well-being. Others “inconvenience” us, “disturb” us, rob us of the time and resources to do as we please. Our individualistic and consumeristic society tend to be aggressive, since others are competitors with whom to compete (cf. ibid., 222). And yet, within these very societies of ours, and even in the most difficult situations we face, there are individuals who demonstrate how it is possible to “cultivate kindness” and thus, by their style of life, they “become stars shining in the midst of darkness” (ibid.).
Saint Paul, in the same Letter to the Galatians from which the Reading for this liturgy is taken, speaks of the fruit of the Holy Spirit among which one is mentioned using the Greek word chrestotes (cf. 5:22). This is the one that we can understand as “kindness”: a benevolent attitude that sustains and comforts others and avoids any form of roughness and harshness. It is a way of treating one’s neighbour taking care not to be hurtful through words or actions; trying to lighten others’ burdens, to encourage, to comfort, to console, without ever humiliating, mortifying or despising (cf. Fratelli tutti, 223).
Kindness is an antidote against several pathologies of our societies: an antidote against cruelty, which can unfortunately creep in like poison seeps into the heart, intoxicating relationships; an antidote against anxiety and distracted frenzy that makes us focus on ourselves, closing others off (cf. ibid., 224). These “illnesses” of our everyday lives make us aggressive, make us incapable of asking “may I”, or even saying “sorry”, or of simply saying “thank you”. These three extremely human words for living together: may I, sorry, thank you. With these three words, we move forward in peace, in human friendship. They are the words of kindness: may I, sorry, thank you. It will do us good to think about whether we use them often in our lives: may I, sorry, thank you. And so, when we meet a kind person on the street, or in a store, or in the office, we are amazed, it seems to be a small miracle because, unfortunately, kindness is no longer common. But, thanks be to God, there are still kind people who know how to put their own concerns aside to pay attention to others, to offer the gift of a smile, to give an encouraging word, to listen to someone who needs to confide something, and to vent (cf. ibid.).
Dear brothers and sisters, I think that retrieving kindness as a personal and civic virtue might help a great deal to improve life within families, communities and cities. For this reason, as we look to the new year as the City of Rome, my wish for all of us who live here is that we might grow in this virtue: kindness. Experience teaches that kindness, if it becomes a style of life, can create a healthy living together, it can humanize social relationships, diffusing aggression and indifference (cf. ibid.).
Let us look on the icon of the Virgin Mary. Today and tomorrow, here in Saint Peter’s Basilica, we can venerate her through the image of Our Lady of Carmine of Avigliano, near Potenza. Let us not take her divine motherhood for granted! Let us allow ourselves to be amazed by God’s choice who could have come into the world in a thousand ways manifesting his power and, instead, willed to be conceived in full freedom in Mary’s womb, wanted to be formed for nine months like every baby and, in the end, to be born of her, to be born of a woman. Let us not pass over this quickly. Let us pause to contemplate and meditate because there is an essential characteristic of the mystery of salvation here. And let us try to learn God’s “method”, his infinite respect, his “kindness” so to speak, because the way for a more human world is found in the divine motherhood of the Virgin.