POPE BENEDICT'S HOMILY AT SANTA FELICITA E FIGLI, ROMA, 3/25/07
The Holy Father today made a pastoral visit to the Parish of Santa Felicita e Figli martiri (St. Felicity and Sons, martyrs) in the Fidene district, northern sector of the Diocese of Rome. At 9:30, the Holy Father celebrated Holy Mass at the parish church, and after the Gospel, he delivered a homily translated by Teresa Benedetta (PAPA RATZINGER FORUM) here:
Dear brothers and sisters of this parish!
I am very glad to visit you today on the fifth Sunday of Lent. I address a heartfelt greeting to each of you. Above all, I greet the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishop Mons. Enzo Dieci. I greet affectionately the Vocationist fathers to whom the parish has been entrusted since it was born in 1958, and in a very special way, your parish priest, Eusebia Mosca, whom I thank for the kind words with which he has given me a brief picture of the reality in your community.
I greet the other priests, religious, catechists and committed laymen, and all who offer in different ways their contribution to the multiple activities of the parish - pastoral, educational and in the promotion of the human being - which are directed with priority attention to children, youth and families.
I salute the Filipino community which is quite numerous in your district, and who gather here every Sunday for Mass said in their own language. I extend my greeting to all the residents of the Fidene district, who are increasingly made up of people coming from other regions of Italy and from foreign countries.
Here, as elsewhere, you do not lack for difficulties, whether material or moral - situations which demand of you, dear friends, a constant commitment to testify that the love of God, which is fully manifested in the crucified and risen Christ, embraces everyone concretely without distinction of race or culture.
This is basically the mission of every parochial community, which is called on to announce the Gospel and to be a place of welcoming and listening, of formation and fraternal sharing, of dialog and forgiveness.
How can a Christian community be faithful to its mandate? How can it become increasingly a family of brothers animated by love?
The word of God, which we just heard, and which echoes with singular eloquence in our hearts during this Lenten season, reminds us that our earthly pilgrimage is fraught with difficulties and trials, like the journey of the Chosen People through the desert before reaching the Promised Land.
But divine intervention, Isaiah assures us in the first Reading, can make it easy, transforming arid country into a land of comfort that is rich with waters (cfr Is 43,19-20).
The responsorial psalm echoes the prophet: As it recounts the joy of returning from the Baylonian exile, it invokes the Lord to intervene in favor of the 'prisoners' who weep as they walk, but coming back, are full of jubilation because God is present, and as in the past, will once again fulfill 'great things for us."
This same knowledge should animate every Christian community that is given by the Lord abundant spiritual provisions to traverse the desert of this world and to transform it into a fertile garden.
These provisions are obedient listening to His word, the Sacraments, and every other spiritual resource of liturgy and personal prayer. But above all, the true provision is His love -the love that impelled Jesus to immolate Himself for us, which transforms us and makes us capable of following Him faithfully.
Following what the liturgy proposed last Sunday, today's Gospel helps us understand that only the love of God can change man's existence, from within, and consequently, every society, because only His infinite love liberates man from sin, which is the root of every evil.
If it is true that God is justice, we should not forget that He is above all, love: if he hates sin, it is because he loves each human being infinitely. He loves each of us and His faithfulness is so profound that He is not discouraged even by our rejection.
In particular, today Jesus urges us to an internal conversion: he explains to us why He forgives us, and teaches us to make of the forgiveness we receive from and give to our brothers the 'daily bread' of our existence.
The Gospel passage narrates the episode of the adulterous woman in two evocative scenes: In the first, we witness a dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees about a woman who was surprised in flagrant adultery, and according to what is prescribed in the Book of Leviticus (cfr 20,10), would be condemned to be stoned to death.
In the second scene, we witness a brief and moving dialog between Jesus and the sinner. Her pitiless accusers, citing Mosaic law, provoke Jesus - they all him "Master" (Didaskale) - asking Him if it is right to stone her. They know His mercy and His love for sinners and are curious to see how He would deal with a case of this kind, which under Mosaic law, admitted no doubt.
But Jesus immediately put Himself on the side of the woman - first, writing mysterious words on the ground, which the evangelist does not reveal to us, and then saying that famous sentence: "Whoever among you is without sin [he uses the term anamartetos, which is used in the New Testament only in this instance) may cast the first stone" (Jn 8,7).
St. Augustine notes that "The Lord, in answering, respects the law and does not abandon his usual gentleness." He adds that with those words, Jesus obliges the woman's accusers to look into themselves and in doing so, find out that they are also sinners. And therefore, "struck by these words as by an arrow broad as a beam, one by one, they left"(In Io. Ev. tract 33,5).
One after the other, then, the accusers who had wanted to provoke Jesus, went away "starting with the oldest to the youngest." And when they had all left, the divine Master was left alone with the woman. Augustine's comment is concise and effective: "Relicti sunt duo: misera et misericordia" - only the two of them remained - the miserable and the merciful[or literally, misery and mercy].
Let us pause, dear brothers and sisters, to contemplate this scene where human misery confronts divine mercy - a woman accused of a grave sin and Him, who is sinless himself but who has taken on the sins of the entire world.
He, who had stayed bent down, writing in the dust, now raises His eyes and meets those of the woman. He does not ask for explanations, he does not demand excuses. He is not being ironic when He asks, "Woman, where are they? Has anyone condemned you?" (8,10). And He gives an astounding reply to His own question: "Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more" (8,11).
St. Augustine, in his comment, remarks: "The Lord condemns the sin, not the sinner. If he had tolerated sin, he would have said, 'Go, live as you please - no matter how great your sins are, I release you from every penalty and from every suffering.' But that is not what He says"(Io. Ev. tract. 33,6).
Dear friends, concrete indications for our life emerge from the word of God that we heard today. Jesus did not get into a theoretical discussion with His interlocutors. He was not interested in winning a dispute over the interpretation of Mosaic law. His objective was to save a soul and to reveal that salvation is only found in God's love.
That is why He came to earth, why he would die on the Cross, and why the Father would resurrect Him on the third day. Jesus came to tell us that He wants us all in Paradise, and that Hell - of which very little is spoken these days - exists, and is eternal for those who close off their hearts to His love. [E' venuto Gesù per dirci che ci vuole tutti in Paradiso e che l'inferno, del quale poco si parla in questo nostro tempo, esiste ed è eterno per quanti chiudono il cuore al suo amore. ]
Even in this episode, we understand that the true enemy is attachment to sin, which can lead us to the failure of our existence. Jesus sends off the adulterous woman with the advice, "Go, and sin no more." He grants forgiveness so that "from now on", she would no longer sin.
In an analogous episode, that of the repentant woman which we find in the Gospel of Luke (7,36-50), Jesus welcomes and sends away in peace a woman who has repented. But in today's Gospel episode, the adulterous woman received unconditional forgiveness.
In both cases - for the repentant sinner and for the adulterer - the message is unique. In the first case, it is stressed that there is no forgiveness without repentance. In the second, it is made clear that only divine pardon and His love, received with an open and sincere heart, gives us the strength to resist evil and 'sin no more'.
Jesus's attitude thus becomes a model to be followed by each community, called on to make love and forgiveness the beating heart of community life.
Dear brothers and sisters, in the Lenten journey that we are making, and which is coming rapidly to its end, we are accompanied by the certainty that God will never abandon us, and that His love is a spring of joy and peace - it is a force that urges us powerfully onto the road of sainthood, and if necessary, up to martyrdom.
That is how it was for the sons and later their courageous mother Felicity, patrons of your parish. Through their intercession, may the Lord grant that you may encounter Christ ever more profoundly and follow Him with obedient faithfulness so that, as with the Apostle Paul, you too may sincerely proclaim: "I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3,8).
May the example and the intercession of these saints be for you a constant encouragement to follow the path of the Gospel without hesitation or compromise. May this generous loyalty be obtained for you by the the Virgin Mary - whom we remember tomorrow in the mystery of the Annunciation, and to whom I entrust all of you and the population of this district of Fidene. Amen!