by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as Laetare (rejoice) Sunday, is permeated with a joy which, to some extent, attenuates the penitential atmosphere of this holy season.
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, is 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 emerges from the First Reading (of Laetare Sunday 2006) from the Book of Chronicles (2 Chr 36:14, 19-23).
In this reading, 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, it was to be an exile, that would move the people to their God so that they might know him more deeply.
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 this text 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 time, including our own?
Then in the Gospel, the Apostle John expresses the reality of salvation in a most beautiful statement:
God so loved the world that he gave his Only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 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.
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" (n. 12).
How many people in our time are in search of God, in search of Jesus and of his Church, in search of divine mercy, and are waiting for a "sign" that will touch their minds and hearts.
Today as in the time of Christ, the only "sign" is Jesus raised on the Cross: Jesus who died and rose is the absolutely sufficient sign. Through him we can understand the truth about life and obtain salvation.
This is the principal proclamation of the Church, which remains unchanged down the ages.
The Christian faith, therefore, is not an ideology but a personal encounter with the Crucified and Risen Christ. From this experience, both individual and communitarian, flows a new way of thinking and acting. An existence marked by love is born, as the saints testify.
—Excerpted from the pope’s homily in a Roman parish on Laetare Sunday, March 26, 2006.
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