Afflictions Help Teach Us, John Paul II Says

Focuses Catechesis on Book of Tobit

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 25, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Tribulation seems to be God´s way of teaching us a lesson, though his mercy is always present, John Paul II told his general audience today.



"Affliction seems to be a kind of divine pedagogy in which, however, the last word is always reserved for mercy," the Pope told thousands gathered at Paul VI Hall for his midweek general audience. He came from the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo for the event.

The Holy Father focused on the biblical topic of God as the one who "punishes and saves," as mentioned in the Book of Tobit. He said that those who open "their hearts to the needs of their neighbors, are pleasing to the Lord and, although tested, in the end will experience his benevolence."

The Pope recalled the story of the exiled Tobit, who suffered sudden blindness and poverty. Yet, despite his troubles, he remained faithful to God, who eventually consoled and helped him.

John Paul II pointed out that Tobit trusted God even though his life was marked by personal sufferings. In time he was rewarded in his son, Tobias, who after a risky journey, was to enjoy a happy marriage.

Tobit´s story is set among the Israelites in Nineveh, who were tempted to abandoned the traditions of their Fathers. In his hymn, Tobit attempts to answer the exiled people, who ask, "Why does God treat us like this?"

The Holy Father explained that "Affliction seems to be a kind of divine pedagogy in which, however, the last word is always reserved for mercy." Therefore, in gazing upon God, "a small plan of the theology of history emerges."

The story of Tobit and his family "is given as a program of life," the Pope said. It is "a call to conversion," he added.

"Suffice it to think of the parable of the merciful Father narrated by the evangelist Luke," he continued. "To the conversion of the prodigal son not only does the Father respond with forgiveness, but with an embrace of infinite tenderness, coupled with joy and celebration."

From this, "the need to praise and thank God springs forth," the Holy Father explained.

In his English-language summary to pilgrims, the Pope explained that "those who do good are pleasing to the Lord" and that "he will eventually come to the aid of those who are tested. Punishment for sin is aimed at the conversion of sinners."

"God is ready at all times to shower his gifts upon those who give up their sinful ways and return to him with hope and confidence," the Pope added. "We can always place our trust in the mercy of God, who never forsakes us. Suffering itself, provided it is accepted in a spirit of abandonment to God´s plan, takes on a mysteriously positive meaning. The cross of Christ provides the ultimate response to the question of human suffering."

John Paul II added that the "Canticle of Tobit invites us to fix our gaze upon God the Father, whose unlimited mercy is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. As we remember all that God has done for us, let us continually praise him and give him thanks."