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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above." The words we have just heard in the second reading (Colossians 3:1-4) invite us to raise our gaze to heavenly realities. In fact, with the expression "the things that are above" St. Paul understands heaven, because he adds: "where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."
The Apostle endeavors to refer to the condition of believers, of those who are "dead" to sin and whose life "is hidden with God in Christ." They are called to live daily in the lordship of Christ, principle and fulfillment of each of their actions, giving witness of the new life given to them in baptism. This renewal in Christ takes place in the depth of the person: While continuing the struggle against sin, it is possible to progress in virtue, attempting to give a full and willing answer to the grace of God.
As antithesis, the Apostle indicates afterward "the things of the earth." Thus making manifest that life in Christ entails a "choice of field," a radical renunciation of everything that -- as dead weight -- has man tied to earth, corrupting his soul. The search for the "things that are above" does not mean that the Christian must neglect his own earthly obligations and duties, only that he must not get lost in them, as if they had a definitive value. Remembrance of the realities of heaven is an invitation to recognize the relativity of what is destined to pass away, in face of those values that do not know the deterioration of time. It is about working, committing oneself, allowing oneself proper rest, but with the serene detachment of one who knows that he is only a wayfarer on the way to his heavenly homeland; a pilgrim, in a certain sense, a foreigner toward eternity.
To this ultimate end have arrived the mourned cardinals Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi, Cahal Brendan Daly, Armand Gaétan Razafindratandra, Tomáš Špidlík, Paul Augustin Mayer, Luigi Poggi; as well as the numerous archbishops and bishops who have left us in the course of this last year. We want to remember them with sentiments of affection, thanking God for their gifts distributed to the Church precisely through these brothers of ours who have preceded us in the sign of faith and now sleep the sleep of peace.
Our gratitude becomes a prayer of suffrage for them, that the Lord may receive them in the blessedness of paradise. We offer this Holy Eucharist for their chosen souls, gathering around the altar, on which the sacrifice is present which proclaims the victory of life over death, of grace over sin, of paradise over hell.
We wish to remember these venerable brothers of ours as zealous pastors, whose ministry was always marked by the eschatological horizon that animates the hope of happiness without shadows which has been promised to us after this life; as witnesses of the Gospel called to live the "things that are above," which are fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22); as Christians and pastors animated by profound faith, by the lively desire to be conformed to Jesus and to be profoundly attached to his Person, incessantly contemplating his face in prayer. That is why they were able to have a foretaste of "eternal life," of which the passage of today's Gospel speaks (John 3:13-17) and Christ himself promised "to the one who believes in him." The expression "eternal life," in fact, points out the divine gift given to humanity: communion with God in this world and its fullness in the future.
Eternal life was opened to us by Christ's Paschal Mystery and faith is the way to reach it. It is what follows from Jesus' words to Nicodemus and expressed by John the Evangelist: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Here is the explicit reference to the episode narrated in the book of Numbers (21:1-9), which highlights the salvific force of faith in the divine word. During the exodus, the Hebrew people rebelled against Moses and against God, and was punished by the plague of venomous serpents. Moses asked for forgiveness, and God, accepting the repentance of the Israelites, ordered them to "make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." And so it happened.
Jesus, in the conversation with Nicodemus, revealed the more profound meaning of this event of salvation, referring it to his own death and resurrection: the Son of Man must be lifted on the wood of the Cross so that whoever believes in him will have life. St. John sees precisely in the mystery of the cross the moment in which the real glory of Jesus is revealed, the glory of a love that gives itself totally in the passion and death. Thus, paradoxically, from a sign of condemnation, of death, of failure, the cross becomes sign of redemption, of life, of victory, in which, with the look of faith, the fruits of salvation can be gathered.
Continuing the dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus reflects ultimately on the salvific meaning of the cross, revealing with ever greater clarity that it consists in the immense love of God and in the gift of the Only-Begotten Son: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son." This is one of the central words of the Gospel. The subject is God the Father, origin of the whole creating and redeeming mystery. The verbs "to love" and "to give" indicate a decisive and definitive act that expresses the radicalism with which God approached man in love, to the total gift, to the threshold of our ultimate solitude, throwing himself into the abyss of our extreme abandonment, passing through the door of death.
The object and beneficiary of divine love is the world, namely, humanity. It is a word that erases completely the idea of a distant God, stranger to man's journey, and reveals rather his true faith: He gave us his Son out of love, to be the close God, to make us feel his presence, to come to meet us and carry us in his love, so that all of life is animated by this divine love.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life. God does not take possession but loves without measure. He does not manifest his omnipotence in punishment, but in mercy and in forgiveness. To understand all this means to enter into the mystery of salvation: Jesus came to save, not to condemn; with the sacrifice of the cross he reveals the loving face of God. And precisely by faith in the superabundant love that has been given to us in Christ Jesus, we know that even the smallest force of love is greater than the greatest destructive force and can transform the world, and by this same faith we can have the "reliable hope," in eternal life and in the resurrection of the flesh.
Dear brothers and sisters, with the words of the first reading, taken from the book of Lamentations, we pray that the cardinals, archbishops and bishops, whom we remember today, generous servants of the Gospel and of the Church, will now be able to know fully "how good the Lord is to the one who hopes in him, to the soul that seeks him" and experience that "in him is found mercy and redemption in abundance" (Psalm 129), trying to walk in the path of goodness, sustained by the grace of God, always remembering that "here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). Amen.
[Translation by ZENIT]