S. John Paul II Homil. 52
1. “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting…
53 Return to the Lord, your God! (Jl 2,12).
Today we announce Lent with the words of the prophet Joel, and we begin it with the whole Church. We announce Lent of the Year of the Lord 1979 with the rite that is even more eloquent than the words of the prophet. Today the Church blesses the ashes, obtained from the branches blessed on Palm Sunday last year, to sprinkle them on each of us. So let us bow our heads and in the sign of the ashes recognize the whole truth of the words addressed by God to the first man: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3,19).
Yes! We can remember this reality particularly during the time of Lent, to which the liturgy of the Church brings us today. It is a stern time. In this period, divine truths must speak to our hearts with particular forcefulness. We must meet our human experience, our conscience. The first truth, proclaimed today, reminds man of his transience, recalls death, which is for each of us the end of earthly life. Today the Church lays great stress on this truth, confirmed by the history of every man. Remember that “to dust you shall return”. Remember that your life on earth has a limit!
2. But the message of Ash Wednesday does not end here. The whole of today’s liturgy warns: Remember that limit; and at the same time: do not stop at that limit! Death is not only a “natural” necessity. Death is a mystery. Here we enter the particular time in which the whole Church, more than ever, wishes to meditate on death as the mystery of man in Christ. Christ the Son of God accepted death as a natural necessity, as an inevitable part of man’s fate on earth. Jesus Christ accepted death as the consequence of sin. Right from the beginning death was united with sin: the death of the body (“to dust you shall return”) and the death of the human spirit owing to disobedience to God, to the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ accepted death as a sign of obedience to God, in order to restore to the human spirit the full gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ accepted death to overcome sin. Jesus Christ accepted death to overcome death in the very essence of its perennial mystery.
3. Therefore the message of Ash Wednesday is expressed with the words of St. Paul: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5,20-21). Collaborate with him!
The significance of Ash Wednesday is not limited to remind us of death and sin; it is also a loud call to overcome sin, to be converted. Both of these express collaboration with Christ. During Lent we have before our eyes the whole divine “economy” of grace and salvation”. In this time of Lent let us remember “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2Co 6,1).
Jesus Christ himself is the most sublime grace of Lent. It is he himself who appears before us in the admirable simplicity of the Gospel, of its words and its works. He speaks to us with the might of his Gethsemane, of the judgment before Pilate, of the scourging , of the crowning with thorns, of the via crucis, of his crucifixion: with everything that can shake man’s heart.
In this period of Lent the whole Church wishes to be specially united with Christ, in order that his preaching and his service may be even more fruitful. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Co 6,2).
4. Filled with the depth of today’s liturgy, I, John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, with all my Brothers and Sisters in the one faith of your Church, with all my Brothers and Sisters of the immense human family, say to you, Christ: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps 51).
“Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people” (Jl 2,18). Amen.
54 Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
1. First of all, I wish to greet you all cordially. The visit to your parish gives me the possibility of formulating this greeting personally and also of receiving your personal response. This greeting and this response come from awareness of that particular unity that we form in the Church of Jesus Christ, and especially in the diocese of Rome. Greeting one another, we express this unity which has a value that is not alone "organizational". Your parish, the parish of S. Basilio, is not only an essential part of the whole diocese of Rome but takes its place authentically in that unity which is the Church. Made famous, here in Rome, by St Peter and St Paul, she is set up by the Apostles of Christ the Lord, and is rooted in a particular way in the "foundation" of our salvation which is Christ (cf. 1Co 3,10) and in faith in him. That foundation is such that no other exists outside it, and "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid" (1Co 3,11). "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
2. In the spirit of this unity I extend to you my greeting, and I receive yours, your response, which is a response of faith. It is particularly significant at the time of Lent, in which we all live more deeply the very reality of our "growth" on the foundation of Jesus Christ, of his passion and death, of his redemption.Here, in Rome, the traces of this "growth" based on Christ are particularly strong and eloquent.
On the occasion of this meeting of ours, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, and Bishop Oscar Zanera who is making a longer and more thorough visit to your parish in this period. I greet your Pastors, the priests who are working in your midst, the Sisters, the various pastoral collaborators, all the parishioners, also those present today, and in particular those who form the various groups of ecclesial commitment. All together, you can offer a more and more luminous Christian testimony in this beloved district of the outskirts of Rome, which still needs many interventions to improve the quality of life.
Today I wish, together with you all, to live, on the second Sunday of Lent, the particular grace of this meeting in faith, which is the visit of the Bishop to the parish.
3. This is a meeting in faith, the content of which is specified by the word of God in the liturgy of today. A strong, deep, and essential content. Listening to St Paul's letter to the Romans, we find at once the key-reality of faith. "If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?" (Rm 8,31-34).
God is with us! God is with man! With humanity. The only and complete proof of this is and always remains the following: "He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all" (Rm 8,32).
In order to emphasize this truth even more, the liturgy refers to the book of Genesis: to the sacrifice of Isaac. When God asked Abraham for this offering. He wished in a certain way to prepare the conscience of the elect People for the sacrifice that his Son would carry out. God spared Isaac and also spared the heart of his Father Abraham. But "He did not spare his own Son!" Abraham became "the father of our faith", because, with his readiness to sacrifice his son Isaac, he heralded the sacrifice of Christ, which is a peak-moment along the ways of faith of the whole of mankind. We are all aware of this. This consciousness brings new life to our souls, particularly during Lent. This ccnsciousness moulds our Christian life from its deepest roots. It moulds it from beginning to end.
God is with us through the cross of his Son. And this cross is also the first source of our spiritual strength. When the Apostle asks: "if God is for us, who is against us?", with this question he embraces everything and all those who can be a danger for our spirit, for our salvation. "Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?." (Rm 8,34).
From faith in Christ, in his cross and resurrection, hope is born. Great trust! Let it be our strength, especially in the difficult moments of life.
4. My thought and my word go especially to all those who are in difficulties of various kinds: to those who are suffering in the body and the spirit; to those who are going through trials of a social character, such as negative experiences at work or misunderstandings in the family; to those young people who are perhaps going through a moment of crisis; to those who are tackling with commitment difficulties of a pastoral nature, such as lack of understanding or indifference to spiritual values and resistance to the Holy Spirit. In Christ, everyone has the right to hope.
55 In the Gospel, of today we find a particular manifestation of that hope which is born from faith in Jesus Christ, Just at the time of Lent the Church reads to us again the Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This event, in fact, took place for the purpose of preparing the Apostles for the difficult ordeals of Gethsemane, the Passion, the humiliation of the scourging, of the crowning with thorns, of the Via Crucis, of Calvary. In this perspective Jesus wanted to show the Apostles closest to him the splendour of the glory that shines forth in him, which the Father confirms with the voice from above, revealing his divine sonship and his Mission: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Mt 17,5).
The splendour of the glory of the Transfiguration embraces nearly the whole of the old Covenant and arrives at the astounded eyes of the Apostles who were to become teachers of that faith from which hope is born; of those Apostles, who were to proclaim the whole mystery of Christ.
"Lord, it is well that we are here" (Mt 17,4), Peter, James and John exclaim, as if they wanted to say: You are the incarnation of the hope to which the human soul and the human body aspires! A hope that is stronger than the cross and Calvary! A hope that dispels the darkness of our existence, of sin, of death.
It is well that we are here: with you!
May your parish be and become more and more the place, the community where men, understanding the mystery of Christ more and more deeply by means of faith, will acquire more confidence, more awareness of the value and meaning of life, and will repeat to Christ: "It is well that we are here," with you. Here, in this temple. Before this tabernacle. And not just here, but perhaps in a hospital bed; perhaps at places of work; at table in the community of the family. Everywhere.
The Mission will take place in your parish in October next. It is a question of a special gift from the Lord in this year which is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of your parish community. A great many Capuchin Fathers, other groups of religious and laity, together with the priests of the parish, will try to contact personally all the faithful, to proclaim the message of Jesus in its purity and to help each of you to put it into practice fully in your own everyday life, with generosity, commitment and enthusiasm. Many contemplative souls are already praying and sacrificing themselves for this marvellous spiritual initiative, which, I do not doubt, will yield abundant fruits of grace. I too add my prayer to the Lord that all the members of this parish may respond with full availability to the mysterious invitation of the Holy Spirit, who will make people hear his pressing appeal to live a really new life in Christ, transfigured in him.
Beloved Brothers and Sons,
1. We are gathered here around the coffin of our brother. He passed away so unexpectedly. Just a week ago it was difficult to think that he would leave us, that his hour was so near. It was difficult to think so. He still seemed full of life and strength—in accordance with his age, of course—but he seemed full of it... We felt deeply grieved when we learned from the doctors that, in spite of these appearances, his organism was exhausted and defenceless.
He has left us. The Lord of life has called him to Him. "Deus, cui omnia vivunt...".
At this moment, in front of his coffin, we gather around the altar. We celebrate the Holy Sacrifice: we who lived so close to him every day. This liturgy of ours, this concelebration is, in a certain sense, a continuation of all the days spent together with him, of all the meetings, the conversations, the collaboration.
56 2. The Cardinals and I have still clearly in our minds what he said to us, as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, on two solemn occasions, during the celebration of the votive Mass to the Holy Spirit "pro eligendo Summo Pontifice". Twice: first, after Pope Paul VI's death and then, just a few weeks later, after the death of Pope John Paul I. He spoke here, in this very place. Let us recall what he said:
"At this moment, a serious and delicate one, Lords Cardinals, the sacred liturgy gathers us all together and causes us to pray for the election of the Pope, which, with the Lord's help, we are about to begin. We know that, in accordance with his ineffable promise, Jesus is in our midst... The thought occurs to us spontaneously, Lords Cardinals, that Jesus is addressing us particularly, at this solemn hour of the Conclave—as he addressed the apostles gathered in the Upper Room—that he is looking into our eyes, one by one, asking us for complete correspondence (in the limits, of course, of our human weakness) with his will, with his forestalling love, by means of a deeper union with him, a truer brotherly charity among ourselves, and, above all, convinced faithfulness in carrying out the task that is assigned to us."
And again, on the 14 October following, commenting on the words of Jesus: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15,15), he observed: "Let us reflect, Brothers, that all of us—it is certain—but in a very special way the one we will elect, must give our life for the multitude of the redeemed: "ut ami ci Christi efficiantur". The whole mystical. mission of the Church is contained in this concept; and, since God uses men as ordinary instruments, it can clearly be seen what is the spirit that must animate those he chooses to exercise an office as pastor, as guide, and to make the Gospel message known for the first time. We ourselves, to the extent to which we wish to consider ourselves—with all our failings—his friends, are such only and exclusively by virtue of his death."
He prepared the Conclave twice, together with the whole College of Cardinals. He was the Secretary of State of Pope Paul VI and later of John Paul I. After my election, he expressed his readiness to leave this office. I asked him to remain, however, at least for a certain time; and he remained. He served the Church with his experience, his advice, his competence. I am grateful to him for this. And I cannot but express my regret that this cooperation has been interrupted so suddenly.
3. At this moment, it is difficult to consider the whole life of the deceased. Our frequent meetings go back to the times of the Second Vatican Council in which he was very active in the capacity of Under-Secretary. Following upon the death of his predecessor, he was called to the archepiscopal see of Lyons, and also entered the College of Cardinals. After the Council, he was called to enter the direct service of the Holy See as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy. In May 1969 Pope Paul VI called him to the office of his Secretary of State.
He brought to this key-post his pastoral experience as a bishop and before that as a priest, matured in long years of service of the Church in France, which boasts the title of firstborn daughter of the universal Church".
In the future, biographers will show us the life and work of Cardinal Giovanni Villot in all their fullness. Today, allow us to repeat only the words of the Gospel: "If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also: if any one serves me, the Father will honour him" (Jn 12,26). Just so. This one thing only is important, it is, in fact, the essential thing. He followed Christ. He was always there where he called him. He served. The measure of his whole life is in this service.
4. The measure of life. Yes. This life has already its measure, it is already completed, it has reached its end. We are in the presence of this completion. And in this consists the grandeur of the moment we are living now, the dignity of this meeting in which are fulfilled, in our Brother, the Lord's words: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone: but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12,24). Only then. When it dies... It is necessary to die in order that man's life may bear full fruit. The hour has come in which Cardinal Giovanni Villot's life can produce its full fruit in God. No life of man in his earthly dimensions can bear such fruit; and it is a fruit that goes beyond life, exclaiming: "I know that my Redeemer lives", as Job exclaimed in his ordeal (cf. Job Jb 19,25).
5. Death is always man's last experience, and it is inescapable. A difficult experience, before which the human soul feels fear. Did not Christ himself say: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say, Father, save me from this hour'? And he added at once: "No, for this purpose I have come to his hour. Father, glorify thy name" (Jn 12,27).
There remains that last cry of the soul, in such contrast with the experience of death, with the experience of the destruction of the body, in which "the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now"! (Rm 8,22).Yet, groaning and suffering the pains of death, it does not cease to wait "with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rm 8,19). And we know "that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rm 8,18).
57 Let us too, then, before this coffin, in the spirit of that special communion that united us, give expression to these desires:
Father, forgive! Father, absolve! Father, purify! Purify in the measure of the holiness of your Face.
And finally: Father, glorify!
With all humility, but at the same time with all the realism of our faith and hope, let us raise this prayer beside the coffin of our Brother, Cardinal Giovanni Villot, Secretary of State.
1. "My Father's house",
Today Christ utters these words on the threshold of the temple of Jerusalem.
He appears on this threshold to "claim" his Father's house before men, to demand his rights over this house. Men have made it a market place. Christ reproves them severely; he opposes this deviation resolutely. Zeal for God's house consumes him (cf. Jn Jn 2,17), therefore he does not hesitate to expose himself to the malice of the elders of the Jewish people and of all those responsible for what has been done against his Father's house, against the Temple.
This event is a memorable one. The scene is a memorable one. With the words of his holy anger Christ inscribed deeply in the tradition of the Church the law of the holiness of God's house. Uttering those mysterious words concerning the temple of his body: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2,19), Jesus consecrated all the temples of the People of God at once. These words take on special significance in the period of Lent when, meditating on the passion of Christ and on his death—the destruction of the temple of his body—we prepare for the solemnity of Easter; that is, for the moment when Jesus will reveal himself again to us in the very temple of his body, raised again by the power of God who wishes to construct in it, from generation to generation, the spiritual edifice of the new faith, hope, and charity.
2. Today I come to St Joseph's Parish and I wish to express to all of you present here, together with my cordial greeting, my deep joy because this district, too, has its temple, its house of God.
It did not have it at once, at the moment of the canonical erection of the Parish which took place on 19 June 1961. Some years were to pass before arriving, exactly on 18 May 1970, at the consecration and inauguration of the new temple, this church of yours, which now rises, with its airy nave, towards the sky, singing the glory of God.
58 I want to say a cordial word of praise to the parish priest and the Giuseppini priests to whom the parish is entrusted. This year they conclude the celebrations for the first centenary of the foundation of their well-deserving Congregation, which sprang from the apostolic heart of Venerable Giuseppe Marello, Bishop of Acqui. This new church is an eloquent testimony of the zeal and generosity of his spiritual sons. I can easily imagine the toil, the sacrifices, the renunciations involved for them in completing this sacred edifice—so welcoming, functional, and religious—as well as the parish premises beside it. Let my praise and my thanks go to them.
I then extend, as is right, the expression of my sincere appreciation to all the faithful, without whose constant and generous contribution it would, certainly not have been possible to carry on such a complex and costly enterprise, year after year, up to its successful completion.
I am happy, too, to take this opportunity to express to the Cardinal Vicar, present here with us, the great consideration in which I hold his commitment in the work of the construction of new churches; that is, in encouraging the building of an adequate house of the Lord in the new districts which are gradually being formed. The material edifice in which the faithful people gathers to listen to the word of God and take part in the celebration of the divine mysteries is a factor of prime importance for the growth and consolidation of that community of faith, hope and love, which the Parish is.
In this connection, a word of recognition and gratitude must also be reserved for the Auxiliary Bishop, Monsignor Remigio Ragonesi, to whom the West sector of the diocese, to which also your Parish belongs, is entrusted. He is carrying out, with admirable dedication and zeal, the pastoral visit of this zone; and the purpose of his coming among you is to take note of the work accomplished, to coordinate initiatives in the apostolate, to consolidate understanding within the parish family, and to awaken the sense of responsibility in all the faithful. So accept his teaching and directives in an open, docile spirit.
I learned with pleasure that there are present in the territory of the Parish as many as fourteen religious Institutes, including also a Carmelite Monastery of strict observance. The greeting of the Pope, who counts a great deal of their contribution to the life of the Community, goes to all these souls who follow the Lord in the practice of the evangelical counsels. Whatever their immediate specific purpose may be—the education of youth, care for the sick, assistance for the old, a life of contemplation and penance—they must always be deeply aware of the close relationship between their institutional commitment and the life of the Parish. For the latter is the concrete place in which the universal Church is built up in a more complete and visible way, which can be experienced by the inhabitants of every district.
There cannot be lacking, at this point, a word of greeting and exhortation addressed expressly to lay people; to those, above all, who with generous availability, take their place at the side of their Pastors in order to assume the responsibility for evangelization with them. Glancing through the report which has been presented to me, I saw that an intense catechetical programme is going on in the Parish, with meetings well distributed during the week, attended by a good number of children and adults. I address my praise to all, to which I add encouragement to continue with constancy, thanks also to the recruiting of new forces among the young.
I have not failed to note the presence of many other Groups, which set out to animate in a Christian way important areas of community life, such as the missionary, family, charitable, recreational and sports sectors, and so on. To all a cordial "well done!" and a pressing call to persevere with generous impetus, in spite of the inevitable difficulties. You are working for the kingdom of Christ, which is the kingdom of love, solidarity, and peace, and which, therefore, is the kingdom to which the heart of every human being aspires. May this awareness strengthen you and stimulate you in active participation in the various pastoral initiatives promoted by the Parish.
3. The centre of all this apostolic effort, of this evangelizing work, is the house of God, the Father's house. Around this house there have multiplied the houses in which men live, in which individual families live. A house is of enormous importance for family life. Immense. Fundamental. So many circumstances condition the correct development of the life of a family, but among them the family house certainly has first place.
You know that the diocese of Rome has undertaken to reflect in these days of Lent on this subject: "A house for every family", with the intention of driving it home to the consciences of the faithful, and of encouraging, in individuals and in the community, the taking of opportune decisions, calculated to contribute to the just solution of such a serious problem.
It is an action that must meet with a responsible and generous response on the part of all. It is rightly, moreover, the object of solicitude on the part of the authorities. Houses are built for man, to satisfy his fundamental needs. This fundamental purpose of theirs cannot be changed for other aims or motives. In a society that is honestly united in solidarity, houses for families, on which the future of this same society depends, cannot be lacking.
Nor can there be lacking the house for God, for the Father of men and of families. May it never happen that our civilization should yield to the temptation: "we need houses, we do not need churches".
59 4. The house is man's dwelling place. It is a necessary condition in order that man may come into the world, grow, develop; in order that he may work, educate, and educate himself; in order that men may form that deeper and more fundamental union, which is called the "family".
Houses are built for families. Subsequently, the families themselves are constructed on truth and on love. The first foundation of this construction is union in marriage, which is expressed in the words of the Sacrament with which the bride and bridegroom promise one another union, love, and conjugal faithfulness. On this foundation rests that spiritual edifice, the construction of which can never cease. The married couple, as parents, must constantly apply to their own life, as wise builders, the measure of the union, the love, the integrity, and the faithfulness of marriage. They must renew this oath daily in their hearts and sometimes recall it also in words. Today, on the occasion of this pastoral visit, I call on them to do so particularly, because the pastoral visit must serve for the renewal of that temple, which we all form in the crucified and risen Christ. St Paul says that Christ is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1Co 1,24). Let him be your power and your wisdom, dear spouses and parents. Let him be it for all the families of this parish. Do not deprive yourselves of this power and this wisdom! Strengthen yourselves in them. Bring up your children in them and do not allow this power and this wisdom, which is Christ, to be taken away from them one day: by any environment and by any institution. Do not allow anyone to destroy that "temple" which you construct in your children. This is your duty, but it is also your sacred right. And it is a right that no one can violate without committing an abuse.
5. The family is constructed on the wisdom and the power of Christ himself, because it rests on a Sacrament. And it is also constructed, and is being constantly constructed, on divine law which cannot be replaced in any way by any other law. Can a human legislator abolish the commandments which the reading from the book of Exodus recalls to us today: "You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour" (Ex 20,13-16)? We all know the Ten Commandments by heart. They constitute the necessary links on which personal, family, and social life is based. If these links are lacking, man's life becomes inhuman. Therefore the fundamental duty of the family, and then of the school and of all institutions, is the education and the consolidation of human life on the foundation of this Law which no one may violate.
In this way we are constructing with Christ the temple of human life, in which God lives. We construct in ourselves the Father's house. May zeal for the construction of this house be an element in the lives of all of us present here; of the whole parish whose Patron Saint is St Joseph, the Bridegroom of Mary the Mother of God, the Patron Saint of families. Protector of the Son of God, Patron Saint of the Holy Church. Tomorrow, 19 March, we will celebrate his liturgical solemnity. May your Parish continue under his protection and develop as a family of God.
1. Today the Pope comes to visit the parish whose church has the title of Holy Cross in Jerusalem and is one of the Lenten Stations. Thanks to this fact we can refer to the Lenten traditions of Rome. These traditions, in which the whole Catholic Church participated indirectly, were linked with the individual sanctuaries of ancient Rome, at which the faithful, clergy, and Bishops met every day during Lent. In a spirit of repentance, they visited the places sanctified by the blood of the martyrs and by the prayerful memory of the People of God. Precisely on the fourth Sunday of Lent the Lenten Station was celebrated in this sanctuary, in which we now find ourselves. As a result of the circumstances of modem life, and of the great territorial development of Rome, it is necessary to visit during Lent rather the parishes lying in the new districts of the city.
Today's Sunday liturgy begins with the word: Laetare—"Rejoice!", that is, with the call to spiritual joy. I rejoice because, this Sunday too, I have the happiness of finding myself in a place sanctified by the tradition of so many generations, the sanctuary of the Holy Cross, which is today the Lenten Station and, at the same time, is your parish church.
2. I come here to worship in spirit, together with you, the mystery of the Cross of the Lord. Christ's talk to Nicodemus, which we read again in the Gospel today, directs us to this mystery. Jesus has before him a scribe, one learned in the Scripture, a member of the Sanhedrin and, at the same time, a man of good will. Therefore he decides to start him on the way to the mystery of the Cross. He recalls in the first place, therefore, that Moses in the wildness lifted up the bronze serpent during Israel's forty years' wandering from Egypt to the Promised Land. When some one who had been bitten by a serpent in the wilderness looked at that sign, he remained alive (cf. Num Nb 21,4-9). This sign, which was the bronze serpent, heralded another Elevation: "The Son of man", Jesus even says, "must be lifted up", and here he is speaking of the elevation on the Cross—"that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (Jn 3,135). The Cross: no longer just the figure that heralds, but the very Reality of salvation!
And here, Christ explains thoroughly the meaning of the Cross to his interlocutor, who is amazed but at the same time ready to listen and to continue the talk: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3,16).
The Cross is a new revelation of God. It is the definitive revelation. Along the way of human thought about God, along the way of understanding God, a radical change takes place. Nicodemus, a noble and honest man and at the same time a follower and expert on the Old Testament, must have felt an interior shock. For the whole of Israel, God was above all Majesty and Justice. He was considered as a judge, who rewards and punishes. The God, of whom Jesus speaks, is the God who sends his own Son "not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3,17). He is the God of love, the Father who does not draw back before the sacrifice of his Son in order to save man.
3. St Paul, with his eyes fixed on the same revelation of God, today repeats twice in the letter to the Ephesians: "by grace you have been saved" (Ep 2,5). "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Ep 2,8). Yet this Paul, just like Nicodemus, was until his conversion the man of the Ancient Law. On the way to Damascus Christ revealed himself to him, and from that moment Paul understood of God what he proclaims today: "...God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us. even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Ep 2,45).
S. John Paul II Homil. 52