"Repentance is the measure of the faith and thanks to it one returns to the Truth," taught the Holy Father on Sunday. Making reference to the parable of the prodigal son, he said that "only faith" can bring joy out of selfishness and renew relationships with God and neighbor.
Standing out among the crowd of pilgrims in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo for Sunday's Angelus prayer was a bubbly group of Poles. Also making themselves known were separate Italian groups who had arrived by bicycle and motorcycle.
Before praying the Angelus with these and the many others gathered, Pope Benedict XVI explained that Jesus' three "parables of mercy" from Sunday's liturgy are "no mere words." Rather, "they constitute an explanation of His very being and activity."
The shepherd who finds the lost sheep is "the Lord himself" who redeems "sinful humanity" by taking it upon himself, said the Pope. And the parable of the prodigal son, he explained, shows a young man who takes his inheritance out into the world only to be "reduced to misery."
Turning to the prodigal son's return "to his senses," Benedict XVI pointed out that the "speech he prepares for his homecoming reveals to us the full extent of the inner pilgrimage he is now making ... returning 'home,' to himself and to the father."
These words are found in Luke's Gospel: "I shall rise up and go to my father, and I will say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am not worthy to be called your son."
Offering St. Augustine's insight in this context, Benedict XVI said, "The Word itself calleth thee to return: and there is the place of rest imperturbable, where love is not forsaken, if itself forsaketh not."
And when the son returns, recalled the Pope, "moved with compassion ... and full of joy," the father organizes a feast.
"Dear friends," he asked, "how can we not open our hearts to the certainty that, despite being sinners, we are loved by God?
"Repentance is the measure of the faith and thanks to it one returns to the Truth," explained the Holy Father, saying that God is "always first" to seek us out and "never tires" of doing so.
Highlighting the difference between the prodigal son's "indignant" brother and elated father, the Pope said that "only the faith can transform selfishness into joy and renew just relations with neighbor and with God."
The Pope summarized this lesson succinctly in his Polish greeting after the Angelus: "As the father anxiously waited for the prodigal son, God awaits with open arms the sinner who sincerely wishes to repent and live in the light of his love."
Concluding his address before the recitation of the Marian prayer, the Holy Father asked for prayers during his Apostolic Journey to the UK this week and entrusted "our path of conversion to God" to the Virgin Mary.