Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
ADDRESSED BY THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
TO HIS VENERABLE BROTHERS IN THE EPISCOPATE
THE PRIESTS, THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES
THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE CHURCH
AND TO ALL MEN AND WOMEN OF GOOD WILL
AT THE BEGINNING OF HIS PAPAL MINISTRY
March 4, 1979
Venerable Brothers, and dear Sons and Daughters
greetings and the Apostolic Blessing
1. At the close of the second Millennium
THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history. To Him go my thoughts and my heart in this solemn moment of the world that the Church and the whole family of present-day humanity are now living. In fact, this time, in which God in His hidden design has entrusted to me, after my beloved Predecessor John Paul I, the universal service connected with the Chair of Saint Peter in Rome, is already very close to the year 2000. At this moment it is difficult to say what mark that year will leave on the face of human history or what it will bring to each people, nation, country and continent, in spite of the efforts already being made to foresee some events. For the Church, the People of God spread, although unevenly, to the most distant limits of the earth, it will be the year of a great Jubilee. We are already approaching that date, which, without prejudice to all the corrections imposed by chronological exactitude, will recall and reawaken in us in a special way our awareness of the key truth of faith which Saint John expressed at the beginning of his Gospel: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us"(1), and elsewhere: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life"(2).
We also are in a certain way in a season of a new Advent, a season of expectation: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son…"(3), by the Son, His Word, who became man and was born of the Virgin Mary. This act of redemption marked the high point of the history of man within God’s loving plan. God entered the history of humanity and, as a man, became an actor in that history, one of the thousands of millions of human beings but at the same time Unique! Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that He intended man to have from His first beginning; He has granted that dimension definitively — in the way that is peculiar to Him alone, in keeping with His eternal love and mercy, with the full freedom of God — and He has granted it also with the bounty that enables us, in considering the original sin and the whole history of the sins of humanity, and in considering the errors of the human intellect, will and heart, to repeat with amazement the words of the Sacred Liturgy: "O happy fault… which gained us so great a Redeemer!" (4)
2. The first words of the new Pontificate
It was to Christ the Redeemer that my feelings and my thoughts were directed on October 16 of last year, when, after the canonical election, I was asked: "Do you accept?" I then replied: "With obedience in faith to Christ, my Lord, and with trust in the Mother of Christ and of the Church, in spite of the great difficulties, I accept". Today I wish to make that reply known publicly to all without exception, thus showing that there is a link between the first fundamental truth of the Incarnation, already mentioned, and the ministry that, with my acceptance of my election as Bishop of Rome and Successor of the Apostle Peter, has become my specific duty in His See.
I chose the same names that were chosen by my beloved Predecessor John Paul I. Indeed, as soon as he announced to the Sacred College on August 26, 1978 that he wished to be called John Paul — such a double name being unprecedented in the history of the Papacy — I saw in it a clear presage of grace for the new pontificate. Since that pontificate lasted barely 33 days, it falls to me not only to continue it but in a certain sense to take it up again at the same starting point. This is confirmed by my choice of these two names. By following the example of my venerable Predecessor in choosing them, I wish like him to express my love for the unique inheritance left to the Church by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI and my personal readiness to develop that inheritance with God’s help.
Through these two names and two pontificates I am linked with the whole tradition of the Apostolic See and with all my Predecessors in the expanse of the twentieth century and of the preceding centuries. I am connected, through one after another of the various ages back to the most remote, with the line of the mission and ministry that confers on Peter’s See an altogether special place in the Church. John XXIII and Paul VI are a stage to which I wish to refer directly as a threshold from which I intend to continue, in a certain sense together with John Paul I, into the future, letting myself be guided by unlimited trust in and obedience to the Spirit that Christ promised and sent to His Church. On the night before He suffered He said to His apostles: "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you"(5). "When the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning"(6). "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come"(7).
3. Trust in the Spirit of Truth and of Love
Entrusting myself fully to the Spirit of truth, therefore, I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates. This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII convened and opened and which was later successfully concluded and perseveringly put into effect by Paul VI, whose activity I was myself able to watch from close at hand. I was constantly amazed at his profound wisdom and his courage and also by his constancy and patience in the difficult post conciliar period of his pontificate. As helmsman of the Church, the bark of Peter, he knew how to preserve a providential tranquility and balance even in the most critical moments, when the Church seemed to be shaken from within, and he always maintained unhesitating hope in the Church’s solidity. What the Spirit said to the Church through the Council of our time, what the Spirit says in this Church to all the Churches(8) cannot lead to anything else — in spite of momentary uneasinesses — but still more mature solidity of the whole People of God, aware of their salvific mission.
Paul VI selected this present-day consciousness of the Church as the first theme in his fundamental Encyclical beginning with the words Ecclesiam Suam. Let me refer first of all to this Encyclical and link myself with it in this first document that, so to speak, inaugurates the present pontificate. The Church’s consciousness, enlightened and supported by the Holy Spirit and fathoming more and more deeply both her divine mystery and her human mission, and even her human weaknesses-this consciousness is and must remain the first source of the Church’s love, as love in turn helps to strengthen and deepen her consciousness. Paul VI left us a witness of such an extremely acute consciousness of the Church. Through the many things, often causing suffering, that went to make up his pontificate he taught us intrepid love for the Church, which is, as the Council states, a "sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind"(9).
4. Reference to Paul VI’s first Encyclical
Precisely for this reason, the Church’s consciousness must go with universal openness, in order that all may be able to find in her "the unsearchable riches of Christ"(10) spoken of by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Such openness, organically joined with the awareness of her own nature and certainty of her own truth, of which Christ said: "The word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me"(11), is what gives the Church her apostolic, or in other words her missionary, dynamism, professing and proclaiming in its integrity the whole of the truth transmitted by Christ. At the same time she must carry on the dialogue that Paul VI, in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam called "the dialogue of salvation", distinguishing with precision the various circles within which it was to be carried on(12). In referring today to this document that gave the program of Paul VI’s pontificate, I keep thanking God that this great Predecessor of mine, who was also truly my father, knew how to display ad extra, externally, the true countenance of the Church, in spite of the various internal weaknesses that affected her in the post conciliar period. In this way much of the human family has become, it seems, more aware, in all humanity’s various spheres of existence, of how really necessary the Church of Christ, her mission and her service are to humanity. At times this awareness has proved stronger than the various critical attitudes attacking ab intra, internally, the Church, her institutions and structures, and ecclesiastics and their activities. This growing criticism was certainly due to various causes and we are furthermore sure that it was not always without sincere love for the Church. Undoubtedly one of the tendencies it displayed was to overcome what has been called triumphalism, about which there was frequent discussion during the Council. While it is right that, in accordance with the example of her Master, who is "humble in heart"(13), the Church also should have humility as her foundation, that she should have a critical sense with regard to all that goes to make up her human character and activity, and that she should always be very demanding on herself, nevertheless criticism too should have its just limits. Otherwise it ceases to be constructive and does not reveal truth, love and thankfulness for the grace in which we become sharers principally and fully in and through the Church. Furthermore such criticism does not express an attitude of service but rather a wish to direct the opinion of others in accordance with one’s own, which is at times spread abroad in too thoughtless a manner.
Gratitude is due to Paul VI because, while respecting every particle of truth contained in the various human opinions, he preserved at the same time the providential balance of the bark’s helmsman(14). The Church that I — through John Paul I — have had entrusted to me almost immediately after him is admittedly not free of internal difficulties and tension. At the same time, however, she is internally more strengthened against the excesses of self-criticism: she can be said to be more critical with regard to the various thoughtless criticisms, more resistant with respect to the various "novelties", more mature in her spirit of discerning, better able to bring out of her everlasting treasure "what is new and what is old"(15), more intent on her own mystery, and because of all that more serviceable for her mission of salvation for all: God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"(16).
5. Collegiality and apostolate
In spite of all appearances, the Church is now more united in the fellowship of service and in the awareness of apostolate. This unity springs from the principle of collegiality, mentioned by the Second Vatican Council. Christ himself made this principle a living part of the apostolic College of the Twelve with Peter at their head, and he is continuously renewing it in the College of the Bishops, which is growing more and more over all the earth, remaining united with and under the guidance of the Successor of Saint Peter. The Council did more than mention the principle of collegiality: it gave it immense new life, by — among other things — expressing the wish for a permanent organ of collegiality, which Paul VI founded by setting up the Synod of the Bishops, whose activity not only gave a new dimension to his pontificate but was also later clearly reflected in the pontificate of John Paul I and that of his unworthy Successor from the day they began.
The principle of collegiality showed itself particularly relevant in the difficult post conciliar period, when the shared unanimous position of the College of the Bishops — which displayed, chiefly through the Synod, its union with Peter’s Successor — helped to dissipate doubts and at the same time indicated the correct ways for renewing the Church in her universal dimension. Indeed, the Synod was the source, among other things, of that essential momentum for evangelization that found expression in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi(17), which was so joyously welcomed as a program for renewal which was both apostolic and also pastoral. The same line was followed in the work of the last ordinary session of the Synod of the Bishops, held about a year before the death of Pope Paul VI and dedicated, as is known, to catechesis. The results of this work have still to be arranged and enunciated by the Apostolic See.
As we are dealing with the evident development of the forms in which episcopal collegiality is expressed, mention must be made at least of the process of consolidation of National Episcopal Conferences throughout the Church and of other collegial structures of an international or continental character. Referring also to the centuries old tradition of the Church, attention should be directed to the activity of the various diocesan, provincial and national Synods. It was the Council’s idea, an idea consistently put into practice by Paul VI, that structures of this kind, with their centuries of trial by the Church, and the other forms of collegial collaboration by Bishops, such as the metropolitan structure — not to mention each individual diocese — should pulsate in full awareness of their own identity and, at the same time, of their own originality within the universal unity of the Church. The same spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility is spreading among priests also, as is confirmed by the many Councils of Priests that have sprung up since the Council. That spirit has extended also among the laity, not only strengthening the already existing organizations for lay apostolate but also creating new ones that often have a different outline and excellent dynamism. Furthermore, lay people conscious of their responsibility for the Church have willingly committed themselves to collaborating with the Pastors and with the representatives of the Institutes of consecrated life, in the spheres of the diocesan Synods and of the pastoral Councils in the parishes and dioceses.
I must keep all this in mind at the beginning of my pontificate as a reason for giving thanks to God, for warmly encouraging all my brothers and sisters and for recalling with heartfelt gratitude the work of the Second Vatican Council and my great Predecessors, who set in motion this new surge of life for the Church, a movement that is much stronger than the symptoms of doubt, collapse and crisis.
6. The road to Christian unity
What shall I say of all the initiatives that have sprung from the new ecumenical orientation? The unforgettable Pope John XXIII set out the problem of Christian unity with evangelical clarity as a simple consequence of the will of Jesus Christ himself, our Master, the will that Jesus stated on several occasions but to which He gave expression in a special way in His prayer in the Upper Room the night before He died: "I pray… Father… that they may all be one"(18). The Second Vatican Council responded concisely to this requirement with its Decree on ecumenism. Pope Paul VI, availing himself of the activities of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, began the first difficult steps on the road to the attainment of that unity. Have we gone far along that road? Without wishing to give a detailed reply, we can say that we have made real and important advances. And one thing is certain: we have worked with perseverance and consistency, and the representatives of other Christian Churches and Communities have also committed themselves together with us, for which we are heartily grateful to them. It is also certain that in the present historical situation of Christianity and the world the only possibility we see of fulfilling the Church’s universal mission, with regard to ecumenical questions, is that of seeking sincerely, perseveringly, humbly and also courageously the ways of drawing closer and of union. Pope Paul VI gave us his personal example for this. We must therefore seek unity without being discouraged at the difficulties that can appear or accumulate along that road; otherwise we would be unfaithful to the word of Christ, we would fail to accomplish his testament. Have we the right to run this risk?
There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavors have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears. However, in this respect also, correct limits must be maintained. It is obvious that this new stage in the Church’s life demands of us a faith that is particularly aware, profound and responsible. True ecumenical activity means openness, drawing closer, availability for dialogue, and a shared investigation of the truth in the full evangelical and Christian sense; but in no way does it or can it mean giving up or in any way diminishing the treasures of divine truth that the Church has constantly confessed and taught. To all who, for whatever motive, would wish to dissuade the Church from seeking the universal unity of Christians the question must once again be put: Have we the right not to do it? Can we fail to have trust — in spite of all human weakness and all the faults of past centuries — in our Lord’s grace as revealed recently through what the Holy Spirit said and we heard during the Council? If we were to do so, we would deny the truth concerning ourselves that was so eloquently expressed by the Apostle: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not in vain"(19).
What we have just said must also be applied — although in another way and with the due differences — to activity for coming closer together with the representatives of the non-Christian religions, an activity expressed through dialogue, contacts, prayer in common, investigation of the treasures of human spirituality, in which, as we know well, the members of these religions also are not lacking. Does it not sometimes happen that the firm belief of the followers of the non-Christian religions — a belief that is also an effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body — can make Christians ashamed at being often themselves so disposed to doubt concerning the truths revealed by God and proclaimed by the Church and so prone to relax moral principles and open the way to ethical permissiveness. It is a noble thing to have a predisposition for understanding every person, analyzing every system and recognizing what is right; this does not at all mean losing certitude about one’s own faith(20) or weakening the principles of morality, the lack of which will soon make itself felt in the life of whole societies, with deplorable consequences besides.
II. THE MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION7. Within the Mystery of Christ
While the ways on which the Council of this century has set the Church going, ways indicated by the late Pope Paul VI in his first Encyclical, will continue to be for a long time the ways that all of us must follow, we can at the same time rightly ask at this new stage: How, in what manner should we continue? What should we do, in order that this new advent of the Church connected with the approaching end of the second millennium may bring us closer to him whom Sacred Scripture calls "Everlasting Father", Pater futuri saeculi(21)? This is the fundamental question that the new Pope must put to himself on accepting in a spirit of obedience in faith the call corresponding to the command that Christ gave Peter several times: "Feed my lambs"(22), meaning: Be the shepherd of my sheepfold, and again: "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren"(23).
To this question, dear Brothers, sons and daughters, a fundamental and essential response must be given. Our response must be: Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is — towards Christ our Redeemer, towards Christ, the Redeemer of man. We wish to look towards him-because there is salvation in no one else but him, the Son of God — repeating what Peter said: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life"(24).
Through the Church’s consciousness, which the Council considerably developed, through all levels of this self-awareness, and through all the fields of activity in which the Church expresses, finds and confirms herself, we must constantly aim at Him "who is the head"(25), "through whom are all things and through whom we exist"(26), who is both "the way, and the truth"(27) and "the resurrection and the life",(28), seeing whom, we see the Father(29), and who had to go away from us(30) — that is, by His death on the Cross and then by His Ascension into heaven — in order that the Counselor should come to us and should keep coming to us as the Spirit of truth(31). In Him are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (32), and the Church is His Body(33). "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind"(34), and the source of this is He, He Himself, He the Redeemer.
The Church does not cease to listen to His words. She rereads them continually. With the greatest devotion she reconstructs every detail of His life. These words are listened to also by non-Christians. The life of Christ speaks, also, to many who are not capable of repeating with Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God"(35). He, the Son of the living God, speaks to people also as Man: it is His life that speaks, His humanity, His fidelity to the truth, His all-embracing love. Furthermore, His death on the Cross speaks — that is to say the inscrutable depth of His suffering and abandonment. The Church never ceases to relive His death on the Cross and His Resurrection, which constitute the content of the Church’s daily life. Indeed, it is by the command of Christ Himself, her Master, that the Church unceasingly celebrates the Eucharist, finding in it the "fountain of life and holiness" (36), the efficacious sign of grace and reconciliation with God, and the pledge of eternal life. The Church lives His mystery, draws unwearyingly from it and continually seeks ways of bringing this mystery of her Master and Lord to humanity — to the peoples, the nations, the succeeding generations, and every individual human being — as if she were ever repeating, as the Apostle did: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (37). The Church stays within the sphere of the mystery of the Redemption, which has become the fundamental principle of her life and mission.
8. Redemption as a new creation
The Redeemer of the world! In Him has been revealed in a new and more wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation to which the Book of Genesis gives witness when it repeats several times: "God saw that it was good"(38). The good has its source in Wisdom and Love. In Jesus Christ the visible world which God created for man(39) — the world that, when sin entered, "was subjected to futility"(40) — recovers again its original link with the divine source of Wisdom and Love. Indeed, "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son"(41). As this link was broken in the man Adam, so in the Man Christ it was reforged(42). Are we of the twentieth century not convinced of the over poweringly eloquent words of the Apostle of the Gentiles concerning the "creation (that) has been groaning in travail together until now"(43) and "waits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God"(44), the creation that "was subjected to futility"? Does not the previously unknown immense progress — which has taken place especially in the course of this century — in the field of man’s dominion over the world itself reveal — to a previously unknown degree — that manifold subjection "to futility"? It is enough to recall certain phenomena, such as the threat of pollution of the natural environment in areas of rapid industrialization, or the armed conflicts continually breaking out over and over again, or the prospectives of self-destruction through the use of atomic, hydrogen, neutron and similar weapons, or the lack of respect for the life of the unborn. The world of the new age, the world of space flights, the world of the previously unattained conquests of science and technology — is it not also the world "groaning in travail" (45) that "waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (46)?
In its penetrating analysis of "the modern world", the Second Vatican Council reached that most important point of the visible world that is man, by penetrating like Christ the depth of human consciousness and by making contact with the inward mystery of man, which in Biblical and non-Biblical language is expressed by the word "heart". Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one who penetrated in a unique unrepeatable way into the mystery of man and entered his "heart". Rightly therefore does the Second Vatican Council teach: "The truth is that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a type of Him who was to come (Rom 5:14), Christ the Lord. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to Himself and brings to light His most high calling". And the Council continues: "He who is the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), is Himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that is was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare. For, by His Incarnation, He, the son of God, in a certain way united Himself with each man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart He loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin"(47), He, the Redeemer of man.
9. The divine dimension of the mystery of the Redemption
As we reflect again on this stupendous text from the Council’s teaching, we do not forget even for a moment that Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, become our reconciliation with the Father(48). He it was, and He alone, who satisfied the Father’s eternal love, that fatherhood that from the beginning found expression in creating the world, giving man all the riches of creation, and making Him "little less than God"(49), in that He was created "in the image and after the likeness of God".(50). He and He alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant(51) and the later covenants that God "again and again offered to man"(52). The redemption of the world — this tremendous mystery of love in which creation is renewed — (53) is, at its deepest root, the fullness of justice in a human Heart — the Heart of the First-born Son-in order that it may become justice in the hearts of many human beings, predestined from eternity in the Firstborn Son to bé children of God(54) and called to grace, called to love. The Cross on Calvary, through which Jesus Christ-a Man, the Son of the Virgin Mary, thought to be the son of Joseph of Nazareth — "leaves" this world, is also a fresh manifestation of the eternal fatherhood of God, who in Him draws near again to humanity, to each human being, giving Him the thrice holy "Spirit of truth"(55).
This revelation of the Father and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which stamp an indelible seal on the mystery of the Redemption, explain the meaning of the Cross and death of Christ. The God of creation is revealed as the God of redemption, as the God who is "faithful to Himself"(56), and faithful to His love for man and the world, which He revealed on the day of creation. His is a love that does not draw back before anything that justice requires in Him. Therefore "for our sake (God) made Him (the Son) to be sin who knew no sin"(57). If He "made to be sin" Him who was without any sin whatever, it was to reveal the love that is always greater than the whole of creation, the love that is He Himself, since "God is love"(58). Above all, love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the "futility of creation" (59), it is stronger than death; it is a love always ready to raise up and forgive, always ready to go to meet the prodigal son (60), always looking for "the revealing of the sons of God" (61), who are called to the glory that is to be revealed" (62). This revelation of love is also described as mercy (63); and in man’s history this revelation of love and mercy has taken a form and a name: that of Jesus Christ.
10 . The human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer "fully reveals man to himself". If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly "expressed" and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created! "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus"(64). The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly — and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being — he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must "appropriate" and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he "gained so great a Redeemer"(65), and if God "gave His only Son "in order that man "should not perish but have eternal life"(66).
In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity. This amazement determines the Church’s mission in the world and, perhaps even more so,"in the modern world". This amazement, which is also a conviction and a certitude — at its deepest root it is the certainty of faith, but in a hidden and mysterious way it vivifies every aspect of authentic humanism — is closely connected with Christ. It also fixes Christ’s place — so to speak, his particular right of citizenship — in the history of man and mankind. Unceasingly contemplating the whole of Christ’s mystery, the Church knows with all the certainty of faith that the Redemption that took place through the Cross has definitively restored his dignity to man and given back meaning to his life in the world, a meaning that was lost to a considerable extent because of sin. And for that reason, the Redemption was accomplished in the paschal mystery, leading through the Cross and death to Resurrection.
The Church’s fundamental function in every age and particularly in ours is to direct man’s gaze, to point the awareness and experience of the whole of humanity towards the mystery of God, to help all men to be familiar with the profundity of the Redemption taking place in Christ Jesus. At the same time man’s deepest sphere is involved — we mean the sphere of human hearts, consciences and events.
11. The mystery of Christ as the basis of the Church’s mission and of Christianity
The Second Vatican Council did immense work to form that full and universal awareness by the Church of which Pope Paul VI wrote in his first Encyclical. This awareness — or rather self-awareness — by the Church is formed a "in dialogue"; and before this dialogue becomes a conversation, attention must be directed to "the other", that is to say: the person with whom we wish to speak. The Ecumenical Council gave a fundamental impulse to forming the Church’s self-awareness by so adequately and competently presenting to us a view of the terrestrial globe as a map of various religions. It showed furthermore that this map of the world’s religions has superimposed on it, in previously unknown layers typical of our time, the phenomenon of atheism in its various forms, beginning with the atheism that is programmed, organized and structured as a political system.
With regard to religion, what is dealt with is in the first place religion as a universal phenomenon linked with man’s history from the beginning, then the various non-Christian religions, and finally Christianity itself. The Council document on non-Christian religions, in particular, is filled with deep esteem for the great spiritual values, indeed for the primacy of the spiritual, which in the life of mankind finds expression in religion and then in morality, with direct effects on the whole of culture. The Fathers of the Church rightly saw in the various religions as it were so many reflections of the one truth, "seeds of the Word"(67), attesting that, though the routes taken may be different, there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words for the full meaning of human life. The Council gave particular attention to the Jewish religion, recalling the great spiritual heritage common to Christians and Jews. It also expressed its esteem for the believers of Islam, whose faith also looks to Abraham(68).
The opening made by the Second Vatican Council has enabled the Church and all Christians to reach a more complete awareness of the mystery of Christ, "the mystery hidden for ages"(69) in God, to be revealed in time in the Man Jesus Christ, and to be revealed continually in every time. In Christ and through Christ God has revealed Himself fully to mankind and has definitively drawn close to it; at the same time, in Christ and through Christ man has acquired full awareness of his dignity, of the heights to which he is raised, of the surpassing worth of his own humanity, and of the meaning of his existence.
All of us who are Christ’s followers must therefore meet and unite around Him. This unity in the various fields of the life, tradition, structures and discipline of the individual Christian Churches and ecclesial Communities cannot be brought about without effective work aimed at getting to know each other and removing the obstacles blocking the way to perfect unity. However, we can and must immediately reach and display to the world our unity in proclaiming the mystery of Christ, in revealing the divine dimension and also the human dimension of the Redemption, and in struggling with unwearying perseverance for the dignity that each human being has reached and can continually reach in Christ, namely the dignity of both the grace of divine adoption and the inner truth of humanity, a truth which — if in the common awareness of the modern world it has been given such fundamental importance — for us is still clearer in the light of the reality that is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the stable principle and fixed center of the mission that God Himself has entrusted to man. We must all share in this mission and concentrate all our forces on it, since it is more necessary than ever for modern mankind. If this mission seems to encounter greater opposition nowadays than ever before, this shows that today it is more necessary than ever and, in spite of the opposition, more awaited than ever. Here we touch indirectly on the mystery of the divine "economy" which linked salvation and grace with the Cross. It was not without reason that Christ said that "the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force" (70) and moreover that "the children of this world are more astute… than are the children of light" (71). We gladly accept this rebuke, that we may be like those "violent people of God "that we have so often seen in the history of the Church and still see today, and that we may consciously join in the great mission of revealing Christ to the world, helping each person to find himself in Christ, and helping the contemporary generations of our brothers and sisters, the peoples, nations, States, mankind, developing countries and countries of opulence — in short, helping everyone to get to know "the unsearchable riches of Christ"(72), since these riches are for every individual and are everybody’s property.
12. The Church’s mission and human freedom
In this unity in mission, which is decided principally by Christ himself, all Christians must find what already unites them, even before their full communion is achieved. This is apostolic and missionary unity, missionary and apostolic unity. Thanks to this unity we can together come close to the magnificent heritage of the human spirit that has been manifested in all religions, as the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate says(73). It also enables us to approach all cultures, all ideological concepts, all people of good will. We approach them with the esteem, respect and discernment that since the time of the Apostles has marked the missionary attitude, the attitude of the missionary. Suffice it to mention Saint Paul and, for instance, his address in the Areopagus at Athens(74). The missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for "what is in man"(75), for what man has himself worked out in the depths of his spirit concerning the most profound and important problems. It is a question of respecting everything that has been brought about in him by the Spirit, which "blows where it wills"(76). The mission is never destruction, but instead is a taking up and fresh building, even if in practice there has not always been full correspondence with this high ideal. And we know well that the conversion that is begun by the mission is a work of grace, in which man must fully find himself again.
For this reason the Church in our time attaches great importance to all that is stated by the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration on Religious Freedom, both the first and the second part of the document (77). We perceive intimately that the truth revealed to us by God imposes on us an obligation. We have, in particular, a great sense of responsibility for this truth. By Christ’s institution the Church is its guardian and teacher, having been endowed with a unique assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to guard and teach it in its most exact integrity (78). In fulfilling this mission, we look towards Christ Himself, the first evangelizer (79), and also towards His Apostles, martyrs and confessors. The Declaration on Religious Freedom shows us convincingly that, when Christ and, after Him, His Apostles proclaimed the truth that comes not from men but from God ("My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me"(80), that is the Father’s), they preserved, while acting with their full force of spirit, a deep esteem for man, for his intellect, his will, his conscience and his freedom(81). Thus the human person’s dignity itself becomes part of the content of that proclamation, being included not necessarily in words but by an attitude towards it. This attitude seems to fit the special needs of our times. Since man’s true freedom is not found in everything that the various systems and individuals see and propagate as freedom, the Church, because of her divine mission, becomes all the more the guardian of this freedom, which is the condition and basis for the human person’s true dignity.
Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free"(82). These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world. Today also, even after two thousand years, we see Christ as the one who brings man freedom based on truth, frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man’s soul, his heart and his conscience. What a stupendous confirmation of this has been given and is still being given by those who, thanks to Christ and in Christ, have reached true freedom and have manifested it even in situations of external constraint!
When Jesus Christ Himself appeared as a prisoner before Pilate’s tribunal and was interrogated by Him about the accusation made against Him by the representatives of the Sanhedrin, did He not answer: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth"(83)? It was as if with these words spoken before the judge at the decisive moment He was once more confirming what He had said earlier: "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free". In the course of so many centuries, of so many generations, from the time of the Apostles on, is it not often Jesus Christ Himself that has made an appearance at the side of people judged for the sake of the truth? And has He not gone to death with people condemned for the sake of the truth? Does He ever cease to be the continuous spokesman and advocate for the person who lives "in spirit and truth"(84)? Just as He does not cease to be it before the Father, He is it also with regard to the history of man. And in her turn the Church, in spite of all the weaknesses that are part of her human history, does not cease to follow Him who said: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth"(85).
III. REDEEMED MAN AND HIS SITUATION IN THE MODERN WORLD
13. Christ united himself with each man
When we penetrate by means of the continually and rapidly increasing experience of the human family into the mystery of Jesus Christ, we understand with greater clarity that there is at the basis of all these ways that the Church of our time must follow, in accordance with the wisdom of Pope Paul VI(86), one single way: it is the way that has stood the test of centuries and it is also the way of the future. Christ the Lord indicated this way especially, when, as the Council teaches, "by His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, in a certain way united Himself with each man"(87). The Church therefore sees its fundamental task in enabling that union to be brought about and renewed continually. The Church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life, with the power of the truth about man and the world that is contained in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption and with the power of the love that is radiated by that truth. Against a background of the ever increasing historical processes, which seem at the present time to have results especially within the spheres of various systems, ideological concepts of the world and regimes, Jesus Christ becomes, in a way, newly present, in spite of all His apparent absences, in spite of all the limitations of the presence and of the institutional activity of the Church. Jesus Christ becomes present with the power of the truth and the love that are expressed in Him with unique unrepeatable fullness in spite of the shortness of His life on earth and the even greater shortness of His public activity.
Jesus Christ is the chief way for the Church. He Himself is our way "to the Father’s house"(88) and is the way to each man. On this way leading from Christ to man, on this way on which Christ unites Himself with each man, nobody can halt the Church. This is an exigency of man’s temporal welfare and of His eternal welfare. Out of regard for Christ and in view of the mystery that constitutes the Church’s own life, the Church cannot remain insensible to whatever serves man’s true welfare, any more than she can remain indifferent to what threatens it. In various passages in its documents the Second Vatican Council has expressed the Church’s fundamental solicitude that life in "the world should conform more to man’s surpassing dignity"(89) in all its aspects, so as to make that life "ever more human"(90). This is the solicitude of Christ Himself, the good Shepherd of all men. In the name of this solicitude, as we read in the Council’s Pastoral Constitution, "the Church must in no way be confused with the political community, nor bound to any political system. She is at once a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person"(91).
Accordingly, what is in question here is man in all His truth, in His full magnitude. We are not dealing with the "abstract" man, but the real, "concrete", "historical" man. We are dealing with "each" man, for each one is included in the mystery of the Redemption and with each one Christ has united Himself for ever through this mystery. Every man comes into the world through being conceived in his mother’s womb and being born of his mother, and precisely on account of the mystery of the Redemption is entrusted to the solicitude of the Church. Her solicitude is about the whole man and is focused on him in an altogether special manner. The object of her care is man in his unique unrepeatable human reality, which keeps intact the image and likeness of God himself (92). The Council points out this very fact when, speaking of that likeness, it recalls that "man is the only creature on earth that God willed for itself"(93). Man as "willed" by God, as "chosen" by him from eternity and called, destined for grace and glory — this is "each" man, "the most concrete" man, "the most real"; this is man in all the fullness of the mystery in which he has become a sharer in Jesus Christ, the mystery in which each one of the four thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer from the moment he is conceived beneath the heart of his mother.
14. For the Church all ways lead to man
The Church cannot abandon man, for his "destiny", that is to say his election, calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is so closely and unbreakably linked with Christ. We are speaking precisely of each man on this planet, this earth that the Creator gave to the first man, saying to the man and the women: "subdue it and have dominion"(94). Each man in all the unrepeatable reality of what he is and what he does, of his intellect and will, of his conscience and heart. Man who in his reality has, because he is a "person", a history of his life that is his own and, most important, a history of his soul that is his own. Man who, in keeping with the openness of his spirit within and also with the many diverse needs of his body and his existence in time, writes this personal history of his through numerous bonds, contacts, situations, and social structures linking him with other men, beginning to do so from the first moment of his existence on earth, from the moment of his conception and birth. Man in the full truth of his existence, of his personal being and also of his community and social being — in the sphere of his own family, in the sphere of society and very diverse contexts, in the sphere of his own nation or people (perhaps still only that of his clan or tribe), and in the sphere of the whole of mankind — this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission: he is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ Himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.
It was precisely this man in all the truth of his life, in his conscience, in his continual inclination to sin and at the same time in his continual aspiration to truth, the good, the beautiful, justice and love that the Second Vatican Council had before its eyes when, in outlining his situation in the modern world, it always passed from the external elements of this situation to the truth within humanity: "In man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways. On the other, he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions, he is constantly forced to choose among them and to renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would. Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society"(95).
This man is the way for the Church — a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk — because man — every man without any exception whatever — has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man — with each man without any exception whatever — Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: "Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man" — each man and every man — "with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling" (96).
Since this man is the way for the Church, the way for her daily life and experience, for her mission and toil, the Church of today must be aware in an always new manner of man’s "situation". That means that she must be aware of his possibilities, which keep returning to their proper bearings and thus revealing themselves. She must likewise be aware of the threats to man and of all that seems to oppose the endeavor "to make human life ever more human"(97) and make every element of this life correspond to man’s true dignity — in a word, she must be aware of all that is opposed to that process.
15. What modern man is afraid of
Accordingly, while keeping alive in our memory the picture that was so perspicaciously and authoritatively traced by the Second Vatican Council, we shall try once more to adapt it to the "signs of the times" and to the demands of the situation, which is continually changing and evolving in certain directions.
The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of his hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subjected to "alienation", in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself. It is or can be directed against him. This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear. He is afraid that what he produces — not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative — can radically turn against himself; he is afraid that it can become the means and instrument for an unimaginable self-destruction, compared with which all the cataclysms and catastrophes of history known to us seem to fade away. This gives rise to a question: Why is it that the power given to man from the beginning by which he was to subdue the earth (98) turns against himself, producing an understandable state of disquiet, of conscious or unconscious fear and of menace, which in various ways is being communicated to the whole of the present-day human family and is manifesting itself under various aspects?
This state of menace for man from what he produces shows itself in various directions and various degrees of intensity. We seem to be increasingly aware of the fact that the exploitation of the earth, the planet on which we are living, demands rational and honest planning. At the same time, exploitation of the earth not only for industrial but also for military purposes and the uncontrolled development of technology outside the framework of a long-range authentically humanistic plan often bring with them a threat to man’s natural environment, alienate him in his relations with nature and remove him from nature. Man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption. Yet it was the Creator’s will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble "master" and "guardian", and not as a heedless "exploiter" and "destroyer".
The development of technology and the development of contemporary civilization, which is marked by the ascendancy of technology, demand a proportional development of morals and ethics. For the present, this last development see