Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy
Novo Millennio Ineunte
[At the Beginning of the New Millennium]
Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, January 6, 2001
To my Brother Bishops,
To Priests and Deacons,
Men and Women Religious
and all the Lay Faithful.
1. At the beginning of the new millennium, and at the close of the Great Jubilee during which we celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus and a new stage of the Church’s journey begins, our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat, He invited the Apostle to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Lk 5:4). Peter and his first companions trusted Christ’s words, and cast the nets. "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6).
Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8).
The Church’s joy was great this year, as she devoted herself to contemplating the face of her Bridegroom and Lord. She became more than ever a pilgrim people, led by Him who is the "the great shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20). With extraordinary energy, involving so many of her members, the People of God here in Rome, as well as in Jerusalem and in all the individual local churches, went through the "Holy Door" that is Christ. To Him who is the goal of history and the one Savior of the world, the Church and the Spirit cried out: "Maranatha — Come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Rev 22:17, 20; I Cor 16:22).
It is impossible to take the measure of this event of grace which in the course of the year has touched people’s hearts. But certainly, "a river of living water", the water that continually flows "from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (cf. Rev 22:1), has been poured out on the Church. This is the water of the Spirit which quenches thirst and brings new life (cf. Jn 4:14). This is the merciful love of the Father which has once again been made known and given to us in Christ. At the end of this year we can repeat with renewed jubilation the ancient words of thanksgiving: "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love endures for ever" (Ps 118:1).
2. For all this, I feel the need to write to you, dearly beloved, to share this song of praise with you. From the beginning of my Pontificate, my thoughts had been on this Holy Year 2000 as an important appointment. I thought of its celebration as a providential opportunity during which the Church, thirty-five years after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, would examine how far she had renewed herself, in order to be able to take up her evangelizing mission with fresh enthusiasm.
Has the Jubilee succeeded in this aim? Our commitment, with its generous efforts and inevitable failings, is under God’s scrutiny. But we cannot fail to give thanks for the "marvels" the Lord has worked for us: "Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo" (Ps 89:2).
At the same time, what we have observed demands to be reconsidered, and in a sense "deciphered", in order to hear what the Spirit has been saying to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7,11,17, etc.) during this most intense year.
3. Dear Brothers and Sisters, it is especially necessary for us to direct our thoughts to the future which lies before us. Often during these months we have looked toward the new millennium which is beginning, as we lived this Jubilee not only as a remembrance of the past, but also as a prophecy of the future. We now need to profit from the grace received, by putting it into practice in resolutions and guidelines for action. This is a task I wish to invite all the local churches to undertake. In each of them, gathered around their Bishop, as they listen to the word and "break bread" in brotherhood (cf. Acts 2:42), the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative".1 It is above all in the actual situation of each local church that the mystery of the one People of God takes the particular form that fits it to each individual context and culture.
In the final analysis, this rooting of the Church in time and space mirrors the movement of the Incarnation itself. Now is the time for each local Church to assess its fervor and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities, by reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God in this special year of grace, and indeed in the longer span of time from the Second Vatican Council to the Great Jubilee. It is with this purpose in mind that I wish to offer in this Letter, at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year, the contribution of my Petrine ministry, so that the Church may shine ever more brightly in the variety of her gifts and in her unity as she journeys on.
4. "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty" (Rev 11:17). In the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee I expressed the hope that the bimillennial celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation would be lived as "one unceasing hymn of praise to the Trinity"2 and also "as a journey of reconciliation and a sign of true hope for all who look to Christ and to His Church".3 And this Jubilee Year has been an experience of these essential aspects, reaching moments of intensity which have made us as it were touch with our hands the merciful presence of God, from whom comes "every good endowment and every perfect gift" (Jas 1:17).
My thoughts turn first to the duty of praise. This is the point of departure for every genuine response of faith to the revelation of God in Christ. Christianity is grace, it is the wonder of a God who is not satisfied with creating the world and man, but puts himself on the same level as the creature He has made and, after speaking on various occasions and in different ways through His prophets, "in these last days … has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb 1:1-2).
In these days Yes, the Jubilee has made us realize that two thousand years of history have passed without diminishing the freshness of that "today", when the angels proclaimed to the shepherds the marvelous event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem: "For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). Two thousand years have gone by, but Jesus’ proclamation of His mission, when He applied the prophecy of Isaiah to Himself before His astonished fellow townspeople in the Synagogue of Nazareth, is as enduring as ever: "Today this scripture had been fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:21). Two thousand years have gone by, but sinners in need of mercy — and who is not? — still experience the consolation of that "today" of salvation which on the Cross opened the gates of the Kingdom of God to the repentant thief: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43).
The fullness of time
5. The coincidence of this Jubilee with the opening of a new millennium has certainly helped people to become more aware of the mystery of Christ within the great horizon of the history of salvation, without any concession to millenarian fantasies. Christianity is a religion rooted in history! It was in the soil of history that God chose to establish a covenant with Israel and so prepare the birth of the Son from the womb of Mary "in the fullness of time" (Gal 4:4). Understood in His divine and human mystery, Christ is the foundation and center of history, He is its meaning and ultimate goal. It is in fact through Him, the Word and image of the Father, that "all things were made" (Jn 1:3; cf. Col 1:15). His incarnation, culminating in the Paschal Mystery and the gift of the Spirit, is the pulsating heart of time, the mysterious hour in which the Kingdom of God came to us (cf. Mk 1:15), indeed took root in our history, as the seed destined to become a great tree (cf. Mk 4:30- 32).
"Glory to you, Jesus Christ, for you reign today and for ever". With this song repeated thousands of times, we have contemplated Christ this year as He is presented in the Book of Revelation: "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Rev 22:13). And contemplating Christ, we have also adored the Father and the Spirit, the one and undivided Trinity, the ineffable mystery in which everything has its origin and its fulfillment.
The purification of memory
6. To purify our vision for the contemplation of the mystery, this Jubilee Year has been strongly marked by the request for forgiveness. This is true not only for individuals, who have examined their own lives in order to ask for mercy and gain the special gift of the indulgence, but for the entire Church, which has decided to recall the infidelities of so many of her children in the course of history, infidelities which have cast a shadow over her countenance as the Bride of Christ.
For a long time we had been preparing ourselves for this examination of conscience, aware that the Church, embracing sinners in her bosom, "is at once holy and always in need of being purified".4 Study congresses helped us to identify those aspects in which, during the course of the first two millennia, the Gospel spirit did not always shine forth. How could we forget the moving Liturgy of March 12, 2000 in Saint Peter’s Basilica, at which, looking upon our Crucified Lord, I asked forgiveness in the name of the Church for the sins of all her children? This "purification of memory" has strengthened our steps for the journey toward the future and has made us more humble and vigilant in our acceptance of the Gospel.
Witnesses to the faith
7. This lively sense of repentance, however, has not prevented us from giving glory to the Lord for what He has done in every century, and in particular during the century which we have just left behind, by granting His Church a great host of saints and martyrs. For some of them the Jubilee year has been the year of their beatification or canonization. Holiness, whether ascribed to popes well-known to history or to humble lay and religious figures, from one continent to another of the globe, has emerged more clearly as the dimension which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness, a message that convinces without the need for words, is the living reflection of the face of Christ.
On the occasion of the Holy Year much has also been done to gather together the precious memories of the witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century. Together with the representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, we commemorated them on May 7, 2000 in the evocative setting of the Colosseum, the symbol of the ancient persecutions. This is a heritage which must not be lost; we should always be thankful for it and we should renew our resolve to imitate it.
A pilgrim Church
8. As if following in the footsteps of the Saints, countless sons and daughters of the Church have come in successive waves to Rome, to the Tombs of the Apostles, wanting to profess their faith, confess their sins and receive the mercy that saves. I have been impressed this year by the crowds of people which have filled Saint Peter’s Square at the many celebrations. I have often stopped to look at the long queues of pilgrims waiting patiently to go through the Holy Door. In each of them I tried to imagine the story of a life, made up of joys, worries, sufferings; the story of someone whom Christ had met and who, in dialogue with Him, was setting out again on a journey of hope.
As I observed the continuous flow of pilgrims, I saw them as a kind of concrete image of the pilgrim Church, the Church placed, as Saint Augustine says, "amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God".5 We have only been able to observe the outer face of this unique event. Who can measure the marvels of grace wrought in human hearts? It is better to be silent and to adore, trusting humbly in the mysterious workings of God and singing His love without end: "Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo".
9. The many Jubilee gatherings have brought together the most diverse groups of people, and the level of participation has been truly impressive — at times sorely trying the commitment of organizers and helpers, both ecclesiastical and civil. In this Letter I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone. But apart from the numbers, what has moved me so often was to note the intensity of prayer, reflection and spirit of communion which these meetings have generally showed.
And how could we fail to recall especially the joyful and inspiring gathering of young people? If there is an image of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 that more than any other will live on in memory, it is surely the streams of young people with whom I was able to engage in a sort of very special dialogue, filled with mutual affection and deep understanding. It was like this from the moment I welcomed them in the Square of Saint John Lateran and Saint Peter’s Square. Then I saw them swarming through the city, happy as young people should be, but also thoughtful, eager to pray, seeking "meaning" and true friendship. Neither for them nor for those who saw them will it be easy to forget that week, during which Rome became "young with the young". It will not be possible to forget the Mass at Tor Vergata.
Yet again, the young have shown themselves to be for Rome and for the Church a special gift of the Spirit of God. Sometimes when we look at the young, with the problems and weaknesses that characterize them in contemporary society, we tend to be pessimistic. The Jubilee of Young People however changed that, telling us that young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for those genuine values which find their fullness in Christ. Is not Christ the secret of true freedom and profound joy of heart? Is not Christ the supreme friend and the teacher of all genuine friendship? If Christ is presented to young people as He really is, they experience Him as an answer that is convincing and they can accept His message, even when it is demanding and bears the mark of the Cross. For this reason, in response to their enthusiasm, I did not hesitate to ask them to make a radical choice of faith and life and present them with a stupendous task: to become "morning watchmen" (cf. Is 21:11-12) at the dawn of the new millennium.
The variety of the pilgrims
10. Obviously I cannot go into detail about each individual Jubilee event. Each one of them had its own character and has left its message, not only for those who took part directly but also for those who heard about them or took part from afar through the media. But how can we forget the mood of celebration of the first great gathering dedicated to children? In a way, to begin with them meant respecting Christ’s command: "Let the children come to me" (Mk 10:14). Perhaps even more it meant doing what He did when He placed a child in the midst of the disciples and made it the very symbol of the attitude which we should have if we wish to enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 18:2-4).
Thus, in a sense, it was in the footsteps of children that all the different groups of adults came seeking the Jubilee grace: from old people to the sick and handicapped, from workers in factories and fields to sports people, from artists to university teachers, from Bishops and priests to people in consecrated life, from politicians to journalists, to the military personnel who came to confirm the meaning of their service as a service to peace.
One of the most notable events was the gathering of workers on May 1, the day traditionally dedicated to the world of work. I asked them to live a spirituality of work in imitation of Saint Joseph and of Jesus Himself. That Jubilee gathering also gave me the opportunity to voice a strong call to correct the economic and social imbalances present in the world of work and to make decisive efforts to ensure that the processes of economic globalization give due attention to solidarity and the respect owed to every human person.
Children, with their irrepressible sense of celebration, were again present for the Jubilee of Families, when I held them up to the world as the "springtime of the family and of society". This was a truly significant gathering in which numberless families from different parts of the world came to draw fresh enthusiasm from the light that Christ sheds on God’s original plan in their regard (cf. Mk 10:6-8; Mt 19:4-6) and to commit themselves to bringing that light to bear on a culture which, in an ever more disturbing way, is in danger of losing sight of the very meaning of marriage and the family as an institution.
For me one of the more moving meetings was the one with the prisoners at Regina Caeli. In their eyes I saw suffering, but also repentance and hope. For them in a special way the Jubilee was a "year of mercy".
Finally, in the last days of the year, an enjoyable occasion was the meeting with the world of entertainment, which exercises such a powerful influence on people. I was able to remind all involved of their great responsibility to use entertainment to offer a positive message, one that is morally healthy and able to communicate confidence and love.
The International Eucharistic Congress
11. In the spirit of this Jubilee Year the International Eucharistic Congress was intended to have special significance. And it did! Since the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ made present among us, how could His real presence not be at the center of the Holy Year dedicated to the Incarnation of the Word? The year was intended, precisely for this reason, to be "intensely Eucharistic",6 and that is how we tried to live it. At the same time, along with the memory of the birth of the Son, how could the memory of the Mother be missing? Mary was present in the Jubilee celebration not only as a theme of high-level academic gatherings, but above all in the great Act of Entrustment with which, in the presence of a large part of the world episcopate, I entrusted to her maternal care the lives of the men and women of the new millennium.
The ecumenical dimension
12. You will understand that I speak more readily of the Jubilee as seen from the See of Peter. However I am not forgetting that I myself wanted the Jubilee to be celebrated also in the particular churches, and it is there that the majority of the faithful were able to gain its special graces, and particularly the indulgence connected with the Jubilee Year. Nevertheless it is significant that many Dioceses wanted to be present, with large groups of the faithful, here in Rome too. The Eternal City has thus once again shown its providential role as the place where the resources and gifts of each individual church, and indeed of each individual nation and culture, find their "catholic" harmony, so that the one Church of Christ can show ever more clearly her mystery as the "sacrament of unity".7
I had also asked for special attention to be given in the program of the Jubilee Year to the ecumenical aspect. What occasion could be more suitable for encouraging progress on the path toward full communion than the shared celebration of the birth of Christ? Much work was done with this in mind, and one of the highlights was the ecumenical meeting in Saint Paul’s Basilica on January 18, 2000, when for the first time in history a Holy Door was opened jointly by the Successor of Peter, the Anglican Primate and a Metropolitan of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in the presence of representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities from all over the world. There were also other important meetings with Orthodox Patriarchs and the heads of other Christian denominations. I recall in particular the recent visit of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. In addition, very many members of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities took part in the Jubilee meetings organized for various groups. The ecumenical journey is certainly still difficult, and will perhaps be long, but we are encouraged by the hope that comes from being led by the presence of the Risen One and the inexhaustible power of His Spirit, always capable of new surprises.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
13. And how can I not recall my personal Jubilee along the pathways of the Holy Land? I would have liked to begin that journey at Ur of the Chaldeans, in order to follow, tangibly as it were, in the footsteps of Abraham "our father in faith" (cf. Rom 4:11-16). However, I had to be content with a pilgrimage in spirit, on the occasion of the evocative Liturgy of the Word celebrated in the Paul VI Audience Hall on February 23. The actual pilgrimage came almost immediately afterwards, following the stages of salvation history. Thus I had the joy of visiting Mount Sinai, where the gift of the Ten Commandments of the Covenant was given. I set out again a month later, when I reached Mount Nebo, and then went on to the very places where the Redeemer lived and which He made holy. It is difficult to express the emotion I felt in being able to venerate the places of His birth and life, Bethlehem and Nazareth, to celebrate the Eucharist in the Upper Room, in the very place of its institution, to meditate again on the mystery of the Cross at Golgotha, where He gave His life for us. In those places, still so troubled and again recently afflicted by violence, I received an extraordinary welcome not only from the members of the Church but also from the Israeli and Palestinian communities. Intense emotion surrounded my prayer at the Western Wall and my visit to the Mausoleum of Yad Vashem, with its chilling reminder of the victims of the Nazi death camps. My pilgrimage was a moment of brotherhood and peace, and I like to remember it as one of the most beautiful gifts of the whole Jubilee event. Thinking back to the mood of those days, I cannot but express my deeply felt desire for a prompt and just solution to the still unresolved problems of the Holy Places, cherished by Jews, Christians and Muslims together.
14. The Jubilee was also a great event of charity — and it could not be otherwise. Already in the years of preparation, I had called for greater and more incisive attention to the problems of poverty which still beset the world. The problem of the international debt of poor countries took on particular significance in this context. A gesture of generosity towards these countries was in the very spirit of the Jubilee, which in its original Biblical setting was precisely a time when the community committed itself to re-establishing justice and solidarity in interpersonal relations, including the return of whatever belonged to others. I am happy to note that recently the Parliaments of many creditor States have voted a substantial remission of the bilateral debt of the poorest and most indebted countries. I hope that the respective Governments will soon implement these parliamentary decisions. The question of multilateral debt contracted by poorer countries with international financial organizations has shown itself to be a rather more problematic issue. It is to be hoped that the member States of these organizations, especially those that have greater decisional powers, will succeed in reaching the necessary consensus in order to arrive at a rapid solution to this question on which the progress of many countries depends, with grave consequences for the economy and the living conditions of so many people.
15. These are only some of the elements of the Jubilee celebration. It has left us with many memories. But if we ask what is the core of the great legacy it leaves us, I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ: Christ considered in His historical features and in His mystery, Christ known through His manifold presence in the Church and in the world, and confessed as the meaning of history and the light of life’s journey.
Now we must look ahead, we must "put out into the deep", trusting in Christ’s words: Duc in altum! What we have done this year cannot justify a sense of complacency, and still less should it lead us to relax our commitment. On the contrary, the experiences we have had should inspire in us new energy, and impel us to invest in concrete initiatives the enthusiasm which we have felt. Jesus Himself warns us: "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk 9:62). In the cause of the Kingdom there is no time for looking back, even less for settling into laziness. Much awaits us, and for this reason we must set about drawing up an effective post-Jubilee pastoral plan.
It is important however that what we propose, with the help of God, should be profoundly rooted in contemplation and prayer. Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of "doing for the sake of doing". We must resist this temptation by trying "to be" before trying "to do". In this regard we should recall how Jesus reproved Martha: "You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful" (Lk 10:41-42). In this spirit, before setting out a number of practical guidelines for your consideration, I wish to share with you some points of meditation on the mystery of Christ, the absolute foundation of all our pastoral activity.
16. "We wish to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21). This request, addressed to the Apostle Philip by some Greeks who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, echoes spiritually in our ears too during this Jubilee Year. Like those pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day — often perhaps unconsciously — ask believers not only to "speak" of Christ, but in a certain sense to "show" Him to them. And is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?
Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated His face. The Great Jubilee has certainly helped us to do this more deeply. At the end of the Jubilee, as we go back to our ordinary routine, storing in our hearts the treasures of this very special time, our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord.
The witness of the Gospels
17. The contemplation of Christ’s face cannot fail to be inspired by all that we are told about Him in Sacred Scripture, which from beginning to end is permeated by His mystery, prefigured in a veiled way in the Old Testament and revealed fully in the New, so that Saint Jerome can vigorously affirm: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ".8 Remaining firmly anchored in Scripture, we open ourselves to the action of the Spirit (cf. Jn 15:26) from whom the sacred texts derive their origin, as well as to the witness of the Apostles (cf. Jn 15:27), who had a first-hand experience of Christ, the Word of life: they saw Him with their eyes, heard Him with their ears, touched Him with their hands (cf. 1 Jn 1:1).
What we receive from them is a vision of faith based on precise historical testimony: a true testimony which the Gospels, despite their complex redaction and primarily catechetical purpose, pass on to us in an entirely trustworthy way.9
18. The Gospels do not claim to be a complete biography of Jesus in accordance with the canons of modern historical science. From them, nevertheless, the face of the Nazarene emerges with a solid historical foundation. The Evangelists took pains to represent Him on the basis of trustworthy testimonies which they gathered (cf. Lk 1:3) and working with documents which were subjected to careful ecclesial scrutiny. It was on the basis of such first-hand testimony that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit’s action, they learned the humanly perplexing fact of Jesus’ virginal birth from Mary, wife of Joseph. From those who had known him during the almost thirty years spent in Nazareth (cf. Lk 3:23) they collected facts about the life of "the carpenter’s son" (Mt 13:55) who was Himself a "carpenter" and whose place within the context of his larger family was well established (cf. Mk 6:3). They recorded His religious fervor, which prompted Him to make annual pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem with His family (cf. Lk 2:41), and made him a regular visitor to the synagogue of His own town (cf. Lk 4:16).
Without being complete and detailed, the reports of His public ministry become much fuller, starting at the moment of the young Galilean’s baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan. Strengthened by the witness from on high and aware of being the "beloved son" (Lk 3:22), He begins His preaching of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and explains its demands and its power by words and signs of grace and mercy. The Gospels present Him to us as one who travels through towns and villages, accompanied by twelve Apostles whom He has chosen (cf. Mk 3:13-19), by a group of women who assist them (cf. Lk 8:2-3), by crowds that seek him out and follow him, by the sick who cry out for His healing power, by people who listen to Him with varying degrees of acceptance of His words.
The Gospel narrative then converges on the growing tension which develops between Jesus and the dominant groups in the religious society of His time, until the final crisis with its dramatic climax on Golgotha. This is the hour of darkness, which is followed by a new, radiant and definitive dawn. The Gospel accounts conclude, in fact, by showing the Nazarene victorious over death. They point to the empty tomb and follow Him in the cycle of apparitions in which the disciples — at first perplexed and bewildered, then filled with unspeakable joy — experience His living and glorious presence. From Him they receive the gift of the Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22) and the command to proclaim the Gospel to "all nations" (Mt 28:19).
The life of faith
19. "The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord" (Jn 20:20). The face which the Apostles contemplated after the Resurrection was the same face of the Jesus with whom they had lived for almost three years, and who now convinced them of the astonishing truth of His new life by showing them "His hands and His side" (ibid.). Of course it was not easy to believe. The disciples on their way to Emmaus believed only after a long spiritual journey (cf. Lk 24:13-35). The Apostle Thomas believed only after verifying for himself the marvelous event (cf. Jn 20:24-29). In fact, regardless of how much His body was seen or touched, only faith could fully enter the mystery of that face. This was an experience which the disciples must have already had during the historical life of Christ, in the questions which came to their minds whenever they felt challenged by His actions and His words. One can never really reach Jesus except by the path of faith, on a journey of which the stages seem to be indicated to us by the Gospel itself in the well known scene at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Mt 16:13-20). Engaging in a kind of first evaluation of His mission, Jesus asks His disciples what "people" think of Him, and they answer Him: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Mt 16:14). A lofty response to be sure, but still a long way — by far — from the truth. The crowds are able to sense a definitely exceptional religious dimension to this rabbi who speaks in such a spellbinding way, but they are not able to put Him above those men of God who had distinguished the history of Israel. Jesus is really far different! It is precisely this further step of awareness, concerning as it does the deeper level of His being, which he expects from those who are close to Him: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Only the faith proclaimed by Peter, and with him by the Church in every age, truly goes to the heart, and touches the depth of the mystery: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).
20. How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps with ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter’s confession: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (16:17). The expression "flesh and blood" is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of "revelation" is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus "was praying alone" (Lk 9:18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord’s face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (1:14).
The depth of the mystery
21. The Word and the flesh, the divine glory and His dwelling among us! It is in the intimate and inseparable union of these two aspects that Christ’s identity is to be found, in accordance with the classic formula of the Council of Chalcedon (451): "one person in two natures". The person is that, and that alone, of the Eternal Word, the Son of the Father. The two natures, without any confusion whatsoever, but also without any possible separation, are the divine and the human.10
We know that our concepts and our words are limited. The formula, though always human, is nonetheless carefully measured in its doctrinal content, and it enables us, albeit with trepidation, to gaze in some way into the depths of the mystery. Yes, Jesus is true God and true man! Like the Apostle Thomas, the Church is constantly invited by Christ to touch His wounds, to recognize, that is, the fullness of His humanity taken from Mary, given up to death, transfigured by the Resurrection: "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side" (Jn 20:27). Like Thomas, the Church bows down in adoration before the Risen One, clothed in the fullness of his divine splendor, and never ceases to exclaim: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).
22. "The Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14). This striking formulation by John of the mystery of Christ is confirmed by the entire New Testament. The Apostle Paul takes this same approach when he affirms that the Son of God was born "of the race of David, according to the flesh" (cf. Rom 1:3; cf. 9:5). If today, because of the rationalism found in so much of contemporary culture, it is above all faith in the divinity of Christ that has become problematic, in other historical and cultural contexts there was a tendency to diminish and do away with the historical concreteness of Jesus’ humanity. But for the Church’s faith it is essential and indispensable to affirm that the Word truly "became flesh" and took on every aspect of humanity, except sin (cf. Heb 4:15). From this perspective, the incarnation is truly a kenosis — a "self-emptying" — on the part of the Son of God of that glory which is His from all eternity (Phil 2:6-8; cf. 1 Pt 3:18).
On the other hand, this abasement of the Son of God is not an end in itself; it tends rather toward the full glorification of Christ, even in His humanity: "Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11).
23. "Your face, O Lord, I seek" (Ps 27:8). The ancient longing of the Psalmist could receive no fulfillment greater and more surprising than the contemplation of the face of Christ. God has truly blessed us in Him and has made "His face to shine upon us" (Ps 67:1). At the same time, God and man that He is, he reveals to us also the true face of man, "fully revealing man to man himself".11
Jesus is "the new man" (cf. Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) who calls redeemed humanity to share in His divine life. The mystery of the Incarnation lays the foundations for an anthropology which, reaching beyond its own limitations and contradictions, moves toward God Himself, indeed towards the goal of "divinization". This occurs through the grafting of the redeemed on to Christ and their admission into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life. The Fathers have laid great stress on this soteriological dimension of the mystery of the Incarnation: it is only because the Son of God truly became man that man, in Him and through Him, can truly become a child of God.12
The Son’s face
24. This divine-human identity emerges forcefully from the Gospels, which offer us a range of elements that make it possible for us to enter that "frontier zone" of the mystery, represented by Christ’s self-awareness. The Church has no doubt that the Evangelists in their accounts, and inspired from on high, have correctly understood in the words which Jesus spoke the truth about His person and His awareness of it. Is this not what Luke wishes to tell us when he recounts Jesus’ first recorded words, spoken in the Temple in Jerusalem when He was barely twelve years old? Already at that time He shows that He is aware of a unique relationship with God, a relationship which properly belongs to a "son". When His mother tells Him how anxiously she and Joseph had been searching for Him, Jesus replies without hesitation: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s affairs?" (Lk 2:49). It is no wonder therefore that later as a grown man His language authoritatively expresses the depth of His own mystery, as is abundantly clear both in the Synoptic Gospels (cf. Mt 11:27; Lk 10:22) and above all in the Gospel of John. In his self-awareness, Jesus has no doubts: "The Father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10:38).
However valid it may be to maintain that, because of the human condition which made Him grow "in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52), His human awareness of His own mystery would also have progressed to its fullest expression in His glorified humanity, there is no doubt that already in His historical existence Jesus was aware of His identity as the Son of God. John emphasizes this to the point of affirming that it was ultimately because of this awareness that Jesus was rejected and condemned: they sought to kill Him "because He not only broke the sabbath but also called God His Father, making himself equal with God" (Jn 5:18). In Gethsemane and on Golgotha Jesus’ human awareness will be put to the supreme test. But not even the drama of His Passion and Death will be able to shake His serene certainty of being the Son of the heavenly Father.
A face of sorrow
25. In contemplating Christ’s face, we confront the most paradoxical aspect of His mystery, as it emerges in His last hour, on the Cross. The mystery within the mystery, before which we cannot but prostrate ourselves in adoration.
The intensity of the episode of the agony in the Garden of Olives passes before our eyes. Oppressed by foreknowledge of the trials that await Him, and alone before the Father, Jesus cries out to Him in His habitual and affectionate expression of trust: "Abba, Father". He asks Him to take away, if possible, the cup of suffering (cf. Mk 14:36). But the Father seems not to want to heed the Son’s cry. In order to bring man back to the Father’s face, Jesus not only had to take on the face of man, but he had to burden himself with the "face" of sin. "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).
We shall never exhaust the depths of this mystery. All the harshness of the paradox can be heard in Jesus’ seemingly desperate cry of pain on the Cross: "’Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ " (Mk 15:34). Is it possible to imagine a greater agony, a more impenetrable darkness? In reality, the anguished "why" addressed to the Father in the opening words of the Twenty-second Psalm expresses all the realism of unspeakable pain; but it is also illumined by the meaning of that entire prayer, in which the Psalmist brings together suffering and trust, in a moving blend of emotions. In fact the Psalm continues: "In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you set them free…. Do not leave me alone in my distress, come close, there is none else to help" (Ps 22:5,12).
26. Jesus’ cry on the Cross, dear Brothers and Sisters, is not the cry of anguish of a man without hope, but the prayer of the Son who offers His life to the Father in love, for the salvation of all. At the very moment when He identifies with our sin, "abandoned" by the Father, He "abandons" Himself into the hands of the Father. His eyes remain fixed on the Father. Precisely because of the knowledge and experience of the Father which He alone has, even at this moment of darkness He sees clearly the gravity of sin and suffers because of it. He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in Him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father’s love by sin. More than an experience of physical pain, His Passion is an agonizing suffering of the soul. Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time His profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to His final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union.
27. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the "lived theology" of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the "dark night". Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: "Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbor, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted".13 In the same way, Therese of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, "experiencing" in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: "In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet His dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it".14 What an illuminating testimony! Moreover, the accounts given by the Evangelists themselves provide a basis for this intuition on the part of the Church of Christ’s consciousness when they record that, even in the depths of His pain, He died imploring forgiveness for His executioners (cf. Lk 23:34) and expressing to the Father His ultimate filial abandonment: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
The face of the One who is Risen
28. As on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Church pauses in contemplation of this bleeding face, which conceals the life of God and offers salvation to the world. But her contemplation of Christ’s face cannot stop at the image of the Crucified One. He is the Risen One! Were this not so, our preaching would be in vain and our faith empty (cf. I Cor 15:14). The Resurrection was the Father’s response to Christ’s obedience, as we learn from the Letter to the Hebrews: "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear. Son though He was, He learned obedience through what He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (5:7-9).
It is the Risen Christ to whom the Church now looks. And she does so in the footsteps of Peter, who wept for His denial and started out again by confessing, with understandable trepidation, His love of Christ: "You know that I love you" (Jn 21:15-17). She does so in the company of Paul, who encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus and was overwhelmed: "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21).
Two thousand years after these events, the Church relives them as if they had happened today. Gazing on the face of Christ, the Bride contemplates her treasure and her joy. "Dulcis Iesus memoria, dans vera cordis gaudia": how sweet is the memory of Jesus, the source of the heart’s true joy! Heartened by this experience, the Church today sets out once more on her journey, in order to proclaim Christ to the world at the dawn of the Third Millennium: He "is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb 13:8).
29. "I am with you always, to the close of the age". (Mt 28:20) This assurance, dear brothers and sisters, has accompanied the Church for two thousand years, and has now been renewed in our hearts by the celebration of the Jubilee. From it we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: "What must we do?" (Acts 2:37)
We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a "new program". The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ Himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in Him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with Him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.
But it must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community. The Jubilee has given us the extraordinary opportunity to travel together for a number of years on a journey common to the whole Church, a catechetical journey on the theme of the Trinity, accompanied by precise pastoral undertakings designed to ensure that the Jubilee would be a fruitful event. I am grateful for the sincere and widespread acceptance of what I proposed in my Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente. But now it is no longer an immediate goal that we face, but the larger and more demanding challenge of normal pastoral activity. With its universal and indispensable provisions, the program of the Gospel must continue to take root, as it has always done, in the life of the Church everywhere. It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified — goals and methods, formation and enrichment of the people involved, the search for the necessary resources — which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mold communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.
I therefore earnestly exhort the Pastors of the particular Churches, with the help of all sectors of God’s People, confidently to plan the stages of the journey ahead, harmonizing the choices of each diocesan community with those of neighboring Churches and of the universal Church.
This harmonization will certainly be facilitated by the collegial work which Bishops now regularly undertake in Episcopal Conferences and Synods. Was this not the point of the continental Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops which prepared for the Jubilee, and which forged important directives for the present-day proclamation of the Gospel in so many different settings and cultures? This rich legacy of reflection must not be allowed to disappear, but must be implemented in practical ways.
What awaits us therefore is an exciting work of pastoral revitalization — a work involving all of us. As guidance and encouragement to everyone, I wish to indicate certain pastoral priorities which the experience of the Great Jubilee has, in my view, brought to light.
30. First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. Was this not the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee indulgence, as a special grace offered by Christ so that the life of every baptized person could be purified and deeply renewed?
It is my hope that, among those who have taken part in the Jubilee, many will have benefited from this grace, in full awareness of its demands. Once the Jubilee is over, we resume our normal path, but knowing that stressing holiness remains more than ever an urgent pastoral task.
It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the "universal call to holiness". The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. The rediscovery of the Church as "mystery", or as a people "gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit"15, was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church’s "holiness", understood in the basic sense of belonging to Him who is in essence the Holy One, the "thrice Holy". (cf. Is 6:3) To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom He gave Himself precisely in order to make her holy. (cf. Eph 5:25-26) This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized.
But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (I Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: "All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity".16
31. At first glance, it might seem almost impractical to recall this elementary truth as the foundation of the pastoral planning in which we are involved at the start of the new millennium. Can holiness ever be "planned"? What might the word "holiness" mean in the context of a pastoral plan?
In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: "Do you wish to receive Baptism?" means at the same time to ask them: "Do you wish to become holy?" It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". (Mt 5:48)
As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few "uncommon heroes" of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years He has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear however that the paths to holiness are personal and call for a genuine "training in holiness", adapted to people’s needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations and movements recognized by the Church.
32. This training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer. The Jubilee Year has been a year of more intense prayer, both personal and communal. But we well know that prayer cannot be taken for granted. We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master Himself, like the first disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray!". (Lk 11:1) Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us His intimate friends: "Abide in me and I in you". (Jn 15:4) This reciprocity is the very substance and soul of the Christian life, and the condition of all true pastoral life. Wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, this reciprocity opens us, through Christ and in Christ, to contemplation of the Father’s face. Learning this Trinitarian shape of Christian prayer and living it fully, above all in the Liturgy, the summit and source of the Church’s life,17 but also in personal experience, is the secret of a truly vital Christianity, which has no reason to fear the future, because it returns continually to the sources and finds in them new life.
33. Is it not one of the "signs of the times" that in today’s world, despite widespread secularization, there is a widespread demand for spirituality, a demand which expresses itself in large part as a renewed need for prayer? Other religions, which are now widely present in ancient Christian lands, offer their own responses to this need, and sometimes they do so in appealing ways. But we who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Savior of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead.
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