GENERAL AUDIENCE 1999 33
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. When the form of this world has passed away, those who have welcomed God into their lives and have sincerely opened themselves to his love, at least at the moment of death, will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “this perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven’. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CEC 1024).
Today we will try to understand the biblical meaning of “heaven”, in order to have a better understanding of the reality to which this expression refers.
2. In biblical language “heaven”, when it is joined to the “earth”, indicates part of the universe. Scripture says about creation: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1,1).
Metaphorically speaking, heaven is understood as the dwelling-place of God, who is thus distinguished from human beings (cf. Ps 104,2f.; Ps 115,16 Is 66,1). He sees and judges from the heights of heaven (cf. Ps 113,4-9) and comes down when he is called upon (cf. Ps 18,9 Ps 18,10 Ps 144,5). However the biblical metaphor makes it clear that God does not identify himself with heaven, nor can he be contained in it (cf. 1R 8,27); and this is true, even though in some passages of the First Book of the Maccabees “Heaven” is simply one of God's names (1M 3,18 1M 3,19 1M 3,50 1M 3,60 1M 4,24 1M 4,55).
The depiction of heaven as the transcendent dwelling-place of the living God is joined with that of the place to which believers, through grace, can also ascend, as we see in the Old Testament accounts of Enoch (cf. Gn 5,24) and Elijah (cf. 2R 2,11). Thus heaven becomes an image of life in God. In this sense Jesus speaks of a “reward in heaven” (Mt 5,12) and urges people to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (ibid., Mt 6,20; cf. Mt 19,21).
3. The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer's sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus “passed through the heavens” (He 4,14), and “entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself” (ibid., He 9,24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven. It is worthwhile listening to what the Apostle Paul tells us about this in a very powerful text: “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ep 2,4-7). The fatherhood of God, who is rich in mercy, is experienced by creatures through the love of God's crucified and risen Son, who sits in heaven on the right hand of the Father as Lord.
4. After the course of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ's paschal mystery. St Paul emphasizes our meeting with Christ in heaven at the end of time with a vivid spatial image: “Then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1Th 4,17-18).
35 In the context of Revelation, we know that the “heaven” or “happiness” in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.
It is always necessary to maintain a certain restraint in describing these “ultimate realities” since their depiction is always unsatisfactory. Today, personalist language is better suited to describing the state of happiness and peace we will enjoy in our definitive communion with God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the Church's teaching on this truth: “By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has ‘opened’ heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ” (CEC 1026).
5. This final state, however, can be anticipated in some way today in sacramental life, whose centre is the Eucharist, and in the gift of self through fraternal charity. If we are able to enjoy properly the good things that the Lord showers upon us every day, we will already have begun to experience that joy and peace which one day will be completely ours. We know that on this earth everything is subject to limits, but the thought of the “ultimate” realities helps us to live better the “penultimate” realities. We know that as we pass through this world we are called to seek “the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3,1), in order to be with him in the eschatological fulfilment, when the Spirit will fully reconcile with the Father “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1,20).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I extend a special welcome to the young people taking part in the Forum of the European Youth Parliament, as well as to the St Vincent Ferrer Chorale from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and the Taiwanese Native Folklore Group, accompanied by Cardinal Shan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from England, Scotland, Korea, Taiwan, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May you have a happy and blessed summer!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.
In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.
2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez 28,8 Ez 31,14 Jb 10,21f.; Jb 38,17 Ps 30,10 Ps 88,7 Ps 88,13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb 7,9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38,18 Ps 6,6).
The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.
Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Ap 20,13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13,42 cf. Mt 25,30 Mt 25,41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mc 9,43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lc 16,19-31).
The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Ap 20,13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for “eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2Th 1,9).
3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (CEC 1033).
“Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God's initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.
4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.
Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm 8,15 Ga 4,6).
This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family ... save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Nigeria, Hong Kong and the United States of America. I wish you a pleasant visit to Christian Rome and I invoke upon you the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. As we have seen in the previous two catecheses, on the basis of the definitive option for or against God, the human being finds he faces one of these alternatives: either to live with the Lord in eternal beatitude, or to remain far from his presence.
For those who find themselves in a condition of being open to God, but still imperfectly, the journey towards full beatitude requires a purification, which the faith of the Church illustrates in the doctrine of 'Purgatory' (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 1030-1032).
2. In Sacred Scripture, we can grasp certain elements that help us to understand the meaning of this doctrine, even if it is not formally described. They express the belief that we cannot approach God without undergoing some kind of purification.
According to Old Testament religious law, what is destined for God must be perfect. As a result, physical integrity is also specifically required for the realities which come into contact with God at the sacrificial level such as, for example, sacrificial animals (cf. Lv 22,22) or at the institutional level, as in the case of priests or ministers of worship (cf. Lv 21,17-23). Total dedication to the God of the Covenant, along the lines of the great teachings found in Deuteronomy (cf. Dt 6,5), and which must correspond to this physical integrity, is required of individuals and society as a whole (cf. 1R 8,61). It is a matter of loving God with all one's being, with purity of heart and the witness of deeds (cf. ibid., 1R 10,12f.)
The need for integrity obviously becomes necessary after death, for entering into perfect and complete communion with God. Those who do not possess this integrity must undergo purification. This is suggested by a text of St Paul. The Apostle speaks of the value of each person's work which will be revealed on the day of judgement and says: 'If the work which any man has built on the foundation [which is Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire' (1Co 3,14-15).
3. At times, to reach a state of perfect integrity a person's intercession or mediation is needed. For example, Moses obtains pardon for the people with a prayer in which he recalls the saving work done by God in the past, and prays for God's fidelity to the oath made to his ancestors (cf. Ex 32,30 Ex 32,11-13). The figure of the Servant of the Lord, outlined in the Book of Isaiah, is also portrayed by his role of intercession and expiation for many; at the end of his suffering he 'will see the light' and 'will justify many', bearing their iniquities (cf. Is 52,13-53,12, especially vv. Is 53,11).
Psalm 51 can be considered, according to the perspective of the Old Testament, as a synthesis of the process of reintegration: the sinner confesses and recognizes his guilt (Ps 51,3), asking insistently to be purified or 'cleansed' (Ps 51,2 Ps 51,9 Ps 51,10 Ps 51,17) so as to proclaim the divine praise (Ps 51,15).
4. In the New Testament Christ is presented as the intercessor who assumes the functions of high priest on the day of expiation (cf. He 5,7 He 7,25). But in him the priesthood is presented in a new and definitive form. He enters the heavenly shrine once and for all, to intercede with God on our behalf (cf. He 9,23-26, especially, He 9,24). He is both priest and 'victim of expiation' for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1Jn 2,2).
Jesus, as the great intercessor who atones for us, will fully reveal himself at the end of our life when he will express himself with the offer of mercy, but also with the inevitable judgement for those who refuse the Father's love and forgiveness.
This offer of mercy does not exclude the duty to present ourselves to God, pure and whole, rich in that love which Paul calls a '[bond] of perfect harmony' (Col 3,14).
38 5. In following the Gospel exhortation to be perfect like the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5,48) during our earthly life, we are called to grow in love, to be sound and flawless before God the Father 'at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints' (1Th 3,12f.). Moreover, we are invited to 'cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit' (2Co 7,1 cf. 1Jn 3,3), because the encounter with God requires absolute purity.
Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church's teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection (cf. Ecumenical Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis: DS 1304 Ecumenical Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione: DS 1580 Decretum de purgatorio: DS 1820).
It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one's destiny. The Church's teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches: 'Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. He 9,27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth' (Mt 22,13 and Mt 25,30)" (Lumen gentium, LG 48).
6. One last important aspect which the Church's tradition has always pointed out should be reproposed today: the dimension of 'communio'. Those, in fact, who find themselves in the state of purification are united both with the blessed who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life, and with us on this earth on our way towards the Father's house (cf. CEC 1032).
Just as in their earthly life believers are united in the one Mystical Body, so after death those who live in a state of purification experience the same ecclesial solidarity which works through prayer, prayers for suffrage and love for their other brothers and sisters in the faith. Purification is lived in the essential bond created between those who live in this world and those who enjoy eternal beatitude.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following our catechesis on the reality of heaven and hell, today we consider "Purgatory", the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but who are not completely imbued with that love.
Sacred Scripture teaches us that we must be purified if we are to enter into perfect and complete union with God. Jesus Christ, who became the perfect expiation for our sins and took upon himself the punishment that was our due, brings us God's mercy and love. But before we enter into God's Kingdom every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in Purgatory. Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ. Neither are they separated from the saints in heaven - who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life - nor from us on earth - who continue on our pilgrim journey to the Father's house. We all remain united in the Mystical Body of Christ, and we can therefore offer up prayers and good works on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Purgatory.
* * * * *
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy summer holidays to you all!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. After meditating on the eschatological goal of our existence, that is, eternal life, we now reflect on the journey that leads to it. To do this, we develop the perspective presented in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente: “The whole of the Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature, and in particular for the ‘prodigal son’ (cf. Lc 15,11-32), we discover anew each day. This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each person, extends to the believing community and then reaches to the whole of humanity” (TMA 49).
In fact, what Christians will one day live to the full is already in some way anticipated today. Indeed, the Passover of the Lord inaugurates the life of the world to come.
2. The Old Testament prepares for the announcement of this truth through the complex theme of the Exodus. The journey of the chosen people to the promised land (cf. Ex 6,6) is like a magnificent icon of the Christian’s journey towards the Father's house. Obviously there is a fundamental difference: while in the ancient Exodus liberation was oriented to the possession of land, a temporary gift like all human realities, the new “Exodus” consists in the journey towards the Father’s house, with the definitive prospect of eternity that transcends human and cosmic history. The promised land of the Old Testament was lost de facto with the fall of the two kingdoms and the Babylonian Exile, after which the idea of returning developed like a new Exodus. However, this journey did not end in another geographical or political settlement, but opened itself to an “eschatological” vision that was henceforth a prelude to full revelation in Christ. The universalistic images, which in the Book of Isaiah describe the journey of peoples and history towards a new Jerusalem, the centre of the world (cf. Is 56-66), in fact point in this direction.
3. The New Testament announces the fulfilment of this great expectation, holding up Christ as the Saviour of the world: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Ga 4,4-5). In the light of this announcement, this life is already under the sign of salvation. It is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, which culminates in the Passover but will have its full realization in the “parousia”, the final coming of Christ.
According to the Apostle Paul, this journey of salvation which links the past to the present, directing it to the future, is the fruit of God's plan, totally focused on the mystery of Christ. This is the “mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ep 1,9-10 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 1042f.).
In this divine plan, the present is the time of the “already and not yet”. It is the time of salvation already accomplished and the journey towards its full actualization: “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ep 4,13).
4. Growth towards this perfection in Christ, and therefore growth towards the experience of the Trinitarian mystery, implies that the Passover will be fulfilled and fully celebrated only in the eschatological kingdom of God (cf. Lc 22,16). But the events of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection already constitute the definitive revelation of God. The offer of redemption which this event implies is inscribed in the history of our human freedom, called to respond to the call of salvation.
Christian life is a participation in the paschal mystery, like the Way of the Cross and the Resurrection. It is a Way of the Cross, because our life is continually subject to the purification that leads to overcoming the old world marked by sin. It is a way of resurrection, because, in raising Christ, the Father conquered sin, so that for the believer the “justice of the Cross” becomes the “justice of God”, that is, the triumph of his truth and his love over the wickedness of the world.
5. In short, Christian life is growing towards the mystery of the eternal Passover. It therefore requires that we keep our gaze on the goal, the ultimate realities, but at the same time, that we strive for the “penultimate” realities: between these and the eschatological goal there is no opposition, but on the contrary a mutually fruitful relationship. Although the primacy of the Eternal is always asserted, this does not prevent us from living historical realities righteously in the light of God (cf. CEC 1048f.).
40 It is a matter of purifying every human activity and every earthly task, so that the Mystery of the Lord’s Passover will increasingly shine through them. As the Council in fact reminded us, human activity which is always marked by the sign of sin is purified and raised to perfection by the paschal mystery, so that “when we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise — human dignity, brotherly communion, and freedom — according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom” (Gaudium et spes, GS 39).
This eternal light illumines the life and the entire history of humanity on earth.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am happy to extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Japan, Indonesia and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.
Before concluding the General Audience, the Pope recalled the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions:
I cannot forget that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, adopted at the end of the Second World War to guarantee protection of civilian persons, prisoners of war and all victims of armed conflict.
This anniversary draws the international community’s attention once again to the situation of the war victims whose blood, still today, stains many States.
That minimum protection of the dignity of every person, guaranteed by international humanitarian law, is all too often violated in the name of military or political demands which should never prevail over the value of the human person.
Today we are aware of the need to find a new consensus on humanitarian principles and to reinforce their foundations to prevent the recurrence of atrocities and abuse.
The Church never tires of repeating that education in respect for every human life, actively working with those who strive to assure aid to the suffering and ensure respect for their dignity is indispensable, whether they are civilians or the military.
I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon all those who are doing everything they can to help the many innocent victims of conflicts, prisoners and civilians, at the mercy of violence.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Among the themes especially suggested to the People of God for their reflection in this third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we find conversion, which includes deliverance from evil (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, TMA 50). This theme has a profound effect on our experience. Our entire personal and community history, in fact, is a struggle against evil. The petition: “Deliver us from evil” or from the “Evil One” which is contained in the Our Father, punctuates our prayer to overcome sin and be liberated from all connivance with evil. It reminds us of our daily struggle, but above all, of the secret for overcoming it: the strength of God, revealed and offered to us in Jesus (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 2853).
2. Moral evil causes suffering which is presented, especially in the Old Testament, as a punishment connected with conduct that is contrary to God’s law. Moreover, Sacred Scripture reveals that after sinning, one can ask God for mercy, that is, for his pardon for the fault and the end of the pain it has brought. A sincere return to God and deliverance from evil are two aspects of one process. Thus, for example, Jeremiah urges the people: “Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness” (Jr 3,22). In the Book of Lamentations, the prospect of returning to the Lord (cf. Lm 5,21) and the experience of his mercy is underlined: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lm 3,22, cf. Lm 3,32).
Israel’s whole history is read in the light of the dialectic: “sin, punishment, repentance — mercy” (cf. eg. Jg 3,7-10): this is the nucleus central to the tradition of Deuteronomy. Indeed, the historical defeat of the kingdom and city of Jerusalem is interpreted as divine punishment for the lack of fidelity to the Covenant.
3. In the Bible, the lamentations people raised to God when they fell prey to suffering are accompanied by recognition of the sin committed and trust in his liberating intervention. The confession of sin is one of the elements through which this trust emerges. In this regard, certain psalms which forcefully express the confession of sin and the individual’s repentance for it are very revealing (cf. Ps 38,18 Ps 41,4). The admission of guilt, effectively described in Psalm 51, is indispensable to start life anew. The confession of one's sin highlights God’s justice as a reflection: “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless in your judgement” (Ps 38,4). In the Psalms we continuously see the prayer for help and the trusting expectation of liberation for Israel (cf. Ps 88 Ps 130). On the Cross, Jesus himself prayed with the words of Psalm 22 to obtain the Father’s loving intervention in his last hour.
4. In expressing these words to the Father, Jesus gives a voice to that expectation of deliverance from evil which, in the biblical perspective, occurs through a person who accepts suffering together with its expiatory value: this is the case of the mysterious figure of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah (Is 42,1-9 Is 49,1-6 Is 50,4-9 Is 52,13-53,12). Other figures also assume this role, like the prophet who suffers for and expiates the iniquities of Israel (cf. Ez 4,4-5), he whom they have pierced, on whom they will turn their eyes (cf. Za 12,10-11 Jn 19,37 cf. also Ap 1,7), the martyrs who accept their suffering in expiation for their people’s sins (cf. 2M 7,37-38).
Jesus is the synthesis of all these figures and reinterprets them. It is only in and through him that we become aware of evil and call on the Father to deliver us from it.
In the prayer of the Our Father, the reference to evil becomes explicit; here, the term ponerós (Mt 6,13), which in itself is an adjectival form, can indicate a personification of evil. In the world, this is provoked by that spiritual being, called by biblical revelation the devil or Satan, who deliberately set himself against God (cf. CEC 2851f.). Human “evil” constituted by the Evil One or instigated by him is also presented in our time in an attractive form that seduces minds and hearts so as to cause the very sense of evil and sin to be lost. It is a question of that “mystery of evil” of which St Paul speaks (cf. 2Th 2,7). This is certainly linked to human freedom, “but deep within its human reality there are factors at work which place it beyond the merely human, in the border-area where man’s conscience, will and sensitivity are in contact with the dark forces which, according to St Paul, are active in the world almost to the point of ruling it” (Reconciliatio et paenitentia, RP 14).
Unfortunately, human beings can become the protagonists of evil, that is, of “an evil and adulterous generation” (Mt 12,39).
5. We believe that Jesus conquered Satan once and for all, thereby removing our fear of him. To every generation the Church represents, as the Apostle Peter did in his discourse to Cornelius, the liberating image of Jesus of Nazareth who “went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Ac 10,38).
If, in Jesus, the devil was defeated, the Lord’s victory must still be freely accepted by each of us, until evil is completely eliminated. The struggle against evil therefore requires determination and constant vigilance. Ultimate deliverance from it can only be seen in an eschatological perspective (cf. Ap 21,4).
Over and above our efforts and even our failures, these comforting words of Christ endure: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16,33).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, especially those from England, Taiwan and the United States of America. Wishing you a pleasant visit to Christian Rome, I invoke upon you and your families the abundant blessings of almighty God.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1999 33