GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 74


Wednesday, 26 November 1997 - With Jesus eternity has entered time

75
1. The celebration of the Jubilee has us contemplate Jesus Christ as the endpoint of the time preceding him and the starting point of all that follows him. Indeed, he inaugurated a new history not only for those who believe in him, but for the entire human community, because the salvation he accomplished is offered to every human being. Henceforth the fruits of his saving work are mysteriously diffused throughout history. With Christ, eternity has entered time! "In the beginning was the Word" (
Jn 1,1). With these words John begins his Gospel, taking us beyond the beginning of our time, to the divine eternity. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who primarily consider the circumstances of the Son of Godís human birth, John directs his gaze to the mystery of the divine preexistence.

In this sentence, "in the beginning" means the absolute beginning, the beginning without a beginning, eternity precisely. The expression echoes that used in the creation account: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gn 1,1). But in creation it was a question of the beginning of time, whereas here, where the Word is mentioned, it is a question of eternity.

There is an infinite distance between the two principles. It is the distance between time and eternity, between creatures and God.

2. Existing eternally as the Word, Christ has an origin that goes back far beyond his birth in time.

Johnís assertion is based on Jesus' exact words. To the Jews who rebuked him for claiming to have seen Abraham when he was not yet 50 years old, Jesus replies: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8,58). The assertion stresses the contrast between the becoming of Abraham and the being of Jesus. The word "genťsthai" used in the Greek text for Abraham actually means "to become", or "to come into being": it is the appropriate verb to designate the mode of being proper to creatures. On the contrary, Jesus alone can say: "I am", indicating by this expression the fullness of being which lies beyond all becoming. Thus he expresses his awareness of possessing an eternal personal existence.

3. By applying the expression "I am" to himself, Jesus makes Godís name his own, the name revealed to Moses in Exodus. After entrusting him with the mission of liberating his people from slavery in Egypt, Yahweh, the Lord, guarantees him assistance and closeness, and in a way as a pledge of his fidelity, he reveals to him the mystery of his name: "I am who I am" (Ex 3,14). Thus Moses can say to the Israelites: "I am has sent me to you" (ibid. Ex 3,14). This name expresses Godís saving presence for the sake of his people, but also his inaccessible mystery.

Jesus makes this divine name his own. In Johnís Gospel this expression appears several times on his lips (cf. Jn 8,24 Jn 8,28 Jn 8,58 Jn 13,19). With it, Jesus effectively shows us that in his person eternity not only precedes time, but enters time.

Although sharing the human condition, Jesus is conscious of his eternal being, which confers a higher value on all his activities. He himself emphasized this eternal value: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mc 13,31 par.). His words, like his actions, have a unique, definitive value, and will continue to call for a response from humanity until the end of time.

4. Jesusí work involves two closely related aspects: it is a saving action which frees humanity from the power of evil, and it is a new creation which obtains for humanity participation in the divine life.

Liberation from evil was prefigured in the Old Covenant, but only Christ can fully achieve it. He alone, as Son, has eternal power over human history: "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8,36). The Letter to the Hebrews forcefully underscores this truth, showing how the one sacrifice of the Son obtained for us "eternal redemption" (He 9,12), far exceeding the value of the Old Covenant sacrifices.

The new creation can only be achieved by the One who is all-powerful, because it implies the communication of divine life to human existence.

5. The perspective of the eternal origin of the Word, particularly emphasized in Johnís Gospel, spurs us to enter more deeply into the mystery.

Let us therefore approach the Jubilee, professing our faith in Christ ever more forcefully: "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God". These phrases of the Creed give us access to the mystery; they are an invitation to approach it. Jesus continues to testify to our generation, as he did 2,000 years ago to his disciples and listeners, his awareness of his divine identity: the mystery of the I am.

Because of this mystery, human history is no longer left to decay, but has a meaning and a direction: it has in a way been impregnated with eternity. The consoling promise Christ made to his disciples resounds for everyone: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28,20).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I warmly greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the young people of the American All-Star Dance and Drill Team, the students from Australia and Sweden, the group representing the Catholic Schools of Denmark, and the pilgrims from Malaysia and the Philippines. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.



††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† December 1997

Wednesday, 3 December 1997 - True face of Messiah gradually revealed

76
1. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (
Jn 1,14). With this forceful and concise statement, the Evangelist John expresses the Incarnation event. He had just spoken of the Word, contemplating his eternal existence and describing it with the well-known words: "In the beginning was the Word" (Jn 1,1). This Johannine perspective, linking eternity to time, also includes Christ's mysterious journey in the history that preceded him.

His presence in our world began to be announced long before the Incarnation. The Word was in some way present in humanityís history from the very beginning. Through the Spirit, he prepared his coming as Saviour, secretly directing hearts to nurture expectation in hope. Traces of a hope of liberation are encountered in the various religious cultures and traditions.

2. But Christ is present in a particular way in the history of the people of Israel, the people of the Covenant. This history is specifically marked by the expectation of a Messiah, an ideal king, consecrated by God, who would fulfil the Lordís promise. As this orientation became gradually clearer, Christ progressively revealed the true face of the promised and longed-for Messiah, also allowing signs of acute suffering to be glimpsed against the background of a violent death (cf. Is 53,8). In fact, a certain messianic image, firmly established among some Jewish people, who expected a political liberator who would bring national autonomy and material well-being, came to a radical crisis when the prophecies were historically fulfilled in the scandal of the Cross.

3. In his earthly life, Jesus clearly shows his awareness of being the reference point for his peopleís history. To those who reproached him for claiming to be greater than Abraham by promising that those who kept his word would never see death (cf. Jn 8,51), he replied: "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad" (Jn 8,56). Abraham was thus oriented to Christís coming. According to the divine plan, Abrahamís joy at the birth of Isaac and at his rebirth after the sacrifice was a messianic joy: it announced and prefigured the ultimate joy that the Saviour would offer.

77 4. Other eminent figures of the Jewish people shine in their full value in the light of Christ. This is the case with Jacob, as can be seen in the Gospel account of Jesusí meeting with the Samaritan woman.

The well which the ancient patriarch had left to his sons became, in Christís words, a prefiguring of the water he would give, the water of the Holy Spirit, welling up to eternal life (cf.
Jn 4,14).

Moses also announces some of the basic aspects of Christís mission. As liberator of the people from their slavery in Egypt, he symbolically anticipates the true exodus of the New Covenant, constituted by the paschal mystery. As legislator of the Old Covenant, he prefigures Jesus who promulgates the Gospel Beatitudes and guides believers with the interior law of the Spirit. Even the manna that Moses gives the hungry people is a basic figure of God's definitive gift. "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world" (Jn 6,32-33). The Eucharist fulfils the meaning hidden in the gift of manna. Christ thus presents himself as the true and perfect fulfilment of what was symbolically foretold in the Old Covenant.

Another of Mosesí acts has a prophetic value: to quench the thirst of the people in the desert, he makes water flow from the rock. On the "feast of Tabernacles", Jesus promises to quench humanity's spiritual thirst: "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as Scripture says, ĎOut of his heart shall flow rivers of living waterí" (Jn 7,37-38). The abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit announced by Jesus with the image of rivers of living water is prefigured in the water given by Moses. St Paul, in referring to this messianic event, also stresses the mysterious reference to Christ: "All drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1Co 10,4).

Along with Abraham, Jacob and Moses, David also refers to Christ. He is aware that the Messiah will descend from him, and describes his ideal image. Christ fulfils this image at a transcendent level, affirming that David himself is mysteriously alluding to his authority when, in Psalm 110, he calls the Messiah "my Lord" (cf. Mt 22,45 par.).

From Old Testament history several characteristic features of Christís face emerge, a face that is somehow "sketched" in the features of the persons who prefigured him.

5. Christ is not only present in these prefigurations, but also in the prophetic texts of the Old Testament that describe his coming and his saving work.

He is foretold in a particular way in the figure of the mysterious "descendant" of which Genesis speaks in the account of original sin, stressing his victory in the struggle with the enemy of humanity. The divine oracle promises to the man dragged down the path of evil the coming of another man, descended from the woman, who will bruise the serpentís head (Gn 3,15).

The prophetic poems of the Suffering Servant (Is 42,1-4 Is 49,1-6 Is 50,4-9 Is 52,13-53,12) put before our eyes a liberator who begins to reveal the face of Christ in its moral perfection. It is the face of a man who expresses his messianic dignity in the humble condition of a servant. He offers himself in sacrifice to free humanity from the oppression of sin. He behaves in an exemplary way in his physical and especially moral sufferings, generously enduring injustices. As the fruit of his sacrifice, he receives a new life and obtains universal salvation.

His sublime conduct will be found again in Christ, the Son of God made man, whose humility reaches an unsurpassable height in the mystery of the Cross.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. In particular I thank the Harlem Gospel Singers for their praise of God in song. May your visit to Rome, with its memorials of the Apostles Peter and Paul, strengthen your faith and trust in the Lord.

Upon all present I gladly invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ.



Wednesday, 10 December 1997 - Time itself is now pervaded by eternity

78
1. In inviting us to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity, the Jubilee takes us back to the event that inaugurates the Christian era: the birth of Jesus. Lukeís Gospel tells us of this extraordinary event in simple and moving words: Mary "gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (
Lc 2,7).

Jesusí birth makes visible the mystery of the Incarnation already realized in the Virginís womb at the time of the Annunciation. In fact, she gives birth to the child that, as the docile and responsible instrument of the divine plan, she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the humanity assumed in Maryís womb, the eternal Son of God begins to live as a child, and grows "in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man" (Lc 2,52). Thus he manifests himself as true man.

2. This truth is stressed by John in the Prologue of his Gospel, when he says: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1,14). By saying "became flesh", the Evangelist is alluding to his human nature not only in its mortal condition, but also in its entirety. The Son of God assumed all that is human, except sin. The Incarnation is the fruit of an immense love, which spurred God willingly to share our human condition to the full.

In becoming man, the Word of God brought about a fundamental change in the very condition of time. We can say that in Christ human time was filled with eternity.

This transformation touches the destiny of all humanity, since "by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man" (Gaudium et spes, GS 22). He came to offer everyone participation in his divine life. The gift of this life includes sharing in his eternity. Jesus said so especially with regard to the Eucharist: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life" (Jn 6,54). The effect of the Eucharistic banquet is that we already possess this life. Elsewhere Jesus indicated the same possibility with the symbol of the living water that could quench thirst, the living water of his Spirit given in view of eternal life (cf. Jn 4,14). The life of grace thus reveals a dimension of eternity that lifts up our earthly existence and directs it, with true continuity, to our entrance into heavenly life.

79 3. The communication of Christís eternal life also means that we share in his attitude of filial love for the Father.

In eternity, "the Word was with God" (
Jn 1,1), that is, in a perfect bond of communion with the Father. When he became flesh, this bond began to be expressed in all Jesusí human behaviour. On earth the Son lived in constant communion with the Father, in an attitude of perfect loving obedience.

The entry of eternity into time is the entrance, in Jesusí earthly life, of the eternal love that unites the Son to the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews alludes to this when it speaks of Christ's inner attitude at the very moment he enters the world: "Lo, I have come to do your will, O God" (He 10,7). The immense "leap" from the heavenly life of the Son of God into the abyss of human existence is motivated by his will to fulfil the Fatherís plan in total self-giving.

We are called to assume this same attitude, walking on the way opened by the Son of God made man, so that we can share his journey to the Father. The eternity that enters into us is a sovereign power of love that seeks to guide our whole life to its ultimate purpose, hidden in the mystery of the Father. Jesus himself indissolubly linked the two movements, descent and ascent, which define the Incarnation: "I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father" (Jn 16,28).

Eternity has entered human life. Now human life is called to make the journey with Christ from time to eternity.

4. If in Christ time is raised to a higher level, receiving access to eternity, this implies that the approaching millennium must not be considered as merely the next step in the course of time, but as a stage in humanityís journey towards its definitive destiny.

The Year 2000 is not only the door to another millennium; it is the door to eternity that, in Christ, continues to open onto time to give it its true direction and authentic meaning.

It discloses to our mind and our heart a far broader perspective in which to consider the future. Time is often unappreciated. It seems to disappoint man with its precariousness, its rapid flow, which makes all things futile. But if eternity has entered time, then time itself must be recognized as rich in value. Its inexhorable flow is not a journey towards nothingness, but a journey to eternity.

The real danger is not the passing of time, but using it badly, rejecting the eternal life offered by Christ. The desire for life and eternal happiness must be ceaselessly reawakened in the human heart. The celebration of the Jubilee is meant precisely to increase this desire, helping believers and the people of our time to open their hearts to an unbounded life.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

In particular I wish to greet the ecumenical group of Kristiansand in Norway. I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. During this season of Advent, may peace and joy fill your hearts as you prepare to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. Upon you and your families, I cordially invoke abundant divine blessings.



Wednesday 17 December 1997

80

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our catechesis on the Jubilee, we reflect today on the incarnate life of the Son of God, which is the essential point of reference for our faith. The people living at the time of Jesus had the privilege of hearing and seeing him, but many did not recognize him as the Saviour. Jesus helped his disciples to understand that in seeing him they saw the Father. Their witness is the basis of our faith, whereby we come into contact with the mystery of Christ's person.

The Gospel presents the earthly life of Jesus as a marriage of love between God and humanity. Although the wedding feast is essentially a time of joy, Jesus warns his disciples that the Bridegroom will be taken from them. Already, before his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had foretold that his life would be a redeeming sacrifice. Because of the sins of humanity the wedding feast is linked to the drama of the Cross, in which Jesus enters into conflict with the power of evil. The time of the earthly life of Jesus is the time of the Paschal mystery of death and resurrection, from which the salvation of the human family flows.
*****


I extend a special welcome to the young people from Sweden and to the Brighton School Choir from Adelaide in Australia. I greet the participants in the International Christian Conference on Praise and Worship. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I cordially invoke the blessings of Almighty God. To all of you, a Happy Christmas!









GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 74