Audiences 2005-2013 30013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In last Wednesday’s Catechesis we reflected on the opening words of the Creed: “I believe in one God”. But the profession of faith specifies this affirmation: God is the almighty Father, Creator of heaven and earth. Thus I would like to reflect with you now on the first and fundamental definition of God which the Creed presents to us: he is Father.
It is not always easy today to talk about fatherhood, especially in the Western world. Families are broken, the workplace is ever more absorbing, families worry and often struggle to make ends meet and the distracting invasion of the media invades our daily life: these are some of the many factors that can stand in the way of a calm and constructive relationship between father and child. At times communication becomes difficult, trust is lacking and the relationship with the father figure can become problematic; moreover, in this way even imagining God as a father becomes problematic without credible models of reference. It is not easy for those who have experienced an excessively authoritarian and inflexible father or one who was indifferent and lacking in affection, or even absent, to think serenely of God and to entrust themselves to him with confidence.
Yet the revelation in the Bible helps us to overcome these difficulties by speaking to us of a God who shows us what it really means to be “father”; and it is the Gospel, especially, which reveals to us this face of God as a Father who loves, even to the point of giving his own Son for humanity’s salvation. The reference to the father figure thus helps us to understand something of the love of God, which is nevertheless infinitely greater, more faithful, and more total than the love of any man.
“What man of you”, Jesus asks in order to show the disciples the Father’s face, “will give his son a stone if he asks for bread? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mt 7,9-11 cf. Lc 11,11-13). God is our Father because he blessed us and chose us before the creation of the world (cf. Ep 1,3-6), he has really made us his children in Jesus (cf. 1Jn 3,1). And as Father, God accompanies our lives with love, giving us his Word, his teaching, his grace and his Spirit.
As Jesus revealed — he is the Father who feeds the birds of the air that neither sow nor reap, and arrays the flowers of the field in marvellous colours, in robes more beautiful than those of Solomon himself (cf. Mt 6,26-32 Lc 12,24-28); and we, Jesus added, are worth far more than the flowers and the birds of the air! And if he is so good that he “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” Mt 5,45), we shall always be able, without fear and with total confidence, to entrust ourselves to his forgiveness as Father whenever we err. God is a good Father who welcomes and embraces his lost but repentant son (cf. Lc 15,11ff.), who gives freely to those who ask him (cf. Mt 18,19 Mc 11,24 Jn 16,23), and offers the bread of heaven and the living water that wells up to eternal life (cf. Jn 6,32, 51, 58).
Thus, although the person praying in Psalm 27  is surrounded by enemies and assailed by evildoers and slanderers, while seeking the Lord’s help he invokes him. The witness he bears is full of faith, as he states: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up” (v. 10).
God is a Father who never abandons his children, a loving Father who supports, helps, welcomes, pardons and saves with a faithfulness that surpasses by far that of men and women, opening onto dimensions of eternity. “For his steadfast love endures for ever”, as Psalm 136  repeats in every verse, as in a litany, retracing the history of salvation. The love of God the Father never fails, he does not tire of us; it is a love that gives to the end, even to the sacrifice of his Son. Faith gives us this certainty which becomes a firm rock in the construction of our life: we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of despair in times of crisis and suffering, sustained by our trust that God does not forsake us and is always close in order to save us and lead us to eternal life.
It is in the Lord Jesus that the benevolent face of the Father, who is in heaven, is fully revealed. It is in knowing him that we may also know the Father (cf. Jn 8,19 Jn 14,7). It is in seeing him that we can see the Father, because he is in the Father and the Father is in him (cf. Jn 14,9). He is “the image of the invisible God” and as the hymn of the Letter to the Colossians describes him, he is: “the first-born of all creation... the first-born from the dead”, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” and the reconciliation of all things, “whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1,13-20).
Faith in God the Father asks for belief in the Son, under the action of the Spirit, recognizing in the Cross that saves the definitive revelation of divine love. God is our Father, giving us his Son; God is our Father, pardoning our sin and bringing us to joy in everlasting life; God is our Father, giving us the Spirit that makes us sons and enables us to call him, in truth “Abba, Father!” (cf. Rm 8,15). It is for this reason that Jesus, teaching us to pray, invites us to say “Our Father” (Mt 6,9-13 cf. Lc 11,2-4).
Consequently God’s fatherhood is infinite love, tenderness that bends over us, frail children, in need of everything. Psalm 103 , the great hymn of divine mercy, proclaims: “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (vv. 13-14). It is our smallness, our frail human nature that becomes an appeal to the Lord’s mercy, that he may show his greatness and tenderness as a Father, helping, forgiving us and saving us.
And God responded to our plea by sending his Son who died and rose for us; he entered our frailty and did what man on his own could never have done: as an innocent lamb he took upon himself the sin of the world and reopened our path to communion with God, making us true children of God. It is there, in the Paschal Mystery, that the definitive face of the Father is revealed in its full splendour. And it is there, on the glorious Cross, that God’s omnipotence as the “almighty Father” is fully manifested.
However, let us ask ourselves: how is it possible to think of an omnipotent God while looking at the Cross of Christ? At this power of evil which went so far as to kill the Son of God? Naturally, what we would like would be a divine mightiness that fitted our own mindset and wishes: an “omnipotent” God who solves problems, who intervenes to prevent us from encountering difficulties, who overcomes adverse powers, changes the course of events and eliminates suffering. Thus today various theologians say that God cannot be omnipotent, for otherwise there would not be so much suffering, so much evil in the world. In fact, in the face of evil and suffering, for many, for us, it becomes problematic, difficult, to believe in a God who is Father and to believe that he is omnipotent; some seek refuge in idols, succumbing to the temptation to seek an answer in a presumed “magic” omnipotence and its illusory promises.
Nevertheless faith in almighty God impels us to have a very different approach: to learn to know that God’s thought is different from our own, that God’s ways are different from ours (cf. Is Is 55,8) and that his omnipotence is also different. It is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force but is marked by a loving and paternal freedom. In fact by creating free creatures, by giving us freedom, God renounced some of his power, allowing for the power of our freedom. Thus he loves and respects the free response of love to his call. As Father, God wishes us to become his children and to live as such in his Son, in communion, in full familiarity with him. His omnipotence is not expressed in violence, it is not expressed in the destruction of every adverse power as we might like; rather it is expressed in love, in mercy, in forgiveness, in accepting our freedom and in the tireless call for conversion of heart, in an attitude only seemingly weak — God seems weak if we think of Jesus Christ who prays, who lets himself be killed. This apparently weak attitude consists of patience, meekness and love, it shows that this is the real way to be powerful! This is God’s power! And this power will win! The sage of the Book of Wisdom addressed God in these words: “For you are merciful to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For you love all things that exist.... You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord who loves the living” (Sg 11,23-24a, Sg 11,26).
Only those who are truly powerful can tolerate evil and show compassion; only those who are truly powerful can fully exercise the force of love. And God, to whom all things belong because all things were made by him, shows his power by loving everything and everyone, patiently waiting for the conversion of us human beings, whom he wants to be his children.
God waits for our conversion. God’s omnipotent love knows no bounds, to the extent that he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rm 8,32). The omnipotence of love is not that of worldly power, but is that of the total gift, and Jesus, the Son of God reveals to the world the true omnipotence of the Father by giving his life for us sinners.
This is the true, authentic and perfect divine power: to respond to evil not with evil but with good, to insults with forgiveness, to homicidal hatred with life-giving love. Thus evil is truly vanquished because it is cleansed by God’s love; thus death is defeated once and for all because it is transformed into a gift of life. God the Father raises the Son: death, the great enemy (cf. 1Co 15,26), is engulfed and deprived of its sting (cf. 1Co 15,54-55), and we, delivered from sin, can have access to our reality as children of God.
Therefore, when we say “I believe in God the Father almighty”, we express our faith in the power of the love of God who, in his Son who died and was raised, triumphs over hatred, evil and sin and unfolds before us the path to eternal life, as children who want to dwell for ever in their “Father’s House”. Saying “I believe in one God the Father almighty”, in his power, in his way of being Father, is always an act of faith, of conversion, of the transformation of our thought, of the whole of our affection, of the whole of our way of life.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to sustain our faith, to help us find true faith and to give us the strength to proclaim the crucified and risen Christ and to witness to him in love of God and of neighbour. And may God grant that we accept the gift of our sonship, in order to live in fullness the reality of the Creed, in trusting abandonment to the love of the Father and to his merciful omnipotence which is the true omnipotence and saves.
To special groups:
I offer a warm welcome to the priests taking part in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from the Republic of Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
The presence at this meeting of the Civil Authorities of Basilicata, to whom I address a respectful greeting, gives me the opportunity to express my deep gratitude to all those who worked on the evocative Crib set up in this Square, which has been admired by countless pilgrims and also by me, with great joy, as an expression of the art of Lucania.
Lastly, I address the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.Tomorrow is the liturgical Memorial of St John Bosco, a priest and educator. Look to him, dear young people, as to an authentic teacher of life. May you, dear sick people, learn from his spiritual experience to trust in every circumstance in the crucified Christ. And may you, dear newlyweds, have recourse to his intercession in order to live with generous commitment your mission as husband and wife. Many thanks.
Paul VI Audience Hall60213
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Creed which begins by describing God as “the Father Almighty”, the topic of our meditation last week, then adds that he is “Maker of heaven and earth”, and thus takes up the affirmation with which the Bible begins. Indeed the first verse of Sacred Scripture reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1,1). God is the origin of all things and his omnipotence as a loving Father unfolds in the beauty of the creation.
In creation, God manifested himself as Father, since he is the origin of life, and in creating he shows his omnipotence. And Sacred Scripture uses very evocative images of it. (cf. Is Is 40,12 Is 45,18 Is 48,13 Ps 104,2 Ps 5 Ps 135,7 Pr 8,27-29 Jb 38-39). As a good and powerful Father he takes care of what he has created with unfailing love and faithfulness, as the Psalms say over and over again (cf. Ps Ps 57,11 Ps 108,5 Ps 36,6). So it is that creation becomes a place in which to know and recognize the Lord’s omnipotence and goodness, as well as an appeal to our faith as believers that we proclaim God as Creator.
“By faith”, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear” (He 11,3). Faith thus implies the ability to recognize the invisible, by identifying its traces in the visible world. Believers can read the great book of nature and understand its language (cf Ps 19,2-5); but the word of revelation that awakens faith is necessary if man is to become fully aware of the reality of God as Creator and Father. The Book of Sacred Scripture says that human intelligence can find the clue to understanding the world in the light of faith.
With the solemn presentation of the divine work of creation that unfolded over seven days, the first chapter of Genesis in particular occupies a special place. God brought the creation to completion in six days and on the seventh, the sabbath, he did not do anything, but rested: a day of freedom for all, a day of communion with God. Thus, with this image the Book of Genesis tells us that God’s first thought was to find a love that would correspond to his love.
Then his second thought was to create a material world in which to place this love, these creatures who respond to him in freedom. This structure therefore results in the text being marked by certain meaningful repetitions. For example, the sentence “God saw that it was good”, is repeated six times (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and to conclude, the seventh time, after the creation of man: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (v. 31). Everything that God creates is beautiful and good, steeped in wisdom and love; God’s creative action brings order, instils harmony and bestows beauty.
In the narrative of Genesis, therefore, it becomes clear that the Lord created with his word: ten times we read in the text the phrase: “God said” (vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29). It is the Word, the Logos of God who is at the origin of the reality of the world, and saying: “God said”, it was so, emphasizes the effective power of the divine Word. This is what the Psalmist sings: “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth… for he spoke, and it came to be, he commanded and it stood forth” (33:6, 9). Life springs forth, the world exists, because all things obey the divine Word.
However our question today is: in the age of science and technology does speaking of creation still make sense? How should we understand the narratives in Genesis? The Bible does not intend to be a natural science manual; rather, it wishes to make the authentic and profound truth of things understood. The fundamental truth that the accounts of Genesis reveal to us is that the world is not a collection of forces that clash with each other; it has its origin and its permanence in the Logos, in God’s eternal Reason which continues to sustain the universe.
A plan of the world exists which is conceived by this Reason, by the Creator Spirit. To believe that this is the foundation of all things illuminates every aspect of existence and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with trust and hope. Therefore, Scripture tells us that the origin of being, of the world, our own origin is not in the irrational or in need, but rather in reason and love and freedom. Consequently, there is this alternative: either the priority of the irrational, of necessity, or the priority of reason, of freedom, of love. We believe in the latter hypothesis.
However, I would also like to say a word about the summit of all creation: man and woman, the human being, the only being “able to know and love his creator” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes GS 12). Looking up at the heavens the Psalmist wondered: “when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8,3-4).
The human being, lovingly created by God, is indeed tiny in comparison with the immensity of the universe. At times, as we look with fascination at the enormous expanses of the firmament, we too perceive our limitations. Human beings are inhabited by this paradox: our smallness and our transcience exist side by side with the greatness of what God’s eternal love wanted for us.
The accounts of the Creation in the Book of Genesis also usher us in to this mysterious environment, helping us to become acquainted with God’s plan for man. They affirm, first of all, that God formed man of dust from the ground (cf. Gn 2,7). This means that we are not God, we did not make ourselves, we are earth; yet it also means that we come from the good earth through the work of the good Creator.
In addition there is another fundamental reality: all human beings are dust, over and above the distinctions made by culture and by history, over and above every social difference; we are one humanity modelled with God’s one earth.
Then there is a second element: the human being came into existence because God breathed the breath of life into the body he had formed from earth (cf. Gn 2,7). The human being is made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gn 1,26-27). For this reason we all bear within us the life-giving breath of God and every human life — the Bible tells us — is under God’s special protection. This is the most profound reason for the inviolability of human dignity against every attempt to evaluate the person according to utilitarian and power-based criteria. To be in the image and likeness of God indicates that man is not closed in himself but has in God an essential reference point.
In the first Chapters of the Book of Genesis we find two important images: the garden, with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the serpent (cf. Gn 2,15-17 Gn 3,1-5). The garden tells us that the reality in which God has placed the human being is not a wild forest but a place that protects, nurtures and sustains; and human beings must not consider the world as a property to be looted and exploited but as a gift of the Creator, a sign of his saving will, a gift to be cultivated and safeguarded, to increase and to develop with respect and in harmony, following its rhythms and logic in accordance with God’s plan (cf. Gn 2,8-15).
Then the serpent is a symbol that comes from the Oriental fertility cults that fascinated Israel and were a constant temptation to abandon the mysterious covenant with God. In this light Sacred Scripture presents the temptation of Adam and Eve as the core of temptation and sin. What, in fact, did the serpent say? He did not deny God but insinuated a subtle question: “Did God say, ‘you shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Gn 3,1). This is how the serpent awoke in them the suspicion that the covenant with God was nothing but a chain that bound them, that deprived them of freedom and of the most beautiful and precious things of life. Their temptation became the temptation to build by themselves the world in which to live, to refuse to accept the limitations of being creatures, the limitations of good and evil, of morality; they saw their dependence on the love of God the Creator as a burden of which to free themselves. This is always the essence of temptation. But when the relationship with God is falsified, with a lie, putting ourselves in his place, all other relationships are altered. The other then becomes a rival, a threat. Straight after succumbing to the temptation, Adam turned on Eve (cf. Gn 3,12); the two conceal themselves from the sight of that God with whom they had been conversing as friends (cf. Gn 3,8-10); the world is no longer the garden in which to live in harmony, but a place to exploit, riddled with hidden snares (cf Gn 4,3-9
Actually, in opposing their Creator people go against themselves, deny their origin and consequently their truth; and evil, with its painful chain of sorrow and death, enters the world. Moreover, all that God had created was good, indeed, very good, but after man had opted freely for falsehood rather than truth, evil entered the world.
I would like to highlight a final teaching in the accounts of the Creation; sin begets sin and all the sins of history are interconnected. This aspect impels us to speak of what is called “original sin”. What is the meaning of this reality that is not easy to understand? I would just like to suggest a few points. First of all we must consider that no human being is closed in on himself, no one can live solely for himself and by himself; we receive life from the other and not only at the moment of our birth but every day. Being human is a relationship: I am myself only in the “you” and through the “you”, in the relationship of love with the “you” of God and the “you” of others. Well, sin is the distortion or destruction of the relationship with God, this is its essence: it ruins the relationship with God, the fundamental relationship, by putting ourselves in God’s place.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that with the first sin man “chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (n. 398). Once the fundamental relationship is spoilt, the other relational poles are also jeopardized or destroyed: sin ruins relationships, thus it ruins everything, because we are relational. Now, if the relationship structure is disordered from the outset, every human being comes into a world marked by this relational distortion, comes into a world disturbed by sin, by which he or she is marked personally; the initial sin tarnishes and wounds human nature (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 404-406). And by himself, on his own, man is unable to extricate himself from this situation, on his own he cannot redeem himself; only the Creator himself can right relationships. Only if he from who we distanced ourselves comes to us and lovingly holds out his hand can proper relationships be restored. This happens through Jesus Christ, who goes in exactly the opposite direction to Adam, as is described by the hymn in the second chapter of St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Ph 2,5-11): whereas Adam did not acknowledge his creatural being and wanted to put himself in God’s place, Jesus, the Son of God, was in a perfect filial relationship with the Father, he emptied himself and became the servant, he took the path of love, humbling himself even to death on a cross, to set right our relations with God. The Cross of Christ thus became the new tree of life.
Dear brothers and sisters, living out faith means recognizing God’s greatness and accepting our smallness, our condition as creatures, letting the Lord fill us with his love and thus develop our true greatness. Evil, with its load of sorrows and sufferings, is a mystery illuminated by the light of faith which gives us the certainty that we can be freed from it: the certainty that it is good to be a human being.
To special groups:
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland and the United States. May your visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul inspire you never to place anything before the love of Christ. Upon all of you, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, an affectionate thought for the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.May today’s Memorial of the St Paul Miki and his Companion Martyrs of Japan encourage you, dear young people, and in particular you students of the Franciscan “Faŕ di Bruno” Institute in Turin, on the 150th anniversary of its foundation, and those of the Regnum Christi School in Rome, to spend your energy for the cause of the Gospel; may it help you, dear sick people, to accept your cross in spiritual union with the Heart of Christ; and may it encourage you, dear newlyweds, always to have trust in Providence, also in the difficult moments of your conjugal life.
Paul VI Audience Hall13023
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our yearly Lenten journey of conversion in preparation for Easter. The forty days of Lent recall Israel’s sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. The desert, as the place of silent encounter with God and decision about the deepest meaning and direction of our lives, is also a place of temptation. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus showed us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially amid today’s secularized society. While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion. In this Lenten season, Christ once again knocks at our door (cf. Rev Ap 3,20) and invites us to open our minds and hearts to his love and his truth. May Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation inspire us to embrace God’s will and to see all things in the light of his saving truth.
* * *
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Denmark and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present. With prayers that this Lenten season will prove spiritually fruitful for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Audiences 2005-2013 30013