GENERAL AUDIENCE 2001
1 January 2001
1. "Let us rejoice and be glad in the Lord, for eternal salvation has appeared in the world, alleluia". With these words the liturgy today invites us to remain absorbed in the "holy joy" of Christmas. At the beginning of a new year, this exhortation directs us to live it entirely in the light of Christ, whose salvation appeared in the world for all human beings.
The Christmas season, in fact, once again brings Jesus' mystery and his work of salvation to the attention of Christians. Before the crib, the Church adores the august mystery of the Incarnation: the Child stirring in Mary's arms is the Eternal Word who has entered time and taken on human nature wounded by sin, to unite it to himself and redeem it. Every human reality and every temporal event thus acquire an eternal resonance: in the person of the Incarnate Word creation is wondrously exalted.
St Augustine writes: "God became man so that man might become God". Between heaven and earth a bridge has been built forever: in the God-Man humanity rediscovers the way to heaven. Mary's Son is the universal Mediator, the supreme Pontiff. This Child's every act is a mystery meant to reveal God's unfathomable benevolence.
2. At the stable in Bethlehem, the infinite love God has for every human being is expressed with disarming simplicity. In the crib we contemplate God made man for us.
St Francis of Assisi had the idea of portraying this message in a live nativity scene at Greccio on 25 December 1223. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, relates that he was radiant with joy because that moving scene shone with Gospel simplicity, poverty was praised and humility recommended. The biographer ends by noting that "after the solemn vigil, everyone went home filled with unspeakable joy" (cf. Vita prima, chap. XXX, 86, 479).
Francis' insight is surprising: the crib is not only a new Bethlehem because it recalls the historical event and makes present its message, but it is also an occasion of joy and consolation: it is the day of joy, the time of exultation. Thomas of Celano further observes that that Christmas night was as clear as broad day and sweet to men and animals (cf. ibid., 85, 469).
3. The crib celebrates the covenant between God and man, between heaven and earth. Bethlehem, a place of joy, also becomes a school of goodness, because the mercy and love that joins God to his children are expressed there. It visibly demonstrates the brotherhood that must bind all who are brothers and sisters in faith, since they are all children of the one heavenly Father. In this place of communion, Bethlehem shines as the house where everyone can find nourishment - etymologically its name means "house of bread" - and the paschal mystery of the Eucharist is, in a certain way, already foretold.
In Bethlehem, as if on a symbolic altar, the undying Life is already celebrated and the people of all time are granted, as it were, a foretaste of the food of immortality, which is "the pilgrims' food, truly bread for sons" (Sequence for Corpus Christi). Only the Redeemer, born in Bethlehem, can fulfil the deepest longings of the human heart and soothe its sufferings and wounds.
4. At the stable in Bethlehem we contemplate Mary, who brought forth the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. "The woman who was docile to the voice of the Spirit, a woman of silence and attentiveness, a woman of hope who, like Abraham, accepted God's will "hoping against hope' (cf. Rm 4,18)" (Tertio millennio adveniente, TMA 48), Our Lady shines out as a model to all who wholeheartedly put their trust in God's promises.
With her and Joseph, we remain in adoration before the cradle of Bethlehem, as we imploringly call upon heaven: "Let your face shine upon us and save us, Lord!".
Consoled by the gift of the Saviour's birth, let us intensify our commitment in these final days of the Holy Year. Let us open our heart to Christ, the one, universal way that leads to God. Thus we can continue in the new year with steadfast confidence. May the powerful intercession of Mary, the faithful Virgin, the silent witness to the mystery of Bethlehem, sustain us on our way.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from Australia and the United States of America. In this season of joy, may the Word made flesh bless you and your families with abundant graces and consolations. I wish you all a happy and blessed New Year!
1. The voice of the prophets - like that of Isaiah which we have just heard - echoes again and again to remind us that we must commit ourselves to liberating the oppressed and to working for justice. Without this commitment, our worship of God is not pleasing to him. It is an intense call, sometimes expressed in paradoxical tones, as when Hosea delivers this divine oracle also cited by Jesus (cf. Mt 9,13 Mt 12,7): "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings" (Is 6,6).
With stinging intensity the prophet Amos also presents God, who turns his gaze elsewhere and accepts no rites, feasts, fasts, music or prayers, when outside the sanctuary the righteous are sold for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and the head of the poor is trampled like dust (cf. Am 2,6-7). Therefore the invitation is given without hesitation: "But let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Am 5,24). Speaking in God's name, then, the prophets reject worship that is isolated from life, liturgy that is separated from justice, prayer that is detached from daily involvement, faith that is devoid of works.
2. Isaiah's cry: "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Is 1,16-17), is echoed in the teaching of Christ, who tells us: "If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5,23-24). At the close of every human life and at the end of the history of humanity, God's judgement will be concerned precisely with love, the practice of justice and aid to the poor (cf. Mt 25,31-46). Faced with a community torn apart by divisions and injustices, as the one at Corinth was, Paul goes so far as to demand the suspension of Eucharistic participation, inviting Christians first to examine their own conscience, in order not to be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord (cf. 1Co 11,27-29).
3. For Christians, the service of love, consistently connected with faith and the liturgy (cf. Jc 2,14-17), the commitment to justice, the struggle against any oppression and the protection of personal dignity are not the expressions of a philanthropy motivated solely by membership in the human family. They are, instead, choices and acts which have a deeply religious spirit, and are true and proper sacrifices pleasing to God, as the Letter to the Hebrews says (cf. He 13,16). St John Chrysostom's admonition is particularly trenchant: "Would you honour the Body of Christ? Do not despise his nakedness; do not honour him here in church clothed in silk vestments and then pass him by unclothed and frozen outside" (In Matthaeum hom., 50, 3).
3 4. Precisely because "in the modern world the sense of justice has been reawakening on a vast scale ... the Church shares with the people of our time this profound and ardent desire for a life that is just in every aspect, nor does she fail to examine the various aspects of the sort of justice that the life of people and society demands. This is confirmed by the field of Catholic social doctrine, greatly developed in the course of the last century" (Dives in misericordia, DM 12). This commitment to reflection and action must receive an extraordinary impetus from the Jubilee itself. In its biblical context, it was a celebration of solidarity: when the trumpet of the jubilee year sounded, everyone returned "to his property and ... to his family", as the official text of the Jubilee says (Lv 25,10).
5. First of all, land alienated because of various economic or family circumstances was restored to its former owners. Thus the jubilee year allowed everyone to return to an ideal starting-point through the bold and courageous work of distributive justice. Here we see what could be called the "utopian" dimension, which is proposed as a practical remedy to the consolidation of privileges and dishonesty: it is an attempt to spur society towards a higher ideal of solidarity, generosity and fraternity. The restitution of lost land could be expressed in modern historical terms, as I have often suggested, by cancelling outright, or at least reducing, the international debt of the poorer countries (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, TMA 51).
6. The other jubilee task consisted in allowing every slave to return in freedom to his family (cf. Lv 25,39-41). Poverty had reduced him to the humiliation of slavery; now he is given the chance to build his own future in freedom, within his own family. This is why the prophet Ezekiel calls the jubilee year the "year of liberty", that is, of redemption (cf. Ez 46,17). And another book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, looks to a society of justice, freedom and solidarity in these words: "There will be no poor among you.... If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren ... you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand" (Dt 15,4 Dt 15,7).
We too must aim at this goal of solidarity: "Solidarity of the poor among themselves, solidarity with the poor to which the rich are called, solidarity among the workers and with the workers" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, n. 89). Lived in this way, the Jubilee that has just ended will continue to bear abundant fruits of justice, freedom and love.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark, Australia and the United States of America. May your visit be a time of special grace, as you retrace the footsteps of the martyrs and saints who are commemorated in this City. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
1. In the hymn of praise proclaimed a few moments ago (Ps 148,1-5), the Psalmist summons all creatures, calling them by name. Angels, sun, moon, stars and heavens appear on high; 22 things move upon the earth, as many as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in order to give an impression of fullness and totality. The believer, in a sense, is "the shepherd of being", that is, the one who leads all beings to God, inviting them to sing an "alleluia" of praise. The Psalm brings us into a sort of cosmic church, whose apse is the heavens and whose aisles are the regions of the world, in which the choir of God's creatures sings his praise.
On the one hand, this vision might represent a lost paradise and, on the other, the promised paradise. Not without reason, the horizon of a paradisal universe, which Genesis (Gn 2) put at the very origins of the world, is placed by Isaiah (Is 11) and the Book of Revelation (Ap 21-22) at the end of history. Thus we see that man's harmony with his fellow beings, with creation and with God is the plan followed by the Creator. This plan was and is continually upset by human sin, which is inspired by an alternative plan depicted in the same Book of Genesis (Gn 3-11), which describes man's progressive conflictual tension with God, with his fellow human beings and even with nature.
2. The contrast between the two plans emerges clearly in the vocation to which humanity is called, according to the Bible, and in the consequences resulting from its infidelity to this call. The human creature receives a mission to govern creation in order to make all its potential shine. It is a delegation granted at the very origins of creation, when man and woman, who are the "image of God" (Gn 1,27), receive the order to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living thing that moves upon the earth (cf. Gn 1,28). St Gregory of Nyssa, one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, commented: "God made man capable of carrying out his role as king of the earth.... Man was created in the image of the One who governs the universe. Everything demonstrates that from the begining his nature was marked by royalty.... He is the living image who participates by his dignity in the perfection of the divine archetype" (De Hominis Opificio, 4: PG 44,136).
3. Man's lordship, however, is not "absolute, but ministerial: it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God. Hence man must exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundless wisdom and love of God" (Evangelium vitae, EV 52). In biblical language "naming" the creatures (cf. Gn 2,19-20) is the sign of this mission of knowing and transforming created reality. It is not the mission of an absolute and unquestionable master, but of a steward of God's kingdom who is called to continue the Creator's work, a work of life and peace. His task, described in the Book of Wisdom, is to rule "the world in holiness and righteousness" (Sg 9,3).
Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God's expectations. Man, especially in our time, has without hesitation devastated wooded plains and valleys, polluted waters, disfigured the earth's habitat, made the air unbreathable, disturbed the hydrogeological and atmospheric systems, turned luxuriant areas into deserts and undertaken forms of unrestrained industrialization, degrading that "flowerbed" - to use an image from Dante Alighieri (Paradiso, XXII, 151) - which is the earth, our dwelling-place.
4. We must therefore encourage and support the "ecological conversion" which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading. Man is no longer the Creator's "steward", but an autonomous despot, who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop at the edge of the abyss. "Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where people's expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions" (Evangelium vitae, EV 27). At stake, then, is not only a "physical" ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a "human" ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified, by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations and by preparing for future generations an environment more in conformity with the Creator's plan.
5. In this rediscovered harmony with nature and with one another, men and women are once again walking in the garden of creation, seeking to make the goods of the earth available to all and not just to a privileged few, as the biblical jubilee suggests (cf. Lv 25,8-13 Lv 25,23). Among those marvels we find the Creator's voice, transmitted by heaven and earth, by night and day: a language "with no speech nor words; whose voice is not heard" and which can cross all boundaries (cf. Ps 19,2-5 : 2-5).
The Book of Wisdom, echoed by Paul, celebrates God's presence in the world, recalling that "from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator" (Sg 13,5 cf. Rm 1,20). This is also praised in the Jewish tradition of the Hasidim: "Where I wander - You! Where I ponder - You! ... In every trend, at every end, only You, You again, always You!" (M. Buber, Tales of the Hasidim [Italian ed., Milan 1979, p. 256]).
The Holy Father spoke of his support for Jewish-Christian Friendship Day, a Church initiative in Italy, and invited his listeners to pray for Christian unity.
Today Jewish-Christian Friendship Day is being observed in Italy. In expressing my appreciation and support for this initiative of the Italian Church, I fervently hope that it will contribute to an authentic Jewish-Catholic dialogue.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will begin tomorrow, in which the Churches and Ecclesial Communities will pray together that Christ's will may be fulfilled, i.e., that his disciples may be one.
The theme chosen this year is one of Jesus' sayings recorded in the Gospel of John: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14,6). Dear brothers and sisters, I ask everyone to join in this united prayer to the Lord, and I make an appointment with you for Thursday, 25 January, at St Paul's Basilica, where, according to tradition, we will celebrate the solemn closing of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
I extend a special welcome to the Lutheran ecumenical delegation and the Schola Cantorum from Helsinki. I warmly greet the various parish, college and school groups from Denmark, Australia and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. If we cast a glance at the world and its history, at first sight the banner of war, violence, oppression, injustice and moral decay seems to predominate. It seems, as in the vision of chapter 6 of Revelation, that horsemen are riding through the barren lands of the earth, bearing now the crown of victorious power, now the sword of violence, now the scales of poverty and famine, now death's sharp sickle (cf. Ap 6,1-8).
Faced with the tragedies of history and rampant immorality, we feel like repeating the question posed to God by the prophet Jeremiah, giving voice to so many suffering and oppressed people: "Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?" (Jr 12,1). Unlike Moses, who beheld the promised land from the top of Mount Nebo (cf. Dt 34,1), we look out over a troubled world in which the kingdom of God struggles to make headway.
2. In the second century St Irenaeus identified the reason for this in the freedom of man who, instead of following the divine plan of peaceful harmony (cf. Gn 2), severed his relationship with God, with man and with the world. Thus the Bishop of Lyons wrote: "It is not God's art, which can raise children of Abraham from stones, that is at fault, but those who do not follow him are the cause of their own failed perfection. Indeed, it is not the light that fails through the fault of those who have been blinded, but those who have been blinded remain in darkness through their own fault, while the light continues to shine. The light does not subdue anyone by force, nor does God constrain anyone to accept his art" (Adversus Haereses IV, 39, 3).
Thus a continuous effort of conversion is needed to straighten humanity's course, so that it may freely choose to follow "God's art", that is, his plan of peace and love, of truth and justice. It is this art that is fully revealed in Christ and which the convert Paulinus of Nola made his own with this touching plan of life: "My only art is faith and my music is Christ" (Carmen XX, 32).
3. With faith the Holy Spirit also plants the seed of hope in the human heart. For faith, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, is "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (He 11,1). Against a horizon that is often marked by discouragement, pessimism, choices of death, inertia and superficiality, Christians must be open to the hope that springs from faith. This is portrayed in the Gospel scene of the storm that broke out on the lake: "Master, Master, we are perishing!", the disciples cry. And Christ asks them: "Where is your faith?" (Lc 8,24-25). With faith in Christ and in the kingdom of God we are never lost, and the hope of tranquil calm reappears on the horizon.
For a future worthy of man it is also necessary to reinvigorate the active faith that gives rise to hope. On this subject a French poet wrote: "Hope is the anxious waiting of the good sower; it is the longing of those who are candidates for heaven. Hope is the infinity of love" (Charles Péguy, Le porche du mystère de la deuxième vertu).
4. Love for humanity, for its material and spiritual well-being, for its authentic progress, must stir all believers. Everything done to create a better future, a more habitable land and a more fraternal society participates, even if indirectly, in building up God's kingdom. Precisely in the perspective of this kingdom, "man - living man - represents the primary and fundamental way for the Church" (Evangelium vitae, EV 2 cf. Redemptor hominis, RH 14). It is the way that Christ himself followed, while at the same time making himself man's "way" (cf. Jn 14,6).
On this way we are called first of all to dispel our fear of the future. This fear often grips the younger generation, prompting it to react with indifference, with resignation in the face of life's demands, with self-destruction through drugs, violence and apathy. We must show the joy of every child that is born (cf. Jn 16,21), so that he will be welcomed with love and given the chance to grow in body and mind. In this way we cooperate in the very work of Christ, who described his mission in this way: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10,10).
5. At the start of this Audience we heard the Apostle John's message to fathers and sons, to the elders and the young, that they should continue to struggle and hope together, in the certainty that evil and the devil can be overcome through the heavenly Father's effective presence. To restore hope is a fundamental task of the Church. In this regard, the Second Vatican Council has left us this illuminating comment: "We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping" (Gaudium et spes, GS 31). In this perspective, I would like to suggest to you once again the appeal to trust which I addressed to the United Nations Organization in 1995: "We must not be afraid of the future.... We have within us the capacities for wisdom and virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of God's grace, we can build in the next century and the next millennium a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom. We can and must do so! And in doing so, we shall see that the tears of this century have prepared the ground for a new springtime of the human spirit" (Insegnamenti XVIII/2 , p. 744).
The Holy Father appealed for an "effective and honest dialogue" in Colombia and asked for an end to "the kidnappings, acts of terrorism, attempts on life and the scourge of drug-trafficking".
The news from Colombia regarding an alarming increase in violence can only prompt me to ask everyone to rediscover the supreme value of life: "There can be no peace when this most basic good is not protected" (Message for the World Day of Peace 2001, n. 19).
I would also invite all parties to promote an effective and honest dialogue, as I plead for an end to the kidnappings, acts of terrorism, attempts on life and the scourge of drug-trafficking.
It is time to return to the Lord of Life, so that he may move the hearts of all Colombians and make them understand that they are one great family.
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the Asahikawa Choir from Japan, the choir and orchestra of Muskegon School, Michigan, and the students from Australia and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Second Letter of Peter uses the characteristic symbols of the apocalyptic language current in Jewish literature to describe the new creation as though it were a flower blossoming from the ashes of history and the world (cf. 2P 3,11-13). It is an image that seals the Book of Revelation, when John proclaims: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more" (Ap 21,1). In his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul describes creation as groaning under the burden of evil, but destined to "be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rm 8,21).
Thus Sacred Scripture weaves a golden thread, as it were, through the weaknesses, miseries, violence and injustices of human history and leads to a messianic goal of liberation and peace. On these sound biblical foundations, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, "so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just', sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ" (CCC, CEC 1047; cf. St Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 5, 32, 1). Then at last, in a world made peaceful, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is 11,9).
2. This new human and cosmic creation was inaugurated with the Resurrection of Christ, the first fruits of that transfiguration to which we are all destined. Paul says so in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father.... The last enemy to be destroyed is death ... that God may be everything to every one" (1Co 15,23-24 1Co 15,26 1Co 15,28).
7 Certainly, this is a faith perspective which can sometimes be tempted by doubt in those who live in history under the weight of evil, contradictions and death. The Second Letter of Peter mentioned above had already considered this, reflecting the objections of those who are suspicious or sceptical or even "scoffers", and who ask themselves: "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation" (2P 3,3-4).
3. This is the disheartened attitude of those who renounce every effort regarding history and its transformation. They are convinced that nothing can change, that every effort is bound to be useless, that God is absent and in no way interested in this minuscule point in the universe which is the earth. In the Greek world, some thinkers had taught this viewpoint, and perhaps the Second Letter of Peter is also reacting to this fatalistic view with its obvious practical implications. If, in fact, nothing can change, what is the sense of hoping? One can only sit on the sidelines of life, letting the repetitive movement of human events complete its perennial cycle. With this attitude many men and women have already fallen on the fringes of history, without confidence, indifferent to everything, unable to struggle or hope. But the Christian vision is clearly explained by Jesus when, "asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them: "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, "Lo, here it is!' or "There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you!" (Lc 17,20-21).
4. The temptation of those who imagine apocalyptic scenes of the in-breaking of God's kingdom and who close their eyes, weighed down with the sleep of indifference, is opposed by Christ with the quiet coming of the new heavens and the new earth. This coming is similar to the hidden but vigorous growth of the seed sprouting from the ground (cf. Mc 4,26-29).
God therefore entered the world and human history and proceeds silently, waiting patiently for humanity with its delays and conditioning. He respects its freedom, supports it when it is gripped by desperation, leads it step by step and invites it to collaborate on the project of truth, justice and peace of the kingdom. Divine action and human effort must therefore be intertwined. "There is no question, then, of the Christian message inhibiting men from building up the world or making them disinterested in the good of their fellows: on the contrary it is an incentive to do these very things" (Gaudium et spes, GS 34).
5. Thus a theme of great importance, which has always engaged the Church's work and reflection, opens before us. Without falling into the opposite extremes of holy isolation or secularism, Christians must also express their hope within the structures of secular life. If the kingdom is divine and eternal, it is still sown in time and space: it is "in the midst of us", as Jesus says.
The Second Vatican Council forcefully stressed this close and deep connection: "The mission of the Church, consequently, is not only to bring men the message and grace of Christ but also to permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal order with the evangelical spirit" (Apostolicam actuositatem, AA 5). The spiritual and temporal orders "are distinct; they are nevertheless so closely linked that God's plan is, in Christ, to take the whole world up again and make of it a new creation, in an initial way here on earth, in full realization at the end of time" (ibid. AA 5).
Heartened by this certainty, Christians walk courageously on the world's highways, seeking to follow in God's footsteps and to cooperate with him in giving birth to a horizon in which "steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other" (Ps 85,11 : 11).
I extend a special greeting to the group involved in the pastoral care of Vietnamese communities, and I assure you of my prayers for your people everywhere, who have shown such fidelity to the faith in difficult circumstances. I welcome the groups from Ireland, Denmark and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.
1. Just as in the Old Testament the holy city was denoted by the feminine image of "the daughter of Zion", so in the Revelation of John the heavenly Jerusalem is described "as a bride adorned for her husband" (Ap 21,2). The feminine symbol represents the face of the Church in her various aspects as betrothed, bride and mother, thus stressing a dimension of love and fruitfulness.
Our thoughts turn to the words of the Apostle Paul, who traces the Church's features in a very intense passage in the Letter to the Ephesians: "glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish", loved by Christ and the model of all Christian married life (cf. Ep 5,25-32). The Ecclesial Community, "betrothed to her one husband" as a chaste virgin (cf. 2Co 11,2), is presented in continuity with an idea developed in the Old Testament in impassioned texts such as those of the prophet Hosea (chap. Os 1-3) or Ezekiel (chap. Ez 16) or in the joyful radiance of the Song of Solomon.
2. To be loved by Christ and to love him with spousal love is constitutive of the Church's mystery. At its source is a free act of love which the Father pours out through Christ and the Holy Spirit. This love forms the Church and is radiated to all creatures. In this light we can say that the Church is a sign raised among the nations to bear witness to the intensity of divine love revealed in Christ, especially in the gift he made of his own life (cf. Jn 10,11-15). Therefore, "all human beings - both women and men - are called through the Church to be the "Bride' of Christ, the Redeemer of the world" (Mulieris dignitatem, MD 25).
The Church must let this supreme love shine, reminding humanity - which often feels alone and abandoned on the wastelands of history - that it will never be forgotten or lack the warmth of divine tenderness. Isaiah declares in a touching way: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49,15).
3. Precisely because she is born of love, the Church pours out love. She does so by proclaiming the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us (cf. Jn 15,12), that is, even to the gift of our lives: "He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1Jn 3,16). That God who "first loved us" (1Jn 4,19) and did not hesitate to give his Son out of love (cf. Jn 3,16) spurs the Church to follow the way of love "to the end" (cf. Jn 13,1). And she is called to do so with the freshness of a couple who love each other in the joy of unreserved self-giving and daily generosity, whether the skies of life are springlike and clear, or the darkness and clouds of a spiritual winter loom ahead.
In this sense we can understand why the Book of Revelation - despite its dramatic depiction of history - is filled throughout with songs, music and joyful liturgies. In the landscape of the spirit, love is like the sun illuminating and transfiguring nature, which would remain grey and monotonous without its brightness.
4. Another fundamental dimension of the Church's spousal nature is fruitfulness. The love received and given is not confined to the marital relationship but becomes creative and life-giving. In Genesis, which presents humanity as made in the "image and likeness of God", there is a significant reference to being "male and female": "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gn 1,27).
The distinction and reciprocity of the human couple are a sign of God's love not only as the basis of a vocation to communion, but also for the purpose of procreative fruitfulness. Not by chance is the Book of Genesis already interspersed with genealogies, which are the fruit of procreation and give rise to the history in which God reveals himself. Thus we can understand how the Church too, in the Spirit who enlivens her and unites her to Christ her Bridegroom, is endowed with an inner fruitfulness by which she constantly brings forth children of God in Baptism and enables them to grow to the fullness of Christ (cf. Ga 4,19 Ep 4,13).
5. These are the children who form that "assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven", destined to inhabit "Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (cf. He 12,21-23). Not without reason the Book of Revelation's last words are an intense plea to Christ: "The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come'" (Ap 22,17), "Come, Lord Jesus!" (ibid., Ap 22,20). This is the Church's ultimate goal as she journeys confidently on her pilgrimage through history, while often sensing at her side, according to the image in the same biblical book, the hostile and furious presence of another female figure, "Babylon", the "great harlot" (cf. Ap 17,1 Ap 17,5), who embodies the "bestiality" of hatred, death and inner barrenness.
As the Church looks at her goal, she nurtures "the hope of the eternal kingdom, that is brought about by participation in the life of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit, given to the Apostles as the Counselor, is the guardian and animator of this hope in the heart of the Church" (Dominum et Vivificantem, DEV 66). Let us ask God, then, to grant his Church always to be in history the guardian of hope, shining brightly like the Woman of Revelation, "clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Ap 12,1).
I extend a special greeting to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Tokyo led by Cardinal Peter Shirayanagi. I also welcome the groups from Sweden, Ghana and the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2001