S. John Paul II Homil.
1 St. Peter's Square
Sunday, 22 October 1978
1. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16,16). These words were spoken by Simon, son of Jonah, in the district of Caesarea Philippi. Yes, he spoke them with his own tongue, with a deeply lived and experienced conviction—but it is not in him that they find their source, their origin: "...because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven" (Mt 16,17). They were the words of Faith.
These words mark the beginning of Peter's mission in the history of salvation, in the history of the People of God. From that moment, from that confession of Faith, the sacred history of salvation and of the People of God was bound to take on a new dimension: to express itself in the historical dimension of the Church.
This ecclesial dimension of the history of the People of God takes its origin, in fact is born, from these words of faith, and is linked to the man who uttered them: "You are Peter—the rock—and on you, as on a rock, I will build my Church."
2. On this day and in this place these same words must again be uttered and listened to:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Yes, Brothers and sons and daughters, these words first of all.
Their content reveals to our eyes the mystery of the living God, the mystery to which the Son has brought us close. Nobody, in fact, has brought the living God as close to men and revealed him as he alone did. In our knowledge of God, in our journey towards God, we are totally linked to the power of these words: "He who sees me sees the Father." He who is infinite, inscrutable, ineffable, has come close to us in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in the stable at Bethlehem.
All of you who are still seeking God, all of you who already have the inestimable good fortune to believe, and also you who are tormented by doubt: please listen once again, today in this sacred place, to the words uttered by Simon Peter. In those words is the faith of the Church. In those same words is the new truth, indeed, the ultimate and definitive truth about man: the son of the living God—"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
3. Today the new Bishop of Rome solemnly begins his ministry and the mission of Peter. In this city, in fact, Peter completed and fulfilled the mission entrusted to him by the Lord.
2 The Lord addressed him with these words: "...when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go" (Jn 21,18).
Peter came to Rome!
What else but obedience to the inspiration received from the Lord guided him and brought him to this city, the heart of the Empire? Perhaps the fisherman of Galilee did not want to come here. Perhaps he would have preferred to stay there, on the shores of the Lake of Genesareth, with his boat and his nets. But guided by the Lord, obedient to his inspiration, he came here!
According to an ancient tradition (given magnificent literary expression in a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz), Peter wanted to leave Rome during Nero's persecution. But the Lord intervened: he went to meet him. Peter spoke to him and asked. "Quo vadis, Domine? "—" Where are you going, Lord?" And the Lord answered him at once: "I am going to Rome to be crucified again." Peter went back to Rome and stayed here until his crucifixion.
Yes, Brothers and sons and daughters, Rome is the See of Peter. Down the centuries new Bishops continually succeeded him in this See. Today a new, Bishop comes to the Chair of` Peter in Rome, a Bishop full of trepidation, conscious of his unworthiness. And how could one not tremble before the greatness of this call and before the universal mission of this See of Rome!
To the See of Peter in Rome there succeeds today a Bishop who is not a Roman. A Bishop who is a son of Poland. But from this moment he too becomes a Roman. Yes—a Roman. He is a Roman also because he is the son of a nation whose history, from its first dawning, and whose thousand-year-old traditions are marked by a living, strong, unbroken and deeply felt link with the See of Peter, a nation which has ever remained faithful to this See of Rome. Inscrutable is the design of Divine Providence!
4. In past centuries, when the Successor of Peter took possession of his See, the triregnum or tiara was placed on his head. The last Pope to be crowned was Paul VI in 1963, but after the solemn coronation ceremony he never used the tiara again and left his Successors free to decide in this regard.
Pope John Paul I, whose memory is so vivid in our hearts, did not wish to have the tiara; nor does his Successor wish it today. This is not the time to return to a ceremony and an object considered, wrongly, to be a symbol of the temporal power of the Popes.
Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us to gaze on the Lord and immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself.
He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter's Son (as he was thought to be), the Son of the living God (confessed by Peter), came to make us all "a kingdom of priests".
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that Christ's mission as Priest, Prophet-Teacher and King continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission. Perhaps in the past, the tiara, this triple crown, was placed on the Pope's head in order to express by that symbol the Lord's plan for his Church, namely that all the hierarchical order of Christ's Church, all "sacred power" exercised in the Church, is nothing other than service, service with a single purpose: to ensure that the whole People of God shares in this threefold mission of Christ and always remains under the power of the Lord; a power that has its source not in the powers of this world but in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.
3 The absolute and yet sweet and gentle power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force but expresses itself in charity and truth.
The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no eventide. Make me be a servant. Indeed, the servant of your servants.
5. Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man". He alone knows it.
So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.
Precisely today the whole Church is celebrating "World Mission Day"; that is, she is praying, meditating and acting in order that Christ's words of life may reach all people and be received by them as a message of hope, salvation, and total liberation.
6. I thank all of you here present who have wished to participate in this solemn inauguration of the ministry of the new Successor of Peter.
I heartily thank the Heads of State, the Representatives of the Authorities, and the Government Delegations for so honouring me with their presence.
Thank you, Eminent Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.
I thank you, my beloved Brothers in the Episcopate.
Thank you, Priests.
To you, Sisters and Brothers, Religious of the Orders and Congregations, I give my thanks.
4 Thank you, people of Rome.
Thanks to the pilgrims who have come here from all over the world.
Thanks to all of you who are linked with this Sacred Ceremony by radio and television.
7. I speak to you, my dear fellow-countrymen, pilgrims from Poland, Brother Bishops with your magnificent Primate at your head, Priests, Sisters and Brothers of the Polish Religious Congregations—to you representatives of Poland from all over the world.
What shall I say to you who have come from my Krakow, from the See of Saint Stanislaus of whom I was the unworthy successor for fourteen years? What shall I say? Everything that I could say would fade into insignificance compared with what my heart feels, and your hearts feel, at this moment.
So let us leave aside words. Let there remain just great silence before God, the silence that becomes prayer. I ask you: be with me! At Jasna Gora and everywhere. Do not cease to be with the Pope who today prays with the words of the poet: "Mother of God, you who defend Bright Czestochowa and shine at Ostrabrama". And these same words I address to you at this particular moment.
8. That was an appeal and a call to prayer for the new Pope, an appeal expressed in the Polish language. I make the same appeal to all the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church. Remember me today and always in your prayers!
To the Catholics of French-speaking lands, I express my complete affection and devotedness. I presume to count upon your unreserved filial assistance. May you advance in the faith! To those who do not share this faith, I also address my respectful and cordial greetings. I trust that their sentiments of goodwill may facilitate the spiritual mission that lies upon me, and which does not lack repercussions for the happiness and peace of the world.
To all of you who speak English I offer in the name of Christ a cordial greeting. I count on the support of your prayers and your goodwill in carrying out my mission of service to the Church and mankind. May Christ give you his grace and his peace, overturning the barriers of division and making all things one in him.
[The Holy Father spoke in similar terms in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Czechoslovakian, Russian, Ukranian and Lithuanian].
I open my heart to all my Brothers of the Christian Churches and Communities, and I greet in particular you who are here present, in anticipation of our coming personal meeting; but for the moment I express to you my sincere appreciation for your having wished to attend this solemn ceremony.
5 And I also appeal to all men—to every man (and with what veneration the apostle of Christ must utter this word: "man"!)
— pray for me!
— help me to be able to serve you! Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. We are in Saint Peter's Basilica at this unusual hour. Around us is the architecture in which whole generations have for centuries expressed their faith in God Incarnate, following the message brought to Rome by the apostles Peter and Paul: All our surroundings speak with the voice of the two millennia that separate us from the birth of Christ. The second millennium is speedily approaching its end. In these circumstances, in this context of time and place, let me go with you to the cave near the little town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. Let us all be there rather than here—there where "in the silence of the night" was heard the wail of the newborn infant, that eternal expression of the children of the earth. At the same moment was heard the voice of Heaven, that "world" of God dwelling in the inaccessible tabernacle of Glory. The majesty of the eternal God and mother earth making herself known by the wail of the newborn Infant enable us to glimpse the prospect of a new Peace, Reconciliation, and Covenant:
"To us is born the Saviour of the world,"
"all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God."
2. Nevertheless at this moment, at this strange hour, the ends of the earth are still afar off. They are pervaded by a period of waiting, far from peace. The hearts of people are filled rather with weariness; people have fallen asleep, as have the shepherds in the Bethlehem valleys close by. What is happening in the stable, in the rock cave, has a dimension of profound intimacy: it is something between the Mother and the Babe to be born. No outside person has access. Even Joseph, the Nazareth carpenter, is but a silent witness. She alone is fully aware of her Motherhood. She alone perceives the special expression of the infant's wailing. The birth of Christ is pre-eminently her mystery, her great day. It is the feast of the Mother.
It is a strange feast: there is no trace of the synagogue liturgy, no reading of the prophets or singing of the psalms. "Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body has thou prepared for me" (He 10,5) seems to be what is said by the wailing of the one who, although he is the Eternal Son, the Word who is of one being with the Father, "God from God, Light from Light," has become flesh (Jn 1,14). He reveals himself in that body as one of us, a little infant, in all his frailty and vulnerability. Dependent upon people's care, entrusted to their love, undefended. He wails, and the world does not hear him, cannot hear him. The newborn infant's wail can only just be heard a few steps away.
3. And so, Brothers and Sisters crowding this Basilica, I beg you: let us try to be more present there than here. Not many days ago, I manifested the great desire I felt to be in the cave of the Nativity, to celebrate in that very place the beginning of my Pontificate. Since circumstances do not allow me to do that, finding myself here with all of you, I am endeavouring all the more to be there spiritually with you all, in order to crown this Liturgy with the depth, the ardour, the authenticity of an intense inner feeling. The liturgy of Christmas Night is rich with a special realism: the realism of the moment that we are renewing, and also the realism of the hearts that are reliving that moment. All of us in fact are deeply moved, although what we are celebrating happened some two thousand years ago.
6 In order to have a complete picture of the reality of that event, in order to penetrate more deeply still into the realism of that moment and the realism of human hearts, let us remember that the event occurred precisely in the way it did: in abandonment and extreme poverty, in the cave stable outside the town, because people in the town refused to receive the Mother and Joseph into any of their homes. Nowhere was there room. From the beginning, the world showed itself inhospitable towards the God who was to be born as Man.
4. Now let us reflect briefly on the lasting meaning of this lack of hospitality on man's part towards God. All of us here wish it were different. We wish that everything within us men should be open to God born as a man. It is with this desire that we have come here!
On this night let us therefore think of all the human beings that fall victim to man's inhumanity, to cruelty, to the lack of any respect, to contempt for the objective rights of every human being. Let us think of those who are lonely, old, or sick; of the homeless, those suffering from hunger, and those whose misery is the result of the exploitation and injustice of economic systems. Let us also think of those who on this night are not allowed to take part in the liturgy of God's Birth and who have no priest to celebrate Mass. And let us give a thought also to those whose souls and consciences are tormented no less than their faith.
The stable at Bethlehem is the first place for solidarity with man: for one man's solidarity with another and for all men's with all men, especially with those for whom there is "no room at the inn" (cf. Lk Lc 2,7), whose personal rights are refused recognition
5. The newborn Infant is wailing. Who hears the baby's wail?
But Heaven speaks for him, and it is Heaven that explains it with these words:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour" (Lc 2,14).
Touched by the fact of the birth of Jesus, we must hear this cry from Heaven.
That cry must reach all the ends of the earth, all men must hear it anew.
A Son is given to us.
Christ is born to us. Amen.
7 Basilica of St John Lateran
Sunday, 12 November 1978
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The day has come on which Pope John Paul II arrives in the Basilica of St John Lateran to take possession of his Chair as Bishop of Rome. I wish to kneel down in this place and kiss the threshold of this temple, which has been for so many centuries "the dwelling of God with men" (Ap 21,3): God the Saviour with the People of the Eternal City, Rome. With all those present here I repeat the words of the psalm: "I was glad when they said to me, / 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!' / Our feet have been standing / within your gates, O Jerusalem! / Jerusalem, built as a city / which is bound firmly together, / in which the tribes go up, / the tribes of the Lord, / as was decreed for Israel, / to give thanks to the name of the Lord" (Ps 122/121).
Is not this an image of today's event? The ancient generations came up to this place: generations of Romans, generations of bishops of Rome, successors of St Peter, and they sang this hymn of joy, which I repeat today with you. I join these generations, I, the new Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, Polish by origin. I stop on the threshold of this temple and I ask you to welcome me in the Lord's name. I beg you to welcome me as you welcomed my Predecessors throughout the centuries, as you welcomed, only a few weeks ago, John Paul I, so beloved by the whole world! I beg you to welcome me too. The Lord says: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (Jn 15,16). This is the only appeal I can make: I am not here by my own will. The Lord has elected me. In the Lord's name I beg you therefore: welcome me!
2. At the same time, I express my cordial greeting to all. I greet the Lords Cardinals and Brothers in the Episcopate who have wished to take part in this ceremony and, particularly, I wish to greet you, dear Brother Cardinal Vicar, Mons. Vicegerent and the Auxiliary Bishops of Rome; you beloved Priests of this Diocese of mine; you Sisters and Brothers of so many religious Orders and Congregations. I address a respectful greeting to the Government and Civil Authorities with gratitude for the Delegations which are present here.
I greet you all! And this "all" means "each one in particular". Even if I do not mention your names one by one, I intend nonetheless to greet each of you, calling you by your name! You Romans! How many centuries does this greeting go back? It takes us back to the difficult beginnings of the faith and of the Church, which precisely here, in the capital of the ancient Empire, overcame, for three centuries, its trial by fire: a proof of life. And it emerged victorious. Glory to the Martyrs and Confessors! Glory to Holy Rome! Glory to the Apostles of the Lord! Glory to the catacombs, and to the basilicas of the Eternal City!
3. Entering the Basilica of St John Lateran today, there flashes before my eyes the moment when Mary crosses the threshold of the house of, Zechariah to greet Elizabeth, the mother of John. The Evangelist writes that at this greeting "the babe leaped in her womb" (Lc 1,41) and so many Fathers and writers have added, sine the most remote times, that from that moment John received the Saviour's grace. And therefore he himself was the first to proclaim Him. He was the first, with the whole people of Israel, to wait for Him on the banks of the Jordan. And it was he who showed Him to the people with the words: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1,29). The Lamb of God means the Redeemer, it means the Saviour of the world!
This Basilica, dedicated to St John the Baptist as well as to St John the Evangelist, is rightly consecrated to the Most Holy Saviour. It is as if, today also, as throughout the centuries, we hear this voice ringing out on the banks of the Jordan. The voice of the Forerunner, the voice of the Prophet, the voice of the Bridegroom's Friend. John spoke as follows: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3,30).
This first confession of faith in Christ the Saviour was, as it were, the key which closed the Old Covenant, a time of expectation, and opened the New Covenant, a time of fulfilment. This first fundamental confession of faith in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, had already been heard by the future Apostles of Christ on the banks of the Jordan. It was probably heard also by Simon Peter. It helped him to proclaim later, at the beginning of the New Covenant: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16,16).
It is right, therefore, that Peter's Successors should come to this place to receive, as Peter once received it, the confession of John: "Behold, the Lamb of God", and transfer it to the new age of the Church, proclaiming: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God".
8 4. In the framework of this marvellous meeting of the old and the new, I wish today, as the new Bishop of Rome, to begin my ministry to the People of God of this City and of this Diocese, which became, because of St Peter's mission, the first in the large family of the Church, in the family of the sister-dioceses. The essential content of this ministry is the commandment of charity: this commandment which makes us, men, friends of Christ: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (Jn 15,14). "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love" (Jn 15,9).
O Eternal City, O dear Brothers and Sisters, O Roman citizens! Your new Bishop wishes above all that we should remain in Christ's love, and that this love should always be stronger than our weaknesses. May it help us to model the spiritual face of our community, because, in the presence of this love, hatred, envy, all maliciousness and perversity disappear, in great as in little things, in social questions as in interpersonal ones. May love be the strongest! With what joy, and at the same time with what gratitude I have recently followed the numerous episodes (television brought them close to me) in which, owing to lack of personnel in the hospitals, so many persons, adults and in particular young people, offered themselves as volunteers to serve the sick with care. If pursuit of justice is valid in professional life, social love must be all the more vigilant. I wish, therefore, for my new Diocese, for Rome, this love that Christ willed for his disciples.
Love constructs; only love constructs!
Hatred destroys. Hatred does not construct anything. It can only disintegrate. It can disorganize social life, it can at the most bring pressure to bear on the weak, without, however, building up anything.
For Rome, for my new Diocese, and at the same time for the whole of the Church and for the world, I desire love and justice. Justice and love, so that we may be able to construct.
With regard to this construction, St Paul teaches us today (in the second reading), as he once taught the Christians of Ephesus, when he. wrote: ".And his (Christ's) gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers... for building up the body of Christ" (Ep 4,11). And I, continuing this thought in the light of the Second Vatican Council and referring in particular to the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, would add that Christ calls us to become fathers and mothers of a family, sons and daughters, doctors, engineers, lawyers, technicians, scientists, educators, students, pupils, anyone whomsoever! Each one has his place in this building up of the Body of Christ, just as each one has his place and his task in the building up of the common good of men, of society, of the nation, of humanity. The Church is building herself up in the world. She is building herself up with living men. At the beginning of my episcopal service, I ask each of you to find and define his own place in this work of construction.
I ask further of all you Romans, without exception, all of you who are present here today and all of those whom the voice of your new Bishop reaches: Go in spirit to the bank of the Jordan, where John the Baptist taught: John, who is the patron saint of this Basilica, the cathedral of Rome. Listen once more to what he said, indicating the Christ:
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". Behold, the Saviour!
Believe in Him with renewed faith, with faith as fervent as that of the first Roman Christians, who persevered here for three centuries of ordeals and persecutions.
Believe with renewed faith—as it is necessary for us, Christians of the second millennium which is about to end—in Christ, the Saviour of the world! Amen.
9 Sunday, 19 November 1978
1.Our meeting today has the character of a special audience. It is—if it can be said so—a eucharistic audience. We are not "holding" it, but "celebrating" it. This is a holy liturgy. The Superiors of the seminaries of this diocese are concelebrating with me, the new Bishop of Rome, and with the Cardinal Vicar; and the students of the Roman Seminary, of the "Capranica" Seminary and of the Minor Seminary are participants in this Eucharist.
The Bishop of Rome wishes to visit his seminaries, but, in the mean time, you have come today to him for this sacred Audience!
The Holy Mass is also an audience. Perhaps the comparison is too bold, perhaps it is improper, perhaps it is too "human", I take the liberty, however, of using it: this is one of the audiences that Christ himself grants continually to the whole of mankind—which he grants to a given eucharistic community—and to each of us who constitute this assembly.
2. During the audience we listen to the one who is speaking. And we, too, try to speak to him in such a way that he can listen to us.
In the Eucharistic Liturgy Christ speaks in the first place with the force of his Sacrifice. It is a very concise and at the same time burning speech. It can be said that we know this speech by heart; every time, however, it presents itself to us as new, sacred, revealing. It contains in itself the whole mystery of love and truth, because truth lives on love and love on truth. God, who is Truth and Love, manifested himself in the history of creation and in the history of salvation. He reproposes this history by means of this redeeming sacrifice, which he handed down to us in the sacramental sign, in order that we may not only think of it again in memory, but may renew it and celebrate it again. In celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we are introduced every time to the mystery of God himself and also to the whole depth of human reality. The Eucharist is an announcement of death and resurrection. The paschal mystery is expressed in it as the beginning of a new Time and as the final expectation.
It is Christ himself who speaks, and we never stop listening. We continually wish for this, his power of salvation, which has become a divine "guarantee" of the words of eternal life.
He has words of eternal life (cf. Jn Jn 6,68).
3. What we want to say to him is always ours, because it springs from our human experiences, our desires, but also from our anxieties. It is often a language of suffering, but also of hope. We speak to him of ourselves, of all those who are waiting for us to remind him of them.
What we say is inspired by the Word of God. The liturgy of the word precedes the eucharistic liturgy. With regard to the word to which we have listened to today, we would have so many things to say to Christ, during this sacred Audience.
We wish, therefore, to speak to him in the first place of this particular talent—perhaps not one only, but five—which we have received: the priestly vocation, the call to set out towards the priesthood by entering the seminary. Every talent is an obligation. We feel all the more obliged by this talent, not to waste it, not "to hide it under the earth", but to make it bear fruit: by means of a thorough preparation, study, work on one's own ego, and a conscious formation "of the new man" who, giving himself to Christ unreservedly in the priestly service, lived in celibacy, will be able to become in a special way a man "for others".
10 We also wish to speak to Christ about that way which leads each of us to the priesthood, to speak each about his own life. In it we try to persevere with fear of God, as the Psalmist invites us to do. This is the way that brings us out of the darkness to lead us towards the light, as St Paul writes. We wish to be "children of light". We wish to keep watch, we wish to be moderate, sober, and responsible for ourselves and for others.
Each of you will certainly have many other things to say during this Audience—each of you, Superiors, and each of you, beloved Students.
And what shall I, your new Bishop, say to Christ?
In the first place, I wish to tell him: I thank you for all those you have given me. I want to say to him further (I repeat it to him continually): The harvest is abundant! Send workers for your harvest.
And I want to say to him furthermore: Keep them in the truth, and grant that they may mature in the grace of the sacrament of the priesthood, for which they are preparing.
I want to say all this to him through his Mother, whom you venerate in the Roman Seminary, looking at the image of "Our Lady of Trust", to whom the Servant of God, John XXIII, was particularly devoted.
I entrust, therefore, to this Mother each of you and all three Seminaries of my new diocese. Amen.
Sunday, 26 November 1978
1. I wish to express in the first place my great joy at this meeting of ours today. I thank the Cardinal Vicar of Rome who, together with the Auxiliary Bishops, organized this meeting, in which there participate the representatives of the laity of this first diocese in the Church, whose Bishop I have just become, by the Will of Christ. All the organizations of the apostolate of the laity in the diocese of Rome are present here in the person of their representatives, accompanied by the spiritual Assistants of the individual organizations. Assuming my episcopal service in Rome, after twenty years' experience in the Archdiocese of Krakow, I must declare in the first place that I attach great importance to the apostlate of the laity, with regard to which, in the preceding circumstances so different from those I find here, I tried always to do my best.
A particular reason for my joy is the fact that we meet on the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, which, of all the days in the liturgical year, is perhaps the most suitable one, also because of some traditions, to assume the duty of our collaboration.
11 We are undertaking this collaboration of ours, dear Brothers and Sisters, in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice in order to return in this way to the Upper Room, which became, both on Holy Thursday and on the day of Pentecost, the extraordinary place of the "sending of the apostles".
2. The divine word of today's liturgy, which we are listening to with the utmost attention, brings us into the depth of the mystery of Christ the King. All the readings speak of it. I wish particularly to call your attention to St Paul's words to the Corinthians; he makes a comparison between the two dimensions of human existence: the one that is our participation in Adam and the one we obtain in Christ.
Man's participation in Adam means disobedience: "Non serviam"—I will not serve.
And that very "I will not serve" in which it seemed to man that he could hear the signal of liberation and the challenge of his own greatness pitted against God himself, became the source of sin and death. And we are still witnesses how that ancient "I will not serve" brings a multiple dependence and slavery in man. It is a subject for deep analysis, which it is difficult to make now in all its extension. We must be content with a mere reference.
Christ, the new Adam, is he who enters man's history just "to serve". "The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life" (Mt 20,28): this is, in a certain sense, the fundamental definition of his Kingdom. In this service, according to the model of Christ, man finds again his full dignity, his marvellous vocation, his kingliness. It is worth recalling here the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church, in chapter IV which is dedicated to the laity in the Church and their apostolate: "Since he wishes to continue his witness and his service through the laity also, the supreme and eternal priest, Christ Jesus, vivifies them with his spirit and ceaselessly impels them to accomplish every good and perfect work. To those whom he intimately joins to his life and mission he also gives a share in his priestly office, to offer spiritual worship for the glory of the Father and the salvation of man ... And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God." (Lumen Gentium LG 34).
To serve God means to reign. In this task, which expresses the attitude of Christ himself and of his followers, the inheritance of sin is broken. And the "kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, the kingdom of justice, love and peace" is initiated (Preface for the feast of Christ the King).
3. Today's liturgy lets us see, as it were, two stages of serving-reigning. The first stage is the Church's life on earth; the second one is of judgment. The true meaning of the first stage becomes understandable through the significance of the second. Before the Son of man presents himself before each of us, and before all, as Judge who will separate "the sheep from the goats", he is always with us as the Shepherd who looks after his sheep. He wishes to share the same solicitude with us, with each of us. He wishes his service to become ours in the widest meaning of the word. "Ours" means not only the service of the bishops, priests and religious, but also, in the widest sense of the word, of the laity. Of all. Because this service-solicitude requires the participation of all. "I was hungry.. I was thirsty.. I was a stranger... naked... sick... in prison... ", persecuted, oppressed, troubled, unconscious, doubtful, abandoned, threatened (perhaps even in the mother's womb).
There is an enormous range of needs and duties that we must catch a glimpse of, that we must place before our eyes, if we wish to be "in solidarity with Christ". Because, when all is said and done, that is just what it amounts to: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). Christ is on man's side; and he is on the side of both parties; on the side of the one who is waiting for solicitude, service and charity; and on the side of the one who renders service, bears solicitude, shows love.
There exists, therefore, a great space for our solidarity with Christ. a great space for the apostolate of all, for the apostolate of the laity in particular. Unfortunately it becomes impossible once more in the framework of this short homily to make a more detailed analysis of this subject. However, the words of today's liturgy urge us to reread them again, to meditate on them and to put into practice all that has become, in such ample dimensions, the subject of the teaching of the Council on the lay apostolate. In the past the concept of the apostolate seemed to be almost reserved only for those who are "in their official capacity" the successor of the Apostles, who express and guarantee the apostolicity of the Church. The Second Vatican Council revealed what large fields of apostolate were always accessible to the laity. At the same time it again stimulated to this apostolate. It is enough to quote just one sentence of the decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, which in a certain sense contains and sums up everything: "The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well" (n. 2).
4. My dear Brothers and Sisters! I wish to express my particular joy at this meeting with you, who have made, here in Rome, the truth on the Christian vocation, understood as the call to the apostolate of the laity, the programme of your life. I am glad and I hope that you will keep me informed of your problems, and introduce me to the various fields of your activity. I am happy to be able to enter upon these paths along which you are already walking, to be able to accompany you along them and also to guide you as your Bishop.
It was for this very reason that I so much wanted us to be able to meet on the feast of Christ the King of the Universe. I want him to receive us himself. Perhaps it is necessary for him to hear from us this question, which his different interlocutors so often asked him: "What shall I do?" (Lc 18,18); what are we to do?
12 I will recall again what his Mother said at Cana in Galilee to the servant of the steward of the feast: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5). We turn our eyes to this Mother; hope is born in us again and we answer: we are ready!
S. John Paul II Homil.