S. John Paul II Homil. 216
Praised be Jesus Christ.
1. As Pentecost Sunday draws to its close, we have come to this Church, the Cathedral Church of Christ the King, here in Liverpool, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life and the Sacrament of unity and love.
In my apostolic pilgrimage through Britain it is my joy, not only to celebrate the Eucharist, but also to administer other sacraments to the faithful of the local Churches. I have already had the opportunity to baptize and confirm and to confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
Although it is not possible this evening to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, nevertheless I wish to emphasize the importance of penance and reconciliation in the life of the Church and in the lives of all her individual members.
Two years ago, the National Pastoral Congress gathered in this Cathedral to begin its work with a service of repentance and reconciliation. Those present prayed for healing and mercy, and for the grace to be faithful to God’s will. They asked for light and wisdom to guide their deliberations and to deepen their love for the Church. This evening we assemble around this same altar to give honour and glory to the Lord, to praise our God who is rich in mercy. We see the need for conversion and reconciliation. We too pray for understanding where there has been discord. We seek unity from the same Holy Spirit who grants various gifts to the faithful and different ministries to the Church.
2. Before the first Pentecost, Jesus said to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (Jn 20,23). These words of our Saviour remind us of the fundamental gift of our redemption: the gift of having our sins forgiven and of being reconciled with God. Remission of sin is a completely free and undeserved gift, a newness of life which we could never earn. God grants it to us out of his mercy. As Saint Paul wrote: “It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation” (2Co 5,18).
There is no sin which cannot be forgiven, if we approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts. No evil is more powerful than the infinite mercy of God. In becoming man, Jesus entered completely into our human experience, even to the point of suffering the final and most cruel effect of the power of sin - death on a Cross. He really became one like us in all things but sin. But evil with all its power did not win. By dying, Christ destroyed our death; by rising, he restored our life; by his wounds we are healed and our sins are forgiven. For this reason, when the Lord appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection, he showed them his hands and his side. He wanted them to see that the victory had been won; to see that he, the Risen Christ, had transformed the marks of sin and death into symbols of hope and life.
3. By the victory of his Cross, Jesus Christ won for us the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. And it is these gifts that Christ offers us when he gives the Holy Spirit to the Church, for he said to the Apostles: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven” (Jn 20,23). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church continues Christ’s work of reconciling the world to himself. In every age the Church remains the community of those who have been reconciled with God, the community of those who have received the reconciliation that was willed by God the Father and achieved through the sacrifice of his beloved Son.
The Church is also by her nature always reconciling, handing on to others the gift that she herself has received, the gift of having been forgiven and made one with God. She does this in many ways, but especially through the sacraments, and in particular through Penance. In this consoling sacrament she leads each of the faithful individually to Christ, and through the Church’s ministry, Christ himself gives forgiveness, strength and mercy. Through this highly personal sacrament, Christ continues to meet the men and women of our time. He restores wholeness where there was division, he communicates light where darkness reigned, and he gives a hope and joy which the world could never give. Through this sacrament the Church proclaims to the world the infinite riches of God’s mercy, that mercy which has broken down barriers which divided us from God and from one another.
On this day of Pentecost, as the Church proclaims the reconciling action of Christ Jesus, and the power of his Holy Spirit, I appeal to all the faithful of Britain - and to all the other members of the Church who may hear my voice or read my words: Dearly beloved, let us give greater emphasis to the Sacrament of Penance in our own lives. Let us strive to safeguard what I described in my first Encyclical as Christ’s “right to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul’s life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Redemptor Hominis RH 20). And in particular I ask you, my brother priests, to realize how closely and how effectively you can collaborate with the Saviour in the divine work of reconciliation. For lack of time, certain worthy activities may have to be abandoned or postponed, but not the confessional. Always give priority to your specifically priestly role in representing the Good Shepherd in the Sacrament of Penance. And as you witness and praise the marvellous action of the Holy Spirit in human hearts, you will feel yourselves called to further conversion and to deeper love of Christ and his flock.
218 4. As Christians today strive to be sources of reconciliation in the world, they feel the need, perhaps more urgently than ever before, to be fully reconciled among themselves. For the sin of disunity among Christians, which has been with us for centuries, weighs heavily upon the Church. The seriousness of this sin was clearly shown at the Second Vatican Council, which stated: “Without doubt, this discord openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature” (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 1).
Restoration of unity among Christians is one of the main concerns of the Church in the last part of the twentieth century. And this task is for all of us. No one can claim exemption from this responsibility. Indeed everyone can make some contribution, however small it may seem, and all are called to that interior conversion which is the essential condition for ecumenism. As the Second Vatican Council taught: “This change of heart and holiness of life, along with the public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called ‘spiritual ecumenism’” (Ibid. 8).
The Holy Spirit, who is the source of all unity, provides the Body of Christ with a “variety of gifts” (1Co 12,3), so that it may be built up and strengthened. As the Holy Spirit granted the Apostles the gift of tongues, so that all gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost might hear and understand the one Gospel of Christ, should we not expect the same Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts we need in order to continue the work of salvation, and to be reunited as one body in Christ? In this we trust and for this we pray, confident in the power which the Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost.
5. “Send forth your Spirit . . . and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104,30). These words of the psalmist are our heartfelt prayer today, as we ask Almighty God to renew the face of the earth through the life-giving power of the Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, renew our hearts and minds with the gifts of light and truth. Renew our homes and families with the gifts of unity and joy. Renew our cities and our countries with true justice and lasting peace. Renew your Church on earth with the gifts of penance and reconciliation, with unity in faith and love.
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!
My brothers and sisters,
1. On this feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary I greet you in the Lord. I am happy to be with you in this historic city of York. We are in the shadow, as it were, of the beautiful Minster, and in the spiritual company of so many saintly men and women who have graced these northern counties.
I deeply appreciate the presence here of many fellow Christians. I rejoice that we are united in a common Baptism and in our renewed search for full Christian unity.
I greet all those civic representatives from different cities and towns of Northern England. I thank you all for your welcome.
I am conscious of the history, especially the religious history, of this part of England. I refer to Holy Island where Aidan and Cuthbert brought the Catholic faith. I recall Bede, who wrote so lovingly of the early life of the Church in England. I remember that a thousand years later men and women laid down their lives in this region for the faith they loved. Mary Ward taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ to English exiles; Margaret Clitheroe gave her life in this city of York. These holy women inspire women today to take their rightful place in the life of the Church, as befits their equality of rights and particular dignity. In that same period the priest, Nicholas Postgate, carried the Gospel across the moors and gave his life on this very spot.
This morning, in Manchester, young men were ordained to the sacred priesthood of Christ. They were answering the call of God’s love. For many people, as for Margaret Clitheroe, that call from God comes in and through marriage and family life. This is our theme. In our liturgical setting, which calls to mind the supremacy of God’s saving grace, you married people will be invited to renew the promises you first made on your wedding day.
2. In a marriage a man and a woman pledge themselves to one another in an unbreakable alliance of total mutual self-giving. A total union of love. Love that is not a passing emotion or temporary infatuation, but a responsible and free decision to bind oneself completely, “in good times and in bad”, to one’s partner. It is the gift of oneself to the other. It is a love to be proclaimed before the eyes of the whole world. It is unconditional.
To be capable of such love calls for careful preparation from early childhood to wedding day.It requires the constant support of Church and society throughout its development.
The love of husband and wife in God’s plan leads beyond itself and new life is generated, a family is born. The family is a community of love and life, a home in which children are guided to maturity.
3. Marriage is a holy sacrament. Those baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus are married in his name also. Their love is a sharing in the love of God. Te is its source. The marriages of Christian couples, today renewed and blessed, are images on earth of the wonder of God, the loving, life-giving communion of Three Persons in one God, and of God’s covenant in Christ, with the Church.
Christian marriage is a sacrament of salvation. It is the pathway to holiness for all members of a family. With all my heart, therefore, I urge that your homes be centres of prayer; homes where families are at ease in the presence of God; homes to which others are invited to share hospitality, prayer and the praise of God: “With gratitude in your hearts sing psalm and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3,16 Col 3,17).
In your country, there are many marriages between Catholics and other baptized Christians. Sometimes these couples experience special difficulties. To these families I say: You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity. Express that hope in prayer together, in the unity of love. Together invite the Holy Spirit of love into your hearts and into your homes. He will help you to grow in trust and understanding.
4. Brothers and sisters, “May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts . . . let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you” (Col 3,15 Col 3,16).
Recently I wrote an Apostolic Exhortation to the whole Catholic Church regarding the role of the Christian Family in the modern world. In that Exhortation I underlined the positive aspects of family life today, which include: a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, greater attention to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. But at the same time I could not fail to draw attention to the negative phenomena: a corruption of the idea and experience of freedom, with consequent self-centredness in human relations; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship between parents and children; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the spread of a contraceptive and anti-life mentality. Besides these destructive forces, there are social and economic conditions which affect millions of human beings, undermining the strength and stability of marriage and family life. In addition there is the cultural onslaught against the family by those who attack married life as “irrelevant” and “outdated”. All of this is a serious challenge to society and to the Church. As I wrote then: “History is not simply a fixed progression towards what is better, but rather an event of freedom, and even a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 6).
Married couples, I speak to you of the hopes and ideals that sustain the Christian vision of marriage and family life. You will find the strength to be faithful to your marriage vows in your love for God and your love for each other and for your children. Let this love be the rock that stands firm in the face of every storm and temptation. What better blessing could the Pope with for your families than what Saint Paul wished for the Christians of Colossae: “Be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes . . . put on love” (Col 3,12-14).
220 5. Being a parent today brings worries and difficulties, as well as joys and satisfactions. Your children are your treasure. They love you very much, even if they sometimes find it hard to express that love. They look for independence and are reluctant to conform. Sometimes they wish to reject past traditions and even reject their faith.
In the family, bridges are meant to be built, not broken; and new expressions of wisdom and truth can be fashioned from the meeting of experience and enquiry. Yours is a true and proper ministry in the Church. Open the doors of your home and of your heart to all the generations of your family.
6. We cannot overlook the fact that some marriages fail. But still it is our duty to proclaim the true plan of God for all married love and to insist on fidelity to that plan, as we go towards the fullness of life in the Kingdom of heaven. Let us not forget that God’s love for his people, Christ’s love for the Church, is everlasting and can never be broken. And the convenant between a man and a woman joined in Christian marriage is as indissoluble and irrevocable as this love. This truth is a great consolation for the world, and because some marriages fail, there is an ever greater need for the Church and all her members to proclaim it faithfully.
Christ himself, the living source of grace and mercy, is close to all those whose marriage has known trial, pain, or anguish. Throughout the ages countless married people have drawn from the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection the strength to bear Christian witness - at times very difficult - to the indissolubility of Christian marriage. And all the efforts of the Christian people to bear faithful witness to God’s law, despite human weakness, have not been in vain. These efforts are the human response made, through grace, to a God who has first loved us and who has given himself for us.
As I explained in my Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio”, the Church is vitally concerned for the pastoral care of the family in all difficult cases. We must reach out with love - the love of Christ - to those who know the pain of failure in marriage; to those who know the loneliness of bringing up a family on their own; to those whose family life is dominated by tragedy or by illness of mind or body. I praise all those who help people wounded by the breakdown of their marriage, by showing them Christ’s compassion and counselling them according to Christ’s truth.
7. To the public authorities, and to all men and women of good will, I say: treasure your families. Protect their rights. Support the family by your laws and administration. Allow the voice of the family to be heard in the making of your policies. The future of your society, the future of humanity, passes by way of the family.
8. My brothers and sisters in Christ, who are now about to renew the promises of your wedding day: may your words express once more the truth that is in your heart and may they generate faithful love within your families. Make sure that your families are real communities of love. Allow that love to reach out to other people, near and far. Reach out especially to the lonely and burdened people of your neighbourhood, to the poor and to all those on the margin of society. In this way you will build up your society in peace, for peace requires trust, and trust is the child of love, and love comes to birth in the cradle of the family.
Today and always, may God bless all of you, and all the families of Britain. Amen.
And how can we not recall those many families in Britain and in Argentina who bear the heavy weight of pain and sorrow because of the loss of their loved ones in the South Atlantic. As we ask God to comfort them in their reflection, let us pray for peace a just and lasting peace so that other families may be spared the sufferings of war, so that other husbands, wives and children may not have to surrender what is most sacred in the community of the family, love and life. Amen.
My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
1. I greet you in the joy of the Holy Spirit! The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church is for every Christian a time of celebration and an opportunity for spiritual renewal. How pleased I am to be here in Manchester, to celebrate this great feast and to pray with you that the life-giving power of the Divine Paraclete will help the members of this Church to carry out their responsibilities as “a new creation.”
To be a new creation is the vocation of all the baptized. Saint Paul reminds us of this in the words of today’s second reading: “. . . for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here” (2Co 5,17). We must therefore give up the old order of the flesh, of sinfulness and living for ourselves. We must live “for him who died and was raised to life” for us (Ibid.5, 15).
Every believer is called to discipleship. By steadfastness in prayer by compassion for those in need, by concern for justice in human affairs, Christians exercise the priesthood of the faithful, a living fellowship in Christ offering praise and glory to God our Father.
2. But if we can apply the attributes of this new order of creation to the priesthood of the faithful, how much more compelling is their application to the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, which is directed towards the sanctification of God’s people.
3. My dear brothers, candidates for the priesthood: for you Christ today renews his prayer to the Father: “Consecrate them in truth, your word is truth” (Jn 17,17). This consecration makes you even more a “new creation”. It sets you apart from the world, so that you may be completely dedicated to God.
It gives you the mission to act as Christ’s ambassadors in reconciling the world to God.It was for this purpose that Jesus came from the Father and was born of the Virgin Mary. And it is this same mission which Christ entrusted to his disciples: “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth” (Ibid. 17, 18).
At this important moment of your lives I say to you young men: Realize how deeply Jesus desires you to be consecrated as he himself is consecrated. Realize how closely the bond of priesthood joins you to Christ. Be worthy of the privilege you are going to receive of bringing God’s gifts of love to his people and offering to God the people’s prayerful response.
4. You must be men of God, his close friends. You must develop daily patterns of prayer, and penance must be a regular part of your life. Prayer and penance will help you to appreciate more deeply that the strength of your ministry is found in the Lord and not in human resources.
England is fortunate to have a distinguished legacy of holy priests. Many of her sons left home and country in penal times to prepare for the priesthood. After ordination, they returned to England to face danger and often death for their faith. Manchester is rightly proud of its great martyr, Saint Ambrose Barlow, the Benedictine. Catholic Lancashire honours its other martyrs: Saint Edmund Arrowsmith and all those saints called “John”: John Almond, John Plessington, John Rigby, John Southworth. But in addition to your martyrs, rejoice in the memory of many holy priests from this region who lived each day the fullness of their vocation. Near here, in Sutton, St Helens, is the tomb of Blessed Dominic Barberi, the Passionist from Italy who received John Henry Newman into the Church. He is but one example of the countless other priests who continue to serve as models of holiness for the clergy of today.
5. You must try to deepen every day your friendship with Christ. You must also learn to share the hopes and the joys, the sorrows and the frustrations of the people entrusted to your care. Bring to them Christ’s saving message of reconciliation. Visit your parishioners in their homes. This has been a strength of the Church in England. It is a pastoral practice that should not be neglected.
And do hot forget all those with special needs, particularly those who are in prison, and their families. In the Gospel, Christ identifies himself with prisoners when He says: “I was in prison and you visited me.” And remember, that He did not specify whether they were innocent or guilty.
Because you represent Christ, no one can be excluded from your pastoral love. I ask you, together with your brother priests, to take my greetings to all the prisons of Britain. Especially to the large one in Manchester. Through you, Jesus Christ wants to offer peace of conscience and the forgiveness of all sins. Through you, Jesus Christ wants to enkindle hope anew in your hearts.
Through you, Jesus Christ wants to love those for whom he died. Teach all your people that you believe in that faithful love by the fidelity with which you live your own life. You must proclaim the Gospel with your life. When you celebrate the sacraments at the decisive moments of their lives, help them to trust in Christ’s promised mercy and compassion. When you offer the redeeming Sacrifice of the Eucharist, help them to understand the need for transforming this great love into works of charity.
6. My brothers, be aware of the effect on others of the witness of lives. Your ordination is a source of consolation for those who have already given many years of priestly service, large numbers of whom are present today. The Lord is grateful for their labour and today he blesses them with the assurance that he will continue to provide for the future of the Church. May all these priests be renewed in the joyful enthusiasm of their early call, and may they continue to give generously of themselves in Christ’s priestly work of reconciling the world to the Father.
I know of the many priests who could not be here because of old age or infirmity. To them also I send the expression of my love in Christ Jesus. Their prayers, their wisdom, their suffering are rich treasures for the Church, from which will come forth abundant blessings.
7. And what of your contemporaries? Undoubtedly your acceptance of Christ’s mission is a clear witness for those who are not yet sure what the Lord wants of them. You show them that being ordained for God’s service is a noble vocation that demands faith, courage and self-sacrifice. I am sure that such qualities are to be found among the young people of Great Britain. To them I say: Be certain that Christ’s call to the priesthood or religious life is addressed to some of you. Be certain that if you listen to his call and follow him in the priesthood or religious life, you will find great joy and happiness. Be generous, take courage and remember his promise: “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11,30).
8. Finally, I wish to greet the parents and families of those about to be ordained. I say in the name of the Church, in the company of my fellow-Bishops, thank you for your generosity. It was you who brought these men into the world. It was you who first gave them the faith and the values that have helped to lead them to God’s altar today. The Church, too, must be a family, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, supporting each other and sharing with each other the individual gifts given by God. Every priest relies on the faith and talents of his parish community. If he is wise he will not only know the joy of dispensing God’s grace, but also of receiving it abundantly through his parishioners as well. The partnership between priests and people is built upon prayer, collaboration and mutual respect and love. That has always been the tradition of these islands. May it never be lost.
9. Through this ordination the Lord really and truly continues the work of his “new creation.” And he continues to send forth his message over all the earth and to speak personally to those who will be ordained: “ ‘Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you’ - it is the Lord who speaks!” (Ier. 1, 7-8). Amen.
Dear sons and daughters of the Catholic Church in Scotland!
1. Sacred Scripture bears eloquent witness to the unshakable faith which one generation of mankind to the next placed in God. From the time of Abraham onwards through the centuries, that truth remained firmly founded on God’s promise to send a Saviour who would deliver his people.
Of all the expressions of faith none was more spontaneous than that uttered by Andrew, the fisherman of Galilee: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1,41). So profound was the impression Jesus made upon him at their first encounter that “early next morning Andrew met his brother and said to him ‘We have found the Messiah’ - which means the Christ - and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas - meaning Rock’” (Ibid. 1, 41-42). It was Andrew, the heavenly patron of your beloved Scotland, who introduced Peter to Jesus!
2. Today marks another significant moment in the history of our salvation: the Successor of Peter comes to visit the spiritual children of Andrew! We are bound one to another by a supernatural brotherhood stronger than that of blood. Here and now we testify that we profess that identical faith in Jesus, and we firmly hope that we too can lead others to him. This common profession of faith is the compelling motive behind my pastoral visit to your homeland.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, let us reflect for a few moments on the texts of Sacred Scripture that have been proclaimed in this Liturgy of the Word.
We are gathered here on this Scottish hillside to celebrate Mass. Are we not like those first disciples and followers who sat at the feet of Jesus on the hillside near Capernaum? What did Jesus teach them? What does our divine Master wish to teach us, each and every one of us, today? With words simple and clear, Jesus outlined the requirements for admission to his heavenly Kingdom. He offered reflections on every aspect of daily life. Jesus proposed a new concept of living. In the short introductory phrases to his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sounded the keynote of the New Era he had come to proclaim.
The new spirit is to be gentle, generous, simple, and above all sincere. To avoid being arrogant, censorious, or self-seeking. The disciples of the new Kingdom must seek happiness even amidst poverty, deprivation, tears and oppression. To aim for the Kingdom requires a radical change in outlook, in mentality, in behaviour, in relations with others. Just as the Law revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, so, in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the new Lawgiver, offers to all mankind a new way of life, a charter of Christian life.
How astonished those first listeners must have been at hearing these dramatic words of Christ!
Especially those who were poor in spirit, gentle, or afflicted, downtrodden and oppressed - to hear themselves proclaimed as eligible for entry into a heavenly Kingdom.
4. It is this loving Fatherhood of God which pervades every word of Jesus. Throughout this discourse he appeals to his listeners to respond to the Father, with a response of filial love.
Everyone who will be animated by this new spirit is a child of God. This is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into our lives again: it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, “Abba, Father” (Rm 8,14-15).
Love can ask more than fear can demand. Love will be the mainspring of the New Era. Jesus affirmed this on a later occasion: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14,23).
224 5. In the qualities required of the true disciples of Jesus we can see the image of Jesus himself, traced by the prophets in the Old Testament, but described anew in these Beatitudes. Quite clearly it was the intention of Jesus that the lives of his disciples should be modelled on his own. “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11,28-29). While elsewhere he says: “No one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn 14,6).
6. It is essential for us to understand that Jesus has a specific task in life for each and every one of us. Each one of us is hand-picked, called by name - by Jesus! There is no one among us who does not have a divine vocation! Now this is what Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, which was proclaimed a few moments ago: “Each one of us has been given our own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints make a unity in the work of service” (Ep 4,7 Ep 4,11-12).
First and foremost, God has called us into existence. He has called us to be! He has called us, through his Son Jesus Christ, to a knowledge of himself as our loving Father. He has called us to be his children! He has called us to fulfil his eternal plan in our individual lives, with Jesus as our guide.
He has called us to be co-heirs with Jesus of his heavenly Kingdom! What God our Father is offering us through his Son is a new life as his real children, with Jesus for our brother; a pressing call to live, to love, to labour for the coming of his Kingdom. And lest, bewildered at what we must do, we hesitate, Jesus offers to be himself our guide and says: “Come, follow me!” (Lc 9,59).
7. Dearly beloved in Christ! What response has Scotland given in the past to God’s invitation?
Christian history narrates that from very early times, perhaps even as early as the second half of the fourth century, Scotland embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For over one thousand five hundred years his holy Name has been invoked in this land. Saint Ninian, Saint Columba and Saint Kentigern were the first to evangelise the pagans and establish a primitive Christian Church. After the Dark Ages had passed, during which the Viking invasions failed to quench the light of the Faith, the coming of Queen Margaret inaugurated a new chapter in the history of the Church in Scotland, which received fresh vigour from internal reorganization and from closer contact with the universal Church.
Although situated geographically on the remote edge of Europe, the Church in Scotland became especially dear to the Popes, at the centre and heart of Christianity, and they conferred upon it the exceptional title Specialis Filia Romanae Ecclesiae, “Special Daughter of the Roman Church!”
What a magnificent designation!
The Church was intimately involved in the struggle for national independence, with the bishops - men like Robert Wishart of Glasgow - to the forefront of your patriots. And throughout the later Middle Ages our holy Faith continued to flourish in these parts, fine cathedrals and collegiate churches being built, numerous monastic houses being endowed, across the length and breadth of this land. The names of Bishops Wardlaw, Turnbull and Elphinstone remain inseparably linked with the foundation of your universities, of which this little nation has always been so justifiably proud.
While Scottish scholars, such as Duns Scotus, Richard of Saint Victor and John Major, gained an international repute for learning and brought honour to their native land.
The sixteenth century found the churchmen and the laity unprepared for the religious upheaval of that day, which vehemently swept away the mediaeval Church from Scotland, almost, though not quite, without trace. The hierarchy became extinct; the remnant of the faithful was dispersed: Scotland was isolated from the reforms decreed by the Council of Trent.
225 Even this, however forms part of God’s providence: for the centuries that followed witnessed a valiant struggle for survival, in the face of persecution and exile. To remedy the scarcity of priests, Pope Clement VIII founded a college in Rome for your young countrymen and similar seminaries were opened in other safe places on the Continent, to send labourers back to the “Scottish Mission”. The religious Orders too released trained members to collaborate in that work. Who has not heard of Saint John Ogilvie, the Jesuit, who - only a few miles from where I now stand - surrendered life itself to witness to the Faith of Christ!
The Vicars Apostolic, to whom the organization of all the missionary activity was entrusted, testified in their letters to Rome to the attachment of that handful of Scottish Catholics to the Faith of their Fathers, to the See of Peter and to the person of the Pope. Carefully preserved throughout all these years, these documents now serve as a mirror, in which is accurately reflected the noble face of the Scottish Catholic community, lined with the unmistakable signs of poverty and hardship, but radiant with expectation that in God’s own time a new day would surely dawn for the Church in Scotland.
Dear beloved Catholics of Scotland, the prayers of your forefathers did not go unanswered! Their firm hope in divine providence was not disillusioned! A century and a half ago the tide of repression turned. The small Catholic community gradually gained new vitality. The advent of numerous Catholic emigrants from nearby Ireland, accompanied by zealous Irish priests, enlarged and enriched it spiritually. This induced Pope Leo XIII to restore the Catholic hierarchy to Scotland - the very first act of his pontificate - and since that moment there has been a rapid and continous progress.
8. You are the heirs to the sacred heritage. Your forefathers have handed on to you the only inheritance they really prized, our holy Catholic faith! From heaven their heartfelt appeal to you would be this: “Set your hearts on his Kingdom” (Lc 12,31). With grateful hearts turn to God and thank him that tranquil days have been restored to the Catholic community in Scotland.
9. What was a dream a century ago has become the reality of today. A complete transformation of Catholic life has come about in Scotland, with the Catholics of Scotland assuming their legitimate role in every sector of public life and some of them invested with the most important and prestigious offices of this land. Is this not what Saint Paul has to say to us in today’s reading from Ephesians: “So the body grows, until it has built itself up, in love” (Ep 4,16).
You originate in a glorious past, but you do not live in the past. You belong to the present and your generation must not be content simply to rest on the laurels won by your grandparents and great-grandparents. You must give your response to Christ’s call to follow him and enter with him as co-heirs into his Father’s heavenly Kingdom. But we find it harder to follow Christ today than appears to have been the case before. Witnessing to him in modern life means a daily contest, not so quickly and decisively resolved as for the martyrs in the past. As believers we are constantly exposed to pressures by modern society, which would compel us to conform to the standards of this secular age, substitute new priorities, restrict our aspirations at the risk of compromising our Christian conscience.
10. The spirit of this world would have us capitulate on the most fundamental principles of our Christian life. Today as never before, the basic doctrines of the Faith are questioned and the value of Christian morality challenged and ridiculed. Things abhorred a generation ago are now inscribed in the statute books of society! These are issues of the utmost gravity to which a simple answer cannot be given; neither are they answered by being ignored. Matters of such magnitude demand the fullest attention of our Christian conscience.
11. To provide the answers to such questions is a daunting task. It would be an impossible challenge for the majority of the faithful to attempt unaided. But you are not alone. The Spirit of God is operative in the Church. Never before as in recent years has the teaching of the Catholic Church been so extensively reformulated, precisely with the issues that trouble the modern conscience in mind. It is sufficient to list the topics on which the Popes, the Ecumenical Council, the Synod of Bishops, and the various national Episcopal Conferences, including that of the Scottish Bishops, have given authoritative and clear statements of Catholic belief and practice for the guidance of the faithful in these perplexing times. In the name of all the shepherds of Christ’s flock, to whom the office of pastors and teachers has been divinely entrusted (Ep 4,11), I assure you that we are acutely aware of the problems you have to face in life, and of the anxiety which so often fills your hearts.
12. In fulfilling that solemn charge of leading the flock to eternal life, we must keep ever in mind the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience - but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching . . . Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work” (2Tm 4,2 2Tm 4,5).
Dear brothers and sisters! Preaching the Good News of Jesus is my life’s work. In addition, I now have another ministry to fulfil in the Church as Successor of Simon Peter, to whom Jesus himself said: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail . . . you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Lc 22,31). It is for this that I have come from Rome to Scotland. For this I joyfully accepted the invitation of your Bishops to come and confirm you in our Catholic Faith “that comes to us from the Apostles” («Canon Romanus»).
13. Allow me, therefore, to make my own the exhortation of Saint Paul, addressed to you in today’s Liturgy: “I implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation” (Ep 4,1). And in Christ’s own words, “You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world” (Mt 5,13-14), called by God our Father to be his apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the men and women of this present generation, whom you must lead to Jesus, just as Andrew once led his brother Simon Peter. Your commitment to the sure ways of Christian living could well be decisive in bringing salvation to many.
226 The world still recognizes genuine goodness for what it is!
Be loyal to the memory of those valiant forerunners in the Faith. Be diligent in handing on intact the spiritual heritage committed to you. Be faithful to your daily prayers, to the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Penance, meeting regularly with Jesus as a loving and merciful Saviour. Defend the sacredness of Life and the holiness of Matrimony. Understand your holy Catholic faith and live by its teaching. Face up to the difficult challenges of modern life with Christian fortitude and patience.
Did not Jesus himself say to his disciples: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me”? (Ibid. Mt 14,24 Mc 8,34)
14. Beloved sons and daughters! I have been kept fully informed of the careful preparations, spread over many months, which have preceded my pastoral visit to Scotland. With admiration and satisfaction I have followed the intense programme proposed by the Bishops for a spiritual renewal of the Catholic community, to ensure that the effects of my visit produce fruits that will endure.
From the depths of my heart I thank each and every one of you for the prayers that have accompanied this preparation, for every effort that has been made to guarantee its success. “This is the day made memorable by the Lord: what immense joy for us!” (Ps 118,24). I commend you all, Bishops, clergy, religious and laity to the maternal intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
15. Before concluding, I wish to address for a few moments that larger community of believers in Christ, who share with my Catholic brothers and sisters the privilege of being Scots, sons and daughters alike of this ancient nation. I know of the veneration in which you hold the Sacred Scriptures, accepting them for what they are, the word of God, and not of man. I have reserved until now and should like to read to you the remaining words from that passage of Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “There is one body, one Spirit, just as you were all called. There is one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all” (Ep 4,5-6).
This passage clearly reveals the will of God for mankind, a plan human wills may oppose but cannot thwart. It is God’s plan for all of us, “for there is no eternal city for us in this life but we look for one in the life to come” (He 13,15). We are only pilgrims on this earth, making our way towards that heavenly Kingdom promised to us as God’s children. Beloved brethren in Christ, for the future, can we not make that pilgrimage together hand-in-hand, “bearing with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience,” doing all we can “to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds us together”? (Ep 4,2-3) This would surely bring down upon us the blessing of God our Father on our pilgrim way.
As we now proceed to celebrate Christ’s Eucharistic sacrifice, let us remember all those - on both sides - who are affected by the conflict in the South Atlantic. In the joy of our celebration today we cannot permit ourselves to forget the victims of war, both the dead men and the wounded, as well as the broken hearts of many families.
Let us beseech the God of mercy to give us peace in this our day - the peace of Christ our Lord.
16. Beloved People of Scotland, in conclusion I wish you and all who are dear to you, wherever they may be, the abundance of God’s blessings, so that your families may prosper and peace and harmony may reign in your homes. May the prayers of the blessed Apostles Peter and Andrew obtain this for you!
And for your dearly beloved Scottish homeland I wish to adapt and make my own the words familiar to many of you: “Lord, let Scotland flourish through the preaching of Thy word and the praising of Thy name!” Amen.
S. John Paul II Homil. 216