GENERAL AUDIENCE 1979 15
1. During Lent, the words: prayer, fasting, almsdeeds, which I already mentioned on Ash Wednesday, often reach our ears. We are accustomed to think of them as pious and good works, which every Christian must carry out particularly in this period. This way of thinking is correct, but not complete. Prayer, almsdeeds and fasting need to be understood more deeply, if we want to integrate them more thoroughly into our lives and not to consider them just as passing practices which demand only something momentary from us or deprive us of something only momentarily. With this way of thinking we would not yet arrive at the real meaning and the real power that prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds have in the process of conversion to God and of our spiritual development. One keeps pace with the other: we mature spiritually by being converted to God, and conversion takes place by means of prayer, as also by means of fasting and almsdeeds, adequately understood.
It should perhaps be said at once that it is not a question here only of momentary "practices", but of constant attitudes which give our conversion to God a lasting form. Lent, as liturgical time, lasts only forty days a year: we must, on the other hand, strain always towards God; this means that it is necessary to be continually converted. Lent must leave a strong and lasting mark on our lives. It must renew in us awareness of our union with Jesus Christ, who makes us see the necessity of conversion and indicates to us the ways to reach it. Prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds are precisely the ways that Christ indicated to us.
In the meditations that follow, we will try to glimpse how deeply these ways penetrate into man: what they mean for him. The Christian must understand the real meaning of these ways if he wants to follow them.
2. First, then, the way of prayer. I say "first", because I wish to speak of it before the others. But saying "first" I want to add today that in the complete work of our conversion, that is, of our spiritual development, prayer is not isolated from the other two ways which the Church defines with the evangelical term of "fasting and almsdeeds". The way of prayer is perhaps more familiar to us. We understand more easily, perhaps, that, without it, it is not possible to be converted to God, to remain in union with him, in that communion which makes us mature spiritually. There are certainly among you, who are now listening to me, a great many who have their own experience of prayer, who know its various aspects, and can make others share it. We learn to pray, in fact, by praying. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray first of all by himself praying: "all night he continued in prayer" (Lc 6,12); another day, as St Matthew writes, "he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone" (Mt 14,23). Before his passion and death he went to the Mount of Olives and encouraged the Apostles to pray, and he himself knelt down and prayed. A prey to anguish, he prayed more intensely (cf. Lc 22,39-46). Only once, when requested by the disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray" (Lc 11,1), he gave them the simplest and the deepest content of his prayer: the "Our Father".
Since it is impossible to include in a short speech all that can be said or that has been written on the subject of prayer, I would like to stress only one thing today. All of us, when we pray, are disciples of Christ, not because we repeat the words that he once taught us—sublime words, the complete content of prayer—we are disciples of Christ even when we do not use these words. We are his disciples only because we pray: "Listen to the Master praying; learn to pray. He prayed, in fact, for this reason, to teach people to pray", St Augustine affirms (Enarrationes in PS 56,5). And a modern author writes: "Since the end of the way of prayer is lost in God, and no one knows the way but the One who comes from God, Jesus Christ, it is necessary (...) to fix our eyes on him only. He is the way, the truth and the life. Only he has travelled along t+he way in both directions. We must put our hand in his and start out." (Y. Raguin, Chemins de La contemplation, Desclée de Brower, 1969, p. 179). To pray means speaking to God—I would venture to say even more—to pray means finding oneself again in that One eternal Word through which the Father speaks, and which speaks to the Father. This Word became flesh, so that it would be easier for us to find ourselves again in him even with our human word of prayer. This word may sometimes be very imperfect, sometimes we may even lack it, but this incapacity of our human words is continually completed in the Word that became flesh in order to speak to the Father with the fullness of that mystical union which every man who prays forms with him, which all those who pray form with him. In this particular union with the Word lies the greatness of prayer, its dignity and, in some way, its definition.
It is necessary, above all, to understand clearly the fundamental greatness and dignity of prayer. The prayer of every man. And also of the whole praying Church. The Church reaches, so to speak, as far as prayer: wherever there is a man who prays.
3. It is necessary to pray taking this essential concept of prayer as our basis. When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus: "Teach us to pray", he replied with the words of the prayer Our Father, thus creating a concrete model that is at the same time universal. In fact, all that can and must be said to the Father is contained in those seven requests, which we all know by heart. There is such a simplicity in them, that even a child can learn them, and also such a depth that a whole life can be spent meditating on the meaning of each of them. Is this not so? Does not each of them speak to us, one after the other, of what is essential for our existence, directed completely to God, to the Father? Does it not speak to us of our "daily bread", of "forgiveness of our trespasses as we also forgive them", and at the same time of "preservation from temptation" and "deliverance from evil"?
When, in answer to the request of the disciples "teach us to pray", Christ utters the words of his prayer, he teaches not only the words, but he teaches that in our talk with the Father there must be complete sincerity and full openness. Prayer must embrace everything that is part of our life. It cannot be something additional or marginal. Everything must find in it its true voice. Even everything that burdens us; things of which we are ashamed; what by its very nature separates us from God. This above all. It is prayer that always, first of all and essentially, demolishes the barrier which sin and evil may have raised between us and God.
Through prayer the whole world must find its rightful reference: that is, reference to God: my interior world and also the objective world, the one in which we live, and as we know it. If we are converted to God, everything in us is directed to him. Prayer is precisely the expression of this being directed to God; and that is, at the same time, our continual conversion: our life.
Holy Scripture says:
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Is 55,10-11).
Prayer is the way of the Word which embraces everything. The way of the eternal Word which goes through the depths of so many hearts; which brings back to the Father everything that has its origin in him.
Prayer is the sacrifice of our lips (cf. He 13,15). It is, as St Ignatius of Antioch writes, "spring water that murmurs within us and says: come to the Father" (cf. Letter to the Romans, VII, 2).
With my Apostolic Blessing.
1. "Sanctify a fast!" (Jl 1,14). They are the words that we listened to in the first reading on Ash Wednesday. They were written by the Prophet Joel, and the Church establishes the practice of Lent in conformity with them, ordering fasting. Today the practice of Lent, defined by Paul VI in the Constitution "Poenitemini ", is considerably reduced as compared with practices of the past. In this matter the Pope left a great deal to the decision of the Episcopal Conferences of the individual countries. They, therefore, have the task of adapting the requirements of fasting according to the circumstances that prevail in their respective societies. He also recalled that the essence of Lenten repentance consists not only of fasting, but also of prayer and almsdeeds (works of mercy). So it is necessary to decide according to circumstances, since fasting itself can be "replaced" by works of mercy and prayer. The aim of this particular period in the life of the Church is always and everywhere repentance, that is, conversion to God. Repentance, in fact, understood as conversion, that is "metanoia", forms a whole, which the tradition of the People of God already in the old Covenant and then Christ himself linked, in a certain way, with prayer, almsdeeds and fasting.
At this moment there perhaps come into our minds the words with which Jesus answered the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked him: "Why do your disciples not fast?" Jesus answered: "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Mt 9,15). In fact the time of Lent reminds us that the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Taken away, arrested, imprisoned, slapped, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified... Fasting in the time of Lent is the expression of our solidarity with Christ. Such was the meaning of Lent throughout the centuries and such it remains today.
"My love has been crucified and there is no longer in me the flame that desires material things", as the Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, writes in the letter to the Romans (Ign. Antioch,. Ad Romanos VII, 2).
2. Why fasting?
It is necessary to give this question a wider and deeper answer, in order to clarify the relationship between fasting and "metanoia", that is, that spiritual change which brings man closer to God. We will try therefore to concentrate not only on the practice of abstention from food or from drink— that, in fact, is the meaning of "fasting" in the common sense—but on the deeper meaning of this practice which, moreover, can and must sometimes be "replaced" by another one. Food and drink are indispensable for man to live, he uses them and must use them, but he may not abuse them in any way. The traditional abstention from food and drink has as its purpose to introduce into man's existence not only the necessary balance, but also detachment from what might be defined a "consumer attitude". In our times this attitude has become one of the characteristics of civilization and in particular of Western civilization. The consumer attitude!
Man geared to material goods, multiple material goods, very often abuses them. It is not a question here lust of food and drink. When man is geared exclusively to possession and use of material goods—that is, of things—then also the whole civilization is measured according to the quantity and the quality of the things with which it is in a position to supply man, and is not measured with the yardstick suitable for man. This civilization, in fact, supplies material goods not just in order that they may serve man to carry out creative and useful activities, but more and more... to satisfy the senses, the excitement he derives from them, momentary pleasure, an ever greater multiplicity of sensations.
18 We sometimes hear it said that the excessive increase of audiovisual media in the rich countries is not always useful for the development of intelligence, particularly in children; on the contrary, it sometimes contributes to checking its development. The child lives only on sensations, he looks for ever-new sensations... And thus he becomes, without realizing it, a slave of this modern passion. Satiating himself with sensations, he often remains passive intellectually; the intellect does not open to search of truth; the will remains bound by habit which it is unable to oppose.
It is seen from this that modern man must fast, that is, abstain not only from food or drink, but from many other means of consumption, stimulation, satisfaction of the senses. To fast means to abstain, to renounce something.
3. Why renounce something? Why deprive oneself of it? We have already partly answered this question. However the answer will not be complete, if we do not realize that man is himself also because he succeeds in depriving himself of something, because he is capable of saying "no" to himself. Man is a being composed of body and soul. Some modern writers present this composite structure of man in the form of layers, and they speak, for example, of exterior layers on the surface of our personality, contrasting them with the layers in depth. Our life seems to be divided into such layers and takes place through them. While the superficial layers are bound up with our sensuality, the deep layers are an expression, on the contrary, of man's spirituality, that is, of conscious will, reflection, conscience, the capacity of living superior values.
This image of the structure of the human personality can serve to understand the meaning of fasting for man. It is not a question here only of the religious meaning, but of a meaning that is expressed through the so-called "organization" of man as a subject-person. Man develops regularly when the deeper layers of his personality find sufficient expression, when the sphere of his interests and aspirations is not limited just to the exterior and superficial layers, connected with human sensuality. To facilitate such a development, we must sometimes deliberately detach ourselves from what serves to satisfy sensuality, that is, from those exterior, superficial layers. Therefore we must renounce every thing that "nourishes" them.
This, in short, is the interpretation of fasting nowadays.
Renunciation of sensations, stimuli, pleasures and even food or drink, is not an end in itself. It must only, so to speak, prepare the way for deeper contents by which the interior man "is nourished". This renunciation, this mortification must serve to create in man the conditions to be able to live the superior values, for which he, in his own way, hungers.
This is the "full" meaning of fasting in the language of today. However, when we read the Christian authors of antiquity or the Fathers of the Church, we find in them the same truth, often expressed in a surprisingly "modern" language. St Peter Chrysologus, for example, says.. "Fasting is peace of the body, strength of minds, vigour of souls" (Sermo VII: de jejunio 3); and again: "Fasting is the helm of human life and governs the whole ship of our body." (Sermo VII: de jejunio 1.)
And St Ambrose replies as follows to possible objections to fasting: "The flesh, because of its mortal condition, has some specific lusts: With regard to them you are granted the right to curb them. Your flesh is under you...: do not follow the promptings of the flesh to unlawful things, but curb them somewhat even as regards lawful ones. In fact he who does not abstain from any of the lawful things, is also very close to unlawful things." (Sermo de utilitate jejunii III.V.VII). Also writers not belonging to Christianity declare the same truth. This truth is of universal significance. It is part of the universal wisdom of life.
4. It is now certainly easier for us to understand why Christ the Lord and the Church unite the call to fasting with repentance, that is, with conversion. To be converted to God, it is necessary to discover in ourselves that which makes us sensitive to what belongs to God; therefore, the spiritual contents, the superior values which speak to our intellect, to our conscience, to our "heart" (according to biblical language). To open up to these spiritual contents, to these values, it is necessary to detach oneself from what serves only the consumer spirit, satisfaction of the senses. In the opening of our human personality to God, fasting—understood both in the "traditional" way and in the "modern" way—must go hand in hand with prayer because it is addressed directly to him.
Furthermore, fasting, that is, the mortification of the senses, mastery of the body, confer on prayer a greater efficacy, which man discovers in himself. He discovers, in fact, that he is "different", that he is more "master of himself", that he has become interiorly free. And he realizes this in as much as conversion and the meeting with God, through prayer, bear fruit in him.
It is clear from these our reflections today that fasting is not only a "vestige" of a religious practice of past centuries, but that it is also indispensable for the man of today, for Christians of our time. It is necessary to reflect deeply on this subject, particularly during the period of Lent.
To the students present:
Beloved Brothers! I am really happy at this meeting of mine with a large crowd of adolescents and boys and girls from, various Italian schools. You know how much the Pope relies on you who represent the expectation and hope of society and the Church.
To all of you my affectionate and cordial greeting, which I extend to your teachers and your parents Who are making so many sacrifices for your cultural, human, and Christian formation.
I deeply desire to urge you to prepare, right from the present time, by means of serious study, for the commitments you will have to assume in a few years' time in order to make your personal contribution to the construction of society, based on justice, freedom, and solidarity. You are Christians, that is, you are followers of Christ. You love him; you wish to be always faithful friends of his; you accept his teaching joyfully, which sometimes calls for sacrifices. Well: commit yourselves to working enthusiastically among your fellow students, among your friends, at school, in order that Christ's message may penetrate deeply into consciences.
Let the Lenten period, in which the Liturgy of the Church presents to our reflection the great mysteries of salvation, be lived by us all in an attitude of repentance and sacrifice, in order to prepare in a worthy way for the paschal meeting with Christ. Always be animated by the noble ideal proclaimed by Jesus: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15,12 f.)
With these wishes I willingly bless you.
(cf. Mc 1,15 and Lc 12,33).
Today we do not listen willingly to the word "alms". We feel something humiliating in it. This word seems to suppose a social system in which there reigns injustice, the unequal distribution of goods, a system which should be changed with adequate reforms. And if these reforms were not carried out, the need of radical changes, especially in the sphere of relations among men, would loom up on the horizon of social life. We find the same conviction in the texts of the Prophets of the Old Testament, on which the liturgy often draws during Lent. The Prophets consider this problem at the religious level: there is no true conversion to God, there can be no real "religion" without putting right offences and injustices in relations among men, in social life. Yet in this context the Prophets exhort to almsdeeds.
They do not even use the word "alms", which, moreover, in Hebrew is "sedaqah", that is, precisely "justice". They ask for help for those who are victims of injustice and for the needy: not so much by virtue of mercy as rather by virtue of the duty of active charity.
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, / to undo the thongs of the yoke, / to let the oppressed go free, / and to break every yoke? / Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, / and bring the homeless poor into your house; / when you see the naked, to cover him, / and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?" (Is 58,6-7).
20 The Greek word "eleemosyne" is found in the late books of the Bible and the practice of almsdeeds is a verification of an authentic religious spirit. Jesus makes almsdeeds a condition of access to his kingdom (cf. Lc 12,32-33) and of real perfection (Mc 10,21 and paral.). On the other hand, when Judas—in front of the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus—uttered the remark: `'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (Jn 12,5), Christ defended the woman, answering: "The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me" (Jn 12,8). Both sentences offer food for deep thought.
2. What does the word "alms" mean?
The Greek word "eleemosyne" comes from "éleos", which means compassion and mercy. Originally it indicated the attitude of the merciful man and, later, all works of charity for the needy. This word, transformed, has remained in nearly all European languages.
In French: "aumône"; Spanish: limosna"; Portuguese: "esmola"; German: "Almosen"; English: "Alms".
Even the Polish expression "jalmuzna" is the transformation of the Greek word.
We must differentiate here the objective meaning of this word from the meaning we give it in our social conscience. As can be seen from what we have already said before, we often attribute, in our social conscience, a negative meaning to the word "alms". Various circumstances have contributed to this and continue to contribute to it today. On the contrary, "alms" in itself, as help for those who need it, as "letting others share in one's own goods absolutely does not give rise to such negative associations. We may not agree with the person who gives alms, because of the way in which he does it. We may also not be in agreement with the person who stretches out his hand asking for alms, in that he does not try to earn his own living. We may disapprove of the society, the social system, in which almsdeeds are necessary. However, the fact itself of giving help to those who need it, the fact of sharing one's own goods with others, must inspire respect.
We see how, in understanding verbal expressions, it is necessary to free oneself from the influence of various incidental circumstances: circumstances that are often improper, which affect their ordinary meaning. These circumstances, moreover, are sometimes positive in themselves (for example, in our case the aspiration to a just society, in which there would be no need of alms. because a just distribution of property would reign there.
When the Lord Jesus speaks of alms, when he asks for almsdeeds to be practised, he always does so in the sense of bringing help to those who need it, sharing one's own goods with the needy, that is, in the simple and essential sense, which does not permit us to doubt the value of the act denominated with the term "alms", but on the contrary, urges us to approve it: as a good act, as an expression of love for one's neighbour and as a salvific act.
Moreover, at a moment of particular importance, Christ utters these significant words: "The poor you always have with you" (Jn 12,8). He does not mean by these words that changes of social and economic structures are not important and that we should not try different ways to eliminate injustice, humiliation, want and hunger. He means merely that man will have needs which cannot be satisfied unless with help for the needy and by sharing one's own goods with others... Of what help are we speaking? What sharing? Is it only a question of "alms", understood in the form of money, of material aid?
3. Certainly Christ does not remove alms from our field of vision. He thinks also of pecuniary, material alms, but in his own way. More eloquent than any other, in this connection, is the example of the poor widow, who put a few small coins into the treasury of the temple: from the material point of view, an offering that could hardly be compared with the offerings given by others. Yet Christ said: "This poor widow has put in... all the living that she had" (Lc 21,3-4). So it is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself.
Let us here recall St Paul: "If I give away all I have... but have not love, I gain nothing" (1Co 13,3). St Augustine, too, writes well in this connection: "if you stretch out your hand to give, but have not mercy in your heart, you have not done anything; but if you have mercy in your heart, even when you have nothing to give with your hand, God accepts your alms" (Enarrat. in Ps. CXXV, 5).
21 We are here touching the heart of the problem. In Holy Scripture and according to the evangelical categories, "alms" means in the first place an interior gift. It means the attitude of opening "to the other". Precisely this attitude is an indispensable factor of "metanoia", that is, conversion, just as prayer and fasting are also indispensable. St Augustine, in fact, expresses himself well: "how quickly the prayers of those who do good are granted! And this is man's justice in the present life: fasting, alms, prayer" (Enarrat. in Ps. XLII, 8): prayer, as an opening to God; fasting, as an expression of self-mastery also in depriving oneself of something, in saying "no" to oneself; and finally alms, as opening "towards others". The Gospel draws this picture clearly when it speaks to us of repentance, of "metanoia". Only with a total attitude—in his relationship with God, with himself and with his neighbour—does man reach conversion and remain in the state of conversion.
"Alms" understood in this way has a meaning which is in a certain sense decisive for this conversion. To convince ourselves of this, it is enough to recall the image of the Last Judgment that Christ gave us:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them: `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,35-40).
And the Fathers of the Church will then say with St Peter Chrysologus: "The poor man's hand is the treasury of Christ, since Christ receives everything that the poor man receives" (Sermo VIII, 4), and with St Gregory of Nazianzus: "The Lord of all things wants mercy, not sacrifice; and we give it through the poor" (De patuperum amore, XI).
Therefore, this opening to others, which is expressed by "help", by "sharing" food, a glass of water, a good word, consolation, a visit, precious time, etc., this interior gift offered to the other man, arrives directly at Christ, directly at God. It decides the meeting with him. It is conversion.
We can find many texts in the Gospel that confirm this, and also in the whole of Scripture. "Alms" understood according to the Gospel, according to the teaching of Christ, has a definitive, decisive meaning in our conversion to God. If alms be lacking, our life does not yet converge fully towards God.
4. In the cycle of Lenten reflections, it will be necessary to come back to this subject. Today, before concluding, let us dwell for another moment on the real meaning of "alms". It is very easy, in fact, to falsify the idea, as we noted at the beginning. Jesus also gave a warning about the superficial, "exterior" attitude of almsdeeds (cf. Mt 6,4 Lc 11,41). This problem is still a living one. If we realize the essential significance that "alms" has for our conversion to God for the whole of Christian life, we must avoid, at all costs, all that falsifies the meaning of alms, mercy, works of charity, all that may distort their image in ourselves. In this field, it is very important to cultivate interior sensitivity as regards the real needs of our neighbour, in order to know in what we must help him, how to act in order not to wound him, and how to behave in order that what we give, what we bring to his life, may be a real gift, a gift not dimmed by the ordinary negative meaning of the word "alms".
.We see, therefore, what a field of work—wide and at the same time deep—opens before us, if we want to put into practice the call "Paenitemini et date eleemosynam" (cf. Mc 1,15 and Lc 12,33). It is a field of work not only for Lent, but for every day. For the whole of life.
Addressing the students:
Dear Pupils of the Elementary and Secondary Schools of Rome, who have come with your fellow students from other Italian towns and together with other boys and girls belonging to Catholic associations!
The Pope receives you with fatherly affection and thanks you warmly for the visit you desired to pay him.
This meeting, as you know, takes place in the liturgical season of Lent, the purpose of which is fervent preparation for Easter.
I am sure that your Teachers and Assistants have instructed you about the importance of this period, urging you to meditate on the mystery of our Redemption: Jesus, our brother, took our place in order to expiate sin, and to do so he had to suffer the passion and death on the Cross: I hope that, reflecting on God's infinite love, you will feel more and more the duty of prayer and mortification, by means of which, purified in spirit and in body, one is more deeply united with the heavenly Father.
And now it is necessary to carryout the work: to relive in the worthiest way the unique and unrepeatable event of the history of mankind—the Resurrection of the Divine Saviour—making use of the means which he himself put at our disposal, that is, the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, which give the ineffable joy of sharing in Christ's triumph. In this way you will faithfully carry out St Paul's invitation: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Col 3,1-2).
And with this wish I give you the Apostolic Blessing, which I wish to extend to all your dear ones.
Addressing the newly-weds:
A special greeting and my fatherly good wishes go now to you newly-weds. May your married life—begun with a sacred ceremony with which your eyes and ears, and still more your souls, are yet filled—become better every day, strengthened by mutual love and by a reciprocal active sense of responsibility. Maintain for a long time, maintain forever, the vital power that supports you today and which makes you look to the future with joyous hope.
Beloved Sisters and Brothers,
1. Today I wish to return once more to the subjects of our three Lenten meditations, prayer, fasting, almsdeeds; and particularly the latter. If prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds form our conversion to God, a conversion that is expressed more exactly by the Greek term "metanoia", if they constitute the main subject of the Lenten liturgy, a penetrating study of this liturgy persuades us that "almsdeeds" has a special place in it. We tried to explain it briefly last Wednesday, referring to the teaching of Christ and of the Old Testament Prophets which often rings out in the Lenten liturgy.
However, there is need to bring this subject up to date, to express it, so to speak, not only in a language of modern terms, but also in a language of the present human reality: interior and social at the same time. How can words spoken thousands of years ago, in a completely different historico-social context, words addressed to men with such a different mentality from that of today, refer to the present reality? What crucial points of our present-day injustice, of human iniquities, of the various inequalities which have not at all disappeared from the life of humanity—although the watchword "equality" has been written on different banners—must these words strike?
The discreet words which Christ addressed one day to the traitor apostle ring out with unusual forcefulness: "The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me" (Jn 12,8).
"You will always have poor people among you." After the abyss of these words, no man has ever been able to say what Poverty is... When God is questioned, he answers that it is precisely he who is the Poor Man: "Ego sum pauper." (Léon Bloy, La femme pauvre, II. 1. Mercure de France 1948).
23 2. The call to repentance, to conversion, means a call to interior opening "to others". Nothing in the history of the Church and in the history of man can replace this call. This call has infinite destinations. It is addressed to every man, and it is addressed to each one for reasons specific to each one. So everyone must see himself in the two aspects of the destination of this call. Christ demands of me an opening to the other. But to what other? To the one who is here, at this moment! It is not possible to "postpone" this call of Christ to an indefinite moment, in which that "qualified" beggar will appear and stretch out his hand.
I must be open to every man, ready to "be helpful". Be helpful, how? It is well known that sometimes we can "make a present" to the other with a single word. But with a single word we can also strike him painfully, offend him, wound him; we can even "kill him" morally. It is necessary, therefore, to accept this call of Christ in those ordinary everyday situations of coexistence and contact where each of us is always the one who can "give" to others and, at the same time, the one who is able to accept what others can offer him.
To realize Christ's call to open inwardly to others, means living always ready to find oneself at the other end of the destination of this call. I am the one who gives to others even when I accept, when I am grateful for every good that comes to me from others. I cannot be closed and ungrateful. I cannot isolate myself. To accept Christ's call to opening to others requires, as can be seen, a re-elaboration of the whole style of our daily life. It is necessary to accept this call in the real dimensions of life; not postpone it to different conditions and circumstances, to the occasion when the necessity will present itself. It is necessary to persevere continually in this interior attitude. Otherwise, when that "extraordinary" opportunity turns up, it may happen that we do not have an adequate disposition.
3. Understanding practically, in this way, the meaning of Christ's call to "be helpful" to others in everyday life, we do not want to limit the meaning of this dedication only to everyday events, so to speak, of small dimensions. Our "being helpful" must regard also distant events, the needs of our neighbour with whom we are not in touch every day, but of whose existence we are aware. Yes, today, we know far better the needs, the sufferings, the injustices of men who live in other countries, in other continents. We are far from them geographically, we are divided by linguistic barriers, by frontiers set up by the individual States... We cannot penetrate directly into their hunger, their want, the ill-treatment, the humiliation, the tortures, imprisonment, social discriminations, their condemnation to an "interior exile" or to "proscription"; however, we know that they are suffering, and we know that they are men like us, our brothers. "Brotherhood" was not inscribed only on the banners and standards of modern revolutions. Christ already proclaimed a long time ago, "you are all brethren" (Mt 23,8). And, even more, he gave this brotherhood an indispensable point of reference: he taught us to, say "Our Father". Human brotherhood presupposes the divine paternity.
Christ's call to open "to the other", to one's "brother", precisely one's brother, has a radius of extension that is always concrete and always universal. It concerns each one because it refers to all. The extent of this opening is not so much—and not merely—the other's closeness as his needs: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was naked, in prison, sick... We answer this call by seeking the man who is suffering, following him even beyond the frontiers of States and continents. In this way that universal dimension of human solidarity is created—through the heart of each of us. The mission of the Church is to guard this dimension: not to limit herself to some frontiers, to some political trends, to some systems. To guard universal human solidarity particularly with those who are suffering; to preserve it in consideration of Christ, who formed just this dimension of solidarity with man once and for all. "For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2Co 5,14 f). And he gave it to us as our task once and for all. He gave it to the Church as her task. He gave it to everyone. He gave it to each of us. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant." These are the words of St Paul (2Co 11,29).
Therefore, in our conscience—in the individual conscience of the Christian—in the social conscience of the various environments, of the nations, special areas of solidarity must, I would say, be formed precisely with those who are suffering most. We must work systematically, in order that the areas of particular human needs, of great sufferings, of wrongs and injustice, may become areas of Christian solidarity of the whole Church and, through the Church, of individual societies and of the whole of humanity.
4. If we live in conditions of prosperity or of welfare, we must be all the more aware of the whole "geography of hunger" on the earthly globe. We must turn our attention all the more to human misery as a mass phenomenon: we must arouse our sense of responsibility and stimulate readiness for active and effective help. If we live in conditions of freedom, of respect for human rights, we must suffer all the more for the oppression of societies which are deprived of freedom, of men who are deprived of fundamental human rights. And this regards religious liberty too. Particularly where religious liberty is respected, we must take part in the sufferings of the people, sometimes whole religious communities and whole Churches, who are denied the right to religious life according to their own confession or their own rite.
Am I to call such situations by their name? Certainly. This is my duty. But we cannot stop only at this. All of us, in every place, must endeavour to assume an attitude of Christian solidarity with our brothers in the faith who are undergoing discrimination and persecution. It is also necessary to seek forms in which this solidarity can be expressed. This has always, from the most ancient times, been the tradition of the Church. In fact, it is well known that the Church of Jesus Christ did not enter the history of mankind "in a position of force", but through centuries of persecution. And it is just these centuries that have created the deepest tradition of Christian solidarity.
Today, too, this solidarity is the force of a real renewal. It is the indispensable way for the self-fulfilment of the Church in the modern world. It is the verification of our faithfulness to Christ, who said: "The poor you always have with you" (Jn 12,8), and again: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 24,40). Our conversion to God is carried out only along the way of this solidarity. I bless you with great affection.
24 Before addressing the pilgrims of the various nations in their own languages, I should like to turn my mind to a particular situation which I have very much at heart. The grave and worrying news arriving from Uganda during these days is for me a cause of profound sorrow. Uganda, as you know, is the country which gave a warm welcome to my Predecessor Paul VI during his historic visit to Africa. Now it is a theatre of bloody conflict causing victims and destruction. I invite you to join with me in prayer that God may alleviate the sufferings of that sorely tried people and ensure to them and to the whole African continent the desired gift of a just and stable peace.
To the young people:
I now wish to address a special word to the large number of young people, come from various parts, who are taking part in this meeting.
Welcome, beloved young people!
To this impressive Audience, which wishes to be also a feast of hearts, you bring an extraordinary note of joy, goodness, and hope. I greet you cordially and express my gratitude to you.
As I have already had occasion to say many times, the Church trusts you and your enthusiasm for every noble, great cause; she must trust you, because you are the men of the future. Looking at your faces, we see the future! In the light of your eyes, the year two thousand shines. It is an impressive and exalting sight which, at the same time, is also the demand of true human and Christian formation.
Looking at you, I think of what you will be; and your generous commitment gives me comfort.
I want to address to you today only one recommendation: remember that the world needs innocence. All values are important and necessary, for the development of the person and of society and for the smooth course of civil life. But the Christian knows that the principal and absolute value is the "grace" of God, which is participation in the very life of the Holy Trinity and the presence of God in one's soul. In a word, the first value for everyone is innocence of life, maintained by means of observance of the Ten Commandments—that is, the moral law—and by means of prayer and the sacraments.
In fact, Jesus himself warned us: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" (Mt 16,24-26).
And again, Jesus beseeches us not to move away from him who is "the true vine"—that is, not to lose "grace"—in order not to become dry and useless branches: "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15,4-6).
Therefore, I too exhort you like Jesus: keep innocence! Live in God's grace. Do not let yourselves be attracted, enveloped, swept along and suffocated by evil, which—as you know—always exists in the world and also in ourselves, in view of our nature, which is, certainly, redeemed, but wounded by original sin.
25 I entrust you to the Blessed Virgin, to whom I call you to pray to every day, and I willingly bless you all!
To the sick:
A special, affectionate thought to all of you sick people in body or in spirit, who have come from various nations to visit the Pope.
What a significant, cordial and interesting meeting is this one, which takes place between those who represent suffering Humanity and the Vicar on earth of him who willed to be the "Man of sorrows" for the purpose of giving value, comfort and hope to the suffering of every human existence!
The present liturgical period leads us to consider Christ, who, in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, accepted trouble, anguish and deep sadness (cf. Mc 14,33). He prayed, he entrusted himself completely to the will of the Heavenly Father and had comfort and strength enough to drain the cup of sorrow (ibid. Mc 14,36).
Beloved sick people, keep your eyes fixed on Christ, your Friend, your Model, your Consoler! Following his example, you will obtain that your trouble will change into serenity, your anguish into hope, and your sadness into joy; your suffering will become purification and merit for our souls, as well as a precious contribution to the spiritual good of the Church (cf. Col 1,24).
I willingly bless you, your dear ones, and all those who assist you lovingly.
To the newly-weds:
Allow me, finally, to address you, newly-weds, who, as usual, are numerous and animated with the deep desire to pay a filial homage to the Pope, to listen to his word and receive his blessing.
With great pleasure I see among you the group of couples belonging to the Focolari Movement, who come from various European countries.
Beloved sons and daughters, see to it that the new families, sprung from affection of the heart and from the free consent of your will, sealed by the divine grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, will always be deeply imbued with strong and fruitful love. Remain firm on the rock of unity and faithfulness, and be vivified by those Christian virtues which found and guarantee the peace and prosperity of the domestic hearth which you have just lit.
I invoke the continual assistance of the Lord on your newly-founded families and I willingly impart my special Blessing to you all.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1979 15