GENERAL AUDIENCE 1979 33
1. In the forty days which separate the Ascension of the Lord from Easter Sunday, the Church lives the paschal mystery, meditating on it in her liturgy, where it is reflected, it could be said, as in a prism. The figure of the Good Shepherd occupies a particular place in this liturgical contemplation. On the fourth Sunday of Easter we read again the allegory of the Good Shepherd, which St John has inscribed in the tenth chapter of his gospel.
The first words of this allegory explain already its paschal significance. Christ says: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10,11). We know that these words were confirmed during his passion. Christ laid down his life on the cross. And he did so with love. Above all, he wished to respond to the love of the Father, who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal fife" (Jn 3,16). Carrying out "this charge... received from my Father" (Jn 10,18) and revealing his love, Jesus, too, felt, in a particular way, the Father's own love. He affirms this in the same discourse, when he says: "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again" (Jn 10,17). The sacrifice on Calvary is, above all, the giving of himself; it is the gift of his life, which, remaining in the power of the Father, is restored to the Son in a splendid new form. In this way, therefore, the Resurrection is the same gift of life re-stored to the Son in return for his sacrifice. Christ is aware of this, and he expresses it also in the allegory of the Good Shepherd: "No one takes it (that is, life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (Jn 10,18).
These words plainly refer to the Resurrection, and they express all the depth of the paschal mystery.
2. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because of the fact that he gives his life to the Father in this way: giving it back in sacrifice, he lays it down for the sheep.
Here we enter the field of a splendid and fascinating simile, already so dear to the Old Testament prophets. Here are the words of Ezekiel:
"For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out... I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down" (Ez 34,11 Ez 34,15 cf. Jr 31,30).
Taking up this image again, Jesus revealed an aspect of the Good Shepherd's love that the Old Testament had not yet divined: to lay down one's life for the sheep.
As is known, Jesus often used parables in his teaching to make the divine truth which he proclaimed comprehensible to men who were generally simple and accustomed to think by means of images. The image of the Pastor and of the fold was familiar to the experience of his listeners, as it still is to the mind of modern man. Even if civilization and technique are progressing by leaps and bounds, this image, however, is still present in our state of affairs. The shepherds take the sheep to the pastures (as, for example, on the Polish mountains where I come from) and remain there with them during the summer. They accompany them from one pasture to another. They watch them so that they do not go astray, and in particular they defend them from wild animals; just as we hear in the Gospel account: "the wolf snatches them (the sheep) and scatters them" (cf. Jn 10,12).
The Good Shepherd, according to Christ's words, is just he who, "seeing the wolf come", does not flee, but is ready to risk his own life, struggling with the beast of prey so that none of the sheep will be lost. If he were not ready to do so, he would not be worthy of the name of Good Shepherd. He would he a hireling, but not a shepherd.
This is Jesus' allegorical discourse. Its essential meaning lies precisely in this, that "the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10,11); and this, in the context of the events of Holy Week, means that Jesus, dying on the cross, laid dawn his life for every man and for all men.
"He alone could do it; he alone could bear a whole world's weight, the load of a guilty world, the burden of man's sin, the accumulated debt, past, present, and to come; the sufferings which we owed but could not pay; 'in his own body on the tree of the cross' (1P 2,24) 'through the eternal spirit offering himself without spot to God... to serve the living God' (He 9,14). Such was the deed of Christ, who gave his life for everyone: and therefore he is called the Good Shepherd" (Card. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, 16, London 1899, p. 235).
By means of the paschal sacrifice, all men became his fold—because he has ensured to each one that divine and supernatural life which, since man's fall, owing to original sin, had been lost. He alone was able to restore it to man.
35 3. The allegory of the Good Shepherd and, in it, the image of the fold, are of fundamental importance to understand what the Church is and what tasks she has to carry out in the history of man. Not only must the Church be a "fold", but she must actualize this mystery, which is always being accomplished between Christ and man: the mystery of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. This is what St Augustine says of her: "will he, who sought you first when you despised him instead of seeking him, despise you, O sheep, if you seek him? Begin, therefore, to seek him, the one who sought you first and carried you on his shoulders. Make his words come true: The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice and follow me" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, Ps LXIX, 6).
The Church, which is the People of God, is, at the same time, a historical and social reality, in which this mystery is continually renewed and actualized in different ways. And different men have their active part in this solicitude for the salvation of the world, for the sanctification of one's neighbour, which is and does not cease to be the solicitude characteristic of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Such is certainly, for example, the solicitude of parents with regard to their children. What is more, it is the solicitude of every Christian, without any difference, with regard to his neighbour, the brothers and sisters that God puts on his way.
This pastoral solicitude is, of course, particularly the vocation of pastors—priests and bishops. And they in particular must fix their eyes on the figure of the Good Shepherd, meditate on all the words spoken by Christ, and measure their own life by them.
Let us permit St Augustine to speak once more: "If only good shepherds be not lacking! Far be it from us that they should be lacking, and far be it from divine mercy not to call them forth and establish them. It is certain that if there are good sheep, there are also good shepherds: in fact it is from good sheep that good shepherds are derived." (Sermones ad populum, Sermo XLIV, XIII, 30).
4. In accordance with the evangelical discourse on the Good Shepherd, the Church reconstructs every year in her own liturgy the life and death of St Stanislaus, Bishop of Krakow. His memory in the liturgical calendar of the Universal Church is celebrated on 11 April—the date of his death in 1079 at the hands of King Boleslas the Bold; in Poland, on the other hand, the feast of this principal Patron is traditionally celebrated on 8 May.
This year it is 900 years, nine centuries, since the moment in which—following the liturgical texts—we can repeat of him that he laid down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10,11). And even if this death is so distant from us in time, it keeps the eloquence of a special testimony.
In the course of history my fellow citizens united spiritually round the figure of St Stanislaus, especially in difficult periods.
36 In the current year, a year of Great Jubilee, as the first Polish Pope, who until a short time ago was the successor of St Stanislaus in the episcopal see of Krakow, I wish to participate in the solemnity in honour of the Patron Saint of Poland.
Together with all those who celebrate this solemnity we wish to approach again Christ the Good Shepherd, who "lays down his life for the sheep", in order that he may be our strength for future centuries and for the new generations.
To the young people:
My greeting is now addressed to you young people, to you, pupils of elementary and secondary schools, present in such large numbers, to you, boys and girls who have received First Communion or Confirmation!
We are in the month of May, dedicated to Mary Most Holy.
On the night of 6 December 1876 Don Bosco in a dream saw Domenico Savio, who had recently died. The latter came to let Don Bosco know that he was in Paradise and offered him a bunch of flowers symbolizing the virtues practised in life.
At a certain moment Don Bosco asked him: "My dear Domenico, you who practised these noble virtues all your life, tell me: what consoled you most at the point of death?"
Domenico thought for a moment and then said: "What consoled me most at the point of death was the assistance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus! Tell that to the boys! Let them never forget to pray to her during their life!"
So, love Our Lady, dear young people and children! Pray to her every day! May the Blessed Virgin, invoked, loved and imitated, help you to remain good and happy in a holy way!
Before concluding the General Audience John Paul II referred to the anniversary of the tragic discovery of the. lifeless body of the Hon. Aldo Moro in via Caetani.
A year ago the lifeless body of the Honourable Aldo Moro was found. The tragic conclusion of the shocking event aroused great emotion in Italy and in the world, as also a resounding protest against the blind and irrational violence which, with the killing of the illustrious statesman, had humiliated humanity in its fundamental exigencies of truth and justice.
Today we raise a special prayer for him and for the members of his escort, savagely assassinated in cold blood, as well as for all those who in this year, and even in the last few days, have been victims of unspeakable brutality, which strips our millenary civilization of its human and Christian values. To acts of hatred we must all respond with the message of love, which Christ left us.
May all citizens, with their honest industry, be able to construct in serene and civil community life, a society in which each one may live his own rights fully.
At this point John Paul 11 interrupted his reading of the address, to refer to Paul VI's personal participation in the dramatic affair of the Italian statesman. Before concluding, the Holy Father said: "Perhaps we must think of all this in the context of today's discourse, in the context of the discourse of the Good Shepherd, and say to Christ: 'We offer you these victims for the peace of the world, for the victory of true justice. For the victory of love over hatred, we offer you these victims!' There is a force in this sacrifice which is very like that of Christ on the Cross".
1. Today I wish to return once more to the image of the Good Shepherd. This image, as we said a week ago, is deeply rooted in the liturgy of the Easter period. And this is so because it was deeply impressed in the Church's consciousness, especially the Church of the first Christian generations. Among other things, the effigies of the Good Shepherd which come from that historical period, bear witness to this. Clearly, this image is an extraordinary synthesis of the mystery of Christ and, at the same time, of his mission which is always in progress. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10,11).
For us who constantly participate in the Eucharist, who obtain forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, for us who feel the constant solicitude of Christ for man, for the salvation of souls, for the dignity of the human person, for the uprightness and clarity of the earthly ways of human life, the image of the Good Shepherd is as eloquent as it was for the early Christians. These, in the paintings in the catacombs, representing Christ as the Good Shepherd, expressed the same faith, the same love and the same gratitude. And they expressed them in periods of persecution, when for avowing Christ they were threatened with death; when they were obliged to look for underground cemeteries to pray together and to take part in the Holy Mysteries. The catacombs of Rome and of the other cities of the ancient Empire continue to be an eloquent testimony of man's right to profess faith in Christ and to confess him publicly. They continue to be also the testimony of that spiritual power which springs from the Good Shepherd. He proved to be more powerful than the ancient Empire and the secret of this strength is truth and love, for which man always has the same hunger and with which he is never satiated.
2. "I am the good shepherd", Jesus says, "I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (Jn 10,14-15). How marvellous this knowledge is! What knowledge! It reaches as far as eternal Truth and Love, the name of which is the "Father"! That particular knowledge, which gives rise to sheer trust, comes precisely from this source. Mutual knowledge: "I know... and they know".
This is not abstract knowledge, a purely intellectual certainty, which is expressed in the sentence "I know everything about you". Such knowledge, in fact, arouses fear, it induces one, rather, to withdraw within oneself: "Do not touch my secrets, leave me alone." "Malheur à la connaissance... qui ne tourne point à aimer!" (Woe to the knowledge... which does not turn to loving!: Bossuet, De la connaissance de Dieu et de soi-même. Oeuvres Complètes, Bar-le-Duc 1870, Guérin. (p. 86) Christ says, on the contrary: "I know my own", and he says it of the liberating knowledge which brings forth trust. For, although man defends access to his secrets; although he wants to keep them for himself, he has a still greater need, "he is hungry and thirsty" for Someone before whom he could open up, to whom he could manifest and reveal himself. Man is a person; the need of secrecy and the need of revealing himself belong at the same time to the "nature" of the person. Both these needs are closely united. One is explained by means of the other. Both together indicate, on the contrary, the need of Someone before whom man could reveal himself. Certainly, but even more he needs Someone who could help man to enter his own mystery. That "Someone" must, however, win absolute trust; he must, revealing himself, confirm that he is worthy of this trust. He must confirm and reveal that he is the Lord and, at the same time, the Servant of man's interior mystery.
Christ revealed himself precisely in this way. His words: "I know my own and my own know me" find a definitive confirmation in the words that follow: "I lay down my life for the sheep" (cf. Jn 10,1-15).
That is the interior profile of the Good Shepherd.
38 3. During the history of the Church and Christianity there has never been a lack of men to follow Christ the Good Shepherd. Certainly they are not lacking today either. More than once the liturgy refers to this allegory to present to us the figures of some saints when the day of their feast arrives in the liturgical calendar. Last Wednesday we recalled St Stanislaus, Patron Saint of Poland, whose ninth centenary we are celebrating this year. On the feast of this Bishop-Martyr we re-read the Gospel of the Good Shepherd.
Today I would like to refer to another personage, since the 250th anniversary of his canonization falls this year too. It is a question of the figure of St John Nepomucene. On this occasion, at the request of Cardinal Tomasek, Archbishop of Prague, I sent personally to him a special letter for the Church in Czechoslovakia.
Here are some sentences from this letter:
"The grand figure of St John has examples and gifts for everyone. History presents him to us first as dedicated to study and to preparation for the priesthood. Aware as he was that, in the expression of St Paul, he would be changed into another Christ, he incarnates in himself the ideal of the expert of God's Mysteries, straining as he did for the perfection of virtues; that of the Parish Priest who sanctifies his faithful with the example of his life and with zeal for souls; and that of the Vicar-General as well, carrying out his duties punctiliously in the spirit of ecclesial obedience.
"In this office be found his martyrdom, for defending the rights and legitimate freedom of the Church against the wishes of King Wenceslas IV. The latter took part personally in his torture, then had him thrown from the bridge into the river Moldava.
"Some decades after the death of the man of God, the rumour spread that the King had had him killed because he had refused to violate the secrecy of Confession. And thus the martyr of ecclesiastical freedom was venerated also as a witness to the Sacramental seal.
"Since he was a priest, it seems natural that priests should be the first to drink at his
fountain, to clothe themselves in his virtues, and be excellent shepherds. The good shepherd
knows his sheep, their requirements, their needs. He helps them to extricate themselves
from sin, to overcome the obstacles and difficulties with which they meet. Unlike the
hireling, he goes in search of them, helps them to carry their weight, and always knows how
to encourage them. He dresses their wounds and heals them with grace, especially through
the sacrament of Reconciliation.
"In fact, the Pope, the Bishop, and the Priest do not live for themselves but for the faithful,
just as parents live for their children and as Christ dedicated himself to service of his
Apostles: 'The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom
for many' (Mt 20,28)."
39 4. Christ the Lord in his allegory of the Good Shepherd utters also the following words: "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold: I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (Jn 10,16).
It can easily be guessed that Jesus Christ, speaking directly to the children of Israel, indicated the necessity of the spread of the Gospel and of the Church and, thanks to that, the extension of the solicitude of the good Shepherd beyond the limits of the People of the Old Covenant.
We know that this process began to be realized already in apostolic times; that it was constantly realized later and continues to be realized. We are aware of the universal significance of the mystery of redemption and also of the universal significance of the mission of the Church.
Therefore, concluding this meditation of ours today on the Good Shepherd, let us pray with special ardour for all those "other sheep" that Christ has still to lead to the unity of the fold (cf. Jn 10,16). Perhaps they are those who do not yet know the Gospel. Or perhaps those who, for any reason, have abandoned it; perhaps, in fact, even those who have become its fiercest adversaries, the persecutors.
Let Christ take on his shoulders and press to him those who are not capable of returning alone.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. For them all.
Special greeting to a group of Christian Brothers:
Among the many people whom I would like to greet personally there is a group of Christian Brothers who are in Rome for a course of spiritual renewal. I want you and all your confrères to know of my profound esteem for your vocation on behalf of the Christian education and training of the young. But even more important than what you do is what you are: men who have generously accepted a call, Brothers who are totally consecrated to the Lord Jesus, and committed to his Church and to his Gospel. Your first criterion of success is your capacity to love—to love Jesus Christ, his Father and his brethren. Your deepest fulfilment is in holiness of life. The Pope is for you, and Christ is with you—today and always!
1. Tomorrow ends the period of forty days which separate the moment of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from his Ascension. This is also the moment of the Master's definitive separation from the Apostles and disciples. In such an important moment, Christ entrusts to them the mission that he himself received from the Father and began on earth: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20,21), he said to them during the first meeting after the resurrection. At this moment they are in Galilee according to what Matthew writes: "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age'" (Mt 28,16-20).
The words quoted above contain the so-called missionary mandate. The duties that Christ hands down to the Apostles define at the same time the missionary nature of the Church. This truth found its particularly full expression in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, "The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, it has its origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Ad Gentes AGD 2). The Church, born of this salvific mission, is always "in statu missionis" (in a state of mission), and is always on her way. This condition reflects the interior forces of faith and hope that animate the Apostles, the disciples and the confessors of Christ the Lord during all the centuries. "In these places, a good many do not become Christians only because there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to run and shout here and there in the academies of Europe... and to address those who show more doctrine than charity with the following words: 'Oh, how great is the number of souls excluded from Heaven by your fault!'... Many of them should, on the contrary, practise listening to what the Lord says to them. Then they would exclaim warmly: 'Here I am, Lord; what do you want me to do? Send me wherever you want"' (St Francis Xavier, "Lettera 5 a S. Ignazio Loyola" of 1544: H. Tursellini, Vita Francisi Xaverii, Rome 1956, Lib. 4; quoted according to "Roman Breviary", Officium Lectionis for 3 December).
In our age these forces called by the Council by name, must ring out again. The Church must renew her missionary conscience, which, in the apostolic and pastoral practice of our times, certainly calls for many new applications; among them, a renewed missionary activity of the Church motivates this activity even more deeply and postulates it even more strongly.
2. Those whom the Lord Jesus sends—those who after the ten days following the Ascension will emerge from the Upper Room at Pentecost and also all the others; generation after generation until our times—bring with them a testimony which is the first source and the fundamental content of evangelization: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Ac 1,8). They are charged to teach by bearing witness. "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than teachers, or if he listens to teachers he does so because they are witnesses" (Paul VI, Address to Members of the "Consilium de Laicis", 2 October 1974; AAS 66 (1974) p. 568; cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi, EN 41, AAS 68 (1976) p. 31).
When we re-read, both in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Letters, the recording of apostolic catechesis, we see how exactly the first executors of Christ's apostolic mandate incarnated this task in their lives. St John Chrysostom says: "If the leaven, mixed with the flour, does not transform the whole mass into the same quality, will it really have been a ferment? Do not say that you cannot sweep others along; in fact, if you are a true Christian, it is impossible that that should not happen" (St John Chrysostom, In Acta Apostolorum Homilia XX, , 4. PG 60,163).
He who carries out the work of evangelization is not first and foremost a teacher. He is a messenger. He behaves like a man to which a great mystery has been entrusted. And at the same time like one who has discovered personally the greatest treasure. like the one "hidden in a field" of Matthew's parable (cf. Mt 13,44). The state of his soul, then, is marked also by readiness to share it with others. Even more than readiness, he feels an interior imperative, on the line of that magnificent "urget" of Paul (cf. 2Co 5,14).
We all discover this interior character by reading and re-reading the works of Peter, Paul, John and others, in order to know from their works, from the words spoken, from the letters written, who the Twelve really were. The Church was born"in statu missionis" in living men.
41 And this missionary character of the Church was subsequently renewed in other individual men, from generation to generation. We must walk in the steps of these men to whom the Gospel was entrusted, in the different ages, as the work of salvation of the world. We must see them as they were internally; as the Holy Spirit moulded them; as love of Christ transformed them. Only then can we see from close up that reality which the missionary vocation conceals.
3. In the Church, where every faithful is an evangelizer, Christ continues to choose the men he wants "that they might be with him so that he might send them to preach to the nations" (Ad Gentes AGD 23). In this way the story of the sending of the Apostles becomes the history of the Church from the first to the last hour.
The quality and the number of these vocations are the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, because it is the Spirit "who shares his gifts as he wills for the common good": for this supreme good he "implants in the hearts of individuals a missionary vocation" (ibid. AGD 23). It is certainly the Spirit who inspires and moves the men chosen, in order that the Church can assume her evangelizing responsibility. The Church being, in fact, the mission incarnate, she reveals this incarnation of hers first of all in the men of the mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20,21).
In the Church, the presence of Christ, who calls and sends as during his mortal life, and of the Pentecostal Spirit who inflames, is the certainty that missionary vocations will never be lacking.
These people "marked and designated by the Spirit" (cf. Ac 13,2) "have a special vocation, whether they are natives of the place or foreigners, priests, religious, or lay people. Having been sent by legitimate authority they go forth in faith...'' (Ad Gentes AGD 23). The arising and multiplication of people consecrated for life to the mission is also an indication of the missionary spirit of the Church: from the general missionary vocation of the Christian community there springs up the special and specific vocation of the missionary. Vocation, in fact, is never in the singular, but touches the man through the community.
The Holy Spirit, who inspires the vocation of the individual, is the same who "raises up in the Church Institutes who take on the duty of evangelization, which pertains to the whole Church, and make it as it were their own special task" (ibid. AGD 23). Orders, Congregations and Missionary Institutes have represented and lived the missionary commitment of the Church for centuries, and they still live it fully today.
The Church, therefore, confirms her trust and her mandate to these Institutions, and greets with joy and hope the new ones that arise in the Communities of the missionary world. But they, in their turn, being the expression of the missionary spirit also of the local Churches from which they have sprung, in which they live, and for which they operate, intend to dedicate themselves to the formation of missionaries who are the real agents of evangelization on the line of Christ's Apostles. Their number must not diminish; on the contrary, it must adapt itself to the immense necessities of the not distant times in which the peoples will open up to Christ and to his Gospel of life.
Furthermore, no one can fail to see a sign of the new missionary age which the Church is expecting and preparing. The local Churches, old and new, are vivified and shaken by a new anxiety, that of finding specifically missionary forms of action with the sending of their own members to the nations, either on their own account or cooperating with the missionary Institutes. The mission of evangelization "which falls (precisely) on the whole Church" is increasingly felt as the direct commitment of the local Churches, which therefore give their priests, men and women religious and laity to the mission fields. Pope Paul VI clearly saw and described it: "An evangelizer, the Church begins by evangelizing herself... That means, in a word, that she always needs to be evangelized if she wishes to keep freshness, élan and strength to proclaim the Gospel."
Consequently, every Church will have to put itself in the perspective of that apostolic vocation which Paul recognized himself as having among the Gentiles and because of which he groaned: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1Co 9,16).
4. The first Sunday in May was dedicated particularly to prayer for vocations. We have prolonged this prayer for the whole month, commending this problem, which is so important, to Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church.
Now in the period of the Ascension of the Lord, preparing for the solemnity of Pentecost, we wish to express in this prayer the missionary character of the Church. Therefore we also ask that the grace of missionary vocation, granted to the Church from apostolic times throughout so many centuries and so many generations, may ring out in the modern generation of Christians with a new force of faith and hope: "Go... and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28,19).
1. Already in the first sentences of the Acts of the Apostles we read that Jesus, after his passion and resurrection, "presented himself to them alive... by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God" (Ac 1,3). Then he announced that they would shortly be "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Ac 1,5). And before the final parting, as the author of the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke, notes, in this case in his Gospel, he ordered them: "... stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lc 24,49). Therefore, after he had left the Apostles, by ascending to heaven, they "returned to Jerusalem" (Lc 24,52), where—as the Acts inform us again—they "devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus" (Ac 1,14). Certainly the place of this common prayer, explicitly recommended by the Master, was the temple of Jerusalem as we read in the conclusion to the Gospel of St Luke (Lc 24,53). But it was also the Upper Room, as can be gathered from the Acts of the Apostles. The Lord Jesus had said to them: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Ac 1,8).
Year after year, the Church in her liturgy celebrates the Lord's Ascension on the fortieth day after Easter.
Year after year, she spends also that period of ten days from Ascension to Pentecost in prayer to the Holy Spirit. In a certain sense the Church prepares, year after year, for the anniversary of her birth. She was born on the cross on Good Friday—as the Fathers teach; she revealed this birth of hers to the world on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles were "clothed with power from on high" (Lc 24,49); when they were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Ac 1,5). "Ubi enim Ecclesia, ibi et Spiritus Dei; ubi Spiritus Dei, illic Ecclesia et omnis gratia: Spiritus autem veritas" (Where the Church is, there is also the Spirit of God; and where the spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace: the Spirit is truth.") (St Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, II, 24, 1: PG 7,966)
2. Let us try to persevere in this rhythm of the Church. In the course of these days she invites us to take part in the novena to the Holy Spirit. It can be said that, among the various novenas, this is the most ancient one; it takes its origin, in a way, from the institution by Christ the Lord. It is clear that Jesus did not designate the prayers which we are to recite during these days. But, certainly, he urged the Apostles to spend these days in prayer in expectation of the descent of the Holy Spirit. This urging was valid not only then. It is still valid. And the period of ten days after the Lord's Ascension brings with it, every year, the same call of the Master. It also conceals within it the same Mystery of Grace, connected with the rhythm of liturgical time. It is necessary to take advantage of this time. In it, too, let us try to reflect deeply, in a particular way, and in a certain way to enter the Upper Room together with Mary and with the Apostles, preparing our souls to accept the Holy Spirit and his action in us. All this is of great importance for the interior maturity of our faith, of our Christian vocation. And it is also of great importance for the Church as a community: may every community in the Church and the whole Church, as a community of all communities, mature, year after year, by means of the Gift of Pentecost.
"The reinvigorating breath of the Spirit has come to awaken slumbering energies in the Church, to arouse sleeping charisms, to instil that sense of vitality and joy which at every period of history defines the Church herself as young and of topical interest, ready and happy to proclaim again her eternal message to the new times" (Paul VI, Address to the Cardinals, [21 December 1973]: AAS 66 (1974), 18).
This year, too, it is necessary to prepare for acceptance of this Gift. Let us try to take part in the prayer of the Church. "...Il est impossible d'entendre l'Esprit sans écouter ce qu'il dit à l'Eglise" ("...it is impossible to hear the Spirit without listening to what he says to the Church": H. de Lubac, Méditations sur l'Eglise, Paris 1973, Aubier 168).
Let us also pray alone. There is a special prayer which will ring out with due strength in the liturgy of Pentecost; we can, however, repeat it often, especially in the present period of expectation:
"Come, Holy Spirit / send us from heaven / a ray of your light. / Come, father of the poor, / come, giver of gifts, / come, light of hearts. / ...sweet guest of the soul / most sweet relief. / In toil, rest, / in heat, shelter / in tears, comfort. / ...Wash what is dirty, / water what is dry / heal what bleeds. / Bend what is rigid / Warm what is cold / straighten what is crooked."
We will come back one day, perhaps, to this magnificent Sequence and try to comment on it. Today let it be enough briefly to recall to memory some words and some sentences.
So let us address our prayers to the Holy Spirit in this period. Let us pray for his gifts. Let us pray for the transformation of our souls. Let us pray for fortitude in confessing the faith, for consistency of life with faith. Let us pray for the Church, so that she may carry out her mission in the Holy Spirit; so that the counsel and the Spirit of her Bridegroom and his God may accompany her (cf. S. Bernard, In Vigilia Nativitatis Domini, Sermo 3, n. 1: PL 183, 941). Let us pray for the union of all Christians: for union in carrying out the same mission.
43 3. The description of this moment in which the Apostles, gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, received the Holy Spirit, is linked particularly with the revelation of tongues. We read: "And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Ac 2,2-4).
The event, which took place in the Upper Room, did not pass unnoticed outside, among the people who were then in Jerusalem, and were—as we read—Jews of various nations. "...the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language" (Ac 2,6). And those who were surprised in this way, hearing them speak their own language, are subsequently enumerated in the description of the Acts of the Apostles: "Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and Proselytes, Cretans and Arabians" (Ac 2,9-11). On the day of Pentecost all these people heard the Apostles, who were Galileans, speak in their own languages and proclaim the great works of God (cf. Ac 2,11).
And so, therefore, the day of Pentecost brings with it the visible and perceptible proclamation of the realization of Christ's mandate: "Go... and make disciples of all nations..." (Mt 28,19). By means of the revelation of languages, we already see, in a way, and hear the Church which, carrying out this mandate, is born and lives among the various nations of the earth.
In a few days, on the jubilee of St Stanislaus I will have the fortune to go to Poland, to my native land. I shall celebrate Pentecost, the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit, just there. For this opportunity I have already, more than once, expressed my thanks to the Episcopate and to the Polish governmental authorities for the above invitation. Today I do so again.
In this perspective, I wish to express my particular joy because to that revelation of languages on the day of Pentecost there have been added, during history, also the individual Slav languages from Macedonia through Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Bohemia, Slovakia, Lusatia, in the West. And in the East: Rus (called the Ukraine today), Russia and Belorussia. I wish to express my very special joy because to the revelation of languages in the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost there has been added also my nation and its language: the Polish language.
Since I am offered the opportunity of visiting my country on the solemnity of Pentecost, I wish to express my thanks because the Gospel has been announced for so many centuries in all these languages, and particularly in my national language. And at the same time I wish to serve this important cause of our times: in order that "the great works of God" may continue to be proclaimed with faith and courage as the seed of hope and love which Christ grafted in us, by means of the Gift of Pentecost.
My visit to Poland, from 2 to 10 June next, will take place while events of great significance are being held in Italy and other European countries: in Italy, on 3 and 4 June, the elections for the national Parliament; on 10 June, in the nine countries of the European Community, the election, on a popular basis, of the first Parliament of the community itself.
Far away physically, I will feel near in heart to the tens and tens of millions of men and women who will be preparing to carry out a duty which is, at the same time, an act of service to the common good. I will pray to the Lord, and I am sure that you will pray with me, that each one will carry out this duty with a sense of responsibility and maturity, inspired by the deep dictates of his own conscience.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1979 33