John Paul II Homilies
2 June 1997
1. "My soul magnifies the Lord" (Lc 1,46). The Magnificat! We have heard once again the words of the canticle in today's Gospel. Mary, after the Annunciation, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And Elizabeth, hearing Mary's greeting, experienced a special moment of illumination. In the depths of her heart she knew that her young relative was carrying in her womb the Messiah. Greeting Mary she therefore exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Lc 1,42). Then, in response to Elizabeth's greeting, Mary gives praise to God with the words of the Magnificat:
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour . . ." (Lc 1,46-47).
The Church never grows tired of going back to the words of this canticle. In particular she repeats them every day at vespers, giving thanks to God for the same reason that Mary thanked him: for the fact that the Son of God was made man and came to dwell among us. And we today, at this Liturgy of the Holy Mass in Legnica, sing with Mary the Magnificat in order to express our gratitude for the unending presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For we have come together in the context of the International Eucharistic Congress at Wroclaw . With the words of Mary we give thanks for every good thing in which we share through the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord.
We raise this song of thanksgiving together with all the generations of believers throughout the world. And it is a particular joy for us that this universal hymn is being heard in Lower Silesia — here in Legnica. I am pleased that I have been able to come here to meet the Christian community that for five years has been part of the new Diocese of Legnica. I offer words of cordial greeting to your Shepherd, Bishop Tadeusz, to his Auxiliary Bishop, to the priests, to the consecrated persons and to all the faithful of the Diocese. I greet also the pilgrims from Germany and from the Czech Republic, and the Sorbo-Lusatians. I thank them for their presence.
Your diocese is young, but Christianity in these lands has a long and rich tradition. We all know that Legnica is an historic place, the place where a Prince of the Piast Dynasty, Henry II the Pious, son of Saint Hedwig, put up resistance to the invaders from the East — the Tartars — halting their dangerous onslaught westwards. For this reason, although the battle was for the moment lost, many historians see it as one of the most important battles in the history of Europe. It also has exceptional importance from the point of view of faith. It is difficult to identify the main motives which prevailed in Henry's heart — the desire to defend his homeland and its tormented people, or to halt the Muslim army that was threatening Christianity. It seems that both motives were equally present in him. Henry, giving his life for the people entrusted to his rule, gave it at the same time for his faith in Christ. And that is a significant characteristic of his piety, which the generations of that time noted and preserved in the epithet attached to his name.
This historical circumstance linked to the place of our Liturgy today prompts a reflection on the mystery of the Eucharist from a particular perspective, the perspective of social life. In this regard, the Second Vatican Council rightly teaches: "No Christian community can be built up unless it has its basis and centre in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist"; from this, therefore, "all education in the spirit of community must originate" (Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 6).
2. "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1Co 3,16). These words of Saint Paul were addressed to a specific Christian community — the one at Corinth — but they are valid for every community that develops in any city or village down the centuries. What did the first communities live by? Whence did they receive the Spirit of God? The Acts of the Apostles testify that Christians from the very beginning were assiduous in prayer, in listening to the word of God and in the breaking of the bread, that is, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist (cf. 2:42). Thus they would go back every day to the Upper Room, to the moment when Christ instituted the Eucharist. From then on the Eucharist became the beginning of a new structure.
The Eucharist became the source of a close link between Christ's disciples: it was to build up "communion", the community of his Mystical Body, rooted in love and permeated by love. The visible sign of this love was the daily concern for every person who was in need. The sharing of the Eucharistic Bread constituted for Christians an invitation and a commitment to share also their daily bread with those who were without it. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, there were also those who, having property and goods, "sold [them] and distributed them to all, as any had need" (2:45). This activity of the first ecclesial community in all the dimensions of social life was the continuation of Christ's mission to bring to the world a new justice — the justice of the Kingdom of God.
3. Brothers and Sisters! Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, it becomes clear also for us that we are called to live according to this same way of life and by the same Spirit. This is the great task for our generation, for all Christians of our day: to bring the light of Christ into daily life. To bring it into the "modern areopagi", into the vast territories of contemporary civilization and culture, of politics and economics. Faith cannot be lived only in the depths of the human soul. It must find external expression in the life of society. "If any one says, 'I love God', and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (1Jn 4,20-21). This is the great task placed before us, people of faith.
Many times I have dealt with social questions in my talks, and above all in my Encyclicals: Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Centesimus Annus. Yet, as long as there is an injustice in the world, no matter how small, we must return to these themes. Otherwise the Church would not be faithful to the mission entrusted to her by Christ — the mission of justice. Times in fact do change, circumstances change, but there are always in our midst those who need the voice of the Church and that of the Pope, to give expression to their anxiety, pain and misery. They must not be disappointed. They must know that the Church was and is with them, that the Pope is with them; that he embraces with his heart and with his prayer all who are affected by suffering. The Pope will speak out — and he cannot fail to speak out — on social problems, because here man is involved, concrete individuals.
I speak about this in Poland too, because I know that my Nation needs this message about justice. Today, in fact, in these times of the building of a democratic State, in these times of dynamic economic development, we see with particular clarity all the shortcomings in the social life of our country. Every day we become aware of how many families are suffering from poverty, especially large families. How many single mothers are struggling to take care of their children! How many old people there are who are abandoned and without means to live! In institutions for orphans and abandoned children there is no lack of those without enough food and clothing. How can we fail to mention the sick who cannot be given proper care because of a lack of resources? On the streets and in the squares the number of homeless people is increasing. We cannot pass over in silence the presence in our midst of all these brothers and sisters who are also members of the Mystical Body of Christ. As we approach the Eucharistic table to be fed with his Body we cannot remain indifferent to those who lack daily bread. We need to talk about them, but we must also meet their needs. This is an obligation that rests especially on those who exercise authority: those who are at the service of the common good have the obligation to establish appropriate laws and to guide the national economy in such a way that these painful phenomena of social life find a proper solution. But it is also a common duty of us all, a duty of love, to provide help according to our abilities to those who expect it. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). Our Christian work is needed, our love, so that Christ present in our neighbour will not suffer want.
In our country much has already been done about this. The Church in Poland too has done and is doing much in this regard. The Church's pastoral activity now includes regular programmes to help the needy, the sick and the homeless, not only in this country but also abroad. Volunteer associations and works of charity are developing. I therefore wish to express my appreciation to all those among the clergy, religious and laity who every day show sensitivity to the needs of others, the ability to share their assets generously and a great commitment to the well-being of others. Your service, often hidden, often passed over in silence by the media, remains a permanent sign of the pastoral credibility of the Church's mission.
Despite these efforts, there still remains a wide field for action. I encourage you, Brothers and Sisters, to become ever more sensitive to every kind of need and to work generously with others to bring hope to those who have none. May the Eucharist be for you an endless source of this sensitivity and of the strength necessary for putting it into action in daily life.
4. I would like to dwell for a moment on the question of human work. At the beginning of my Pontificate I devoted to this problem a whole Encyclical, Laborem Exercens. Today, sixteen years after its publication, many problems are still with us. Many of these are even more acute in our country. How can I fail to mention those who, following the reorganization of businesses and agricultural enterprises, have found themselves faced with the tragedy of the loss of their jobs? How many individuals and entire families have fallen into extreme poverty because of this! How many young people no longer see any reason to take up studies or to raise the level of their qualifications, because they are faced with the prospect of lack of employment in their chosen profession! I wrote in the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis that unemployment is a sign of social and economic underdevelopment in States (cf. No. 18). Therefore everything possible should be done to prevent this situation. Work, in fact, "is a good thing for man — a good thing for his humanity — because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ?more a human being'" (Laborem Exercens LE 9). On the other hand, for Christians who own means of production it is also an obligation springing from faith and love to work for the creation of jobs, and thus contribute to the solution of the problem of unemployment around them. I pray earnestly to God that all who desire to earn an honest living by the work of their own hands will find the right conditions to do so.
Alongside the problem of unemployment there is also the attitude of those who consider the worker as a tool of production, with the result that man is insulted in his personal dignity. In practice, this phenomenon takes the form of exploitation. It is often manifested in conditions of employment in which the worker not only has no guaranteed rights but is subjected to such an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear of the loss of his job that he is in practice deprived of any freedom of decision. This exploitation is also often seen in the fixing of work schedules which deprive the worker of the right to rest and to provide for the spiritual good of his family. This is often associated with inadequate pay, together with a negligence in the areas of insurance and health assistance. Nor are there lacking cases in which the right to personal dignity is denied, especially with regard to women.
Human labour cannot be treated merely as a resource necessary for production — the so-called "work force". Man cannot be regarded as a tool of production. Man is the creator of work and its craftsman. Everything must be done to ensure that work does not lose its proper dignity. The purpose of work — of all work — is man himself. By means of his work he should be able to perfect and deepen his own personality. It is not right to forget — and I want to emphasize this strongly — that work is "for man" and not man "for work". God places before us great tasks, demanding from us testimony in the social sphere. As Christians, as people who believe, we must sensitize our consciences to every kind of injustice and every form of exploitation, open or disguised.
Here I speak first of all to those brothers in Christ who give work to others. Do not let yourselves be deceived by visions of immediate profit, at the expense of others. Beware of any semblance of exploitation. Otherwise every sharing in the Eucharistic Bread will become for you an accusation. On the other hand, to those who undertake work, any type of work, I say: do it responsibly, honestly and accurately. Take on your duties in a spirit of cooperation with God in the work of the creation of the world. "Subdue the earth" (cf. Gen Gn 1,28). Take on your work with a sense of responsibility for the promotion of the common good, which is to serve not only the present generation but all those who in the future will dwell in this land — our homeland — Poland.
5. "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you" (Dt 30,15-16) — these words from the testament of Moses resound today with great force in our land. "Therefore choose life!" (Dt 30,19), Moses exhorts.
Which road shall we take into the Third Millennium? "I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil", the Prophet says. Brothers and sisters, I beg you: "Therefore choose life"! This choice is made in the heart, in the conscience of every person, but it is not without effect also in the life of a society — of a nation. Therefore, every believer is somehow responsible for the shape taken by life in society. A Christian who lives by faith, who lives by the Eucharist, is called to build his own future and the future of his Nation — a future based on the solid foundations of the Gospel. Have no fear therefore of accepting responsibility for the social life of our homeland. This is the great task placed before man: to go with courage to the world, to lay the foundations for the future; so that it may be a time of respect for man, a time of openness to the Good News! Do it with the unanimity that is born of love of man and love of country.
At the end of this century, what is needed is "a great act and a great work" — thus wrote one day Stanislaw Wyspianski (Przy wielkim czynie i przy wielkim dziele) — to fill the civilization in which we live with the spirit of justice and love. There is need of "a great act and a great work", in order that contemporary culture may open itself wide to holiness, that it may cultivate human dignity, teach contact with beauty. Let us build on the Gospel, in order to be able with successive generations of Poles living in a homeland which is free and prosperous to give thanks to God with the Psalmist:
"Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts" (Ps 145,2-4).
6. "My soul magnifies the Lord"! During the International Eucharistic Congress in Lower Silesia, with Mary let us give thanks for the Eucharist — the source of social love. May the crowning of the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Graces at Krzeszów be the expression of this unity.
The Shrine of Krzeszów was founded by Anna, the widow of Henry II the Pious, one year after the battle of Legnica. Already in the thirteenth century legions of pilgrims used to gather before the picture of Our Blessed Mother. And even then the shrine was called Domus Gratiae Mariae.Truly it was the House of the Grace generously distributed by the Mother of God, to which many pilgrims came from various countries, especially Bohemians, Germans, Sorbo-Lusatians and Poles. We are happy that today too the Mother of God has brought together numerous pilgrims from these neighbouring countries.
May this sign of the placing of the crowns on the heads of Mary and the Child Jesus be an expression of our gratitude for the divine benefits which have been so copiously received and are always received by those, devoted to Mary, who hasten to the House of Grace at Krzeszów. May it also be a sign of the invitation that we make to Mary and Jesus to reign in our hearts and in the life of our Nation: may we all become temples of God and courageous witnesses of his love for everyone.
Gorzów- 2 June 1997
1. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rm 8,35).
This is the question asked by Saint Paul in the Letter to the Romans. Today we repeat it in the Liturgy, during this visit to the Church in Gorzów Wielkopolski. In the spirit of this love, I cordially greet all the People of God in this Diocese. I greet Bishop Adam, Pastor of this Church, his Auxiliary Bishops, the clergy, and the pilgrims from neighbouring Dioceses and from abroad. I am pleased to be able to pray with you today and to celebrate this Liturgy of the Word. I give thanks to Divine Providence for this meeting.
Your community has as its patrons several martyrs who - together with Saint Adalbert - are the most ancient witnesses to Christ on Polish soil. The Church's tradition has preserved the memory of these hermits named Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac and Christin. They lived here, in your region, in the time of Boleslaw the Brave. As was the martyr's death of Saint Adalbert, their martyrdom too was described in the chronicle of Saint Bruno of Querfurt, the apostle and missionary Bishop who in the time of Boleslaw the Brave engaged in evangelization in the territories of western and northern Poland. They are called the Polish Brethren, even though there were foreigners among them. Two of them came to Poland from Italy, in order to transplant monastic life here in accordance with the Rule of Saint Benedict. Their death by martyrdom, along with that of Saint Adalbert, took place in a sense at the threshold of the thousand-year history of Christianity in our land.
2. The martyrs are outstanding witnesses to the Most High God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The words of the Letter to the Romans which we have just head remind us of the Trinitarian mystery which is the origin of the world's Redemption. God, the Apostle writes, "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all". On the basis of this, Paul then asks: "Will he not also give us all things with him?" (8:32). Behold: Jesus Christ who for us died and rose on the third day, is at God's right hand and intercedes for us. From this life of Christ nothing can separate us (cf. Rom Rm 8,34-35). We are joined to it by faith. And this faith in the redemptive power of Christ's Death and Resurrection is the source of our victory: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (cf. Rm 8,37). Christ's redemptive love unites us to God. It is the source of our justification. From it we become certain of the victory proclaimed by the Apostle.
This certainty of victory marked the first martyrs on Polish soil. It has marked the Church's martyrs in every age. But while we admire their witness, which shows that "love is stronger than death" (cf. S. of S. 8:6), the question arises in the hearts of each of us: would the faith, hope and love which I possess be sufficient for me to give such an heroic witness? The answer seems to comes from the liturgical prayer which we have just recited: "God, you made holy the beginnings of the faith in Poland by the blood of the martyrs Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac and Christin. Strengthen our weakness by the power of your grace. By imitating the martyrs who did not hesitate to die for you, may we bear courageous witness to you in our lives". It is God who by his grace supports our witness. By the power of his spirit he strengthens us and makes us capable of bearing courageous witness to the faith.
3. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (cf. Rom Rm 8,37). Brothers and sisters, wherever there is no need for the witness of blood, the witness of daily life should be even more evident. We need to bear witness to God in word and deed everywhere, in every place: in the family, in the workplace, in offices and schools. In places where people work and where they rest. We need to profess our faith in God by taking an active part in the life of the Church; by concern for the weak and suffering, and also by taking responsibility for public issues, in a spirit of concern for the future of the nation, built on the truth of the Gospel. Such an attitude requires a mature faith, a personal commitment. It needs to express itself in concrete actions. At times, an attitude like this must exact a price in the heroism of complete self-denial. In our times and in our lives too, have we not experienced different kinds of humiliation in order to maintain our fidelity to Christ and thus to preserve our Christian dignity? All Christians are called, always and wherever they are placed by Providence, to acknowledge Christ before men (cf. Mt Mt 10,32).
How can we fail to recall here the witness of fidelity to tradition and to the Church which you bore in times which were very difficult for you? Many of you carry in your hearts the painful experiences of the Second World War. After the liberation, when you came to this area from various parts of Poland and even from beyond its borders, in a sense you began a new life. Uprooted from your places of origin, you nevertheless preserved the roots of faith. In the difficult time of great changes you were close to the Church, which sought to meet your spiritual and material needs like a good mother concerned for her children. I express my gratitude to the clergy and women Religious who did not hesitate to leave their native Dioceses in order to serve here with generosity. Together you helped to build a common house, not only materially, but above all spiritually, in people's hearts. In times of difficulty you were a support for these people, bringing them the light of faith and pointing to Christ as the one source of hope. I cannot list here the names of all, but I wish at least to recall with gratitude the late Bishop Wilhelm Pluta, a great Bishop of this Diocese. In a certain sense it was he who laid the foundations of this Diocese in very difficult times for our country. For long years he governed the Church of Gorzów, first as Administrator and then as its first Bishop. Today he is certainly here with us. I thank you, Bishop Wilhelm, for everything that you did for the Church in this area. I thank you for your efforts, your courage and your wisdom. I thank you also for everything that you did for the Church in Poland.
A great contribution to the development of religious life in this region came from your Major Seminary, from whose walls there issued ranks of priests so greatly awaited and so necessary here. Today all this is producing an abundant harvest. Let us give thanks to Divine Providence that today the Church in your Diocese is enjoying such great growth. At its beginnings this land was bathed in the blood of the holy martyrs, the Polish Brethren, who, like blazing torches, today guide your Church towards new times. The new times, the approaching third millennium, will continue to call for your witness. Before you new tasks will appear. Do not be afraid to take them up.
The tasks which God puts before us are commensurate to the abilities of each of us. They are not beyond our capacity. God comes to help us in the moments of our weakness. Only he truly knows that weakness. He knows it better than we do ourselves, and yet he does not reject us. On the contrary, in his merciful love, he bends down to us in order to comfort us. We receive this comfort through living contact with God. I would like to call your attention to this fact. Amid our ordinary human occupations we cannot lose contact with Christ. We need special moments set apart exclusively for prayer. Prayer is indispensable, both in personal life and in the apostolate. There can be no authentic Christian witness unless we have first been strengthened by prayer. Prayer is the source of inspiration, energy and courage in the face of difficulties and obstacles: it is the source of perseverance and of the ability to take initiatives with renewed strength.
The life of prayer is nourished above all by participation in the Church's Liturgy. In order to be able to grow, the interior life requires participation at Holy Mass and recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this way, the whole of life is pervaded by Christ: by Christ himself and by his grace. For it was he who said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6,56). The Eucharist is the spiritual food from which in a particular way we draw spiritual strength in our journey of witness, so that we can bear fruit abundantly. For this reason taking part in Sunday Mass is so important. Neither family occupations nor other questions ought to remain outside the context of the spiritual life. In Christ, every human activity takes on a more profound meaning and becomes authentic witness. Rooted in the spirit of prayer, the soul then opens itself to the infinite and eternal God. It seeks to serve this God and to draw from him the strength and the light which make its activity Christian. Thanks to faith, we recognize in our lives the workings of God's plan of love, we discover the constant care of the Father who is in heaven.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the martyred Polish Brethren show us the example of such a life. They themselves, Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac and Christin, in the silence of their hermitages, devoted much time to prayer and in this way prepared for the great task which God in his inscrutable plans had prepared for them: to give Him the supreme witness to offer their lives for the Gospel. The Polish Brethren - as we call them - through the tribute of their blood offered to God at the beginning of our nation and of the Church in this nation wished to say to all those who would come after them that in order to bear witness to Christ it is necessary to be prepared. Witness in fact is born, matures and is ennobled in the atmosphere of prayer, of that profound and mysterious dialogue with God. On our knees! We cannot show Christ to others if we have not first met him in our own lives. Only then will our witness have true value. It will be a seed growing up for all humanity, the salt of the earth and the light which scatters the darkness for our brothers and sisters journeying along the paths of this world.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?". Saint Paul today cries out these words for us. May this cry penetrate the depths of our hearts and minds! Be vigilant, so that nothing may separate you from this love: no false slogan, no mistaken ideology, no yielding to the temptation of compromise with what is not from God or with the quest of self-advantage. Reject everything that destroys and weakens communion with Christ. Be faithful to God's commandments and to the commitments of your Baptism.
4. "And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul" (Mt 10,28). These are the words of Christ, taken from the Gospel of Matthew. The Church applies them to the martyrs and in our context to Saint Adalbert and to the holy Polish Brethren. Martyrdom is the highest expression of the strength of those who, by cooperating with grace, are made capable of heroic witness. In martyrdom the Church sees "an outstanding sign" of her holiness. A precious sign for the Church and the world, since "it helps to avoid the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities. By the eloquent and attractive example of their lives, the martyrs, together with all the Church's saints, build up the moral sense. By witnessing to the good, they are a reproof to those who transgress the law" (cf. Veritatis Splendor VS 93). Looking to the example of the martyrs, do not be afraid to bear witness. Do not be afraid of holiness. Have the courage to strive for the full measure of your humanity! Demand this of yourselves, even if others should not demand it of you!
People have a natural fear not only of suffering and death but also of opinions which differ from their own, especially if those opinions are spread by means of communication so powerful that they become instruments of pressure. As a result, people often prefer to adapt to the environment, to the fashion of the moment, rather than run the risk of bearing witness in fidelity to Christ's Gospel. The martyrs remind us that the dignity of the human person is priceless; it is a dignity which "may never be disparaged or called into question, even with good intentions, whatever the difficulties involved" (Veritatis Splendor VS 92). "For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life" (Mc 8,36). And so I repeat once again with Christ: "Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul" (Mt 10,28). Is the dignity of conscience not more important than any external profit? The martyred Polish Brethren, whom we recall in today's Liturgy, Saint Adalbert, Saint Stanislaus, Saint Andrew Bobola, Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe and the martyrs of every age all testify to the primacy of conscience and its inviolable dignity, the primacy of the spirit over the body, the primacy of eternity over time. What took place here, at the beginning of this millennium of Christianity, in the time of Boleslaw the Brave, has many times been echoed in history and, most recently, also in the history of our own century. During this century how many men and women bore heroic witness to Christ before others? We believe that the death which they suffered out of fidelity to their own consciences, out of fidelity to Christ, will find a response in the hearts of believers: their witness will strengthen the weak and the faint-hearted, and will be the source of new vitality for the Church in this land of the Piast. Christ assures us that he will acknowledge before his heavenly Father all those who did not hesitate to acknowledge him before men (cf. Mt Mt 10,32-33), even at the cost of immense sacrifice. Christ exhorts us also to be on guard against denying the faith and against failing to bear witness to it before others.
And the whole Church today obtains grace thanks to the mediation of the martyrs. The whole Church rejoices in their courageous confession of faith, in which our weakness finds strength. This is for us the sign of hope! "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?... I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm 8,35).
John Paul II Homilies