Speeches 1987 - Immaculate Conception School (Los Angeles)
Wednesday, 16 September 1987
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Representatives of World Religions and Religious Leaders,
1. It is a great Joy for me to meet you, the local representatives of great religions of the world, during the course of my pastoral visit. I wish to thank in particular the Japanese community of Los Angeles for their kind hospitality at this centre, which is a symbol of cultural diversity within the United States as well as a symbol of dialogue and interaction at the service of the common good. I understand that the Japanese community has been present in this area of Los Angeles for a century. May God continue to bless you with every good gift now and in the future. I also wish to extend cordial greetings to all religious leaders and to all people of good will who honour us with their presence today.
It is my conviction that we must make use of every opportunity to show love and respect for one another in the spirit of Nostra Aetate which, as the theme of our meeting affirms, is indeed alive twenty-two years after is promulgation among the documents of the Second Vatican Council. This declaration on the relation of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian religions speaks of "that which people have in common and of those things which tend to promote fellowship among them" (Nostra Aetate NAE 1). This continues to be the basis of our efforts to develop a fruitful relationship among all the great religions of the world.
2. As I stated earlier this year, the Catholic Church remains firmly committed to the proclamation of the Gospel and to dialogue with people of other religions: proclamation of the Gospel, because as Nostra Aetate points out, the Church "must ever proclaim Christ, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14,6) in whom people find the fullness of religious life, and in whom God has reconciled all things to himself (Cfr. 2Cor 2Co 5,18-19)" (Nostra Aetate NAE 2); dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, because of the spiritual and moral goods that we share (Cfr. ibid.). That dialogue "is a complex of human activities, all founded upon respect and esteem for people of different religions. It includes the daily living together in peace and mutual help, with each bearing witness to the values learned through the experience of faith. It means a readiness to cooperate with others for the betterment of humanity, and a commitment to search together for true peace. It means the encounter of theologians and other religious specialists to explore, with their counterparts from other religions, areas of convergence and divergence. Where circumstances permit, it means a sharing of spiritual experiences and insights. This sharing can take the form of coming together as brothers and sisters to pray to God in ways which safeguard the uniqueness of each religious tradition" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad sodales Secretariatus pro non-Christianis, die 28 apr. 1987: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, X, 1 (1987) 1449-1450).
Throughout my pontificate it has been my constant concern to fulfil this twofold task of proclamation and dialogue. On my pastoral visits around the world I have sought to encourage and strengthen the faith of the Catholic people and other Christians as well. At the same time I have been pleased to meet leaders of all religions in the hope of promoting greater interreligious understanding and cooperation for the good of the human family. I was very gratified at the openness and good will with which the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi last October was received, not only by the various Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, but by the other religions of the world as well. I was also pleased that another World Day of Prayer subsequently took place in Japan at Mount Hiei.
3. What I said in Assisi also applies to our meeting today: "The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs, because every human being must sincerely follow his or her upright conscience with the intention of seeking and obeying the truth. Our meeting attests only - and this is its real significance for the people of our time - that in the great battle for peace, humanity, in its very diversity, must draw from its deepest and most vivifying sources where its conscience is formed and upon which is founded the moral action of all people".
It is in that spirit that I wish, through you, to greet each of your communities before saying something further about the concern for peace that we all share.
To the Buddhist Community, which reflects numerous Asian traditions as well as American: I wish respectfully to acknowledge your way of life, based upon compassion and loving kindness and upon a yearning for peace, prosperity and harmony for all beings. May all of us give witness to compassion and loving kindness in promoting the true good of humanity.
To the Islamic Community: I share your belief that mankind owes its existence to the One, Compassionate God who created heaven and earth. In a world in which God is denied or disobeyed, in a world that experiences so much suffering and is so much in need of God’s mercy, let us then strive together to be courageous bearers of hope.
To the Hindu Community: I hold in esteem your concern for inner peace and for the peace of the world, based not on purely mechanistic or materialistic political considerations, but on self-purification, unselfishness, love and sympathy for all. May the minds of all people be imbued with such love and understanding.
To the Jewish Community: I repeat the Second Vatican Council’s conviction that the Church "cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his mercy established the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that good olive tree onto which has been grafted the wild olive branches of the Gentiles (Cfr. Rom Rm 11,17-24)” (Nostra Aetate NAE 4), With you, I oppose every form of anti-Semitism. May we work for the day when all peoples and nations may enjoy security, harmony and peace.
4. Dear brothers and sisters of these religions and of every religion: so many people today experience inner emptiness even amid material prosperity because they overlook the great questions of life: "What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is goodness and what is sin? What gives rise to suffering and what purpose does it serve? What is the path to true happiness? What is death, judgement and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate, ineffable mystery which embraces our existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we move?" (Nostra Aetate NAE 1).
These profoundly spiritual questions, which are shared to some degree by all religions, also draw us together in a common concern for man’s earthly welfare, especially world peace. As I said at Assisi: “(World religions) share a common respect of and obedience to conscience, which teaches all of us to seek the truth, to love and serve all individuals and peoples, and therefore to make peace among individuals and among nations” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad legatos christianarum Ecclesiarum aliarumque religionum in conclusione communis orationis pro pace, 2, die 27 oct. 1986: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IX, 2 (1986) 1260).
In the spirit of the kind words with which you addressed me earlier as an advocate of peace, let us continue to seek peace for the human family: through prayer, since peace transcends our human efforts; through penance, since we have not always been "peacemakers"; through prophetic witness, since old divisions and social evils need to be challenged; and through constant initiatives on behalf of the rights of individuals and nations, and on behalf of justice everywhere. The fragile gift of peace will survive only if there is a concerted effort on the part of all, to be concerned with the “glaring inequalities not merely in the enjoyment of possessions but even more in the exercise of power” (Pauli VI Populorum Progressio PP 9). In this regard world leaders and international bodies have their special role to play. But universal sensitivity is also called for, particularly among the young.
I believe that the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, universally recognized as a man of peace, touches the conscience of us all. It is that prayer that best expresses my sentiments in meeting all of you today:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to be love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Wednesday, 16 September 1987
1. I wish at this time to turn my thoughts once more to the Woman of faith and of all salvation history: Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Mother of his Church; Mary, the Patroness of the United States under the title of her Immaculate Conception.
I entrust to you, Virgin Mother of God, all the faithful of this land. I entrust them to you, not only as individual men and women in the nobility of their personhood, but as the Christian community, living corporately the life of your divine Son.
I entrust to you my brother bishops in their great mission as servant pastors of God’s people, in communion with the Successor of Peter. I entrust to you all the priests, who minister generously in the name of the Good Shepherd; all the deacons bearing witness to Christ’s servanthood; all women and men religious proclaiming by their lives the holiness of God; all the laity working in virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation to order all temporal affairs according to the plan of God.
I entrust to you all the holy People of God - the pilgrim People of God - called to be mindful of their Christian dignity, called to conversion, called to eternal life.
In particular I entrust to you the families of America, in their quest for holiness, in their struggle against sin, in their vocation to be vital cells in the Body of Christ. I ask you to bless all husbands and wives, all fathers and mothers, and to confirm them in their high vocation of human love and openness to life. I entrust to you the children of this generation, asking you to preserve them in innocence, to protect them from all harm and abuse, and to let them grow up in a world of peace and justice and fraternal love.
I entrust to you all the women of the Church and the cause of their true human advancement in the world and their ever fuller participation in the life of the Church, according to the authentic plan of God. May they discover in you, O Mary, and in the freedom that was yours - from that moment of supreme liberation in your Immaculate Conception - the secret of living totally their femininity in fulfilment, progress and love.
I commend to your protection the young people that make up the future of the United States. I pray that in your Son Jesus Christ they may grasp the meaning of life, and come to understand deeply their call to serve their fellow human beings; that they may discover the profound fulfilment of chaste love, and the joy and strength that come from Christian hope.
I offer to your loving care the elderly people with all their sufferings and joys, and with their yet unfinished mission of service in your Church. I ask you to console and assist the dying, and to renew within the whole community a sense of the importance of human life at every stage, even when it is weak and defenceless.
I ask you to assist the single people with their special needs and special mission. Give them strength to live according to the beatitudes and to serve with generosity and gladness.
2. I entrust to you all those engaged in the great Christian struggle of life: all those who, despite human weaknesses and repeated falls, are striving to live according to the word of God; all those who are confused about the truth and are tempted to call evil good and darkness light; all those who are yearning for truth and grasping for hope.
I ask you to show yourself once again as a Mother with that deep human concern which was yours at Cana of Galilee. Help all those weighed down by the problems of life.Console the suffering. Comfort the sad and dejected, those tormented in spirit, those without families, loved ones or friends.
Assist the poor and those who need, and those subjected to discrimination or other forms of injustice. Come to the help of the unemployed. Heal the sick. Aid the handicapped and disabled, so that they may live in a manner befitting their dignity as children of God. Stir up the consciences of us all, to respond to the needs of others, with justice, mercy and love.
3. Through your intercession I ask that sinners may be reconciled, and that the whole Church in America become ever more attentive to Christ’s call to conversion and to holiness of life.
I pray that all those baptized in Christ your Son will be strengthened in the great cause of Christian unity, according to his will.
I ask your prayers so that citizens may work together to conquer evil with good, oppose violence, reject war and its weapons, satisfy hunger, overcome hatred, and remedy all forms of personal, social, national and international injustice.
I ask you to strengthen the Catholic people in truth and love, in their obedience to the commandments of God, and in their fidelity of the sacraments.
Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of the Angels: I entrust to you the whole Church in America. Help her to excel in sacrifice and service. Purify her love, renew her life, and convert her constantly to the Gospel of your Son. Lead her children with all their Christian and non-Christian brethren to eternal life, for the glory of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
Basilica of the Mission of San Carlos in Carmel
Thursday, 17 September 1987
Dear Bishop Shubsda,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Come today as a pilgrim to this Mission of San Carlos, which so powerfully evokes the heroic spirit and heroic deeds of Fray Junípero Serra and which enshrines his mortal remains. This serene and beautiful place is truly the historical and spiritual heart of California. All the missions of El Camino Real bear witness to the challenges and heroism of an earlier time, but not a time forgotten or without significance for the California of today and the Church of today.
These buildings and the men who gave them life, especially their spiritual father, Junípero Serra, are reminders of an age of discovery and exploration. The missions are the result of a conscious moral decision made by people of faith in a situation that presented many human possibilities, both good and bad, with respect to the future of this land and its native peoples. It was a decision rooted in a love of God and neighbour. It was a decision to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the dawn of a new age, which was extremely important for both the European settlers and the Native Americans.
2. Very often, at crucial moments in human affairs, God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. Although their story unfolds within the ordinary circumstances of daily life, they become larger than life within the perspective of history. We rejoice all the more when their achievement is coupled with a holiness of life that can truly be called heroic. So it is with Junípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be. This apostolic awareness is captured in the words ascribed to him: “In California is my life and there, God willing, I hope to die”. Through Christ’s Paschal Mystery, that death has become a seed in the soil of this state that continues to bear fruit “thirty - or sixty - or a hundred-fold” (Mt 13,9).
Father Serra was a man convinced of the Church’s mission, conferred upon her by Christ himself, to evangelize the world, to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Ibid.28, 19). The way in which he fulfilled that mission corresponds faithfully to the Church’s vision today of what evangelization means: "... the Church evangelizes when she seeks to convert, solely through the divine power of the message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieux which are theirs" Pauli VI Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).
He not only brought the Gospel to the Native Americans, but as one who lived the Gospel he also became their defender and champion. At the age of sixty he journeyed from Carmel to Mexico City to intervene with the Viceroy on their behalf – a journey which twice brought him close to death – and presented his now famous Representación with its "bill of rights", which had as their aim the betterment of every phase of missionary activity in California, particularly the spiritual and physical well-being of its Native Americans.
3. Father Serra and his fellow missionaries shared the conviction found everywhere in the New Testament that the Gospel is a matter of life and salvation. They believed that in offering to people Jesus Christ, they were doing something of immense value, importance and dignity. What other explanation can there be for the hardships that they freely and gladly endured, like Saint Paul and all the other great missionaries before them: difficult and dangerous travel, illness and isolation, an ascetical life-style, arduous labour, and also, like Saint Paul, that "concern for all the churches” (2Co 11,28) which Junípero Serra, in particular, experienced as Presidente of the California missions in the face of every vicissitude, disappointment and opposition.
Dear brothers and sisters: like Father Serra and his Franciscan brethren, we too are called to be evangelizers, to share actively in the Church’s mission of making disciples of all people. The way in which we fulfil that mission will be different from theirs. But their lives speak to us still because of their sure faith that the Gospel is true, and because of their passionate belief in the value of bringing that saving truth to others at great personal cost. Much to be envied are those who can give their lives for something greater than themselves in loving service to others. This, more than words or deeds alone, is what draws people to Christ.
This single-mindedness is not reserved for great missionaries in exotic places. It must be at the heart of each priest’s ministry and the evangelical witness of every religious. It is the key to their personal sense of well-being, happiness and fulfilment in what they are and what they do. This single-mindedness is also essential to the Christian witness of the Catholic laity. The covenant of love between two people in marriage and the successful sharing of faith with children require the effort of a lifetime. If couples cease believing in their marriage as a sacrament before God, or treat religion as anything less than a matter of salvation, then the Christian witness they might have given to the world is lost. Those who are unmarried must also be steadfast in fulfilling their duties in life if they are to bring Christ to the world in which they live.
“In him who is the source of my strength I have strength for everything” (Ph 4,13). These words of the great missionary, Saint Paul, remind us that our strength is not our own. Even in the martyrs and saints, as the liturgy reminds us, it is "(God’s) power shining through our human weakness" (Praefatio Martyrum). It is the strength that inspired Father Serra’s motto: "always forward, never back". It is the strength that one senses in this place of prayer so filled with his presence. It is the strength that can make each one of us, dear brothers and sisters, missionaries of Jesus Christ, witnesses of his message, doers of his word.
Thursday, 17 September 1987
Dear Archbishop Quinn,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. Thank you for your very kind welcome to San Francisco. It is a joy to be here with all of you. As I begin my pastoral visit to your historic city, I extend fraternal greetings to all the citizens of this metropolitan area. In the love of Christ I greet my brothers and sisters of the Catholic community. And in a special way I welcome this opportunity to be with you who are present in this basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
San Francisco! Both in name and by history you are linked to the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. And thus, as I come to your city on this pastoral visit, I think of all that Saint Francis means, not only to yourselves but to people all around the world. There is something about this man, who was born over eight hundred years ago in a little Italian town, that continues in our day to inspire people of vastly different cultures and religions.
Saint Francis was a man of peace and gentleness, a poet and lover of beauty. He was a man of poverty and simplicity, a man in tune with the birds and animals, enchanted by all of God’s creation. Above all, Francis was a man of prayer whose whole life was shaped by the love of Jesus Christ, and he wished to live in a way that spoke in the clearest terms of the everlasting love of God.
As I come today, then, to the city of San Francisco, I come in the spirit of this saint whose whole life proclaims the goodness and mercy of God.
2. Accordingly, I wish to speak to you about the all-embracing love of God. Saint John says: "Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God but that he has loved us and has sent his Son as an offering for our sins" (1Io. 4, 10). God’s love for us is freely given and unearned, surpassing all we could ever hope for or imagine. He does not love us because we have merited it or are worthy of it. God loves us, rather, because he is true to his own nature. As Saint John puts it, "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (Ibid. 4, 16).
The greatest proof of God’s love is shown in the fact that he loves us in our human condition, with our weaknesses and our needs. Nothing else can explain the mystery of the Cross. The Apostle Paul once wrote: "You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.Of these, I myself am the worst. But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and again everlasting life" (1Tm 1,15-16).
The love of Christ is more powerful than sin and death. Saint Paul explains that Christ came to forgive sin, and that his love is greater than any sin, stronger than all my personal sins or those of anyone else. This is the faith of the Church. This is the Good News of God’s love that the Church proclaims throughout history, and that I proclaim to you today: God loves you with an everlasting love. He loves you in Christ Jesus, his Son.
3. God’s love has many aspects. In particular, God loves us as our Father. The parable of the prodigal son expresses this truth most vividly. You recall that moment, in the parable, when the son came to his senses, decided to return home and set off for his father’s house. "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved. He ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him" (Lc 15,20). This is the fatherly love of God, a love always ready to forgive, eager to welcome us back.
God’s love for us as our Father is a strong and faithful love, a love which is full of mercy, a love which enables us to hope for the grace of conversion when we have sinned. As I said in my encyclical on the Mercy of God: "The parable of the prodigal son expresses in a simple but profound way the reality of conversion. Conversion is the most concrete expression of the working of love and of the presence of mercy in the human world... Mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Dives in Misericordia DM 6).
It is the reality of God’s love for us as our father that explains why Jesus told us when we pray to address God as "Abba, Father" (Cfr. Luc Lc 11,2 Mt 6,9).
4. It is also true to say that God’s love for us is like that of a mother. In this regard, God asks us, through the prophet Isaiah: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49,15).
God’s love is tender and merciful, patient and full of understanding. In the Scriptures, and also in the living memory of the Church, the love of God is indeed depicted and has been experienced as the compassionate love of a mother.
Jesus himself expressed a compassionate love when he wept over Jerusalem, and when he said: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings" (. Luc Lc 13,34).
5. Dear friends in Christ: the love of God is so great that it goes beyond the limits of human language, beyond the grasp of artistic expression, beyond human understanding. And yet, it is concretely embodied in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and in his Body, the Church. Once again this evening, here in Mission Dolores Basilica, I repeat to all of you the ageless proclamation of the Gospel!
God loves you! God loves you all, without distinction, without limit. He loves those of you who are elderly, who feel the burden of the years. He loves those of you who are sick, those who are suffering from AIDS and from AIDS-Related Complex. He loves the relatives and friends of the sick and those who care for them. He loves us all with an unconditional and everlasting love.
In the spirit of Saint Francis, then, I urge you all to open your hearts to God’s love, to respond by your prayers and by the deeds of your lives. Let go of your doubts and fears, and let the mercy of God draw you to his heart. Open the doors of your hearts to our God who is rich in mercy.
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us
in letting us be called children of God!
Yet that is what we are" (1Io. 3, 1).
Yes, that is what we are today and forever: children of a loving God!
Thursday, 17 September 1987
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Dear Religious of the United States of America,
1. In their deepest spiritual significance, the Vespers that we are praying together are the voice of the Bride addressing the Bridegroom (Cfr. Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 84). They are also the voice of the Bridegroom, "the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father" (Ibid.). With one and the same voice the Bride and the Bridegroom praise the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
In this liturgical song of praise we give expression to "the real nature of the true Church"-"both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly endowed, eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation, present in the world and yet not at home in it" (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 2). It is precisely the presence of God in human life and human affairs that you proclaim through your religious consecration and the practice of the evangelical counsels. It is to the reality of God’s love in the world that you bear witness by means of the many forms of your loving service to God’s people.
2. Dear religious sisters, and religious priests and brothers: for me, this is one of the most important moments of my visit. Here, with all of you, men and women religious of the United States, and in the spiritual presence of all the members of your congregations spread throughout this land or serving in other countries, I give heartfelt thanks to God for each and every one of you. He who is mighty has done great things for you, holy is his name! (Cfr. Luc Lc 1,49)
I greet each one of you with love and gratitude. I thank you for the warm welcome you have given me and I thank Sister Helen Garvey and Father Stephen Tutas, who have presented a picture of your dedicated lives. I rejoice because of your deep love of the Church and your generous service to God’s people. Every place I have visited in this vast country bears the marks of the diligent labour and immense spiritual energies of religious of both contemplative and active congregations in the Church. The extensive Catholic educational and health care systems, the highly developed network of social services in the Church - none of this would exist today, were it not for your highly motivated dedication and the dedication of those who have gone before you. The spiritual vigour of so many Catholic people testifies to the efforts of generations of religious in this land. The history of the Church in this country is in large measure your history at the service of God’s people.
As we remember your glorious past, let us be filled with hope that your future will be no less beneficial for the Church in the United States, and no less a prophetic witness of God’s Kingdom to each new generation of Americans.
3. The single most extraordinary event that has affected the Church in every aspect of her life and mission during the second half of the twentieth century has been the Second Vatican Council. The Council called the whole Church to conversion, to "newness of life", to renewal - to a renewal that consists essentially in an ever increasing fidelity to Jesus Christ her divine Founder.As " men and women who more closely follow and more clearly demonstrate the Saviour’s self-giving " (Lumen Gentium LG 42), it is only natural that religious should have experienced the call to renewal in a radical way. Thousands of religious in the United States have generously responded to this call, and continue to live it, with profound commitment. The results, the good fruits of this response are evident in the Church: we see a Gospel - inspired spirituality, which has led to a deepening of personal and liturgical prayer; a clearer sense of the Church as a communion of faith and love in which the grace and responsibility entrusted to each member are to be respected and encouraged; a new appreciation of the legacy of your founders and foundresses, so that the specific charism of each congregation stands out more clearly; a heightened awareness of the urgent needs of the modern world where religious, in close union with the bishops and in close collaboration with the whole Church, seek to carry on the work of the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan and the Good Teacher.
It would be unrealistic to think that such a deep and overall process of renewal could take place without risks and errors, without undue impatience on the part of some and undue fears on the part of others. Whatever the tension and polarization occasioned by change, whatever the mistakes made in the past, I am sure that all of you are convinced that the time has come to reach out once again to one another in a spirit of love and reconciliation, both within and beyond your congregations.
During the past two decades, there have also been profound insights into the meaning and value of religious life. Many of these insights, conceived in the experience of prayer and penance and authenticated by the teaching charism of the Church, have contributed greatly to ecclesial life. These insights have borne witness to the enduring identity of religious consecration and mission in the life of the Church. At the same time they have testified to the need for religious to adapt their activity to the needs of the people of our times.
4. Fundamental to the Council’s teaching on religious life is an emphasis on the ecclesial nature of the vocation to observe the evangelical counsels. Religious consecration " belongs inseparably to the life and holiness of the Church" (Lumen Gentium LG 44). "The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church has received from her Lord and which she ever preserves with the help of his grace" (Ibid. 43). It was precisely within this ecclesial context that in 1983 I asked the bishops of the United States to render a pastoral service by offering to those of you whose institutes are engaged in apostolic works special encouragement and support in living your ecclesial vocation to the full. I now wish to thank the bishops and all of you for your very generous collaboration in this important endeavour. In particular I thank the Pontifical Commission headed by Archbishop John Quinn. By God’s grace there now exists a fresh cooperative spirit between your religious institutes and the local Churches.
Your continuing participation in the mission of the Church at the diocesan and parish levels is of inestimable value to the well-being of the local Churches. Your communion with the local bishops and collaboration with the pastoral ministry of the diocesan clergy contributes to a strong and effective spiritual growth among the faithful. Your creative initiatives in favour of the poor and all marginalized persons and groups, whose needs might otherwise be neglected, are deeply appreciated. Your evangelizing and missionary work both at home and in other parts of the world is one of the great strengths of the Church in the United States. Alongside your traditional apostolates-which are as important now as ever before and which I encourage you to appreciate in their full significance - you are engaged in almost every area of defending human rights and of building a more just and equitable society. This is a record of unselfish response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.Yes, the entire Church in the United States benefits from the dedication of American religious to their ecclesial mission.
5. At the same time you are concerned about certain weaknesses affecting the structure of your institutes. The decline in vocations and the aging of your membership are serious challenges for each one of your institutes and for the corporate reality of religious life, and yet these are not new phenomena in the long experience of the Church. History teaches us that in ways generally unpredictable the radical "newness” of the Gospel message is always able to inspire successive generations to do what you have done, to renounce all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, in order to possess the pearl of great price (Cfr. Matth Mt 13,44-45).
You are called at this hour to fresh courage and trust. Your joyful witness to consecrated love - in chastity, poverty and obedience - will be the greatest human attraction for young people to religious life in the future. When they sense the authenticity of renewal in you and your communities, they too will be disposed to come and see! The invitation is directly from Christ but they will want to hear it from you too. Your own essential contribution to vocations will come through fidelity, penance and prayer, and through confidence in the power of Christ’s Paschal Mystery to make all things new.
In the best traditions of Christian love, you will know how to show your special appreciation for the aged and infirm members of your communities, whose contribution of prayer and penance, suffering and faithful love is of immense value to your apostolates. May they always be comforted in knowing that they are respected and loved within their own religious families.
6. Your vocation is, of its very nature, a radical response to the call which Jesus extends to all believers in their baptismal consecration: "Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness” (Mt 6,33). Your response is expressed by your vowed commitment to embrace and live in community the evangelical counsels. Through chastity, poverty and obedience you live in expectation of an eschatological kingdom where “they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Ibid. 22, 30). And so, even now, "where your treasure is there your heart is also" (Ibid. 6, 21).
Through your religious profession, the consecration which the Holy Spirit worked in you at baptism is powerfully directed anew to the perfection of charity. By practising the vows, you constantly die with Christ in order to rise to new life with him (Cfr. Rom Rm 6,8). In fidelity to your vow of chastity you are empowered to love with the love of Christ and to know that deep encounter with his love which inspires and sustains your apostolic love for your neighbour. Treading the path of poverty you find yourselves truly open to God and aligned with the poor and suffering in whom you see the image of the poor and suffering Christ (Cfr. Matth Mt 25,31 ss.). And through obedience you are intimately united with Jesus in seeking always to fulfil the Father’s will. Through such obedience there is unlocked in you the full measure of Christian freedom which enables you to serve God’s people with selfless and unfailing devotion. The Catholic people, and indeed the vast majority of your fellow citizens, have the highest respect for your religious consecration and they look to you for the “proof" of the transcendent Christian hope that is in you (Cfr. 1Petr. 3, 15).
7. The disciple, though, is not above the Master. It is only right for you to expect, as has always been the Church’s understanding, that if you follow the laws of Christ’s Kingdom - in essence, the new commandment of love and the new values proclaimed in the beatitudes - you will be in conflict with the "wisdom of this age" (Cfr. 1Cor. 1Co 2,6). In a particularly personal and courageous way, religious have always been in the front line of this never ending struggle.
Today, the encounter between the saving message of the Gospel and the forces that shape our human culture calls for a profound and prayerful discernment of Christ’s will for his Church at this moment of her life. In this regard the Second Vatican Council remains the necessary point of reference and the guiding light. This discernment is the work of the whole Church. No person or group of people can claim to possess sufficient insights so as to monopolize it. All members of the Church, according to the ministry received for the good of the whole Body, must be humbly attuned to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church into the fullness of truth (Cfr. Io. Jn 16,13), and produces in her the fruits of his action, which Saint Paul lists as "love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity" (Ga 5,22-23). And since the Holy Spirit has placed in the Church the special pastoral charism of the Magisterium, we know that adherence to the Magisterium is an indispensable condition for a correct reading of "the signs of the times" and hence a condition for the supernatural fruitfulness of all ministries in the Church.
You indeed have an important role in the Church’s dialogue with the complex and varied cultural environment of the United States. The first law of this dialogue is fidelity to Christ and to his Church. And in this fundamental act of faith and trust you already show the world the basis of your special position within the community of God’s people. Also required for this dialogue is a true understanding of the values involved in America’s historical experience. At the same time the Christian concepts of the common good, of virtue and conscience? of liberty and justice, must be distinguished from what is sometimes inadequately presented as the expression of these realities. As religious, you are especially sensitive to the implications of this dialogue with the world in which you are called to live and work. As men and women consecrated to God, you are aware of having a special responsibility to be a sign - an authentic prophetic sign - that will speak to the Church and to the world, not in terms of easy condemnation, but humbly showing forth the power of God’s word to heal and uplift, to unite and bind with love.
At this important moment of the history of the human family it is essential for the Church to proclaim the full truth about God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and the full truth about our human condition and destiny as revealed in Christ and authentically transmitted through the teaching of the Church. The faithful have the right to receive the true teaching of the Church in its purity and integrity, with all its demands and power. When people are looking for a sure point of reference for their own values and their ethical choices, they turn to the special witnesses of the Church’s holiness and justice-to you religious. They expect and want to be convinced by the example of your acceptance of God’s word.
8. Dear sisters and brothers: the life we now live is not our own; Christ is living in us.We still live our human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us (Cfr. Gal. Ga 2,20). In these words Saint Paul sums up the core of our Christian experience, and even more so the heart of religious life. The validity and fruitfulness of religious life depends upon union with Jesus Christ.
Union with Christ demands a true interior life of prayer, a life of closeness to him. At the same time it enables you to be effective witnesses before the world of the healing and liberating power of the Paschal Mystery. It means that above all in your own lives and in your own communities the Paschal Mystery is first being celebrated and experienced through the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. In this way your works of charity and justice, of mercy and compassion will be true signs of Christ’s presence in the world.
9. The challenges which you faced yesterday you will face again tomorrow. The thousand tasks that now draw upon your courage and your energies will hardly disappear next week, next month, next year. What then is the meaning of our meeting? What "word of the Lord" is addressed to us here? As the one who for the time being has been given the place of the Fisherman from Galilee, as the one who occupies the Chair of Peter for this fleeting hour in the Church’s life, allow me to make my own the sentiments of the reading from our Evening Prayer: "Be examples to the flock” (1Petr. 5, 3) - examples of faith and charity, of hope and joy, of obedience, sacrifice and humble service. And "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will win for yourselves the unfading crown of glory" (Ibid. 5, 4).
To the contemplative religious of the United States, whose lives are hidden with Christ in God, I wish to say a word of profound thanks for reminding us that "here we have no lasting city" (Hebr. 13, 14), and that all life must be lived in the heart of the living God. May the whole Church in this land recognize the primacy and efficacy of the spiritual values which you represent. The Second Vatican Council deliberately chose to call you "the glory of the Church" (Perfectae Caritatis PC 7).
Brothers and sisters, men and women religious of the United States: your country needs the witness of your deep spirituality and your commitment to the life-giving power of the Gospel. America needs to see all the power of love in your hearts expressed in evangelizing zeal. The whole world needs to discover in you "the kindness and love of God our Saviour" (Tt 3,4). Go forward, therefore, in the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus. Go forward in faith, hope and charity, expending yourselves in the Church’s mission of evangelization and service. Always be examples to the flock. And know that "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will win for yourselves the unfading crown of glory" (1Petr. 5, 4).
In this Marian Year of grace may you find joy and strength in an ever greater devotion to Mary, the Virgin Mother of the Redeemer. As "the model and protectress of all consecrated life” (Codex Iuris Canonici CIC 663 § 4) may she lead each one of you to perfect union with her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to ever closer collaboration in his redemptive mission. And may the example of Mary’s discipleship confirm you all in generosity and love.
Speeches 1987 - Immaculate Conception School (Los Angeles)