S. John Paul II Homil. 1212
1212 «O holy Mother of God, ... look upon the land of Armenia, upon its mountains, where a countless host of holy and learned monks have lived; look upon its churches, upon the rocks which rise from rocks, filled with the radiance of the Trinity; look upon the stone crosses, memorials of your Son, whose Passion continues in the suffering of the martyrs. Watch over the sons and daughters of Armenia throughout the world... Inspire the desires and hopes of the young, that they may remain always proud of their origins. Grant that, wherever they may go, they will listen to their Armenian heart, for in those depths there will always be a prayer to their Lord and a sense of surrender to you who cover them with your mantle of refuge. O most sweet Virgin, O Mother of Christ and Mother of us all, Mary» (Homily, Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Rite, 21 November 1987). Amen.
Sunday, 12 November 2000
1. "The Lord keeps faith forever" (Ps 146,6).
It is precisely in order to sing of this fidelity of the Lord recalled just now in the Responsorial Psalm that you are here for your Jubilee today, dear brothers and sisters. I am therefore delighted with your beautiful witness, which was expressed a few moments ago by Bishop Fernando Charrier, whom I cordially thank. A respectful greeting also goes to the dignitaries who have wished to show their participation as representatives of various States and especially of the United Nations Organizations and Offices for Food and Agriculture.
My thoughts turn next to the directors and members of the National Farmers' Confederation and the other farmers' organizations present here, as well as to the members of the bakers' federations, of the food and agro-industrial cooperatives and of the Forest Union of Italy. Your presence here in such numbers and variety, dear brothers and sisters, gives us a vivid sense of the unity of the human family and of the universal dimension of our prayer addressed to the one God, Creator of the universe and faithful to man.
2. God's faithfulness! For you, people of the agricultural world, it is a daily experience, constantly repeated in the observation of nature. You know the language of the soil and the seeds, of the grass and the trees, of the fruit and the flowers. In the most varied landscapes, from the harshness of the mountains to the irrigated plains under the most varied skies, this language has its own fascination which you know so well. In this language, you see God's fidelity to what he said on the third day of creation: "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit (Gn 1,11). In the movement of nature, which is calm and silent but full of life, the original pleasure of the Creator is still vibrant: "And God saw that it was a good thing"! (Gn 1,12).
Yes, the Lord keeps faith for ever. And you, experts in this language of fidelity - a language that is ancient but ever new - are naturally people of gratitude. Your prolonged contact with the wonder of the earth's products lets you see them as an inexhaustible gift of divine Providence. This is why your annual day is "thanksgiving day" par excellence. This year it has an even higher spiritual value since it is occurring during the Jubilee which celebrates the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth.
You have come to give thanks for the fruits of the earth, but first of all to acknowledge him as the Creator and, at the same time, the most beautiful fruit of our earth, the "fruit" of Mary's womb, the Saviour of humanity and, in a certain sense, of the "cosmos" itself. Indeed, creation, as Paul says, "has been groaning in travail" and cherishes the hope of being set free "from its bondage to decay" (Rm 8,21-22).
3. The "groaning" of the earth prompts us to think of your work, dear men and women of agriculture, work that is so important and yet not free from discomfort and hardship. The passage we heard from the Book of Kings recalls a typical situation of suffering due to drought. The prophet Elijah, exhausted from hunger and thirst, is both the agent and the beneficiary of a miracle of generosity. It fell to a young widow to rescue him, sharing with him her last handful of flour and the last drops of her oil; her generosity touches God's heart, to the point that the prophet can say: "The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth".
The culture of the farming world has always been marked by a sense of impending risk to the harvest, due to unforeseeable climatic misfortunes. However, in addition to the traditional burdens, there are often others due to human carelessness. Agricultural activity in our era has had to reckon with the consequences of industrialization and the sometimes disorderly development of urban areas, with the phenomenon of air pollution and ecological disruption, with the dumping of toxic waste and deforestation. Christians, while always trusting in the help of Providence, must make responsibile efforts to ensure that the value of the earth is respected and promoted.
Agricultural work should be better and better organized and supported by social measures that fully reward the toil it involves and the truly great usefulness that characterizes it. If the world of the most refined technology is not reconciled with the simple language of nature in a healthy balance, human life will face ever greater risks, of which we are already seeing the first disturbing signs.
1213 4. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, be grateful to the Lord, but at the same time be proud of the task that your work assigns to you. Work in such a way that you resist the temptations of a productivity and profit that are detrimental to the respect for nature. God entrusted the earth to human beings "to till it and keep it" (cf. Gn Gn 2,15). When this principle is forgotten and they become the tyrants rather than the custodians of nature, sooner or later the latter will rebel.
But you understand clearly, dear friends, that this principle of order, which applies to agricultural work as well as to every other area of human activity, is rooted in the human heart. The "heart"itself is therefore the first ground to be cultivated. It was not by chance that, when Jesus wanted to explain the work of God's word, he used the parable of the sower as an illuminating example taken from the farming world. God's word is a seed meant to bear abundant fruit, but unfortunately it often falls on unsuitable ground, where stones or weeds and thorns - various terms for our sins - prevent it from taking root and growing (cf. Mt Mt 13,13-23, par.). Thus, a Father of the Church gives the following advice precisely to a farmer: "So when you are in the field and are looking at your farm, consider that you too are Christ's field and devote attention to yourself as you do to your field. The same beauty that you require your peasant to give to your field, give to God in the cultivation of your heart ..." (St Paulinus of Nola, Letter 39, 3 to Aper and Amanda).
It is because of this "cultivation of the spirit" that you are here to celebrate the Jubilee today. You present to the Lord, even before your professional efforts, the daily work of purifying your heart: a demanding task, which we will never succeed in doing on our own. Our strength is Christ, who, as the Letter to the Hebrews just reminded us, "appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (He 9,26).
5. This sacrifice, offered once and for all on Golgotha, is made real for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Here Christ makes himself present with his body and blood to become our food.
How significant it must be for you, men and women of the agricultural world, to contemplate on the altar this miracle which crowns and exalts the very wonders of nature. Is not a miracle worked each day when a seed becomes an ear of corn and so many grains from it ripen to be ground and made into bread? Is not the cluster of grapes that hangs on the branch of the vine one of nature's miracles? All this already mysteriously bears the mark of Christ, since "all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (Jn 1,3). But greater still is the event of grace in which the Word and the Spirit of God make the bread and wine, "fruit of the earth and work of human hands", the Body and Blood of the Redeemer. The Jubilee grace that you have come to implore is none other than a superabundance of Eucharistic grace, the power that raises us and heals us from within by grafting us on to Christ.
6. The attitude that we should take towards this grace is suggested to us by the Gospel example of the poor widow who puts her small coins into the treasury but in fact gives more than everyone else, since she is not giving out of her abundance, but is putting in "her whole living" (Mc 12,44).
Thus this unknown woman is following in the footsteps of the widow of Zarephath, who opened her home and her table to Elijah. Both are sustained by their faith in the Lord. Both draw from faith the strength for heroic charity.
They invite us to open our Jubilee celebration to the horizons of love and to see all the poor and needy of this world. What we do for the least of them we will have done for Christ (cf. Mt Mt 25,40).
And how could we forget that the sphere of agricultural work involves human situations that deeply challenge us? Entire peoples, who depend primarily on farming in economically less developed regions, live in conditions of poverty. Vast regions have been devastated by frequent natural disasters. And sometimes these misfortunes are accompanied by the consequences of war, which not only claims victims, but sows destruction, depopulates fertile lands and even leaves them overrun with weapons and harmful substances.
7. The Jubilee began in Israel as a great time for reconciliation and the redistribution of goods. To accept this message today certainly cannot mean limiting oneself to a small donation. We must contribute to a culture of solidarity which, at the political and economic level, both national and international, encourages generous and effective initiatives for the benefit of less fortunate peoples.
Today we want to remember all these brothers and sisters in our prayer, with the intention of expressing our love for them in active solidarity, so that everyone without exception can enjoy the fruits of "mother earth" and live lives worthy of God's children.
1214 Tuesday, 14 November 2000
"I know that my Redeemer lives" (cf. Jb Jb 19,25).
1. The sacred author's words bring us into the faith-filled atmosphere of today's celebration, which sees us gathered in heartfelt remembrance of the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops who died during the year now coming to an end. Our act is one of dutiful suffrage and spiritual solidarity for these our brothers, who made service to the Gospel and the Church the measure of their own lives.
Today they hear again the Lord's comforting promise: "If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him" (Jn 12,26). Those who faithfully dedicate themselves to the Gospel cause will find an eternal reward in God. In Christ's logic, service to the community of the redeemed thus becomes a cause of glory and unending life. Those who spared no effort for the kingdom of God during their earthly pilgrimage, will be welcomed by him, the Living One, who conquered death and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.
2. As we gather together around the altar on which is made present the sacrifice that proclaims the victory of Life over death, of grace over sin and of heaven over hell, our thoughts turn gratefully to God for having given us these brothers whom he has now called to himself. I am thinking in particular of the members of the College of Cardinals who have died in recent months: Cardinal Paolo Dezza, Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, Antony Padiyara, Bernardino Echeverría Ruiz, John Joseph O'Connor, Vincentas Sladkevicius, Paul Zoungrana, Augusto Vargas Alzamora, Vincenzo Fagiolo, Paul Gouyon, Egano Righi-Lambertini and Pietro Palazzini. Memories of them and of all the deceased Archbishops and Bishops come to mind: during their lives they proclaimed the Gospel, built up the Church, offered the grace-filled gifts of the sacraments and did good. Now, with grateful hearts we entrust them to the Lord's generous recompense for the good works and positive examples they have left us. We also entrust them to his infinite mercy, imploring him on their behalf to set right any remnants of human weakness.
Our brothers firmly believed in Christ and based their entire lives on this faith. Human life cannot on its own attain the beatific vision, which is a gift reserved for those who believe. This is why the faithful proclaim with sure confidence: "I know that my Redeemer lives" (cf. Jb Jb 19,25). We know that in the end Christ, our Saviour, will come to welcome us and we will be with him for ever.
3. Dear brothers and sisters! Our faith as Christians is based on the words of Christ who says in the Gospel just proclaimed: "He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life" (Jn 5,24). The Church tirelessly proclaims these words to every person, so that everyone can open himself to faith and inherit eternal beatitude.
This perspective shows how important our pilgrimage in the world is! It is a time, of greater or lesser length, which we are given, in order to know Christ and to grow in communion with him.
Whoever believes in the Incarnate Son of God will live for ever; whoever loves must not fear hardships; whoever relies on him cannot give up in the face of any obstacle. Christ is the fundamental goal of his life. He believes, trusts and entrusts himself to him: in this way he enters into the secret of his love, which saves and fills our hearts with joy.
What a treasure faith is and how urgent is the task to proclaim it to those who still lack it! The word that explains, that reassures and that shows the way must be given to man, who is thirsting for truth and love. The word that heals. This word is the eternal Word who came from the Father's bosom to bring us life. It is Christ, our Redeemer, whom we continually contemplate during the Great Jubilee. All who listen to his word "will live" (cf. Jn Jn 5,25). Blessed are those who proclaim it! Blessed are those who serve it and build their lives on it!
4. Dear brothers and sisters, the certainty that Christ is our Saviour and that he died and rose again for our sake comforts and sustains us as we continue on our pilgrimage to the heavenly homeland. As the days and seasons pass, God's word rings out: "Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever!" (He 13,8). This truth has accompanied us through the Jubilee year, marking our progress with hope. This is the faith of the Church. This is our faith.
1215 We would like to reaffirm our faith as we pray in suffrage for the Pastors we are commemorating today. It is a remembrance woven with affection and gratitude, which opens to the reassuring knowledge that one day we will be with them again to praise the Lord of mercy and life in eternity. As we entrust to the Supreme Pastor these brothers in the priesthood whom he has called to himself, let us renew our fidelity to Christ, in the hope that one day we too may hear his comforting voice: Come, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master (cf. Mt Mt 25,21).
Let us entrust to Mary, Mother of Hope, these devoted sons of hers, so that she may bring them into the kingdom of eternal happiness.
In Christ, requiescant in pace! Amen.
Sunday, 19 November 2000
1. "Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mc 13,26).
On this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the liturgy speaks to us of Christ's second coming. The Lord will appear in clouds, clothed in power and glory. He is the same Son of man, merciful and compassionate, whom the disciples knew during his earthly journey. When the moment comes for his manifestation in glory, he will come to give human history its definitive fulfilment.
Through the symbolism of cosmological upheavals, the Evangelist Mark recalls that God will pronounce his last judgement on human events in the Son, putting an end to a universe corrupted by falsehood and torn by violence and injustice.
2. Who better than you, dear soldiers and members of the police, young men and women, can testify to the violence and to the disruptive forces of evil present in the world? You fight against them every day: indeed, you are called to defend the weak, to protect the honest, to foster the peaceful coexistence of peoples. The role of the sentinel, who scans the horizon to avert danger and promote justice and peace everywhere, befits each of you.
I greet you all with deep affection, dear brothers and sisters, who have come to Rome from many parts of the world to celebrate your special Jubilee. You are the representatives of the armies who have faced one another down through history. Today you are meeting at the tomb of the Apostle Peter to celebrate Christ "our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" (Ep 2,14). You have come to offer to him, mysteriously and really present in the Eucharist, your resolutions and your daily commitment as peacemakers.
To each of you I express my deepest appreciation of your dedication and generous commitment. I first of all extend my greeting with fraternal esteem to Archbishop José Manuel Estepa Llaurens, who has expressed your common sentiments. My greeting is extended to the dear Archbishops and Military Ordinaries, whom I congratulate for the dedication with which they provide pastoral care for you. With them, I greet the military chaplains, who generously share in the ideals and efforts of your arduous daily activity. My respectful thoughts also turn to the officers of the armed forces, to those in command of the police forces and of the various security agencies, as well as to the civil authorities who have wished to share in the joy and grace of this solemn Jubilee celebration.
3. Your daily experience brings you face to face with difficult and sometimes dramatic situations, which jeopardize human security. However the Gospel comforts us, presenting the victorious figure of Christ, the judge of history. With his presence, he brightens the darkness and even man's despair, and offers those who trust in him the comforting certainty of his constant assistance.
1216 In the Gospel just proclaimed we heard an important reference to the fig tree, whose branches, when their new leaves sprout, announce that springtime is near. With these words, Jesus encourages the Apostles not to give up before the difficulties and uncertainties of the present.
Rather, he urges them to know how to wait and to prepare themselves to welcome him when he comes. Today, dear brothers and sisters, you too are invited by the liturgy to "read the signs of the times", an expression coined by my venerable predecessor, Pope John XXIII, who was recently beatified.
However complex and difficult situations may be, do not lose trust. In the human heart, the seed of hope must never die. Indeed, always be attentive to discovering and encouraging every positive sign of personal and social renewal. Be prepared to further the courageous building of justice and peace with every possible means.
4. Peace is a fundamental right of every man and woman, which should be continuously promoted taking into account that "insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ" (Gaudium et spes GS 78). At times this duty, as recent experience has also shown, involves concrete initiatives to disarm the aggressor. Here I wish to refer to the so-called "humanitarian interference", which, after the failure of efforts by politics and the instruments of non-violent defence, is a last resort in order to stay the hand of the unjust aggressor.
Thank you, dear friends, for your courageous work of peacemaking in countries devastated by senseless wars. Thank you for the help you offer, heedless of risks, to people struck by natural disasters. How numerous are the humanitarian missions in which you have been involved in recent years! In carrying out your difficult duty, you frequently find yourselves exposed to dangers and demanding sacrifices. Ensure that all your interventions always cast light on your authentic vocation as "custodians of the security and freedom of your fellow-countrymen", who "are contributing to the maintenance of peace", according to the felicitous expression of the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et spes GS 79).
Be men and women of peace. And to be so to the full, welcome into your hearts Christ, the author and guarantor of true peace. He will enable you to exert that evangelical strength that overcomes the alluring temptations of violence. He will help you to put force at the service of the important values of life, of justice, of forgiveness and of freedom.
5. Here, I would like to offer a tribute to your many friends who have paid with their lives for fidelity to their mission. Forgetting themselves and despising danger, they rendered the community a priceless service. Today, during the Eucharistic celebration, we entrust them to the Lord with gratitude and admiration.
But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. They made the Gospel their code of conduct. May the example of your colleagues, who in faithfully doing their duty reached the heights of heroism and, perhaps, of holiness, be an example to you.
Like them, you also look to Christ who also calls you "to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity". He calls you to be holy. And to be able to achieve your vocation, according to the Apostle Paul's well-known expression, "Take the whole armour of God.... Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace above all taking the shield of faith ... take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ep 6,13-17). Above all, "pray at all times" (Ep 6,18).
May Mary, the Virgo Fidelis, support and help you in your difficult activity. May your hearts never be troubled: rather, be ready, watchful and firmly anchored to the promise of Jesus, who in today's Gospel has assured us of his help and protection: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mc 13,31).
In invoking Christ, may you continue to carry out your duty generously. Countless people look to you and trust in you in the hope of being able to enjoy a life of serenity, order and peace.
1217 Sunday, 26 November 2000
1. "It is you who say I am a king" (Jn 18,37).
This is how Jesus answered Pilate in a dramatic dialogue which the Gospel recounts to us again on today's Solemnity of Christ the King. On this day, celebrated at the end of the liturgical year, Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, is presented as the beginning and end of all creation, as the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history. In the first reading, the prophet Daniel says: "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed" (7: 14).
Yes, O Christ, you are King! Your kingship is paradoxically manifested in the Cross, in obedience to the plan of the Father, "who", as the Apostle Paul wrote, "has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1,13-14). As the first born from the dead, you, Jesus, are the King of the new humanity, restored to its original dignity.
You are King! But your kingdom is not of this world (cf. Jn Jn 18,36); it is not the fruit of the conquests of war, political domination, economic empires or cultural hegemony. Yours is a "kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (cf. Preface of Christ the King), which will be revealed in its fullness at the end of time, when God will be all in all (cf. 1Co 15,28). The Church, which can already taste on earth the first fruits of this future fulfilment, never ceases to repeat: "Adveniat regnum tuum", "Thy kingdom come" (Mt 6,10).
2. Thy kingdom come! This is how the faithful, in every part of the world, pray as they gather round their Pastors today for the Jubilee of the Apostolate of the Laity. And I joyfully add my voice to this universal chorus of praise and prayer, as I celebrate Holy Mass together with you at the tomb of the Apostle Peter.
I thank Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and your two representatives, who expressed your common sentiments at the beginning of this Holy Mass. I greet my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, as well as the priests and religious present. I extend my greetings in particular to you, my lay brothers and sisters, Christifideles laici, who are actively dedicated to the Gospel cause: in looking at you, I am also thinking of all the members of the communities, associations and movements of apostolic action; I am thinking of the fathers and mothers who, with generosity and a spirit of sacrifice, see that their children are raised in the practice of human and Christian virtues; I am thinking of those who offer their sufferings, accepted and lived in union with Christ, as a contribution to evangelization.
3. I especially greet you, dear participants in the Congress of the Catholic Laity, which fits well into the context of the Jubilee of the Apostolate of the Laity. The theme of your meeting is "Witnesses to Christ in the new millennium". It continues the tradition of the world conventions of the lay apostolate which began 50 years ago under the fruitful impulse of the keener awareness which the Church had acquired both of her own nature as a mystery of communion and of her intrinsic missionary responsibility in the world.
In the growth of this awareness, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council marked a decisive turning-point. With the Council the hour of the laity truly struck, and many lay faithful, men and women, more clearly understood their Christian vocation, which by its very nature is a vocation to the apostolate (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem AA 2). Thirty-five years after its conclusion, I say: we must return to the Council. We must once again take the documents of the Second Vatican Council in hand to rediscover the great wealth of its doctrinal and pastoral motives.
In particular, you lay people must again take those documents in hand. To you the Council opened extraordinary perspectives of commitment and involvement in the Church's mission. Did the Council not remind you of your participation in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ? In a special way, the Council Fathers entrusted you with the mission "of seeking the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will" (Lumen gentium LG 31).
Since then a lively season of associations has blossomed, in which, along with traditional groups, new movements, sodalities and communities have arisen (cf. Christifideles laici CL 29). Today more than ever, dear brothers and sisters, your apostolate is indispensable, if the Gospel is to be the light, salt and leaven of a new humanity.
1218 4. However, what does this mission entail? What does being a Christian mean today, here and now?
Being a Christian has never been easy, nor is it easy today. Following Christ demands the courage of radical choices, which often means going against the stream. "We are Christ!", St Augustine exclaimed. The martyrs and witnesses of faith yesterday and today, including many lay faithful, show that, if necessary, we must not hesitate to give even our lives for Jesus Christ.
In this regard, the Jubilee invites everyone to a serious examination of conscience and lasting spiritual renewal for ever more effective missionary activity. Here I would like to return to what my venerable predecessor, Pope Paul VI, wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi 25 years ago towards the end of the Holy Year of 1975: "Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses" (n. 41).
These words are still valid today in the presence of a humanity full of potential and expectations, but threatened by a multitude of snares and dangers. One need only think, among other things, of social advances and of the revolution in genetics; of economic progress and of underdevelopment in vast areas of the globe; of the tragedy of hunger in the world and of the difficulties in safeguarding peace; of the extensive network of communications and of the dramas of loneliness and violence reported in the daily press. Dear lay faithful, as witnesses to Christ you are especially called to bring the light of the Gospel to the vital nerve centres of society. You are called to be prophets of Christian hope and apostles of the One "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty!" (Ap 1,4).
5. "Holiness befits your house!" (Ps 92,5). With these words we addressed God in the responsorial psalm. Holiness continues to be the greatest challenge for believers. We must be grateful to the Second Vatican Council, which recalled how all Christians are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.
Dear friends, do not be afraid to take up this challenge: be holy men and women! Do not forget that the fruits of the apostolate depend on the depth of spiritual life, on the intensity of prayer, on continual formation and on sincere adherence to the Church's directives. Today I repeat to you, as I did to the young people during the recent World Youth Day, that if you are what you should be - that is, if you live Christianity without compromise - you will set the world ablaze.
You face tasks and goals which may seem to exceed human forces. Do not lose heart! "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion" (Ph 1,6) Always keep your gaze fixed on Jesus. Make him the heart of the world.
And you, Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, his first and most perfect disciple, help us to be his witnesses in the new millennium. Let your Son, King of the world and King of history, reign over our lives, our communities and the whole world!
"Praise and honour to you, O Christ!". By your Cross you have redeemed the world. At the beginning of the millennium, we entrust to you our efforts to serve this world which you love and which we love too. Support us with the power of your grace! Amen.
Sunday, 3 December 2000
1. "Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Lc 21,28).
1219 In the Gospel text offered for our meditation on this First Sunday of Advent, St Luke highlights the fear that terrifies human beings before the final upheaval. In contrast, however, the Evangelist presents with far greater emphasis the joyful prospect of Christian expectation: "Then", he says, "they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Lc 21,27). This is the message which gives hope to the believer's heart: the Lord will come "with power and great glory". This is why the disciples are asked not to be afraid, but to look up and raise their heads, "because your redemption is drawing near" (Lc 21,28).
Every year at the beginning of Advent the liturgy has us listen once again to this "good news" which rings out in the Church with extraordinary eloquence. It is the news of our salvation: it is the announcement that the Lord is near. Indeed, that he is already with us.
2. Dear brothers and sisters! I can feel this invitation to serenity and hope echoing in my heart especially today, as I celebrate the Jubilee of the Disabled with you. We are celebrating it on the day dedicated to you by the United Nations, which exactly 25 years ago published the "Declaration on the Rights of the Disabled".
I greet you with affection, dear friends, who have one or more disabilities and wanted to come to Rome for this meeting of faith and brotherhood. I thank your representatives and the director of Italian Caritas for their addresses to me at the beginning of this Holy Mass. I extend my cordial greetings to all the disabled, to their families and to the volunteers who are celebrating their Jubilee with their Pastors in the various local Churches on this same day.
In your bodies and in your lives, dear brothers and sisters, you express an intense hope of redemption. In all this is there not an implicit expectation of the "redemption" that Christ won for us by his death and resurrection? Indeed, every person marked by a physical or mental difficulty lives a sort of existential "advent", waiting for a "redemption" that will be fully manifest, for him as for everyone, only at the end of time. Without faith, this waiting can be tinged with disappointment and discouragement; supported by Christ's word, it becomes a living and active hope.
3. "Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man" (Lc 21,36). Today's liturgy tells us of the Lord's "second coming"; that is, it speaks of Christ's glorious return, which will coincide with what, in simple terms, is called "the end of the world". It is a mysterious event which in apocalyptic language appears for the most part as an immense cataclysm. Like the end of the individual, that is death, the end of the universe causes anguish at the unknown, fear of suffering, along with questions filled with anxiety about the "afterlife".
The season of Advent, which begins today, spurs us to prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord who will come. But how should we prepare? This important celebration we are holding highlights the fact that a concrete way to prepare ourselves for this meeting is by closeness and sharing with those who, for whatever reason, are in difficulty. By recognizing Christ in our brethren, we are preparing to be recognized by him at his final return. This is how the Christian community prepares for the Lord's second coming: by focusing on those persons whom Jesus himself favoured, those who are often excluded and ignored by society.
4. This is what we have done today by gathering in this basilica to live the grace and joy of the Jubilee with you, who are disabled, and with your families. By this action we intend to make your worries, your expectations, your gifts and your problems our own.
In Christ's name, the Church is committed to making herself more and more a "welcoming home" for you. We know that the disabled person - a unique and unrepeatable person in his equal and inviolable dignity - needs not only care, but first of all love which becomes recognition, respect and integration: from birth to adolescence, to adulthood and to the delicate moment, faced with trepidation by so many parents, of separation from their children, the moment of "after us". Dear friends, we would like to feel that we share in your efforts and in the inevitable moments of discouragement, in order to brighten them with the light of faith and the hope of solidarity and love.
5. By your presence, dear brothers and sisters, you reaffirm that disability is not only a need, but also and above all a stimulus and a plea. Of course, it is a request for help, but even before that it is a challenge to individual and collective selfishness; it is an invitation to ever new forms of brotherhood. By your situation you call into question those conceptions of life that are solely concerned with satisfaction, appearances, speed and efficiency.
The Ecclesial Community also listens respectfully; it senses the need to question itself about the strain in so many of your lives, mysteriously marked by suffering and by the discomfort of harmful events, whether congenital or acquired. It would like to draw closer to you and to your families, knowing that inattentiveness sharpens suffering and loneliness, whereas faith shown in love and generosity gives strength and meaning to life.
1220 On this solemn occasion, I would like to ask those who have political responsibilities at every level to work towards ensuring living conditions and opportunities such that your dignity, dear disabled brothers and sisters, is effectively recognized and protected. In a society rich in scientific and technical knowledge it is possible and necessary to do more in the various ways required by civil coexistence: from biomedical research for preventing disabilities, to treatment, assistance, rehabilitation and new social integration.
If your civil, social and spiritual rights must be protected, it is nevertheless even more important to safeguard human relations: relations of aid, friendship and sharing. That is why it is necessary to encourage forms of treatment and rehabilitation which take into account a complete vision of the human person.
6. "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men" (1Th 3,12).
Today St Paul shows us the way of charity as the high road to meeting the Lord who will come. He stresses that only through sincere and disinterested love will we find ourselves ready "at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints" (1Th 3,13). Love is once again the decisive criterion, today and always.
In offering himself on the cross for our redemption, Jesus delivered the judgement of salvation and revealed the Father's merciful plan. He anticipates this judgement in the present time: by identifying himself with "the least of these my brethren", Jesus asks us to welcome him and to serve him with love. On the last day he will say to us: "I was hungry, and you gave me food ..." (cf. Mt 25,35), and he will ask us if we have proclaimed, lived and borne witness to the Gospel of love and life.
7. How eloquent are your words for us today, Lord of life and hope! Every human limitation is ransomed and redeemed in you. Thanks to you, disability is not the last word on life. Love is the last word; it is your love that gives meaning to life.
Help us to turn our hearts to you; help us to recognize your face shining in every human creature, however tried by toil, hardship and suffering.
Make us understand that "the glory of God is man fully alive" (Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv. Haer., 4, 20, 7), and grant that one day we will be able to enjoy in the divine vision, together with Mary, Mother of humanity, the fullness of life redeemed by you. Amen!
S. John Paul II Homil. 1212