Audiences 2005-2013 7019

Wednesday, 7 January 2009 - Saint Paul (17): Spiritual Worship

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

At this first General Audience in 2009, I would like to express to all of you my fervent good wishes for the new year that has just begun. Let us revive within us the commitment to open our minds and hearts to Christ, to be and to live as his true friends. His company will ensure that this year, even with its inevitable difficulties, will be a journey full of joy and peace. In fact, only if we remain united to Jesus will the new year be a good and happy one.

The commitment of union with Christ is the example that St Paul also offers us. Continuing the Catecheses dedicated to him, let us pause to reflect today on one of the important aspects of his thought which concerns the worship that Christians are called to exercise. In the past, it was fashionable to speak of a rather anti-religious tendency in the Apostle, of a "spiritualization" of the idea of worship. Today we understand better that Paul sees in the Cross of Christ a historic turning point that radically transforms and renews the reality of worship. In particular, there are three texts in the Letter to the Romans in which this new vision of worship appears.

1. In Romans
Rm 3,25, after speaking of the "redemption which is in Christ Jesus", Paul continues with what to us is a mysterious formula, saying: "through his Blood, God made him the means of expiation for all who believe". With these words that we find somewhat strange: "means of expiation", St Paul mentions the so-called "propitiatory" of the ancient temple, that is, the lid covering the Ark of the Covenant that was considered the point of contact between God and man, the point of his mysterious presence in the human world. On the great Day of Atonement "Yom Kippur" this "proprietary" was sprinkled with the blood of sacrificed animals blood that symbolically brought the sins of the past year into contact with God and thus sins cast into the abyss of divine goodness were, so to speak, absorbed by the power of God, overcome and forgiven. Life began anew.

St Paul mentions this rite and says: This rite was an expression of the desire truly to be able to cast all our sins into the abyss of divine mercy and thus make them disappear. With the blood of animals, however, this expiation was not achieved; a more real contact between human sin and divine love was required. This contact took place on the Cross of Christ. Christ, the true Son of God, who became a true man, took all our sins upon himself. He himself is the point of contact between human wretchedness and divine mercy. In his heart the grievous mass of the evil perpetrated by humanity is dissolved and life is renewed.

In revealing this change, St Paul tells us: the old form of worship with animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem ended with the Cross of Christ the supreme act of divine love become human love. This symbolic worship, the cult of desire, is now replaced by true worship: the love of God incarnate in Christ and brought to its fulfilment in his death on the Cross. This is not, therefore, a spiritualization of true worship; on the contrary it is true worship: real divine-human love replaces the symbolic and temporary form of worship. The Cross of Christ, his love with Flesh and Blood, is the true worship that corresponds with the reality of God and of man. In Paul's opinion, the epoch of the temple and its worship had already ended prior to the external destruction of the temple. Here Paul finds himself in perfect harmony with the words of Jesus who had predicted the destruction of the temple and had also announced another temple, "not made with human hands" the temple of his Risen Body (cf. Mc 14,58 Jn 2,19ff). This is the first text.

2. The second text I would like to speak of today is found in the first verse of chapter Rm 12,1 of the Letter to the Romans. We have heard it and I shall repeat it: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship". There is an apparent paradox in these words: while the sacrifice normally requires the death of the victim, Paul speaks on the contrary of the life of the Christian. The expression "present your bodies", independently of the successive concept of sacrifice, acquires the religious nuance of "giving as an oblation, an offering". The exhortation "present your bodies" refers to the person in his entirety; in fact, in Romans Rm 6,13, he invites them to: "yield yourselves". Moreover the explicit reference to the physical dimension of the Christian coincides with the invitation to: "glorify God in your body" (1Co 6,20). In other words, it is a question of honouring God in the most practical form of daily life that consists of relational and perceptible visibility.

Conduct of this kind is described by Paul as "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God". It is here that we actually find the word "sacrifice". In this usage the term belongs to a sacred context and serves to designate the slaughtering of an animal, part of which can be burned in honour of the gods and another part eaten at a banquet by those who are offering the sacrifice. Paul applies it instead to the Christian's life. In fact, he describes this sacrifice using three adjectives. The first "living" expresses vitality. The second "holy" recalls the Pauline idea of holiness not linked to places or objects but to Christians themselves. The third "acceptable to God" recalls perhaps the recurrent biblical expression of sacrifice "a pleasing odour" (cf. Lv Lv 1,13, etc. ).

Immediately afterwards, Paul thus defines this new way of living: "which is your spiritual worship". Commentators on this text well know that the Greek expression (ten logiken latreían)is not easy to translate. The Latin Bible translates it as: "rationabile obsequium". The actual word "rationabile" appears in the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Canon: in it the faithful pray that God will accept this offering as "rationabile".The usual Italian translation "culto spirituale" [spiritual worship] does not reflect all the nuances of the Greek text (or of the Latin). In any case it is not a matter of less real worship or even worship that is only metaphorical but rather of a more concrete and realistic worship a worship in which the human being himself, in his totality as a being endowed with reason, becomes adoration, glorification of the living God.

This Pauline formula, which returns later in the Roman Eucharistic Prayer, is the fruit of a long development of the religious experience in the centuries before Christ. In this experience theological developments of the Old Testament and trends of Greek thought are encountered. I would like at least to show some elements of this development. The Prophets and many Psalms strongly criticize the bloody sacrifices of the temple. Psalm 50[49], in which God speaks: "if I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving..." (vv. 12-14). The following Psalm says something similar: "You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burned offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51,18 [50]: vv. 18ff). In the Book of Daniel, at the time of the new destruction of the temple by the Hellenistic regime (second century b.c.), we find a new step in the same direction. In the heart of the furnace that is, of persecution, suffering Azariah prays in these words: "And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burned offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you or to find mercy. Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burned offerings of rams and bulls... such may be our sacrifice be in your sight this day, and may we wholly follow you" (Da 3,15-17). In the destruction of the shrine and of worship, in this situation of the privation of any sign of God's presence, the believer offers as a true holocaust his contrite heart his desire for God.

We see an important and beautiful development but with a danger. There is a spiritualization, a moralization of worship: worship becomes only something of the heart, of the mind. But it lacks the body, it lacks the community. Thus we understand, for example, that Psalm 51 and also the Book of Daniel, despite the criticism of worship, desire a return to the time of sacrifices. Yet this is a renewed time, a renewed sacrifice, in a synthesis that was not yet foreseeable, that could not yet be conceived of.

Let us return to St Paul. He is heir to these developments, of the desire for true worship, in which man himself becomes the glory of God, living adoration with his whole being. In this sense he says to the Romans: "present your bodies as a living sacrifice... which is your spiritual worship" (Rm 12,1). Paul thus repeats what he pointed out in chapter Rm 3: the time of animal sacrifices, substitute sacrifices, is over. The time has come for true worship. However, here there is also the danger of a misunderstanding. One might easily interpret this new worship in a moralistic sense: in offering our life we ourselves become true worship. In this way, worship with animals would be replaced by moralism: man himself would do everything on his own with his moral strength. And this was certainly not St Paul's intention. However the question remains: how therefore, can we interpret this "[reasonable] spiritual worship"? Paul always presumes that we are all "one in Christ Jesus" (Ga 3,28), that we died in Baptism (cf. Rm Rm 1) and that we now live with Christ, for Christ, in Christ.
In this union and only in this way we are able to become in him and with him "a living sacrifice", to offer "true worship". The sacrificed animals were meant to replace the human being, the gift of self, but they could not. In his gift of himself to the Father and to us, Jesus Christ is not a substitute but truly bears within him the human being, our sins and our desire; he really represents us, he takes us upon himself. In communion with Christ, realized in faith and in the sacraments, despite all our inadequacies we truly become a living sacrifice: "true worship" is achieved.

This synthesis forms the background of the Roman Canon in which we pray for this offering to become "rationabile" for spiritual worship to be made. The Church knows that in the Holy Eucharist Christ's gift of himself, his true sacrifice, becomes present. However, the Church prays that the community celebrating may truly be united with Christ and transformed; she prays that we may become what we cannot be with our own efforts: a "rational" offering that is acceptable to God. Thus the Eucharistic Prayer interprets St Paul's words correctly. St Augustine explained all this marvellously in the 10th chapter of his "City of God". I cite only two sentences from it.
"This is the sacrifice of Christians: we, being many, are one body in Christ...". "The whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest, who offered Himself..." (10, 6: CCL 47, 27 ff.).

3. Further, at the end, I add just a few words on the third text of the Letter to the Romans on the new worship. St Paul thus said in chapter 15: "The grace given me by God to be "a minister' of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service (hierourgein) of the Gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rm 15,15ff.). I would like to emphasize only two aspects of this marvellous text, with regard to the unique terminology in the Pauline Letters. First of all, St Paul interprets his missionary activity among the world's peoples to build the universal Church as priestly service. To proclaim the Gospel in order to unite the peoples in the communion of the Risen Christ is a "priestly" action. The apostle of the Gospel is a true priest, he does what is central to the priesthood: prepares the true sacrifice. And then the second aspect: the goal of missionary action is we can say the cosmic liturgy: that the peoples united in Christ, the world, may as such become the glory of God, an "acceptable [offering], sanctified by the Holy Spirit". Here the dynamic aspect appears, the aspect of hope in the Pauline conception of worship: Christ's gift of himself implies the aspiration to attract all to communion in his body, to unite the world. Only in communion with Christ, the exemplary man, one with God, does the world thus become as we all wish it to be: a mirror of divine love. This dynamism is ever present in the Eucharist this dynamism must inspire and form our life. And let us begin the new year with this dynamism. Thank you for your patience.

To special groups

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, including the groups from Finland and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I willingly invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace throughout the year!

Lastly, I address my thoughts to the young people, the sick and the newly weds. Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, we recalled the journey to Christ of the Magi who were guided by the light of the star. May their example foster in you, dear young people, the desire to encounter Jesus and to transmit to all the joy that flows from acceptance of the Gospel; may it lead you, dear sick people, to offer to the Child of Bethlehem your pain and suffering; may it be for you, dear newly weds, a constant encouragement to make your families a welcoming "place" for the mysterious signs of God and for the gift of life.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 14 January 2009 - Saint Paul (18): The Theological vision of the Letters to the Colossians and Ephesians

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In St Paul's correspondence there are two Letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians that to a certain extent can be considered twins. In fact, they both contain expressions that are found in them alone, and it has been calculated that more than a third of the words in the Letter to the Colossians are also found in the Letter to the Ephesians. For example, while in Colossians we read literally the invitation: "admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (
Col 3,16), in his Letter to the Ephesians St Paul likewise recommends "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing praise to the Lord with all your heart" (Ep 5,19). We could meditate upon these words: the heart must sing with psalms and hymns, and the voice in the same way, in order to enter the tradition of prayer of the whole of the Church of the Old and New Testaments. Thus we learn to be with ourselves and one another and with God. In addition, the "domestic code" that is absent in the other Pauline Letters is found in these two in other words, a series of recommendations addressed to husbands and wives, to parents and children, to masters and slaves (cf. Col 3,18-4,1 and Ep 5,22-6,9 respectively).

It is even more important to notice that only in these two Letters is the title "head" kefalé given to Jesus Christ. And this title is used on two levels. In the first sense, Christ is understood as head of the Church (cf. Col Col 2,18-19 and Ep 4,15-16). This means two things: first of all that he is the governor, the leader, the person in charge who guides the Christian community as its leader and Lord (cf. Col Col 1,18, "He is the head of the body, the Church"). The other meaning is then that, as head, he innervates and vivifies all the members of the body that he controls. (In fact, according to Colossians Col 2,19, it is necessary "[to hold] fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, [is] nourished and knit together"). That is, he is not only one who commands but also one who is organically connected with us, from whom comes the power to act in an upright way.

In both cases, the Church is considered subject to Christ, both in order to follow his supervision the commandments and to accept all of the vital influences that emanate from him. His commandments are not only words or orders but a vital energy that comes from him and helps us.

This idea is developed particularly in Ephesians where, instead of being traced back to the Spirit (as in 1Co 12), even the ministries of the Church are conferred by the Risen Christ. It is he who established "that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Ep 4,11). And it is from him that "the whole body grows, and... joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love" (Ep 4,16). Christ, in fact, fully strives to "present to himself a glorious Church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort" (Ep 5,27). In saying this he tells us that the power with which he builds the Church with which he guides the Church, with which he also gives the Church the right direction is precisely his love.

The first meaning is therefore Christ, Head of the Church; both with regard to her direction and, above all, with regard to her inspiration and organic revitalization by virtue of his love. Then, in a second sense, Christ is not only considered as head of the Church but also as head of the heavenly powers and of the entire cosmos. Thus, in Colossians, we read that Christ has "disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him" (Col 2,15). Similarly, in Ephesians we find it written that with his Resurrection God placed Christ "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Ep 1,21). With these words the two Letters bring us a highly positive and fruitful message. It is this: Christ has no possible rival to fear since he is superior to every form of power that might presume to humble man. He alone "loved us and gave himself up for us" (Ep 5,2). Thus, if we are united with Christ, we have no enemy or adversity to fear; but this therefore means that we must continue to cling firmly to him, without loosening our grip!

For the pagan world that believed in a world filled with spirits for the most part dangerous and from which it was essential to protect oneself the proclamation that Christ was the only conqueror and that those with Christ need fear no one seemed a true liberation. The same is also true for the paganism of today, since current followers of similar ideologies see the world as full of dangerous powers. It is necessary to proclaim to them that Christ is triumphant, so that those who are with Christ, who stay united to him, have nothing and no one to fear. I think that this is also important for us, that we must learn to face all fears because he is above all forms of domination, he is the true Lord of the world.

Even the entire cosmos is subject to him and converges in him as its own head. The words in the Letter to the Ephesians that speak of God's plan "to unite all things in him, things in Heaven and things on earth" (Ep 1,10) are famous. Likewise, we read in the Letter to the Colossians that "in him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible" (Ep 1,16), and that "making peace by the Blood of his Cross.... reconcile[d] to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Ep 1,20). Therefore there is not, on the one hand, the great material world and, on the other, this small reality of the history of our earth, of the world of people: it is all one in Christ. He is the head of the cosmos; the cosmos too was created by him, it was created for us to the extent that we are united with him. It is a rational and personalistic vision of the universe. I would say that it would have been impossible to conceive of a vision more universalistic than this, and that it befits the Risen Christ alone. Christ is the Pantokrator to which all things are subordinate. Our thoughts turn precisely to Christ the Pantocrator, who fills the vault of the apse in Byzantine churches, sometimes depicted seated on high, above the whole world, or even on a rainbow, to show his equality with God himself at whose right hand he is seated (cf. Ep 1,20 Col 3,1) and thus also his incomparable role as the guide of human destiny.

A vision of this kind can only be conceived by the Church, not in the sense that she wishes to misappropriate that to which she is not entitled, but in another double sense: both to the extent that the Church recognizes that Christ is greater than she is, given that his lordship extends beyond her confines, and to the extent that the Church alone not the cosmos is described as the Body of Christ. All of this means that we must consider earthly realities positively, since Christ sums them up in himself, and at the same time we must live to the full our specific ecclesial identity, which is the one most homogeneous to Christ's own identity.

Then there is also a special concept which is typical of these two Letters, and it is the concept of "mystery". The "mystery of [God's] will" is mentioned once (Ep 1,9) and, other times, as the "mystery of Christ" (Ep 3,4 Col 4,3) or even as "God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2,2-3). This refers to God's inscrutable plan for the destiny of mankind, of peoples and of the world. With this language the two Epistles tell us that the fulfilment of this mystery is found in Christ. If we are with Christ, even if our minds are incapable of grasping everything, we know that we have penetrated the nucleus of this "mystery" and are on the way to the truth. It is he in his totality and not only in one aspect of his Person or at one moment of his existence who bears within him the fullness of the unfathomable divine plan of salvation. In him what is called "the manifold wisdom of God" (Ep 3,10) takes shape, for in him "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2,9). From this point on, therefore, it is not possible to reflect on and worship God's will, his sovereign instruction, without comparing ourselves personally with Christ in Person, in whom that "mystery" is incarnate and may be tangibly perceived. Thus one arrives at contemplation of the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ep 3,8) which are beyond any human understanding. It is not that God did not leave footprints on his journey, for Christ himself is God's impression, his greatest footprint; but we realize "what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of this mystery "which surpasses knowledge" (Ep 3,18-19). Mere intellectual categories prove inadequate here, and, recognizing that many things are beyond our rational capacities, we must entrust them to the humble and joyful contemplation not only of the mind but also of the heart. The Fathers of the Church, moreover, tell us that love understands better than reason alone.

A last word must be said on the concept, already mentioned above, of the Church as the spousal partner of Christ. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul had compared the Christian community to a bride, writing thus: "I feel a divine jealousy for you", for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband" (2Co 11,2). The Letter to the Ephesians develops this image, explaining that the Church is not only a betrothed bride, but the real bride of Christ. He has won her, so to speak, and has done so at the cost of his life: as the text says, he "gave himself up for her" (Ep 5,25). What demonstration of love could be greater than this? But in addition, he was concerned about her beauty: not only the beauty already acquired through Baptism, but also that beauty "without stain or wrinkle" that is due to an irreproachable life which must grow in her moral conduct every day (cf. Ep 5,26-27). It is a short step from here to the common experience of Christian marriage; indeed, it is not even very clear what the initial reference point of the Letter was for its author: whether it was the Christ-Church relationship, in whose light the union of the man and woman should be seen, or whether it was the experiential event of conjugal union, in whose light should be seen the relationship between Christ and the Church. But both aspects illuminate each other reciprocally: we learn what marriage is in the light of the communion of Christ and the Church, we learn how Christ is united to us in thinking of the mystery of matrimony. In any case, our Letter presents itself as nearly a middle road between the Prophet Hosea, who expressed the relationship between God and his people in terms of the wedding that had already taken place (cf. Hos Os 2,4, 16, 20), and the Seer of the Apocalypse, who was to propose the eschatological encounter between the Church and the Lamb as a joyful and indefectible wedding (cf. Ap 19,7-9 Ap 21,9).

There would be much more to say, but it seems to me that from what has been expounded it is already possible to realize that these two Letters form a great catechesis, from which we can learn not only how to be good Christians but also how to become truly human. If we begin by understanding that the cosmos is the impression of Christ, we learn our correct relationship with the cosmos, along with all of the problems of the preservation of the cosmos. Let us learn to see it with reason, but with a reason motivated by love, and with the humility and respect that make it possible to act in the right way. And if we believe that the Church is the Body of Christ, that Christ gave himself for her, we learn how to live reciprocal love with Christ, the love that unites us to God and makes us see in the other the image of Christ, Christ himself. Let us pray the Lord to help us to meditate well upon Sacred Scripture, his word, and thus truly learn how to live well.

To special groups

I am glad to greet the St Thérèse of Lisieux pilgrimage which, together with the Bishops of Bayeux-Lisieux and of Sées, has accompanied the reliquary of Bl. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus who so profoundly shared in this mystery of Christ's love. I also offer my best wishes to the contemplative Women Religious of the Holy Family from Bordeaux, as well as to the young members of the Institution Jeanne d'Arc from Colombes.

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's Audience. May your time in Rome strengthen you to imitate St Paul in "giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Ep 5,20)!

Lastly, I address as usual the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Yesterday the liturgy recalled St Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers who "defended the divinity of Christ your Son" (cf. Liturgy), an ardent champion of the faith and teacher of truth. May his example sustain you, dear young people, in the constant and courageous search for Christ; may it encourage you, dear sick people, to offer up your sufferings so that the Kingdom of God may spread throughout the world; and may it help you, dear newlyweds, to be witnesses of Christ's love in family life. I ask you to join in my prayer to implore an abundance of divine graces on the Sixth World Meeting of Families that is taking place in these days in Mexico City. May this important ecclesial event express once again the beauty and value of the family, inspiring in it new energy for this irreplaceable fundamental cell of society and of the Church.

Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 21 January 2009 - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" began last Sunday. It will end next Sunday, the Feast of the Conversion of the Apostle St Paul. The Week of Prayer is a particularly precious spiritual initiative that is becoming ever more widespread among Christians, in harmony with and, we might say, in response to the heartfelt entreaty that Jesus addressed to the Father in the Upper Room before his Passion: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (
Jn 17,21). In this priestly prayer, the Lord asks at least four times that his disciples may be "one", in accordance with the image of the unity between the Father and the Son. This is a unity that can only grow by following the example of the Son's gift of himself to the Father, that is, by coming out of oneself and uniting oneself with Christ. Moreover in this prayer Jesus twice adds as the purpose of this unity: so that the world may believe. Thus, full unity concerns the Church's life and mission in the world. She must live a unity that can only derive from her unity with Christ, with his transcendence, as a sign that Christ is the truth. This is our responsibility: that the gift of unity by virtue of which our faith is made credible may be visible in the world. For this reason it is important that every Christian community become aware of the urgent need to work in every possible way to achieve this great objective. However, knowing that unity is first and foremost a "gift" of the Lord, it is necessary at the same time to implore it with tireless and trusting prayer. Only by coming out of ourselves and going towards Christ, only in our relationship with him, can we become truly united with one another. This is the invitation that this "Week" addresses to believers in Christ of every Church and Ecclesial Community; let us respond to it, dear brothers and sisters, with prompt generosity.

This year the "Week of Prayer for Unity" presents to us for our meditation and prayers these words from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: "That they may become one in your hand" (Ez 37,17). The theme was chosen by an ecumenical group from Korea and was then re-examined for international circulation by the Joint Committee for Prayer, comprised of representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. The process of preparation itself was a fruitful and stimulating exercise of true ecumenism.

In the passage from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, from which the theme has been taken, the Lord orders the Prophet to take two sticks, one representing Judah and his tribes and the other Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him, and asks him "to join them together" into one stick, that they may become "one" in his hand. The parable of unity is transparent. To "[his] people" who ask for an explanation, Ezekiel, enlightened from on High, was to say that the Lord himself takes the two sticks and joins them together in such a way that the two kingdoms with their respective tribes, divided from one another, may become "one in his hand". The hand of the Prophet who brings the two sticks together is considered as the very hand of God who gathers together and unites his people and, in the end, the whole of humanity. We may apply the Prophet's words to Christians in the sense of an exhortation to pray and work, doing their utmost to bring about the unity of all Christ's disciples, to work so that our hand may become an instrument of the unifying hand of God. This exhortation becomes particularly moving and heartrending in Jesus' words after the Last Supper. The Lord desires the whole of his people to journey on and in this sees the Church of the future, of the centuries to come with patience and perseverance towards the goal of full unity. This is a commitment that entails humble adherence and docile obedience to the commandment of the Lord, who blesses it and makes it fruitful. The Prophet Ezekiel assures us that it will be he himself, our one Lord, the one God, who gathers us into "his hand".

In the second part of the biblical reading the significance and conditions of unity of the various tribes into a single kingdom are more deeply examined. In their dispersion among the Gentiles, the Israelites had become acquainted with erroneous forms of worship, they had developed mistaken concepts of life and had assumed customs alien to the divine law. The Lord now declares that they shall no longer defile themselves with the idols of pagan peoples, with their abominations and with all their transgressions (Ez 37,23). He recalls their need to free themselves from sin, to purify their hearts. "I will deliver them from all their sins and will cleanse them", he says. And so "they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (ibid.). In this condition of inner renewal they "shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes". And the prophetic text concludes with the definitive and fully salvific promise: "I will make a covenant of peace with them... and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them" (Ez 37,26).

Ezekiel's vision becomes particularly eloquent for the entire ecumenical movement because it sheds light on the indispensable need for authentic inner renewal in all the members of the people of God which only the Lord can bring about. We too must be open to this renewal because we too, dispersed among the world's peoples, have learned customs that are very far from the Word of God. Since "every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling", as we read in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, "undoubtedly this explains the dynamism of the movement toward unity" (Unitatis redintegratio
, n. 6), namely, the greatest fidelity to the vocation of God. The Decree then stresses the interior dimension of conversion of the heart. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name", it adds, "without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinting love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (ibid., n. 7). Thus for all of us the "Week of Prayer for Unity" becomes an incentive for sincere conversion, for listening ever more docilely to God's word and for increasingly deeper faith.
The "Week" is also a favourable opportunity to thank the Lord for what, with his help, has been done up to now to bring divided Christian and Ecclesial Communities closer to one another. This spirit has enlivened the Catholic Church which, in the year that has just ended, continued with firm conviction and well-founded hope to engage in respectful brotherly relations with all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the East and West. Within a variety of situations, at times more positive and at times with greater difficulty, we endeavoured never to fall short of our commitment to make every possible effort for the recomposition of full unity. Relations between the Churches and theological dialogues have continued to show encouraging signs of spiritual convergence. I myself have had the joy, both here at the Vatican and during my Apostolic Visits, of meeting Christians from all parts. I have received the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I three times with deep joy and, during what was an extraordinary event at the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, we heard him speak with fraternal ecclesial warmth and convinced trust in the future. I had the pleasure of receiving the two Catholicoi of the Armenian Apostolic Church: His Holiness Karekin II of Etchmiadzin and His Holiness Aram I of Antelias. And, lastly, I shared in the sorrow of the Patriarchate of Moscow at the departure of our Beloved Brother in Christ, His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II, and I continue to remain in communion through prayer with these brothers of ours who are preparing to elect the new Patriarch of their venerable and great Orthodox Church. Likewise I have been granted to meet representatives of the various Christian communions of the West, with whom exchanges are continuing, on the important witness that Christians must bear today in a harmonious manner, in a world that is ever more divided and placed before so many cultural, social, economical and ethical challenges. Let us joyfully give thanks to the Lord together for these and many other meetings, dialogues and gestures of brotherhood that the Lord has granted us to accomplish.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us take the opportunity that the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" offers us to ask the Lord for the commitment and the ecumenical dialogue to continue and, if possible, to be intensified. In the context of the Pauline Year commemorating the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St Paul, we cannot fail to also refer to what the Apostle Paul has bequeathed to us in writing concerning the Church's unity. Every Wednesday I continue to devote my reflection to his Letters and to his invaluable teaching. Here I simply resume what he wrote when addressing the community of Ephesus: "There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ep 4,4-5). Let us make our own the yearning of St Paul who spent his whole life for the one Lord and for the unity of his Mystical Body, the Church, and with his martyrdom bearing a supreme witness of faithfulness and love for Christ.

By following his example and counting on his intercession, may every community grow in the commitment to unity, thanks to the various spiritual and pastoral initiatives and common prayer assemblies that usually become more numerous and intense in this "Week". These give us a foretaste, in a certain way, of the day of full unity. Let us pray that the dialogue of truth among the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and the dialogue of charity, which conditions the theological dialogue itself and helps us live together in order to bear a common witness, will continue. They are indispensable in order to settle differences. The desire that dwells in our hearts is to hasten the day of full communion, when all the disciples of our one Lord will at last be able to celebrate the Eucharist together, the divine sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. Let us invoke the motherly intercession of Mary so that she may help all Christians to cultivate a more attentive listening to the word of God and more intense prayers for unity.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience. My particular greeting goes to the pilgrimage group from Malta led by Archbishop Paul Cremona. Upon all of you I cordially invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord.

Lastly, as usual I address my thoughts to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Today we are celebrating the liturgical Memorial of St Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, who despite her very young age bravely faced death for love of the Lord and had within her "the same sentiments as Jesus Christ", the Lamb who was sacrificed and victorious. Dear young people, dear sick people and dear newlyweds, through the intercession of St Agnes may you too live your vocation and your actual state as authentic paths of holiness.

Paul VI Audience Hall

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