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Divine Providence in the Light of Vatican II

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 18 June 1986 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The truth about divine Providence appears as a point of convergence of the many truths contained in the statement: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." Because of its richness and ever present topicality it deserved treatment from the entire Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council, which discussed it in an excellent manner. In many documents of the Council we find appropriate references to this truth of faith, and it is present in a particular way in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes. By setting that out in relief we summarize the previous catecheses on divine Providence.

2. As is known, the Constitution Gaudium et Spes treats of the Church in the modern world. From the first paragraphs, however, one sees clearly that it is impossible to treat this subject on the basis of the Church's Magisterium without going back to the revealed truth on the relationship of God with the world, and in the last analysis to the truth of divine Providence. We read: "The council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family...that world which is the theater of man's history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, who was crucified and rose again to break the stranglehold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment" (GS 2).

This "description" involves the whole doctrine of Providence, understood both as God's eternal plan in creation, and as the carrying out of this plan in history. It is also understood as the salvific and eschatological finalization of the universe and especially of the human world according to its "predestination in Christ," the center and pivot of all things. This repeats in other terms the dogmatic statement of the First Vatican Council: "All that God created, he conserves and directs by his Providence 'reaching from end to end mightily and governing all things well' (cf. Wis 8:1). 'All lies bare and exposed to his eyes' (cf. Heb 4:13), even what will take place through the free initiative of creatures" (DS 3003). More specifically, right from the very beginning, Gaudium et Spes focuses on a question as pertinent to our subject as it is of interest to modern man—how to reconcile the "growth" of God's kingdom with the development (evolution) of the world. We shall now follow the main lines of this exposition, precisely indicating its principal assertions.

3. In the visible world men and women are the protagonists of historical and cultural development. They are in a certain sense "providence" for themselves, since they are created in the image and likeness of God, conserved in being by him and guided with fatherly love in the task of "exercising dominion" over other creatures. "Throughout the course of the centuries, men have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God's will. For man, created in God's image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to him who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth" (GS 34).

Previously, the same conciliar document had stated: "Man is not wrong when he regards himself as superior to bodily concerns, and as more than a speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man. For by his interior qualities he outstrips the whole sum of mere things. He plunges into the depths of reality whenever he enters into his own heart; God, who probes the heart, awaits him there; there he discerns his proper destiny beneath the eyes of God" (GS 14).

4. The development of the world toward economic and cultural orders ever more suited to the integral requirements of man is a task which enters into man's vocation to exercise dominion over the earth. Therefore the real successes of modern scientific and technological civilization, no less than those of humanistic culture and of the "wisdom" of the centuries, enter into the scope of the "providence" shared with man for the implementation of God's plan in the world. The Council sees and recognizes the value and function of the culture and work of our time in this light.

The Constitution Gaudium et Spes describes the new cultural and social condition of humanity, with its distinctive notes and its possibilities for such rapid advancement as to occasion amazement and hope (cf. GS, 53-54). The Council does not hesitate to witness to man's wonderful achievements, setting them in the framework of the divine plan and command, and linking them with the Gospel of brotherhood preached by Jesus Christ: "When man develops the earth by the work of his hands or with the aid of technology, in order that it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy of the whole human family and when he consciously takes part in the life of social groups, he carries out the design of God manifested at the beginning of time, that he should subdue the earth, perfect creation and develop himself. At the same time he obeys the commandment of Christ that he place himself at the service of his brethren" (GS 57; cf. also GS 63).

5. However, the Council did not close its eyes to the immense problems concerning man's development today, whether in his dimension as a person, or in that of community. It would be illusory to believe that these problems can be ignored, just as it would be an error to formulate them in an inadequate or insufficient manner, under the pretext of omitting the necessary reference to God's providence and will. The Council said: "Though mankind is stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power, it often raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of man in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity" (GS 3). And it explained: "This transformation has brought serious difficulties in its wake. Thus while man extends his power in every direction, he does not always succeed in subjecting it to his own welfare. Striving to probe more profoundly into the deeper recesses of his own mind, he frequently appears more unsure of himself.

Gradually and more precisely he lays bare the laws of society, only to be paralyzed by uncertainty about the direction to give it" (GS 4). The Council spoke expressly of the "contradictions and imbalances" begotten by a "rapid and disorderly" evolution in socio-economic conditions, in the way of life, the culture, and in the outlook and conscience of man, in the family, in social relations, in relations between groups, communities and nations, with the consequent "mutual distrust, enmities, conflicts and hardships. Of such man is at once the cause and the victim" (cf. GS 8-10). Finally the Council arrived at the root of the problem when it stated "that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man" (GS 10).

6. In the presence of this situation in the world today, there is no justification for that mentality according to which the "dominion" which man claims is absolute and radical and can be realized without any reference to divine Providence. It is a vain and dangerous illusion to build one's own life and to make the world the realm of one's happiness, by relying exclusively on one's own powers. It is the great temptation into which the modern world has fallen, unmindful of the fact that the laws of nature also govern the industrial and post-industrial civilization (cf. GS 26-27). But it is easy to be dazzled by a supposed self-sufficiency of the progressive "dominion" of the forces of nature, to the point of forgetting God or of setting oneself in his place.

Today in some circles this claim leads to forms of biological, genetic, and psychological manipulation. If this is not governed by criteria of the moral law (and consequently by the finalization of the kingdom of God) it can result in the domination of man over man with tragically disastrous consequences. Recognizing contemporary man's greatness, but also his limitation, in the legitimate autonomy of created things (cf. GS 36), the Council reminded him of the truth of divine Providence which comes to his assistance and help. In this relationship with God the Father, Creator and Providence, man can ever discover anew the basis of his salvation.

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi

Je salue avec joie tous les pèlerins de langue française, les groupes de jeunes et d’adultes, notamment de France, de Suisse, du Canada.

Mes voeux chaleureux vont spécialement aux Soeurs de la Congrégation Notre-Dame des Apôtres. Vous allez reprendre, chères Soeurs, votre patient travail missionnaire en divers pays d’Afrique, au Liban, en Europe: que l’Esprit Saint soutienne votre apostolat d’annonce de l’Evangile, de formation chrétienne, de témoignage de charité et de paix, ou de réveil de la foi, et qu’il vous garde dans la joie et la certitude d’accomplir une oeuvre indispensable, selon le coeur du Christ, en union avec les Pasteurs, successeurs des Apôtres.

J’ai noté la présence aussi d’amis canadiens, dont je recommande la vie chrétienne et apostolique à la Vierge Marie.

A tous je donne de grand coeur ma Bénédiction.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

I gladly express a cordial welcome to the group of professors and students of theology from the University of Oslo. I wish you well in your studies, and I pray that your visit to Rome will further strengthen your resolve to work for the unity of all Christ’s followers.

* * *

I am happy to greet two groups from Sweden: a party from the Parish of Löddeköpinge on a study-tour of Rome and the Vatican, and a group of Lutheran visitors from Sundström. May your visit to Rome be not only a pleasant experience but also a time of spiritual renewal.

* * *

I offer a warm welcome to the other groups present: in particular to the musical group from Easter-house in Scotland; to the group of pilgrims from Korea; and to the members of the Apostolate for Family Consecration from Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the United States.

And to all the visitors and pilgrims from the various countries of the English-speaking world I give the assurance of my prayers and I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli tedeschi

Mit dieser kurzen Zusammenfassung meiner italienischen Ausführungen grüße ich sehr herzlich alle heutigen deutschsprachigen Audienztelnehmer: die genannten Pilgergruppen, die Familien und Einzelpilger und besonders die Jugendlichen. Ich wünsche euch schone und erlebnisreiche Tage in der Ewigen Stadt, vor allem eine Vertiefung eures Glaubens und religiösen Lebens. Indem ich euch und eure Angehörigen in der Heimat Gottes Gute und Vorsehung anempfehle, erteile ich euch allen von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Deseo saludar ahora cordialmente a todos los visitantes y grupos de peregrinos de lengua española, procedentes de España y de varios Países de América Latina. De modo particular, saludo a los oyentes del Grupo Radial colombiano de Cali, así como a los diversos grupos parroquiales y escolares. A todos os invito a dar siempre testimonio de vuestra vida cristiana en el ambiente donde vivís y os imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Ojczyzny, w szczególności z parafii św. Krzyża w Krakowie; z parafii Matki Bożej Wspomożenia Wiernych ze Skawy - księża salezjanie; z parafii św. Stefana, Katowice-Bogucice; z parafii Matki Bożej w Piekarach śląskich; z parafii św. Barbary ze Strumienia, diecezja katowicka; kapłanów z diecezji łódzkiej; kapłanów z diecezji płockiej; pielgrzymów z parafii Matki Bożej Królowej Polski w Gdyni; z dekanatu Borów z archidiecezji wrocławskiej; Polaków z Algierii; uczestników grup turystycznych PKS z Warszawy, “Turysty” z Rzeszowa, Szczecina, Krakova i Częstochowy; poza tym grupę nauczycieli szkól kolejowych w Katovicach, grupe pracovników przedsiębiorstwa Itares z Rzeszova. Wszystkich bardzo serdecznie witam i pozdrawiam . . . Pozdraviając wszystkich tutaj obecnych, pragnę raz jeszcze nawiązać do tego słowa, do komunikatub jednego z ostatnich, polskiej Konferencji Episkopatu, w którym mowa jest o uwięzionych. Pragnę dac wyraz troski o wszystkich naszych rodaków uwięzionych, zwłaszcza uwieszionych z powodu ich przekonań. Wchodzą tu w grę jakieś bardzo podstavowe prawa człowieka. Pragnę nade wszystko polecić modlitwie tych wszystkich nasezych braci i siostry uwięzionych, o których myślą rodacy, nie zostawiając ich samymi, których myślą, troską i modlitwą wspierają. Bo chodzi o to, ażeby świat, w którym żyjemy - a w tym świecie nasza Ojczyzna - był bardziej godny człowieka, był prawdziwym mieszkaniem ludzi, ludzi żyjących w prawdzie, sprawiedliwości i miłosci. O to zabiegamy wszędzie, we wszystkich narodach, o to zabiegamy w sposób szczególny wśród tego narodu, który jest naszą Ojczyzną.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani 

Un particolare saluto desidero rivolgere agli aderenti alla iniziativa “La famiglia in movimento”, promossa dal “Centro Culturale Bene comune”, confluiti a Roma da più di trenta città italiane per un incontro comunitario, il quale ha lo scopo di sensibilizzare i cittadini e le competenti Autorità a manifestare un reale e fattivo interesse per i problemi della famiglia.

Carissimi Fratelli e Sorelle! Plaudo di cuore a tale vostra iniziativa, che vuole porsi in sintonia con l’appello che ho rivolto nella mia Esortazione Apostolica circa i compiti della famiglia cristiana nel mondo d’oggi.

“Le famiglie devono crescere nella coscienza di “essere protagoniste” della cosiddetta “politica familiare” ed assumersi le responsabilità di trasformare la società: diversamente le famiglie saranno le prime vittime di quei mali che si sono limitate ad osservare con indifferenza”.

Sul vostro impegno e sui vostri ideali invoco l’abbondanza delle grazie divine e vi imparto la Benedizione Apostolica. 

* * * 

Sono presenti i novelli sacerdoti della diocesi di Brescia insieme con i loro familiari. A voi, cari fratelli nel sacerdozio, e ai vostri congiunti, il mio cordiale saluto. La gioia purissima della sacra ordinazione da poco ricevuta sia luce ai vostri passi, conforto e sostegno nel cammino e nelle prove del vostro ministero. Vi accompagni la mia affettuosa Benedizione. 

* * * 

Porgo il mio saluto ad un gruppo di sacerdoti, della diocesi di Treviso, i quali celebrano il 40° anniversario della loro ordinazione. Carissimi, sappiate sempre far rivivere il carisma e la gioia della vostra ordinazione mediante la perseverante volontà di servizio a Cristo ed alla sua Chiesa. 

* * * 

Saluto il gruppo dei pellegrini della terza età di Misterbianco, diocesi di Catania, assicurandoli che sono loro vicino col mio pensiero e con la preghiera. 

* * * 

Il mio pensiero va poi ai membri della Cooperativa Cantina Sociale di Pistoia, in gita sociale a Roma per il 30° di fondazione. 

* * * 

Ed infine una parola di saluto e di incoraggiamento a due gruppi di ciclisti, di Zenson di Piave, in diocesi di Treviso, e di Valenza Po, in diocesi di Alessandria. In bicicletta, dopo aver toccato le località significative e care, come Loreto, Assisi e Orvieto, sono giunti fin qui in pellegrinaggio alla Sede di Pietro. Sia il vostro un momento ricco per la fede. Vi ringrazio tutti per questa visita e per lo spirito generoso che anima il vostro viaggio.

A tutti il mio cordiale saluto e la mia Benedizione. 

Ai giovani 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto a tutti i giovani presenti a quest’ Udienza. Vi invito, cari giovani, a confrontarvi sempre con Cristo, quali protagonisti del tempo che ci attende, per la missione profetica che anche a voi spetta. Se desiderate un’epoca migliore, in cui la vita dell’uomo, la pace, la giustizia, il diritto, siano più rispettati e meglio garantiti, considerate bene che all’opera ed al progetto di un futuro migliore non si può togliere la presenza di Cristo. Senza Cristo, il vostro progetto per il futuro perderebbe il suo elemento portante e la vostra opera sarebbe condannata ad essere inefficace e svilita. Fate di Cristo un modello per il vostro avvenire, e per questo cercate di conoscerlo di più, di amarlo con maggior fervore e dedizione. Potrete così, non tanto ricopiare i suoi atteggiamenti, perché Egli non è un modello inerte ed esterno a voi; ma vivere la sua vita, perché Cristo è una vita da vivere. 

Agli ammalati 

Il mio saluto va poi agli ammalati qui presenti, rivolgendo un particolare pensiero ai partecipanti al pellegrinaggio di Santeramo del Colle, in diocesi di Bari.

Carissimi, lo scopo di tutta la vostra vita è l’unione a Cristo, perché egli ci attira a sé, volendo ricostruire nella nostra anima il suo amore in una unità immortale. Tale unione, però, è frutto di impegno e di fatiche. Sappiate trasformare la vostra sofferenza in un vero atto di amore a Dio, unendovi con fede al Sacrificio di Cristo Redentore. Egli è la vera vita, la grande gioia, la speranza viva. Vi benedico tutti di cuore. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Desidero, infine, rivolgere un cordiale ed un fervido augurio a tutte le coppie di sposi novelli. L’identità della famiglia, che avete da poco formata, è legata al progetto di Dio, e solo la continua conversione degli sposi alla persona di Cristo consente loro di vivere il dono del matrimonio cristiano, perché esso non è mai separabile dal mistero del Signore. Se il generoso compito di essere padri e madri delle nuove creature, che Dio donerà alla vostra cura, vi impegna a garantire con sapienza per loro una crescita graduale ed armonica, secondo le esigenze del vero amore, sappiate anche che i vostri figli dovranno imparare da voi a percorrere le tappe di una amorosa e piena adesione a Gesù Cristo.

Con i migliori auspici per tutti voi, volentieri vi benedico. 

Nel corso dell’udienza generale di oggi, il Santo Padre invita a pregare affinché il mondo e la Polonia diventino “vera casa degli uomini” dove sia possibile vivere nella verità, nella giustizia e nell’amore. Queste le parole del Papa. 

Salutando tutti coloro che sono qui presenti, desidero riferirmi alle parole di uno degli ultimi comunicati della Conferenza Episcopale polacca concernenti i carcerati. Desidero esprimere la mia preoccupazione per tutti i nostri connazionali imprigionati, in particolare per coloro che lo sono per le loro opinioni. Si tratta di alcuni diritti dell’uomo fondamentali. Voglio soprattutto invitarvi a pregare per tutti i nostri fratelli e sorelle imprigionati a cui pensano i connazionali, i quali non li lasciano, ma li sostengono con il pensiero, con la preoccupazione e con la preghiera. Il mondo in cui viviamo, e la nostra Patria nel mondo, devono diventare più degni dell’uomo, devono diventare la vera casa degli uomini in cui si possa vivere nella verità, nella giustizia e nell’amore. Ed è questo che vogliamo si raggiunga in tutte le nazioni, e in modo speciale nella nazione che è la nostra Patria.

© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana