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Christ's miracles - salvific signs

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 2 December 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. There is no doubt about the fact that in the Gospels Christ's miracles are presented as signs of the kingdom of God which has entered the history of mankind and of the world. "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you," Jesus said (Mt 12:28). Whatever may be said or has been said on the subject of miracles (and this was answered by the Christian apologists), it is certain that one cannot separate from the authentic Gospel context the "mighty deeds, wonders and signs" attributed to Jesus, and even to his apostles and disciples "working in his name." In the apostolic preaching from which the Gospels principally derive, the early Christians heard the testimony of eyewitnesses about those extraordinary events which had occurred in the recent past and could therefore be checked under the critical-historical aspect. For that reason they were not surprised that they were included in the Gospel. Regardless of the objections of later times, one thing emerges as certain from the genuine sources of Christ's life and teaching. The apostles, the evangelists, and the whole primitive Church saw in each of those miracles the supreme power of Christ over nature and its laws. He who reveals God as Father, Creator and Lord of creation, when performing miracles by his own power, reveals himself as Son, one in being with the Father and equal to him in lordship over creation.

2. Some miracles present however other aspects which complement the basic significance of proof of the divine power of the Son of Man in the order of the economy of salvation.

Thus, speaking of the first sign performed at Cana of Galilee, the evangelist John observed that by means of that sign Jesus "manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him" (Jn 2:11). The miracle therefore has a finality of faith, but it took place during a wedding feast. One may therefore say that, at least in the evangelist's intention, the "sign" serves to emphasize the whole divine economy of the covenant and of grace which is frequently expressed in the image of marriage in the books of the Old and New Testaments. The miracle at Cana of Galilee could therefore be related to the parable of the wedding feast which a king had prepared for his son, and with the eschatological kingdom of heaven which is similar to such a banquet (cf. Mt 22:2). Jesus' first miracle could be understood as a sign of this kingdom, especially since "Jesus' hour," that is, the hour of his passion and glorification, had not yet arrived (Jn 2:4; cf. 7:30; 8:20; 12:23-27; 13:1; 17:1). That "hour" was to be prepared by the preaching of the "Gospel of the kingdom" (cf. Mt 4:23; 9:35). The miracle obtained through Mary's intercession can be considered as a sign and a symbolic announcement of what was about to happen.

3. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves which took place near Capernaum can be understood much more clearly as a sign of the economy of salvation. John linked it to the discourse held by Jesus the following day. He insisted on the necessity of acquiring through "faith in him who has sent me" (Jn 6:29), the food that does not perish. He spoke of himself as the true bread which "gives life to the world" (cf. Jn 6:33), and indeed as the one who gives his flesh "for the life of the world" (cf. Jn 6:51). The pre-announcement of the salvific passion and death is clear, not without reference to and preparation for the Eucharist which was to be instituted on the day before his passion, as the sacrament-bread of eternal life (cf. Jn 6:52-58).

4. The calming of the storm on the Lake of Genesareth can be understood as a sign of the constant presence of Christ in the barque of the Church, which is frequently exposed to the fury of the wind during stormy periods in the course of history. Awakened by the disciples, Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea and there was a great calm. Then he said to them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" (Mk 4:40). In this, as in other events, one perceives Jesus' will to inculcate in the apostles and disciples faith in his operative and protective presence. This is true even in the most tempestuous periods of history in which the human spirit might possibly be tempted by a doubt about Jesus' divine assistance. Christian preaching and spirituality frequently interpret the miracle as a sign of Jesus' presence and a guarantee of trust in him on the part of Christians and of the Church.

5. Going toward his disciples walking on the water, Jesus offered them another sign of his presence, and gave an assurance of a constant watchfulness over his disciples and the Church. "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!" Jesus said to the apostles who had thought he was a ghost (cf. Mk 6:49-50; cf. also Mt 14:26-27; Jn 6:16-21). Mark notes the apostles' astonishment "because they had not understood the incident of the loaves and their hearts were hardened" (Mk 6:52). Matthew recounts Peter's question and his desire to get out of the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus. Matthew records Peter's fear and his cry for help when he saw that he was beginning to sink. Jesus saved him but rebuked him gently, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Mt 14:31). Matthew also adds that "those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, 'Truly, you are the Son of God'" (Mt 14:33).

6. The miraculous catches of fish are, for the apostles and the Church, the signs of the fruitfulness of their mission if they remain deeply united to Christ's saving power (cf. Lk 5:4-10; Jn 21:3-6). Indeed Luke includes in the narrative the fact that Peter threw himself at the knees of Jesus exclaiming, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" (Lk 5:8). Jesus replied, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men" (Lk 5:10). John in his turn follows up the catch of fish after the resurrection with Christ's command to Peter, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep" (cf. Jn 21:15-17). It is a significant association.

7. So it can be said that Christ's miracles are a manifestation of the divine omnipotence in regard to creation, which is revealed in his messianic power over people and things. At the same time, they are signs which reveal the divine work of salvation. This is the economy of salvation which is introduced with Christ, is realized definitively in human history, and is thus inscribed in this visible world which is also a divine work. The people—like the apostles on the lake—seeing Christ's miracles ask themselves, "Who is this whom even the wind and the sea obey?" (Mt 4:41). Through these signs they are prepared to welcome the salvation offered to humanity by God in his Son.

This is the essential scope of all the miracles and signs wrought by Christ in the presence of his contemporaries, and of those miracles which, in the course of history, would be performed by his apostles and disciples in reference to the saving power of his name: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" (Acts 3:6)."


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

Ai gruppi di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

je salue cordialement tous les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je remercie particulièrement l’Institut international Saint-Dominique de la Via Cassia, à Rome, pour son aimable visite. Aux élèves, aux membres religieux et laïcs du corps enseignant, aux familles, je suis heureux d’adresser mes encouragements chaleureux. Faites réussir avec enthousiasme votre projet éducatif, avec des relations exemplaires entre jeunes de plus de quarante nations! Ouverts aux besoins de notre temps, approfondissez et célébrez votre foi dans la joie! Dans ces sentiments, j’invoque sur l’Institut la protection de la Vierge Marie et de saint Dominique, et j’appelle sur vous tous la Bénédiction de Dieu.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to offer a warm welcome to the group of Obimi Indians from Canada. My cordial greeting also goes to the young people who have come from Denmark.

To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I extend my heartfelt greetings. May this Advent Season be for each of you a time of joyful preparation for the coming of the Saviour. To you and your loved ones I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern aus den Ländern deutscher und niederländischer Sprache: Ein gläubiger Mensch kann auch in seinem eigenen Leben Wunder Gottes entdecken, die ihn aufblicken lassen zu seinem Herrn und Schöpfer, dessen gute Vorsehung sie ganz spontan erfahren und preisen. Möge der Heilige Geist euch allen solche beglückenden Erfahrungen schenken, die eurem Leben Zuversicht und neue Kraft geben können. Das erbitte ich euch mit meinem Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini provenienti dalla Spagna e dai Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

quiero ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de España y de los diversos países de América Latina.

En particular saludo al grupo de Religiosos Capuchinos que están haciendo en Roma un curso de renovación; asimismo a las Religiosas de la Inmaculada. A todos aliento a una ilusionada entrega a Dios y a la Iglesia respondiendo generosamente a las exigencias de su vocación.

Saludo igualmente a los feligreses de la parroquia de la Inmaculada del Cuzco (Perú) y al grupo de jóvenes guatemaltecos.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Witam obecnych na tej audiencji pilgrzymów z polski, w szczególności z archidiecezji krakowskiej, z parafii Trzebinia-Siersza pod wezwaniem Niepokkalanego Poczęcia; z Włocławka z parafii Najświęvtszego Serca Pana Jezusa, księża orioniści; prócz tego innych pielgrzymów, nie objętych tymi grupami parafialnymi, jako też uczestników grup turystycznych Orbisu, Turysty i Sport-Tourist.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Desidero ora porgere il mio saluto ai rappresentanti dell’Eparchia di Piana degli Albanesi, venuti a Roma in questo Anno Mariano, con il loro Vescovo Monsignor Ercole Lupinacci, per commemorare il 50° anniversario della fondazione della loro Comunità di rito orientale. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per questa visita che attesta il vostro attaccamento alla Sede di Pietro e la devozione alla Vergine, che nel vostro rito occupa sempre un posto singolare. Vi benedico con affetto.

* * *

Saluto poi il Consiglio di Amministrazione, le Religiose, le allieve e gli allievi infermieri professionali della Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, che, sotto la guida del Vescovo di Manfredonia, Monsignor Valentino Vailati, e del Sindaco di San Giovanni rotondo sono venuti a restituire la visita che feci loro durante il mio viaggio apostolico in Puglia. Vi ringrazio cari fratelli e sorelle, e vi esorto a tener vivo il modello di pietà e di generosità apostolica di Padre Pio da Pietralcina. Vi benedico di cuore.

* * *

Il mio pensiero va poi ai titolari e lavoratori dell’esercizio cinematografico convenuti con i familiari a Roma per essere premiati in riconoscimento della loro lunga attività. Nel darvi il mio benvenuto, mi è caro esprimere l’auspicio che il potente mezzo di comunicazione sociale, nel quale avete prestato o prestate la vostra opera, sappia farsi veicolo di autentici valori, così da contribuire al vero bene dei cittadini e al progresso della società. A tutti la mia Benedizione.

* * *

Rivolgo, altresì, una parola di cordiale saluto ai professori, al personale ed agli studenti della scuola media statale “Clemente Cardinali” di Velletri, con l’augurio che gli anni di studio servano a formare culturalmente e moralmente gli alunni, preparandoli ad assumere le responsabilità personali e sociali che li attendono. Tutti benedico con affetto.

* * *

Saluto, inoltre, il gruppo di sacerdoti della diocesi di Vittorio Veneto, che sono venuti a Roma per celebrare i 40 anni della loro ordinazione. Carissimi, prego con voi e per voi, chiedendo al Signore di colmare i vostri cuori delle sue consolazioni e di rendere il vostro ministero sempre fecondo di frutti. A voi e alle persone affidate alle vostre cure pastorali la mia affettuosa Benedizione.

Ai giovani

Un saluto ora a tutti voi, carissimi giovani! Desidero esortarvi a vivere con spirito di fede, in atteggiamento di cristiana vigilanza, nella preghiera e nelle buone opere, il tempo dell’Avvento appena cominciato. Esso non ci prepara solo alla commemorazione del Natale storico del Cristo, ma ci orienta verso la sua ultima venuta. Sappiamo bene che la nostra vita e quella della società avanzano irresistibilmente verso il loro compimento, verso il giudizio e l’incontro definitivo con Cristo. La coscienza della meta dà significato ai nostri giorni e fa di essi un momento utile per le scelte, e quindi per la salvezza e la redenzione. Cristo che viene vi chiama, dunque, all’impegno di “ redimere il tempo ”, preoccupandovi di costruire il futuro con la precisa volontà di migliorare questo mondo, alla luce del progetto di vita che scaturisce dal Vangelo. Siate vigilanti nel perseguire questo compito, impegnando le vostre energie per adempiere la missione che il Signore vi affida. Di cuore vi benedico.

Agli ammalati

Carissimi ammalati! Il tempo dell’Avvento è iniziato con una preghiera della Chiesa, piena di speranza: “A te, Signore, elevo l’anima mia. Dio mio, in te confido”. La fiducia è caratteristica peculiare del cristiano, ma, nel tempo dell’Avvento, essa diviene il tema saliente di tutta la comune preghiera. Rinnovate la vostra fiducia: Gesù viene verso di noi come Liberatore e Salvatore; la sua fedeltà non viene mai meno. Vi conforti tale pensiero specialmente nei momenti del dolore e dell’avvilimento. Sappiate sempre ritrovare nel Cristo la vostra forza, e offrite i vostri sacrifici anche perché la venuta del Signore a Natale segni per molti fratelli un momento di conversione. Tutti vi benedico e per tutti voi prego.

Agli sposi novelli

Carissimi sposi novelli, un saluto affettuoso a tutti voi, con l’augurio cordiale di felicità e di grazia per la vita coniugale che avete da poco iniziato. Il mio auspicio si fonda sulla preghiera, con cui la Chiesa ha iniziato il tempo di Avvento: “ Suscita in noi la volontà di andare incontro con le buone opere al Cristo ”. Le buone opere siano l’impegno costante della vostra vita comune. Sostenetevi l’un l’altro nel cercarle e nel compierle, e date sempre ai vostri figli l’esempio e la testimonianza di atteggiamenti e di fatti ispirati all’esempio santo della vita di Cristo. Con la mia particolare Benedizione.

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