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Christ's mission

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 20 April 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today we begin the final phase of our reflections on Jesus Christ. Until now we have sought to show who Jesus Christ is. We have done so, first in the light of Sacred Scripture, especially of the Gospels. Then, in recent reflections, we have examined and illustrated the Church's response of faith to Jesus' revelation and to the witness and preaching of the apostles in the course of the first centuries, during the elaboration of the Christological definitions of the early Councils (between the fourth and seventh centuries).

Jesus Christ is true God and true man, of one Being with the Father (and with the Holy Spirit) as regards his divinity, and of one being with us as regards his humanity: Son of God and born of the Virgin Mary. This is the central dogma of the Christian faith in which the mystery of Christ is expressed.

2. Jesus Christ's mission also pertains to this mystery. The creed links this mission with the truth about the being of the God-Man (Theandrikos), Christ, when it states concisely that "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven...and was made man." In our reflections we shall seek to develop the content of these words of the creed, meditating in turn on the various aspects of Jesus Christ's mission.

3. From the beginning of his messianic activity Jesus manifested first of all his prophetic mission. Jesus announced the Good News. He himself said that "he has come" from the Father (cf. Mk 1:38), "that he has been sent" to "proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God" (cf. Lk 4:43).

Jesus acted in a different way from that of his precursor John the Baptist. At the Jordan, in the desert, John taught those who came to him from various places. Instead, Jesus went out to meet those to whom he had to proclaim the Good News. This going out to the people reflects the dynamism proper to the mystery of the Incarnation: God's going toward humanity. Thus the evangelists tell us that Jesus "went around all of Galilee teaching in their synagogues" (Mt 4:23), and that "he journeyed from one town and village to another" (Lk 8:1). From the Gospel texts it is evident that Jesus' preaching took place almost exclusively in Palestine, that is, between Galilee and Judea, with visits to Samaria which links the two principal regions. However, the Gospel also mentions the "region of Tyre and Sidon," that is Phoenicia (cf. Mk 7:31; Mt 15:21), and also Decapolis, "the region of the Gerasenes" on the "other shore of the Sea of Galilee" (cf. Mk 5:1; also 7:31). These references prove that Jesus at times went beyond the confines of Israel (in the ethnic sense), even though he repeatedly emphasized that his mission was principally to "the house of Israel" (Mt 15:24). When he sent the disciples on a first trial journey of missionary apostolate, he explicitly enjoined: "Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 10:5-6). At the same time, however, one of the more important messianic conversations took place in Samaria, at the well of Sychar (cf. Jn 4:1-26).

Moreover, the evangelists themselves attest to the fact that the crowds which followed Jesus comprised people not only from Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem, but also "from Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon" (Mk 3:7-8; cf. also Mt 4:12-15).

4. Even though Jesus clearly stated that his mission was restricted to the "house of Israel," at the same time he made it understood that the doctrine he preached—the Good News—is destined for the whole human race. For example, in reference to the Roman centurion's profession of faith, he foretold: "Many will come from the east and the west and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven..." (Mt 8:11). However, only after the resurrection will he command his apostles, "Go, therefore, and teach all nations" (Mt 28:19).

5. What is the essential content of Jesus' teaching? One can put it in a word: the Gospel, that is, the Good News. He began his preaching with the invitation: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Good News" (Mk 1:15).

The very term "good news" indicates the fundamental character of Christ's message. God wishes to respond to the desire for good and happiness deeply rooted in the human being. It can be said that the Gospel, which is the divine response, has an optimistic character. This, however, is not a purely temporal optimism, a superficial rational happiness. It is not the announcement of an "earthly paradise." Christ's "Good News" makes essential moral demands on the hearer; it calls for self-denial and sacrifice. Ultimately it is linked to the redemptive mystery of the cross. At the heart of the "Good News" there is the program of the beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-11), which makes absolutely clear the kind of happiness Christ has come to announce and reveal to humanity still on its earthly journey toward its ultimate and eternal destiny. He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Each of the eight beatitudes has a similar structure. In the same spirit Jesus called "blessed" the servant whom the master "will find vigilant—or busy—on his arrival" (cf. Lk 12:37). Here one can discern also the eschatological and eternal perspective of the happiness revealed and announced by the Gospel.

6. The beatitude about the poor in spirit brings us back to the beginning of Jesus' messianic activity. Speaking in the synagogue of Nazareth he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor" (Lk 4:18). He means not only the materially poor, but all those who are spiritually open to God's gift of truth and grace as the gift of his love, a gratuitous gift (gratis datum), because they are interiorly detached from material things and are willing to use and share them with others according to the demands of justice and charity. For this condition of God's poor (anawim) Jesus "gives praise to the Father," because "he has hidden these things (that is, the great things of God) from the wise and the learned and revealed them to the childlike" (cf. Lk 10:21). Therefore it is not said that Jesus dismisses from his company those who are better off financially, like the publican Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see him (cf. Lk 19:2-9), or those other friends of Jesus whose names we know from the Gospels. According to Jesus' words, it is the poor in spirit (cf. Mt 5:3) and those who hear the word of God and observe it (cf. Lk 11:28), who are blessed.

7. Another characteristic of Jesus' preaching is that he sought to convey the Gospel message in a way suited to the mentality and culture of his hearers. He grew up and lived among them during the years of his hidden life at Nazareth (when "he advanced in wisdom," Lk 2:52). He knew the mentality, culture and tradition of his people, deeply rooted in the heritage of the Old Testament.

8. For this very reason he often used parables in proclaiming the truth, as is evident from the Gospels. For example, Matthew wrote, "All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world'" (Mt 13:34-35).

Using images from daily life that everyone could understand, his parables made it much easier to establish contact with those who had little education (cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 42, a. 2). "The mystery of God's kingdom," hidden in parables, needed further explanation, sometimes requested even by the apostles (e.g., cf. Mk 4:11-12). An adequate understanding could not be attained except with the aid of an interior light from the Holy Spirit, and Jesus promised and gave this light.

9. We must further note a third characteristic of Jesus' preaching, emphasized in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, published by Paul VI after the 1974 Synod on evangelization. There we read: "Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and greatest evangelizer; he was so through and through: to perfection and to the point of the sacrifice of his earthly life" (EN 7).

Yes. Jesus not only proclaimed the Good News, but he himself was the Good News. Those who believed in him followed what he preached, but still more they followed the preacher. They followed Jesus because he offered "words of life," as Peter confessed after the Master's discourse in the synagogue of Capernaum: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68). This identification of word and life, of the preacher and what he preaches, is perfectly realized only in Jesus. That is why we too believe in him and follow him when he is manifested to us as the "one Master" (cf. Mt 23:8, 10).


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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SUIS HEUREUX de vous saluer, pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française venus de divers pays, notamment de France, de Belgique, de Suisse. Et parmi vous, je salue particulièrement les jeunes, qui sont encore nombreux aujourd’hui. Chers amis, que le Christ ressuscité soit votre lumière, votre force, votre sagesse! Emplissez-vous de ses paroles de vie et rayonnez son amour autour de vous!

Je bénis de grand cœur tous les pèlerins ici présents.

Ai numerosi gruppi di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

IN THE JOY of this Easter season, I offer a special welcome to the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus, who are in Rome for their General Chapter, as well as to the Syro-Malabar priests from India who are celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary of priestly ordination. My cordial greeting also goes to the Danish Housewives Association. To all the English-speaking visitors, especially those on pilgrimage from England, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, India, Korea, the Pilippines, Canada and the United States, I extend a very warm welcome.

May the Risen Christ deepen your faith and fill all of you with his love.

Ai fedeli di lingua castigliana 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

MI MÁS AFECTUOSO SALUDO se dirige ahora a los peregrinos de España y de América Latina presentes en esta Audiencia, a los que quiero agradecer su filial cercanía y adhesión a esta Sede Apostólica.

Asimismo deseo saludar, de modo especial, a les Religiosas Escolapias, a la peregrinación organizada por la Casa “Madre Admirable”, de Zaragoza, a les profesoras y alumnas del Colegio de les Religiosas Hijas de María Auxiliadora de Sevilla, así como al grupo del “Opus Dei” de la ciudad andaluza de Córdoba.

Me es particularmente grato en esta ocasión hacer llegar mi más cordial saludo al numeroso grupo de fieles burgaleses que con motivo del I Centenario de la implantación de la Adoración Nocturna en la querida ciudad de Burgos, han venido a la Ciudad Eterna para testimoniar su fe y unidad al Papa.

Queridísimos, desco congratularme, ante todo, con vosotros y con cuantos forman parte de esa benemérita Adoración Nocturna Burgalesa por el hecho de que, noche tras noche a lo largo de un siglo, habéis sido capaces de postraros ante Cristo Eucaristía, el tesoro más precioso de la Iglesia. Que esta significativa efemérides sea no sólo un trito importante en la vida de la Iglesia local de Burgos, sino una ocasión para fortalecer, vivificar y purificar vuestra unión con el Hijo de Dios. Por mediación de la bienaventurada Virgen María, de la que Cristo Señor tomó aquella carne que está contenida en el sacramento de la Eucaristía bajo les especies del pan y del vino, ruego confiado al Todopoderoso que os acompañe siempre con su gracia.

A vosotros y a los demás peregrinos de América Latina y de España imparto complacido mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini tedeschi 

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

MIT DIESER KURZEN Betrachtung zur Sendung Christi, des Sohnes Gottes und unseres Bruders, möchte ich noch einmal auch alle Besucher deutscher Sprache von Herzen grüßen. Einen besonderen, amerkennenden Gruß richte ich an die Pilgergruppe der Raiffeisenbank Kirchheim-Mindelheim in der Diözese Augsburg, die gegenwärtig ihr hundertjähriges Bestehen feiert und dabei auch behinderte Mitmenschen an ihrer Jubiläumsfreude in konkreter Weise teilhaben läßt. Gott lohne euch diese gute Tat und lasse sie für uns alle zum Beispiel werden. Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Ai pellegrini polacchi 

SERDECZNIE WITAM i pozdrawiam księży biskupów; księdza biskupa ordynariusza płockiego z iego współpracownikiem w urzędzie biskupim oraz ks. biskupa Szwagrzyka z Częstochowy; poszczególne grupy pielgrzymie: z Krakowa Chór Katedralny oraz Chór Cecyliański; pielgrzymkę parafialną z Białego Dunajca i z Poronina; z Warszawy-Kolo pielgrzymkę z parafii św. Józefa; kapłanów z diecezji sandomiersko-radomskiej; z parafii św. Kararzuny ze Zgierza - diecezja łódzka; z Ostrowa Wielkopolskiego - pielgrzymów z parafii św. Antoniego; również z archidiecezij poznańskiej - pielgrzymkę dekanatu puszcykowskiego; pielgrzymkę z parafii św. Jerzego z Wrocławia; prócz tego z całej Polski pielgrzymkę współpracowników księży pallotynów, w szczególności z diecezji łomżyńskiej, z parafii księży pallotynów w Ostrołęce; prócz tego grupę dzieci polskich, które dzisiaj przyjęły pierwszą Komunię swiętą; wreszcie grupę polsko-amerykańską z Nowego Jorku . . . . Witając dzisiaj księży biskupów z Polski, nie mogę nie myśleć o tym, że ta Ewangelia Królestwa Bożego, głoszona kiedyś na ziemi palestyńskiej, przede wszystkim dla LuduWybranego, została równocześnie przeznaczona dla wszystich narodów, a z biegiem wieków i pokolen dotarła i na nasze ziemie. A jeśli o tym mówię dzisiaj, to także z myślą o zbliżającym się dniu św. Woiciecha, który dla nas w Polsce oznacza właśnie ten początek ewangelizacji. Wojciech, syn i biskup bratniego nam ludu czeskiego, przybył z Pragi na naszaziemię pod koniec swojego życia. Ażeby tutaj głosić Chrystusa czyli słowa życia wiecznego, i ażeby zostać wobec nas przez całe tysiąc lat świadkiem Chrystusa przez swoją własną męczeńską śmierć dla prawdy Ewangelii, dla zbawienia dusz. Łączę się z Kościolem w Polsce w dniu św. Wojciecha, w tę patronalną uroczystość wszystkich Polaków zarówno w Gnieźnie, jak i na całej ziemi polskiej, i przekazuję wszystkim serdeczne błogosławieństwo. 

Ai gruppi italiani 

DESIDERO ORA porgere il mio saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, ed anzitutto alle suore “Piccole Sorelle dei Poveri”, qui convenute con la loro Madre Generale a conclusione del corso di esercizi. Care sorelle, siate le benvenute. Desidero incoraggiarvi nel vostro impegno di carità, che consiste prevalentemente nell’assistenza agli anziani poveri. Sappiate amare questa vostra vocazione, esprimendo nella sollecitudine per gli umili l’amore del cuore misericordioso di Cristo.

* * * 

SALUTO ANCHE gli sportivi dell’Associazione “Mariner canoa Club”, che accompagneranno con tanta cordiale amicizia i loro colleghi della squadra nazionale Juniores di canoa dell’Ungheria. Cari giovani, il vostro sport esige sacrificio e disciplina, ma soprattutto domanda solidarietà di intenti e di ritmo per ottenere buoni risultati. Vi invito a prendere lo spunto dall’attività alla quale vi dedicate, per applicare tale regola della collaborazione anche alla vita. La solidarietà è la virtù che porta le iniziative umane al successo; e la solidarietà nasce dalla carità, dall’amore fraterno che Cristo ci ha insegnato.

* * * 

UN SALUTO anche ai fedeli della parrocchia di San Donato di Civè, della diocesi di Padova, con l’invito a chiedere agli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo il dono di una fede profonda e costante, per poter essere validi testimoni del Signore in tutte le circostanze della vita. 

* * * 

INFINE, SALUTO cordialmente i numerosi giovani militari, allievi della scuola di motorizzazione, che concludono in questi giorni il loro periodo di formazione e sono qui presenti con i Signori Generali Pelizzola, Gentile e Piccini, oltre che con il loro Cappellano, don Pignoloni. Vi invito, cari giovani, ad utilizzare bene questi giorni di vita militare. La giovinezza è un periodo di crescita e di maturazione: l’esperienza che state facendo ve lo conferma. Anche il servizio militare, come occasione di vita in comune e spunto per l’amicizia e la solidarietà, vi consente un graduale accumulo di utili conoscenze ed esperienze e vi avvia a quel discernimento che è nella vita indispensabile per costruire qualcosa di valido e di duraturo secondo le norme del vero bene e dell’autentico progresso umano e cristiano. Sappiate sempre affrontare la vita, nei momenti di fatica come in quelli di gioia, con coraggio e ottimismo, ispirandovi agli insegnamenti di Cristo e poggiando sull’aiuto della sua grazia. A tutti la mia Benedizione. 

Ai giovani 

CARISSIMI GIOVANI! A voi ora desidero rivolgermi con un affettuoso saluto! Siamo nel bel mezzo del periodo pasquale, che ci fa rivivere il tempo durante il quale Cristo risorto rimase presso i suoi, apparendo a loro più volte e dando loro le ultime istruzioni, prima di salire alla destra del Padre nei cieli.

Vi invito a sentir vostra, e a far vostra, insieme con la Chiesa, questa tappa così significativa ed esaltante della storia della salvezza, cercando di avere anche voi, come gli Apostoli, un rapporto intimo e personale con Cristo risorto: mettetevi in ascolto, come loro, delle direttive che Egli ha per la vostra salvezza, per ciò che dovete fare per contribuire alla salvezza del mondo. Vi sono vicino con la mia Benedizione. 

Agli ammalati 

CARISSIMI MALATI! La Chiesa invita anche voi a partecipare alla gioia di questo periodo di Pasqua, una gioia che per voi è velata dalla sofferenza, e che tuttavia è pura e profonda; una gioia che - come dice Gesù - “nessuno vi potrà togliere”.  La gioia di essere in grazia di Dio, quella di possedere questo germe di vita e di diffonderla attorno a voi; e di contribuire con le vostre sofferenze alla costruzione del Regno di Dio. È soprattutto la gioia della speranza. Avete il pegno della vita futura, “la caparra dello Spirito”,  come dice San Paolo. Questa sia la vostra consolazione e ciò che vi rende leggero il peso della Croce. Anche la mia affettuosa Benedizione sia di vostro conforto. 

Agli sposi novelli 

CARISSIMI SPOSI NOVELLI! Capita di frequente che i fidanzati cristiani scelgano in questo periodo il giorno delle nozze. E ciò è molto significativo: mentre gli occhi del corpo vedono, con la primavera, il germinare della vita nuova, gli occhi dell’anima contemplano, in Cristo risorto presente tra noi, la promessa e l’inizio della vita nuova del Regno dei cieli. Tutto il nostro essere, quindi, anima e corpo, si sente chiamato a rifiorire nella speranza. E quanto è utile e necessario questo nobile sentimento per chi, come voi, si accinge a far fiorire la vita, una vita fatta ad immagine di Dio e destinata alla figliolanza divina! Possa la mia Benedizione accompagnarvi sempre nella vostra missione di servitori della vita.

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