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Christ's sacrifice fulfills God's design of love

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 7 September 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the messianic mission of Jesus, the climax which we have been gradually approaching in the previous catecheses is that Christ was sent into the world by God to accomplish humanity's redemption through the sacrifice of his own life. This sacrifice had to take the form of self-abasement in obedience even to death, a death which at that time bore a particularly shameful stigma.

In all his preaching, in all his actions, Jesus was guided by the deep awareness which he had concerning God's designs for his life and death in the economy of the messianic mission, with the certainty that they flowed from the Father's eternal love for the world, and in particular for humanity.

2. If we consider his adolescent years, those words of the twelve-year-old Jesus spoken to Mary and Joseph at the moment of his finding in the Temple of Jerusalem, are very thought-provoking: "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49). What had he in his mind and heart? We can deduce it from other such expressions of his thought throughout the whole of his public life. From the beginning of his messianic activity, Jesus insistently impressed upon his disciples the concept that the "Son of Man...must suffer many things" (Lk 9:22). He must be "rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed (and after three days rise again)" (Mk 8:31). Yet all this did not originate merely with people, with their hostility toward his person and teaching. Rather it was the fulfillment of God's eternal design, as announced in the Scriptures containing the divine revelation: "How is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?" (Mk 9:12).

3. When Peter tried to deny this eventuality ("This shall never happen to you," Mt 16:22), Jesus reproved him in words of particular severity: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mk 8:33). The eloquence of these words is impressive. Jesus wished to make Peter understand that to be opposed to the way of the cross was to reject the designs of God himself. "Satan" is indeed he who "from the beginning" is opposed to that "which is of God."

4. Jesus was aware both of man's responsibilities for Jesus' death on the cross, which he would have to face because of a sentence by an earthly tribunal, and of the fact that through this human condemnation the divine eternal design would be fulfilled: that "which is of God," that is, the sacrifice offered on the cross for the world's redemption. Even if Jesus (as God himself) did not wish the evil of the "deicide" committed by man, nevertheless he accepted this evil, to obtain the good of the world's salvation.

5. After the resurrection, while walking unrecognized with two of his disciples toward Emmaus, he explained to them the Scriptures of the Old Testament in these terms: "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Lk 24:26). On the occasion of his final meeting with his apostles he declared: "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24:44).

6. In the light of the paschal events, the apostles understood what Jesus had said to them in anticipation. Through love for the Master but also through lack of understanding, Peter had seemed to be particularly opposed to his cruel destiny. But he would say to his hearers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, speaking about Christ: "The man...delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:22-23). On another occasion he added, "What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:18).

7. Christ's passion and death were announced in the Old Testament not as the end of his mission, but as the indispensable passage required in order to be raised up by God. In particular, the song of Isaiah about the servant of Yahweh as the man of sorrows says, "Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up...and shall be very high" (Is 52:13). Jesus himself, when he pointed out that the "Son of Man...must be killed," also added that "after three days he will rise again" (cf. Mk 8:31).

8. We find ourselves, then, in the presence of a divine design which, even if it appears so obvious when considered in the course of the events described by the Gospels, yet always remains a mystery which cannot be explained fully by human reason. In this spirit the Apostle Paul explains himself with the magnificent paradox: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25). These words of Paul concerning Christ's cross are invaluable. It is difficult for man to find a rationally satisfying answer to the question "Why Christ's cross?" Nevertheless the answer comes to us yet again from the Word of God.

9. Jesus himself formulated such an answer: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). When Jesus said these words during his nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, probably the latter could not imagine that the phrase "gave his Son" would mean "give him up to death on the cross." However, John, who narrates it in his Gospel, well understood the meaning. The course of events has shown that that was the precise meaning of the answer to Nicodemus: God "gave" his only Son for the salvation of the world, giving him up to the death of the cross for the sins of the world, giving him out of love: " loved the world," creation, humanity! Love remains the definitive explanation of the redemption through the cross. It is the only answer to the question "Why?" with regard to Christ's death being part of God's eternal design.

The author of the Fourth Gospel, in which we find the text of Christ's answer to Nicodemus, returns to the same idea in one of his letters: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:10).

10. It is a question of a love which surpasses justice. Justice can investigate and catch up with the transgressor. If an innocent person who is holy, like Christ, is sentenced to suffering and death on a cross to fulfill the Father's eternal design, it means that, in sacrificing his Son, God goes in a certain sense beyond the order of justice. He reveals himself in this Son, and, through him, all the riches of his mercy—dives in misericordia (cf. Eph 2:4)—as if to introduce, together with his crucified and risen Son, his mercy, his merciful love, in the story of the relations between man and God.

Precisely through his merciful love, man is called to conquer evil and sin in himself and with regard to others. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt 5:7). "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).

11. The Apostle comes back to this subject in various places in his letters, in which there often recur the three words: redemption, justice and love.

"Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ his blood..." (Rom 3:23-25). In this way God shows that he does not wish to be satisfied with the rigor of justice which, on seeing evil, punishes it. He wishes to triumph otherwise over sin, that is, by giving the possibility to be free of it. God wishes to appear just in a positive way, by giving sinners the possibility to become just through adhering to faith in Christ the Redeemer. Thus God "is righteous and he justifies" (Rom 3:26). This happens in a disquieting way since, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).

12. He who "knew no sin" - the Son, consubstantial with the Father - took upon himself the terrible burden of the sin of all humanity, in order to obtain our justification and sanctification. Here is God's love revealed in the Son. The love of the Father "who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all" (Rom 8:32) is manifested through the Son. To understand the significance of these words, "he did not spare," the account of Abraham's sacrifice can be useful. He showed himself ready "not to spare his beloved son" (Gen 22:16), but God spared him (22:12). On the other hand, God "did not spare" his own only Son, "but gave him up" to death for our salvation.

13. The Apostle's certainty that no one and nothing, "neither death nor life, nor angels...nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39) has its origin here. Together with Paul, the entire Church is certain of this love of God which conquers everything, the ultimate word of God' self-revelation in the history of humanity and of the world, the supreme self-communication which comes through the cross, at the center of Jesus Christ's paschal mystery."


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

Ai fedeli tedeschi

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

EINE BESONDEREN GRUß und Segenswunsch richte ich heute an eine Gruppe von Mission western vom Heiligsten Herzen Jesu. Möge euer Aufenthalt in Rom und seiner Umgebung dazu beitragen, daß sich eure Freude an eurem Ordensweg erneuere und vertiefe. Ein herzliches Willkommen gilt auch der Pilgerfahrt der Bistumszeitung der Diözese Trier. Brüderliche Verbundenheit bezeuge ich der Gruppe vom Bundesgrenzschutz aus Bonn, den Soldaten aus Kempten und aus Salzburg sowie der Polizeigruppe aus Paderborn. In angenehmer Erinnerung an meinen kürzlichen Österreichbesuch nenne ich schließlich noch die große Pilgergruppe der Katholischen Männerbewegung der Steiermark.

Allen Besuchern aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache erbitte ich von Herzen einen segensreichen Aufenthalt hier in der Ewigen Stadt sowie eine gesunde Heimkehr zu euren Familien in der Heimat.

Ai pellegrini di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SUIS HEUREUX d’accueillir les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française. Je salue en particulier les journalistes qui participent à la session organisée par l’Union catholique internationale de la presse et je souhaite que leurs contacts avec les organismes de la Curie romaine leur donnent une meilleure connaissance de l’organisation de l’Eglise et surtout de sa vitalité.

* * *

JE FORME les meilleurs vœux pour les membres de la Maîtrise de la Cathédrale Saint-Paul d’Abidjan. Puissent leurs chants, dont j’ai déjà eu l’occasion d’apprécier la qualité, contribuer toujours à la beauté de la liturgie et aider les fidèles à mieux prier!

A vous tous ici présents à cette audience, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai visitatori di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I OFFER A VERY warm welcome to the group of Bishops from the United States who are making their ad Limina visits. Thank you for your presence at this audience. I extend a special greeting to the pilgrimage from the Diocese of Phoenix, led by Bishop O’Brien.

* * *

IT IS A JOY to greet all the priests and religious, in particular the Sisters of the Divine Savior who are celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the death of their Founder. With the help of the Virgin Mary’s prayers may you grow each day in your love for Christ and the Church and in your consecrated zeal for the Gospel.

* * *

I WISH TO EXTEND a warm welcome to the participants in the Across pilgrimage of the Sick, to the Fodo pilgrims, and to all the sick and handicapped. I assure you that you have a special place in the Church and in my own heart. Whatever suffering you endure in union with Christ our Redeemer contributes to the Church’s mission in the world and to her growth in holiness. May Christ fill you with his grace and strength.

My cordial greetings also go to the many young people who are present today, in particular to the students who have come from England and Scotland.

And I welcome all the English speaking visitors and pilgrims. To you and your loved ones I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli giunti dall’America Latina e dalla Spagna

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

CON AFECTO dirijo ahora mi saludo a los peregrinos de América Latina y de España presentes en este encuentro. De modo especial, mi más cordial saludo deseo dirigirlo al grupo de Sacerdotes y hermanos Claretianos misioneros, que participan en Roma en un curso de renovación espiritual. Que este período de estudio y oración sea un estímulo más para que vosotros, que anunciáis generosamente en los diversos continentes la Buena Nueva del Reino de Dios, estéis siempre en íntimo contacto con la persona de Cristo: camino, verdad y vida.

* * *

ASIMISMO ME ES GRATO saludar a los peregrinos de la población navarra de Tafalla, a los de la parroquia “San Pedro” de Caracas, al grupo de matrimonios de Colombia, así como a la peregrinación uruguaya, organizada por el Instituto “María Auxiliadora” de Montevideo. Que la Palabra de Dios renueve y santifique siempre vuestras vidas y vuestros hogares. Y que la Virgen María sea vuestra Madre y Señora.

A todos imparto complacido mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amados irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

UMA SAUDAÇÃO ESPECIAL aos peregrinos vindos de Portugal:

- um grupo de Religiosas da Congregação das Irmãs Franciscanas Hospitaleiras da Imaculada Conceição;

- um grupo “Mensagem de Fátima” da Paróquia de Pínzio; aos numerosos visitantes vindos do Brasil: - do Rio de Janeiro, de Sao Paulo e de Sao Salvador: que a visita à cidade onde foram martirizados os Apóstolos Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo reavive a vossa fé em Cristo Jesus, que por amor nos redimiu e nos chamou a ser filhos de Deus e a viver como irmaos na justiça e na paz. A todos, de coração, dou a minha Bênçao, que faço extensiva aos vossos familiares e pessoas amigas.

Ai fedeli polacchi 

WITAM SERDECZNIE pielgrzymów z różnych parafii i diecezji: z dekanatu i parafii Mszana Dolna; z archidiecezji warszawskiej, z Warszawy przedstawicieli Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej; z Mysłowic, Janów Miejski, z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbe; z Sandomierza - parafia św. Józefa; pielgrzymkę Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej z parafii Podwyższenia Krzyża w Jeleniej Górze; pracowników nauki i studentów Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego; pielgrzymkę sióstr franciszkanek szpitalnych z Ołdrzychowic Kłodzkich; współpracowników misyjnych pallotynów z całej Polski; pielgrzymkę Polskiej Misji Katolickiej z Niemiec Zachodnich, Delmenhorst-Oldenburg; grupę rowerową z parafii św. Stanisława i św. Doroty we Wrocławiu; grupę górników z kopalni “Wesoła” z Mysłowic; grupę przewodników oddziału warszawskiego; grupę pracowników Szkoły Głównej Planowania i Statystyki w Warszawie; uczestników grup turystycznych: kolejarzy z Zamościa, Orbisu z Bydgoszczy, PKS-u z Rybnika, PKS-u z okręgu Górnego Sląska i Katowic, Turysty.

A differenti gruppi di lingua italiana

Desidero ora rivolgere un cordiale saluto ai gruppi di lingua italiana presenti all’Udienza: ai pellegrini della diocesi di Mazara del Vallo, e delle parrocchie di Rocca Canterano (Abbazia territoriale di Subiaco) e di Santa Maria Assunta in Riccia (archidiocesi di Campobasso). Il gruppo di Subiaco ha portato una fiaccola perché io la benedica - cosa che farò volentieri -; mentre il gruppo di Riccia mi ha presentato un quadro della Madonna del S. Rosario - anche esso da benedire, e volentieri accondiscendo alla richiesta.

Mi auguro, cari fratelli e sorelle, che questi vostri gesti di devozione vi spronino ad un più intenso impegno nella vostra partecipazione alla vita diocesana e parrocchiale, sentita come il normale spazio di attuazione della vostra testimonianza cristiana. Di cuore vi benedico tutti!

* * *

Così pure benedico e saluto cordialmente i gruppi di Religiosi e Religiose qui convenuti: le Suore della Congregazione della Divina Provvidenza, presenti a Roma per un corso di Esercizi spirituali, le Suore Nazarene di Torino, giunte con alcuni loro parenti; i Religiosi della Famiglia Salesiana, come pure i Sacerdoti ed i laici della medesima Famiglia, tutti presenti nell’Urbe per un corso propedeutico all’Università Salesiana.

La consacrazione religiosa, cari fratelli e sorelle, è un dono prezioso da custodire e far fruttare giorno per giorno, con gratitudine a Dio ed instancabile volontà di adempiere alla missione affidata. Lo Spirito Santo vi consolidi sempre più nella vostra vocazione e la renda attraente per nuove schiere di giovani!

* * *

Un caro saluto inoltre, ai partecipanti al 131° Corso Allievi Ufficiali di Complemento della Scuola del Genio di Roma e al gruppo folcloristico “Stelutis in Udin”, proveniente da Udine. Sono tutti giovani che vogliono rendersi utili alla società: i primi, mediante quella disciplina che è ordinata alla difesa della pace e della sicurezza dei cittadini; i secondi, con i loro artistici canti della tradizione popolare friulana.

Grazie a tutti voi, cari giovani, per quello che fate: siate di esempio a molti giovani e ragazzi, sedotti non di rado da attrattive fallaci. Continuate nel vostro impegno e il Signore premierà la vostra buona volontà. Io vi benedico tutti, insieme con i vostri genitori e tutti i vostri cari.

Ai giovani

Desidero rivolgere un particolare saluto ai giovani che sono convenuti, pellegrini, in questa nostra cara Città.

Carissimi, a Roma voi siete giunti per venerare le tombe dei Santi Apostoli Pietro e Paolo e per incontrare il Papa, successore di Pietro. Sappiate andare alla ricerca ed alla riscoperta dei valori per cui gli Apostoli e i Martiri sono vissuti e sono morti. La Città conserva tracce eloquenti della loro testimonianza. Sentite la responsabilità di raccogliere dalle loro mani la fiaccola della Fede, per farla brillare nel mondo contemporaneo. Siate fra i vostri coetanei testimoni del Vangelo vissuto nella sua integrità, secondo l’insegnamento della Chiesa. Vi benedico di cuore.

Agli ammalati

Saluto ora gli ammalati, qui presenti con la croce della sofferenza, e desiderosi di trovare, nella Fede, conforto, sostegno e speranza.

CARISSIMI, CRISTO abita nei vostri cuori in un modo del tutto speciale e privilegiato. Egli vi assicura che le croci portate con Lui e per amore suo, sono strumento di salvezza per voi e per quanti vi sono cari. La sua Parola e la sua Grazia vi siano di guida e di aiuto. La presenza di Cristo in ogni momento della giornata sia per voi sorgente di forza e di serenità. Con la mia benedizione.

Agli sposi novelli

Mi rivolgo infine agli sposi novelli che da poco hanno ricevuto la grazia sacramentale nel rito nuziale.

LA BEATA VERGINE Maria, di cui domani celebriamo la Festa della Natività, sia sempre presente nella vostra vita coniugale e familiare. A Lei, come a mamma carissima, affidate la vostra nascente famiglia. In Lei trovate il sostegno nelle prove. A Lei ricorrete con costanza nella preghiera. Ella vi sia di modello e di sostegno nella Fede e nell’Amore. Nel suo nome vi benedico con affetto.

Ai partecipanti ai Giochi Olimpici di Seoul, il Santo Padre durante l’udienza generale di stamane, invia il seguente saluto in lingua inglese.

IN VIEW OF THE FACT that the Olympic Games will soon begin in Seoul, Korea, I wish to extend my special greetings to all the athletes who will take part in the competition, and I also send cordial good wishes to the Korean people and to the organizers and spectators of these sporting events. The Twenty-fourth Olympiad provides an excellent occasion for promoting mutual understanding within the family of nations. I pray that the Games will forge new bonds of friendship, harmony and good will, and further the cause of peace. Upon all the participants I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

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