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The Church's holiness comes from Christ

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Saturday 23 July 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "Abide in me and I in you..." (Jn 15:4). These words from the parable of the vine and the branches reveal what the Church's internal structure was to be according to the will of Christ. "To abide" in Christ implies a living bond with him as the source of divine life. Granted that Christ calls the Church into existence and that he endowed it with an external ministerial structure, built on the apostles, it is certain that the ministerium of the apostles and their successors, and indeed of the whole Church, must be at the service of the mystery. This is the mystery of the participation in the life of God which makes the Church a community of living people. For this reason the Church receives from Christ a sacramental structure, of which we spoke in the previous reflection. The sacraments are the signs of Christ's saving action which overcomes the power of sin and death, implanting and strengthening in people the power of grace and of life, whose fullness is in Christ.

2. This fullness of grace (cf. Jn 1:14) and this superabundance of life (cf. Jn 10:10) are identified with holiness. Holiness is in God, and only from God can it pass to the creature, especially to man. It is a truth that pervades the whole of the old covenant: God is holy and calls to holiness. The Mosaic Law exhorted: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev 19:2). "Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Lev 20:8). Even though these citations come from Leviticus, which was like a code of worship in Israel, the holiness commanded and recommended by God is not to be understood merely in a ritual sense, but also in a moral sense. It is that which renders man, in the most essential way, like to God and worthy to approach God in worship: interior rectitude and purity.

3. Jesus Christ is the living incarnation of this holiness. He himself is presented as "he whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn 10:36). The messenger of his earthly birth said to Mary about him: "He who will be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). The apostles were witnesses of this holiness, as Peter in the name of all proclaimed: "We have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:69).

It is a holiness which is manifested more and more in Jesus' life, beginning with the year of his infancy, and reaching its peak in the sacrifice offered "for the brethren" according to the words of Jesus himself: "For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17:19). This is in harmony with his other statement: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13).

4. Christ's holiness must become the living patrimony of the Church. This is the purpose of Jesus' salvific work which he announced: "That they also may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17:19). St. Paul understood this, for he writes in the Letter to the Ephesians that Christ "loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her" (Eph 5:25-26), "holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:27).

Jesus made his own the call to holiness already addressed by God to the people of the old covenant: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy." He emphatically repeated it continually by word and by the example of his life. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount he left to the Church a code of Christian holiness. There we read that, after having said that "he had not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them" (cf. Mt 5:17), Jesus exhorted his followers to a perfection modeled on that of God himself: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). Since the Son reflects most fully this perfection of the Father, Jesus can say on another occasion, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).

5. In the light of this exhortation of Jesus, one can better understand why Vatican Council II desired to emphasize the universal call to holiness. It is a question to which we shall return in due course in the appropriate series of reflections on the Church. Here at present it is well to draw attention to some of its essential points, where one discerns better the link of the call to holiness with Christ's mission, and especially with his living example.

The Council said: "In the Church, everyone is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: 'For this is the will of God, your sanctification' (1 Thess 4:3; cf. Eph 1:4)" (LG 39). The apostle's words echo faithfully the teaching of Christ the Master who, according to the Council, "sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that he might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12)" (LG 40).

6. The call to holiness therefore is for everyone, "whether belonging to the hierarchy or being cared for by it" (LG 39). "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (LG 40).

The Council also notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness "is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others" (LG 39).

In this variety "one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God...and follow the poor Christ, the humble and crossbearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory" (LG 41).

7. Those whom Jesus exhorted "to follow him," beginning with the apostles, were ready to leave everything for him, as Peter declared to him: "We have left everything and followed you" (Mt 19:27). In this case "everything" includes not only "temporal goods" (""), but also persons who are dear to one: "brothers, sisters, father, mother, children" (cf. Mt 19:29) and therefore the family.

Jesus himself was the most perfect example of such renunciation. For this reason he could exhort his disciples to similar renunciations, including "celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Mt 19:12).

Christ's program of holiness, addressed to both the men and women who followed him (cf. e.g., Lk 8:1-3) is expressed particularly in the evangelical counsels. As the Council recalls: "The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and example of the Lord.... The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of his grace" (LG 43).

8. However we must at once add that the vocation to holiness in its universality includes also those who are married (and likewise the widowed). It includes those who retain the possession and administration of their property, who are engaged in worldly affairs, and who follow their professions, missions and trades according to their own free disposition, following their consciences and in freedom. Jesus indicated the path to sanctity appropriate to them, for he began his messianic activity by taking part in the marriage at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1-11). Later he recalled the eternal principles of the divine law which are valid for men and women of every condition, and especially those concerning the love, unity and indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mk 10:1-2; Mt 19:1-9), and chastity (cf. Mt 5:28-30). Hence the Council also, when speaking of the universal vocation to holiness, devotes a special place to those united by the sacrament of Marriage: "Married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love" (LG 41).

9. In all the commandments and exhortations of Jesus and of the Church the primacy of charity stands out. In the words of St. Paul, charity is "the bond of perfection" (Col 3:14). It is Jesus' will that "we love one another as he has loved us" (Jn 15:12). That means with a love like his, "unto the end" (Jn 13:1). This is the patrimony of holiness bequeathed by Jesus to his Church. We are all called to partake in it, and thus to draw on the fullness of grace and life which is in Christ. The history of Christian holiness is the proof that by living in the spirit of the evangelical Beatitudes proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:3-12), Christ's exhortation in the parable of the vine and the branches is realized: "Abide in me, and I in you.... He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit" (Jn 15:4, 5). These words are verified in many ways in the lives of individual Christians, thereby showing, down the centuries, the manifold riches and beauty of the holiness of the Church, the "king's daughter" robed in embroidered apparel (cf. Ps 45:14).


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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’ADRESSE UN SALUT spécial aux étudiants de l’Université de Bordeaux, ainsi qu’à leurs aumôniers. A tous et à chacun, je souhaite une grâce de première importance: qu’au fil de vos journées romaines, vous découvriez le mystère unique de l’Eglise du Christ, toujours en état de mission comme son Fondateur, pour éclairer et baliser les routes de l’histoire humaine en mutation incessante, et pour faire avancer, contre vents et marées, le plan de Dieu sur l’humanité, qui est un plan de rassemblement et de solidarité dans la diversité des races et des cultures.

* * *

AUX SŒURS canadiennes “Missionnaires de Notre-Dame des Apôtres” de passage à Rome, j’exprime mes vœux fervents pour leur beau travail d’évangélisation, la où le Seigneur les appelle a œuvrer.

* * *

ENFIN, AUX JEUNES Belges, élèves des Salésiens, venus en bicyclette à Rome, j’adresse mes cordiales félicitations. Je les exhorte également à découvrir, spécialement lors de leur pèlerinage à Turin, tout ce qu’ils doivent à saint Jean Bosco et à l’admirable pédagogie déployée par ses fils, qui sont aujourd’hui leurs éducateurs.

A tous les pèlerins de langue française, mon chaleureux merci pour leur sympathique visite et, au terme de cette audience, mon affectueuse Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO OFFER a special word of welcome to the Pastors and Professors of Theology, guests of the Waldensian Faculty in Rome, who are taking part in the American Summer Institute. To all of you and your families go my prayerful good wishes in the name of Christ our Lord.

* * *

I GREET MOST CORDIALLY the members of the Marian Year Pilgrimage from the Diocese of Gallup. Like Mary, the Mother of our Redeemer, may you always be ready to obey God’s word and to believe most firmly that “nothing is impossible with God”.

* * *

IT IS A JOY to welcome all the young people who are present at the audience today, in particular the Dover College Junior School Choir from Folkestone, and the Youth Choir of Saint Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry. How good it is to sing and give glory to God! Even better to promote harmony in society, to silence the discordant sounds of violence, to live in a way that fosters justice and that give praise to God. As you bring joy to others by your singing, may the Lord bless your own hearts with the fullnes of his peace.

And to all the English-speaking visitors I extend very cordial greetings, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland and the United States. I gladly impart to you and your loved ones my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

MIT DIESER EINLADUNG grüße ich euch alle sehr herzlich; alle Gruppen und Familien. Euch allen wünsche ich erholsame Ferientage in der Ewigen Stadt und erteile euch von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini giunti dalla Spagna e dall’America Latina 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

DESEO AHORA dar mi más cordial bienvenida a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, a quienes deseo que su estancia en Roma, centro de la catolicidad, sean días de provecho para su fe y de merecido descanso para el espíritu.

En particular, saludo a la peregrinación procedente de Colombia denominada “Europa Cultural”, así como a los grupos de México, Venezuela y otros Países de América Latina. 

* * * 

VAYA IGUALMENTE mi saludo cordial a las demás peregrinaciones de las diversas regiones y ciudades españolas: de Asturias, Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, San Sebastián, Castellón y Zaragoza.

A todos bendigo de corazón. 

Ai fedeli polacchi 

SERDECZNIE POZDRAWIAM wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, zgromadzonych tutaj w wielkiej liczbie: w szczególnosći pielgrzymów z bazyliki katedralnej w Tarnowie; z paraffi Matki Bożej Bolesnej w Limanowej; z parafii Bożego Ciała w Bieczu; nauczycieli z Zakładu dla Niewidomych w Laskach; z parafii św. Józefa z Ursusa koło Warszawy; z parafii św. Łukasza z Surchowa, diecezja lubelska; pielgrzymów Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej w Lublinie; z Duszpasterstwa Akademickiego diecezji siedleckiej; pielgrzymkę młodzieży z Gdańska, i Pruszcza Gdańskiego; również z Gdańska, z parafii Niepokalanego Poczęcia Matki Boskiej; z Kalisza, z parafii Królowej Polski; z diecezji gorzowskiej, pielgrzymkę Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej w Trzcielu; z diecezji opolskiej, z parafii św. Jadwigi, Łagiewniki Małe; z tejże diecezji pielgrzymkę trzeciego zakonu św. Franciszka z Góry św. Anny; z Legnicy, pielgrzymów z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela, ojcowie franciszkanie; współpracowników misyjnych sióstr pallotynek z całej Polski; przedstawicieli Wielkiej Orkiestry symfonicznej Polskiego Radia i Telewizji z Katowic. Spoza Polski: pielgrzymkę parafii polonijnej Matki Bożej Jutrzenkj Wolności i Pokoju w Moguncji, a także Polaków ze Wschodniej Francji; Chór “Stokrotka” z Kanady; prócz tego grupę projektantów i wykonawców Klubu Miast Metrowskich w Polsce; wreszcie innych pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z zagranicy nie objętych tymi grupami. Wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam . . . Starajmy się żyć życiem Kościoła do wewnętrz, to znaczy trwać w jedności z Chrystusem jak latorośle w szczepie winnym. Zyczę tego wszystkim zgromadzonym tutaj, pielgrzymom z mojej Ojczyzny, a także i rodakom z emigracji. Niech Pan Bóg pozwala nam trwać w Jezusie Chrystusie, tak jak latorośle w szczepie winnym, ażebyśmy mogli przynieść wiele owocu. 

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani 

RIVOLGO UN PARTICOLARE saluto alle Suore Francescane Immacolatine, presenti all’Udienza in occasione del Capitolo generale dell’Istituto, e alle Suore Figlie di Maria SS. dell’Orto, venute a Roma per celebrare il 50° o il 25° di professione religiosa.

Carissime Sorelle, la vocazione religiosa, con cui Gesù vi ha scelte un giorno tra tante coetanee, costituisce una singolare manifestazione di amore verso ciascuna di voi. Questa sosta presso la Tomba di Pietro vi offra occasione di prendere rinnovata consapevolezza della predilezione del Signore e vi spinga a confermare i propositi di generosa corrispondenza alla chiamata divina mediante l’impegno della personale santificazione e la dedizione generosa alle finalità apostoliche dei rispettivi Istituti.

Vi conforti la mia Benedizione. 

* * * 

IL MIO SALUTO si volge, poi, a tutti i fedeli di lingua italiana presenti all’Udienza, ed in special modo ai pellegrini dell’arcidiocesi di Monreale venuti con il loro Vescovo, Monsignor Salvatore Cassisa, in visita alle memorie dei Santi Martiri, che Roma gelosamente custodisce.

Carissimi, auspico che questo pellegrinaggio vi aiuti a vivere più in profondità la vostra fede e la comunione con la Chiesa, che proprio qui ha il suo centro visibile. Gli esempi degli Apostoli Pietro e Paolo, che hanno fecondato la Chiesa di Roma con il loro sangue, vi stimolino ad essere testimoni coraggiosi e franchi del Vangelo nel mondo di oggi.

Benedico di cuore voi ed i vostri cari. 

Ai giovani 

Carissimi giovani!

SONO MOLTO LIETO di salutarvi in modo speciale: la vostra presenza all’Udienza durante le vacanze estive dimostra la vostra fede e la vostra sensibilità cristiana! Colgo l’occasione di questo incontro con voi per ricordare un avvenimento significativo: due secoli fa un geologo francese, il Signor Deodat De Dolomieu, risalendo la valle dell’Adige diretto ad Innsbruch, raccolse alcuni sassi che in seguito esaminò, scoprendo che non erano formati di semplice calcare, ma di carbonato di calcio e di magnesio. Da lui hanno poi preso nome le caratteristiche montagne, da cui quei sassi provenivano. La stupenda magnificenza di quei picchi arditi, come anche la meravigliosa bellezza di tanti altri luoghi che le vacanze vi consentono di visitare, siano anche per voi, cari giovani, uno stimolo ad elevare sempre in alto il vostro spirito, i vostri ideali, la vostra vita! Vi accompagno con la mia Benedizione. 

Agli ammalati

Carissimi ammalati e amici infermieri ed accompagnatori!

ANCHE A VOI GIUNGA il mio cordiale saluto, con l’assicurazione della mia costante preghiera e con l’augurio che la vostra visita a Roma, alla tomba di Pietro e alla persona del suo Successore, vi sia di sollievo spirituale e anche fisico, di rinnovato, stimolo ad amare il Signore e a confidare totalmente in Lui! La vostra sofferenza é sempre tanto preziosa: sappiate che tutta la Chiesa usufruisce del vostro nascosto, ma autentico apostolato. Oggi la liturgia ci ricorda Santa Brigida di Svezia, una grande mistica vissuta in tempi difficili per la Chiesa. Essa conobbe davvero “la sapienza della Croce nella contemplazione amorosa della passione di Cristo”, come è detto nella Orazione della Messa. Santa Brigida illumini ed aiuti anche voi a compiere sempre con grande fervore la vostra missione per il Corpo Mistico della Chiesa! Benedico tutti di cuore. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Carissimi sposi novelli!

ACCOGLIETE IL MIO SALUTO gioioso ed il mio augurio per la vostra nuova vita! Vi sono riconoscente per la vostra presenza ed invoco su di voi i più eletti favori celesti, affinché la vostra vita coniugale sia sempre serena, lieta, fervorosa, unita dall’amore reciproco, dalla fede e dalla preghiera. Desidero oggi, ricordarvi l’Enciclica “Humanae Vitae”, che Paolo VI pubblicò vent’anni fa, il 25 luglio 1968, ed esortarvi alla lettura ed alla meditazione di questo importante documento della Chiesa, che con illuminata sicurezza dottrinale e con profonda sensibilità umana traccia le direttive necessarie per realizzare una paternità responsabile, nella grazia di Dio e nella pace della coscienza. Sia questo per voi un fermo proposito, che sgorghi dal vostro pellegrinaggio a Roma; e vi sostenga anche la particolare Benedizione, che di gran cuore vi imparto!

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