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"To know" the Father

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 17 March 1999 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. At the dramatic hour when he was preparing to face death, Jesus ends his great farewell discourse (cf. Jn 13ff.) with a wonderful prayer to the Father. It can be considered a spiritual testament in which Jesus returns to the Father's hands the mandate he had received: to make his love known to the world, through the gift of eternal life (cf. Jn 17:2). The life he offers is significantly explained as a gift of knowledge. "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3).

Knowledge, in the biblical language of the Old and New Testaments, is not only intellectual, but usually implies a living experience which involves the whole human person including his capacity to love. This knowledge leads to an "encounter" with God, as part of that process which the Eastern theological tradition likes to call "divinization" and which takes place through the interior, transforming action of God's Spirit (cf. St Gregory of Nyssa, Oratio Catech., 37: PG 45, 98B). We already touched on these topics in the catechesis for the year of the Holy Spirit. Returning now to the words of Jesus just quoted, we want to reflect on what it means to have a living knowledge of God the Father.

2. God can be known as father at various levels, depending on the perspective from which we look at him and the aspect of the mystery considered. There is a natural knowledge of God which is based on creation: this leads us to recognize him as the origin and transcendent cause of the world and of man, and in this sense to perceive his fatherhood. This knowledge is deepened in the progressive light of Revelation, that is, on the basis of God's words and his interventions in salvation history (cf. CCC, n. 287).

In the Old Testament, knowing God as father means returning to the origins of the people of the covenant: "Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?" (Dt 32:6). The reference to God as father guarantees and maintains the unity of those who belong to the same family: "Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us?" (Mal 2:10). God is recognized as father even when he rebukes the son for his own good: "For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prv 3:12). Obviously, a father can always be called upon in times of discouragement: "I called out: O Lord, you are my father, you are my champion and my saviour; do not abandon me in time of trouble, in the midst of storms and dangers" (Sir 51:10). In all these forms, the values experienced in human fatherhood are applied preeminently to God. We immediately realize that it is impossible to know the full meaning of this fatherhood except to the extent that God himself reveals it.

3. In the events of salvation history there is a gradual revelation of the Father's initiative: by his interior action he opens the hearts of believers to accepting the incarnate Son. By knowing Jesus, they will also be able to know him, the Father. This is what Jesus himself teaches in reply to Thomas: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father (Jn 14:7; cf. vv. 7-10).

Thus it is necessary to believe in Jesus and to see him, the light of the world, in order not to remain in the darkness of ignorance (cf. Jn 12:44-46) and to know that his teaching comes from God (cf. Jn 7:17f.). On this condition it is possible to know the Father and to become capable of worshiping him "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). This living knowledge is inseparable from love. It is communicated by Jesus, as he said in his priestly prayer: "O righteous Father? I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them" (Jn 17:25-26).

"When we pray to the Father, we are in communion with him and with his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we know and recognize him with an ever new sense of wonder" (CCC, n. 2781). Knowing the Father, then, means finding in him the source of our being and our unity as members of one family, but it also means being immersed in a "supernatural" life, the very life of God.

4. The message of the Son therefore remains the royal road for knowing the Father and making him known; in fact, as the expressive words of St Irenaeus recall, "knowledge of the Father is the Son" (Adv. Haer., IV 6, 7: PG 7, 990B). This possibility is offered to Israel but also to the Gentiles, as Paul emphasizes in the Letter to the Romans: "Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith" (Rom 3:29f.). God is one and he is the Father of all, who is eager to offer everyone the salvation brought by the Son: this is what John's Gospel calls the gift of eternal life. This gift must be accepted and communicated on the surge of that gratitude which led Paul to say in the Second Letter to the Thessalonians: "We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (2 Thes 2:13).

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française, en particulier les élèves de l’école Saint-Marie de Neuilly et leurs accompagnatrices. J’accorde à tous les fidèles présents la Bénédiction apostolique.

I extend a particular welcome to the Swedish Women’s Educational Association. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Korea, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. Insbesondere heiße ich die Seminaristen des Priesterseminars der Diözese Essen willkommen. Außerdem begrüße ich eine Gruppe von Politikern aus Bayern und Baden-Württemberg. Gern erteile ich Euch und Euren Lieben daheim sowie allen, die über Radio Vatikan oder das Fernsehen mit uns verbunden sind, den Apostolischen Segen.

Dirijo un cordial saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española que han venido de España y los diversos países latinoamericanos. Os invito a reforzar cada día más el gran don de la fe que habéis recibido desde antiguo, allanando los caminos de la fraternidad y la paz con el sentimiento profundo de ser hijos de un Padre común.

Saúdo com especial afecto os peregrinos portugueses, que porventura aqui se encontrem. Que o Deus da paz e fonte de toda misericórdia infunda em vossos corações a alegria em Cristo ressuscitado, causa de esperança nos bens futuros. E que Deus abençoe a vós e vossas famílias.

Witam pielgrzymów Z Polski. Pragnę naprzód powitać ks. abpa Mariana Jaworskiego ze Lwowa, ks. bpa Albina Małysiaka gaz studentów Wydziału Historii Kościoła PAT; ponadto: z Pcimia parafię św. Mikołaja, ze Stronia Śląskiego - parafię Matki Bożej Królowej Polski, pielgrzymkę z diecezji sosnowieckiej, przedstawicieli województwa podkarpackiego i małopolskiego oraz grupy z Augustowa, Częstochowy, Nowego Sącza, Opola, Wałbrzycha, Warszawy i Neapolu oraz Chór « Cantilena » z Włoszakowic.

Chrystus dał nam poznać Boga jako Ojca. Dał nam poznać Boga jako Ojca, ponieważ jest Synem Przedwiecznym tego Ojca. « Ja i Ojciec jedno jestesmy »! Dał nam Go poznać jako Ojca naszego, swojego Ojca. Dał nam poznać jako Ojca naszego i nauczył nas mówić do Niego, modląc się: « Ojcze nasz ». Dał nam poznać tego Ojca jako życie wieczne - wieczne przeznaczenie człowieka. « To jest bowiem życie wieczne mówil - abyście poznali Ojca oraz Tego, którego On posłał, Jezusa Chrystusa ». Poznanie Chrystusa jest drogą, do Ojca.

Wszystkich obecnych tutaj pielgrzymów z Polski pozdrawiam i życzę błogosławieństwa Bożego w okresie Wielkiego Postu, a potem na Wielkanoc.

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua neerlandese

Vorrei porgere il benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini belgi e neerlandesi.

Vi auguro che il vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli rafforzi la vostra fede in Cristo, unico Salvatore del mondo, e dia un nuovo slancio all’evangelizzazione nelle vostre parrocchie.

Di cuore imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata

Cari universitari di Zagabria, vi saluto cordialmente. Benvenuti!

Il dono della fede in Cristo, che avete ricevuto, vi aiuti a scoprire il senso e il fine della vostra vita, ed a rendere testimonianza all’amore infinito di Dio. Affido voi e il vostro futuro all’intercessione della Santissima Madre di Dio e vi imparto di cuore la Benedizione Apostolica.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Un cordiale benvenuto agli “Amici Salesiani di Don Bosco”, di Praga.

Carissimi, la Solennità di dopodomani ci presenterà San Giuseppe, quale uomo di Dio che ha vissuto acacnto a Gesù e a Maria con sempre pronta disponibilità e generosa attenzione. Imitiamolo!

Vi benedico tutti di cuore!

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ungherese

Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini giunti dall’Ungheria, da Budapest e da Tiszaújváros. Carissimim auspico di cuore che questo odierno incontro presso la tomba di san Pietro apostolo confermi in ciascuno di voi lo spirito della comunione con la Chiesa Universale.

Con tali sentimenti, imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica a voi e alla vostra Patria.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, alla delegazione della Consulta degli studenti della Provincia di Grosseto, preoccupati della formazione corretta e completa di ogni cittadino, ed agli adolescenti del Decanato di Vimercate, dell'Arcidiocesi di Milano, venuti per la loro professione di fede.

Saluto, poi, Monsignor Riccardo Fontana, Arcivescovo di Norcia-Spoleto e gli Abati Ordinari di Subiaco e Montecassino, e con loro la delegazione nazionale reduce dalla Macedonia ove è stata accesa la "Fiaccola Benedettina" della pace. Possa tale impresa, animata dal motto "pro Europa una", contribuire alla formazione di una coscienza attenta alla solidarietà ed alla cultura della pace, seguendo l'esempio di San Benedetto, apostolo infaticabile tra i popoli dell'Europa.

Saluto la delegazione dell'Associazione "Italia Marathon Club", accompagnata dai Rappresentanti dell'Amministrazione comunale di Roma e dai Responsabili della Federazione Italiana di Atletica Leggera, ed auguro che la Maratona di Roma, in programma domenica prossima, contribuisca a promuovere gli autentici valori dello sport.

Saluto, ancora, il gruppo delle Edizioni Paoline e della Sony Classical che, in collaborazione con la Radio Vaticana, hanno edito il CD "Abba Pater", ed invoco per ciascuno di loro copiosi doni celesti, perché continuino con generoso slancio nel loro impegno culturale.

Ed ora il mio saluto va ai giovani qui presenti. Cari giovani, incontrarvi è sempre per me motivo di consolazione e di speranza, perché la vostra età è la primavera della vita. Siate sempre fedeli all'amore che Dio ha per voi.

Rivolgo ora un pensiero affettuoso a voi, cari ammalati. Quando si soffre, tutta la realtà in noi e attorno a noi sembra rabbuiarsi, ma, nell'intimo del nostro cuore, questo non deve spegnere la luce consolante della fede. Cristo con la sua croce ci sostiene nella prova.

E voi, cari sposi novelli, che saluto cordialmente, siate grati a Dio per il dono della famiglia. Contando sempre sul suo aiuto, fate della vostra esistenza una missione di amore fedele e generoso.

Il Signore vi accompagni e sempre vi protegga.

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