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The call to holiness is essential for the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 12 February 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy'" (Lev 19:1-2).

The call to holiness thus belongs to the very essence of God's covenant with humanity in the Old Testament. "For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you" (Hos 11:9). God, who in his essence is supreme holiness, the thrice holy (cf. Is 6:3), draws near to human beings, his Chosen People, so that they may share in the radiance of this holiness. From the beginning the call to holiness, and indeed, communion in the holiness of God himself, was written into God's covenant with man: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). In this text from Exodus, communion in the holiness of God himself and the priestly nature of the chosen people are connected. It is an early revelation of the holiness of the priesthood, which would be fulfilled definitively in the new covenant, through the blood of Christ, when that "worship in Spirit and truth" would begin which Jesus spoke of in Sychar during his conversation with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:24).

2. The Church as a communion in God's holiness, and thus as a "communion of saints," is one of the key ideas in the First Letter of Peter. Jesus Christ is the source of this communion and the consecration of the human person, and all creation derives from his sacrifice. St. Peter writes: "For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit" (1 Pet 3:18). Because of Christ's sacrifice, which in itself contains the power to sanctify the human person and all creation, the Apostle Peter can declare: "You were ransomed...with the precious blood of Christ, as of a spotless unblemished lamb" (1 Pet 1:18-19). In this sense he says: "You are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation'" (1 Pet 2:9; cf. Ex 19:6). In virtue of Christ's sacrifice we can partake of God's holiness and achieve "communion in holiness."

3. St. Peter writes: "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps" (1 Pet 2:21). Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ means reliving in ourselves his holy life which we have shared through the sanctifying and consecrating grace we received in Baptism; it means continuing to realize in our own lives the "appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 3:21); it means being able, through good works, to give glory to God before the world and especially before non-believers (cf. 1 Pet 2:12; 3:1-2). According to the Apostle Peter, this constitutes the "offering of spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5). This is what it means to be "built into a spiritual living be a holy priesthood" (1 Pet 2:5).

The "holy priesthood" is expressed in offering spiritual sacrifices which have their source and perfect model in Christ's own sacrifice. Peter adds: "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil" (1 Pet 3:17). In this way the Church is realized as a communion in holiness. Because of Jesus and through the work of the Holy Spirit the communion of the new People of God fully responds to God's call: "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy."

4. We also find the same teaching in the letters of St. Paul. He writes to the Romans: "I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). "Present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness" (Rom 6:13). The passage from death to life, according to the Apostle, is accomplished through the sacrament of Baptism. It is a baptism "into the death" of Christ. In fact, we have been buried "with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-4).

Just as Peter speaks of "living stones" being "built into a spiritual house," so too Paul uses the image of a building: "You are God's building" (1 Cor 3:9), and then advises, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16). Then he adds, almost as if answering his own question: "For the temple of God, which you are, is holy" (1 Cor 3:17).

The image of the temple calls attention to the participation of Christians in God's holiness, to their "communion" in holiness which is the result of the Holy Spirit's action. The Apostle speaks elsewhere of believers being "sealed with the Holy Spirit" (cf. Eph 1:13). God, who "has anointed us [that is, has confirmed us in Christ], has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Cor 1:21-22).

5. According to these texts of the two apostles, communion in God's holiness means the sanctification accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit, in virtue of Christ's sacrifice. This communion is expressed by offering spiritual sacrifice according to Christ's example. In this way it exercises "the holy priesthood." It is served by the apostolic ministry, the purpose of which, St. Paul writes, is "so that the offering up" of the faithful "may be acceptable [to God], sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:16). Thus the "first installment of the Spirit" in the Church community bears fruit by the ministry of holiness. The communion in holiness is transformed for the faithful into an apostolic commitment to the salvation of all humanity.

6. The teaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul is repeated in the Book of Revelation. In this book, immediately after the opening greeting of "grace and peace" (Rev 1:4), we read the following acclamation addressed to Christ: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever" (Rev 1:5-6). In this acclamation the Church expresses her grateful love and her rejoicing over the work of sanctification and priestly consecration which Christ has accomplished "with his blood." Another passage makes it clear that this consecration extends to men and women "from every tribe and tongue, people and nation" (Rev 5:9-10). This multitude is later portrayed as those who "stood before the throne [of God] and before the Lamb" (Rev 7:9), and "worship him day and night in his temple" (Rev 7:15).

If Peter's letter shows the communion in God's holiness through Christ as a basic task of the Church on earth, the Book of Revelation gives an eschatological vision of the communion of saints in God. It is the mystery of the heavenly Church, where all the holiness of earth converges, climbing up the path of innocence and repentance. Its point of departure is Baptism, along with the grace it imparts and the character it impresses on the soul, conforming it to the priesthood of Christ crucified and enabling it to share in that priesthood, as St. Thomas Aquinas writes [1] . In the heavenly Church the communion of holiness will be enlightened with the glory of the risen Christ.

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 63, a. 3"

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue très cordialement les personnes de langue française, en par ticulier les Africains de divers pays, venus suivre une formation à l'invitation du Ministère italien des Affaires étrangères. Je souhaite que vous tous, présents à cette audience, puissiez tirer profit de votre séjour à Rome pour découvrir la vie de l'Église, la voir et l'aimer toujours davantage.

Que le Seigneur vous bénisse et vous garde!

A un gruppo di giornalisti del Senegal

J'ai le plaisir de saluer l'équipe de la rédaction du journal «Le Soleil» de Dakar, venue à ma rencontre à quelques jours de ma visite pastorale au Sénégal. Je vous remercie, chers amis, de préparer avec autant de soin ce voyage. En vous souhaitant bon travail, je vous prie de dire à vos compatriotes ma joie de pouvoir consacrer quelques journées à prier avec eux et à réfléchir avec eux sur la mission de l'Église catholique, comme sur les espoirs et les préoccupations de tout le peuple sénégalais.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the Englishspeaking pilgrims and visitors pre sent at today's Audience, especially the pilgrims from Sri Lanka. My greeting goes also to the members of the United States Armed Forces stationed in Gaeta, Italy. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Diese unsere Berufung und Zugehörigkeit zur «Gemeinschaft der Heiligen» möchte ich Euch bewubtmachen, wenn ich Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, herzlich willkommen heibe. Mein besonderer Grub gilt dem Kirchenchor «Cantate Domino» aus der Pfarrei Königin des Friedens in Wien, dem ich für die gelungene Darbietung herzlich danke, sowie den Mitarbeitern aus den Pfarren des Dekanates Bockflieb in der Erzdiözese Wien unter Leitung von Herrn Weihbischof Florian Kuntner, Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

A vari gruppi di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora a todos los peregrinos de lengua española procedentes de América Latina y de España. De manera particular doy mi afectuosa bienvenida al grupo español de la Asociación cultural «Madre Esperanza» de Santomera (Murcia); así como a las familias y jóvenes que participan en esta audiencia. Que cada día vivamos con más fidelidad la vocación universal a la santidad. A todos os bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Abençõo de coração os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, espe- cialmente os brasileiros que vieram da Bahia, Paraná e Santa Catarina, exortando-os para que saibam colaborar humilde e fervorosamente com o propósito divino de santificar todas as estruturas temporais, levando até elas o fermento da Redenção.

Ad un gruppo di educatori svedesi

I Rom möter ni den europeiska kulturens rötter.

Ett seriöst studium av detta för oss europeer närmare varandra kulturellt och religiöst.

Må dessa förnyade insikter vara er till hjälp i er gärning som fostrare.

Gud välsigne er alla och hela Sverige.

A studentesse di Kagoshima, in Giappone

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissime studentesse del collegio «Cuore Immacolato» di Kagoshima.

Voi avete come vostra Patrona il «Cuore Immacolato» di Maria. Carissime, poiché la caratteristica della Madonna è stata la premura verso il prossimo, abbiate sempre una grande sollecitudine verso coloro che vi circondano.

Con questo auspicio vi benedico paternamente.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski: czlonków hospicjum Bozego Milosierdzia z Gliwic; z parafii sw. Mikolaja z Leszna w archidiecezji poznanskiej; z parafii Najswietszej Maryi Panny z Wielowsi w die cezji opolskiej oraz pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i emigracji.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Saluto ora i pellegrini di lingua italiana.

Rivolgo un pensiero particolare ai membri ed amici dell'istituto secolare delle «Oblate di Cristo Re», conosciuto anche con il nome di «Opera Madonnina del Grappa». Esprimo loro i miei auguri per il cinquantesimo anniversario di approvazione dell'istituto, mentre invoco dal Signore che il servizio ecclesiale che essi svolgono in favore delle famiglie e persone in particolari condizioni di necessità sia confortato da copiosi doni di grazia.

* * *

Il mio saluto va poi ai componenti della Federazione dei Servizi di Volontariato Socio Sanitario. Ad essi esprimo il mio vivo incoraggiamento, invitandoli ad avere sempre presente nel proprio cammino gli ideali del Vangelo, che ci esorta ad accogliere chi soffre come un fratello in Cristo.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Saluto, come di consueto, i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli qui presenti.

Carissimi, sull'esempio della Vergine Maria, portate il Redentore nella vostra vita quotidiana e in quella delle persone che vi è dato di incontrare. In questo modo voi, giovani, testimonierete che la speranza cristiana non si fonda su un'utopia, ma sulla concreta presenza di Gesù; voi, malati, mostrerete che la sofferenza sopportata assieme a Cristo 31 non è vana; voi sposi novelli attesterete che l'amore matrimoniale ha una forza salvifica non solo per i coniugi, ma anche per l'intera Chiesa.

A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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