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The Church witnesses to Jesus' love

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 3 June 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Let us return to the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium where we read: "The holy People of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity" (LG 12). We spoke about the witness to faith and hope in the preceding catecheses; today we move on to the witness of love. It is an especially important topic because, as St. Paul says of these three things, faith, hope and love, "The greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). Paul shows that he is aware of the value Christ placed on the commandment of love. Over the centuries the Church has never forgotten this teaching. She has always felt called to witness to the Gospel of love in word and deed, following the example of Christ, who--as we read in the Acts of the Apostles--"went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).

Jesus underlined the centrality of this commandment of love when he called it his commandment: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12). No longer is it merely the love of neighbor ordained by the Old Testament, but a "new commandment" (Jn 13:34). It is "new" because its model is Christ's love ("as I have loved you"), the perfect human expression of God's love for humanity. More especially, it is Christ's love in its supreme manifestation, that of sacrifice: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

The Church, then, has the duty of giving witness to Christ's love for humanity, a love ready for sacrifice. Charity is not merely a demonstration of human solidarity; it is a sharing in the same divine love.

2. Jesus said: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35). The love that Christ taught by word and example is the sign which must distinguish his disciples. He shows his heart's great desire when he confesses: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Lk 12:49). Fire means the intensity and strength of the love of charity. Jesus asks his followers to distinguish themselves by this form of love. The Church knows that in this form love becomes a witness to Christ. The Church is able to give this witness because, in receiving Christ's life, she receives his love. Christ has set hearts on fire with love (cf. Lk 12:49) and continues to light this fire in every time and place. The Church is responsible for spreading this fire throughout the world. All genuine witness to Christ entails charity; it requires the will to avoid inflicting any harm on love. So the whole Church must be distinguished by charity.

3. The charity kindled in the world by Christ is a limitless, universal love. The Church testifies to this love which overcomes every division among individuals, social classes, peoples and nations. She reacts against any national particularism which would limit charity to a people's borders. With her love open to all, the Church shows that the human person is called by Christ not only to shun all enmity among his own people but also to esteem and love the members of other nations and their peoples as such.

4. Christ's charity also overcomes differences in social class. It does not accept hatred or class struggle. The Church desires the union of all in Christ. She tries to live Gospel love, and exhorts and teaches everyone to live it, even for those whom some would like to consider enemies. In applying Christ's commandment of love, the Church seeks social justice, and thus an equitable distribution of material goods in society and help for the poorest and all the unfortunate. At the same time, however, she preaches and promotes peace and reconciliation in society.

5. The Church's charity essentially entails an attitude of forgiveness, in imitation of the kindness of Christ who condemned sin but showed himself "a friend of sinners" (cf. Mt 11:19; cf. Lk 19:5-10), and refused to condemn them (cf. Jn 8:11). In this way the Church strives to reproduce in herself, and in the hearts of her children, the generous spirit of Jesus, who forgave and asked the Father to forgive those who had handed him over to be put to death (cf. Lk 23:34).

Christians know that they can never take revenge, and according to the answer Jesus gave Peter, they must forgive all offenses without ceasing (cf. Mt 18:22). Every time they recite the Our Father they affirm their willingness to forgive. This witness to forgiveness, given and inculcated by the Church, is connected with the revelation of divine mercy. It is precisely because they are like the heavenly Father, according to Jesus' exhortation (cf. Lk 6:36-38; Mt 6:14-15; 18:33-35), that Christians are inclined to leniency, understanding and peace. This does not mean that they forego justice, but that justice must never be separated from mercy.

6. Charity is also shown through the respect and regard for every human person which the Church wants to practice and urges others to practice. She has received the task of spreading the truth of revelation and of making known the way of salvation established by Christ. In following Jesus Christ, she directs her message to individuals whom, as persons, she considers to be free, and the Church desires their full development as persons with the help of grace. In her work, therefore, she uses persuasion, dialogue, the common search for truth and the good. If the Church is firm in teaching the truths of the faith and the principles of morality, she addresses people by proposing these things, rather than imposing them, with respect and trusting their powers of judgment.

7. Charity also requires a willingness to serve one's neighbor. In the Church throughout history there have always been numerous people who have dedicated themselves to this service. We can say that no religious society has ever inspired as many works of charity as the Church has: service to the sick, the disabled, service to young people in schools, to people struck by natural disasters and other misfortunes, support for all kinds of poor and needy. Today we see a repetition of this phenomenon, which seems prodigious at times. Every new need which appears in the world is met with new endeavors of relief and assistance by Christians who live according to the spirit of the Gospel. It is a charity which is often witnessed to with heroism in the Church. She has many martyrs of charity. Here let us simply recall Maximilian Kolbe, who gave himself up to death to save the father of a family.

8. We must recognize that, since the Church is a community which is also composed of sinners, the precept of love has at times been transgressed over the centuries. It is a question of failures on the part of individuals and groups who bear the name Christian, failures on the level of reciprocal relations, both interpersonal as well as social and international. It is a sad reality which appears in the history of individuals and nations, and also in the Church's history. Conscious of their own vocation to love according to Christ's example, Christians confess these sins against love with humility and repentance, without, however, ceasing to believe in love. As St. Paul says, love "bears all things," and "never fails" (1 Cor 13:7-8). But if the history of humanity and of the Church herself abounds in sins against charity which cause sadness and pain, we must at the same time acknowledge with joy and gratitude that in every Christian age there have been marvelous acts of witness which confirm love, and that many times--as we have noted--this testimony has been heroic.

The heroic charity of individual persons goes hand in hand with the imposing witness of charitable works of a social nature. It is impossible to list them here or even give a summary. The Church's history is filled with them, from the first Christian centuries to the present day. Nevertheless, the dimension of human suffering and need always seems to outstrip and surpass the possibilities of aid. But love is and remains invincible (amor vincit omnia), even when it appears to have no other weapons than indestructible trust in Christ's truth and grace.

9. As a summary and conclusion, we can make an assertion which finds empirical confirmation, so to speak, in the history of the Church, her institutions and her saints. In her teaching and her striving for holiness, the Church has always kept alive the Gospel ideal of charity. She has inspired innumerable examples of charity, often to the point of heroism. She has spread love throughout humanity, and she is the more or less acknowledged source of the many institutions of solidarity and social cooperation which constitute the indispensable fabric of modern civilization. Finally, she has grown and continues to grow in her awareness of the demands of charity and in her fulfillment of the responsibilities which these demands entail. All this is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who is eternal, infinite Love.

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

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt dem Musikverein ”Eintracht“ aus Obergrombach, dem ich für die musikalischen Darbietungen aufrichtig danke. 

* * *

Saluto cordialmente la banda musicale “Città di Fabriano”, che ha ospitato in questi giorni il Musikverein “Eintracht” di Obergrombach, ed auguro di cuore che la loro fraterna accoglienza contribuisca a tessere tra i popoli legami sempre più saldi di mutua conoscenza e solidarietà.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai fedeli di espressione francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Qu’avec l’aide de l’Esprit Saint chacun découvre le mystère de Dieu et de l’Église, et soit témoin de l’amour miséricordieux du Père auprès de ses frères avec lesquels il est appelé à vivre. Avec ma Benédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Loreto Club from Nottingham, England, and to the Winged Fellowship pilgrims from London. My greeting goes also to the group of orthopaedic surgeons meeting in Rome this week, and to the Center for Peace pilgrimage from Korea and the Philippines. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, India, Singapore, and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of the Risen Lord.

A un gruppo di pellegrini giapponesi 

Saluto I venerabili Bonzi di Koya-san: vi ringrazio innanzi tutto per la vostra visita.

Nel mondo attuale è sempre più urgente la cooperazione a livello internazionale. Anche nell’ambito religioso è assai utile una forma di cooperazione. Eleviamo, dunque, a Dio la nostra preghiera e operiamo in unità di intenti per la pace nel mondo.

Di nuovo: “Grazie!” per la vostra visita. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora dar mi más cordial bienvenida a los peregrinos y visitantes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España. En particular, al grupo de Generales españoles del Estado Mayor así como a la peregrinación procedente de Venezuela y a los grupos de Bar celona y Pamplona. A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

¡Alabado sea Jesucristo! 

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese 

Amadíssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Hoje, justamente nas vésperas da minha Viagem à Angola, ren do um preito de homenagem aos sacerdotes, aos missionários e missionárias, e aos leigos, nomeadamente aos catequistas, que souberam, apesar de inúmeras dificuldades e inclusive arriscando a própria vida, testemunhar o amor pelos seus irmãos segundo o espírito do Evangelho.

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente os brasileiros, auspiciando para todos uma feliz estadia em Roma com as bênçãos de Deus. 

 Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Nel porgere oggi il mio saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, mi è gradito anzitutto rivolgere un pensiero ai giovani vincitori del concorso “La famiglia: risorsa dell’Europa”, promosso dal Movimento Italiano per la vita. Cari ragazzi e ragazze, il mio compiacimento a tutti voi per il vostro impegno di riflessione su di un tema tanto importante per il futuro del nostro Continente. L’Europa, per diventare una rinnovata Comunità di popoli e di culture, ha bisogno di non smarrire i grandi valori sui quali ha costruito la sua esperienza di progresso e di civiltà. E voi giovani, che aspirate ardentemente all’ideale di un’Europa unita, impegnatevi con coraggio nel difendere i diritti e la missione della famiglia.

Saluto, poi, il folto gruppo della Parrocchia di Santa Maria della Libera della città di Portici e di Santa Maria dell’Arco di Villaricca nell’Arcidiocesi di Napoli. Sono lieto di affidare entrambe le vostre Comunità alla protezione della Vergine, da voi molto venerata. La Madre del Redentore sia il modello di fede autentica a cui ispirare la vostra testimonianza di credenti, desiderosi di seguire Cristo e di annunciare il suo Vangelo.

Il mio pensiero va inoltre, ai giovani dell’oratorio di San Giovanni Bosco di Zanica, in Diocesi di Bergamo, venuti a Roma a piedi, per concludere con un pellegrinaggio presso le Tombe dei Santi Pietro e Paolo il loro anno catechistico. La parola e l’esempio degli Apostoli siano per voi una costante guida spirituale. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Ed ora un particolare saluto a tutti i giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli. Nell’imminenza della solennità della Pentecoste, vi esorto, cari giovani, a chiedere nella preghiera il dono dello Spirito Santo, per essere sempre testimoni coraggiosi di Cristo. La grazia dello Spirito Santo aiuti voi, ammalati, ad accogliere con fede il mistero del dolore e ad offrirne il frutto per la salvezza di tutti gli uomini. A voi, sposi novelli, esprimo l’auspicio di saper annunciare con gioia la “buona novella” della famiglia cristiana in tutta la vostra vita. 

Nell’anniversario della morte di Giovanni XXIII 

Ricorre proprio oggi l’anniversario della morte di Papa Giovanni XXIII, che, con coraggiosa docilità ai suggerimenti dello Spirito Santo, ha aperto il Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. È sempre molto viva nei nostri cuori l’eco del messaggio di fede e di paterna bontà che egli ha lasciato alla Chiesa e al mondo. A conclusione di questo nostro incontro, vogliamo rivolgere alla sua memoria un riverente pensiero e invocare dallo Spirito Santo lo stesso ardore apostolico del grande Pontefice, per rispondere in modo adeguato alle esigenze della nuova evangelizzazione.

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