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Christ's awareness of his vocation to redemptive sacrifice

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 5 October 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried."

In the last catechesis by referring to these words of the Symbol of faith, we considered Christ's death as an event which has its historical dimension, and which is also explained in the light of the historical circumstances in which it occurred. The Symbol also gives us indications in this regard, echoing the Gospels, where more abundant/ fuller news/information is found. But the Symbol also highlights/emphasizes the fact that Christ's death on the cross happened/occurred as sacrifice for sins and therefore became the "price" of man's redemption: "He was crucified for our sake", "for us men and for our salvation."

One spontaneously asks: to what extent was Jesus aware of this purpose of his mission? When and how did he perceive his vocation to offer himself in sacrifice for the sins of the world?

In this regard, one must point out in advance that it is not easy to penetrate the historical evolution of Jesus' consciousness. The Gospel refers to it (cf. Lk 2:52), but without offering precise data to determine its stages.

Many Gospel texts quoted in the previous reflection testify to Jesus' already clear awareness about his mission. So deeply felt was that awareness that he reacted vigorously and even brusquely against those who, because of their affection for him, tried to dissuade him from that path. A case in point is Peter whom Jesus did not hesitate to rebuke with the words, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mk 8:33).

2. Even before his preaching and manner of acting met with opposition and aroused the enmity of those who had the power to decide his fate, Jesus was conscious of the "baptism" of blood (cf. Lk 12:50) that awaited him. He was aware that over his head there hung that "it is expedient," corresponding to the Father's eternal plan (cf. Mk 8:31), long before the historical circumstances were to lead to the fulfillment of what had been preordained. Doubtlessly Jesus abstained for some time from announcing his death, though from the beginning he was aware of his messianic mission, as is evident from his self-manifestation in the synagogue of Nazareth (cf. Lk 4:16-21). He knew that the raison d'etre of the Incarnation, the purpose of his life, is that which is contemplated in God's eternal plan of salvation. "The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve and to give his life in ransom for many" (Mk 10:45).

3. In the Gospels we can find not a few other proofs of Jesus' awareness of his future destiny in accordance with the divine plan of salvation. Already when he was twelve years old, Jesus' reply on the occasion when he was found in the Temple is in a certain way the first expression of this awareness. In explaining to Mary and Joseph that he "must be about his Father's business" (cf. Lk 2:49), the youth let it be understood that he was interiorly oriented to the events of the future. Though barely twelve years old, he seemed to desire to prepare for the future those dearest to him, especially his mother.

When the time arrived to begin his messianic activity, Jesus was among those receiving the baptism of repentance from John in the Jordan. He tried to make it understood, despite the protest of the Baptist, that he felt called to express his solidarity with sinners, to take upon himself the yoke of the sins of humanity, as was indicated by John's presentation of him: "Behold the Lamb of God...who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29). These words echo and in a certain sense contain a synthesis of what Isaiah announced about the servant of the Lord: "...wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.... The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.... Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, my servant shall make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:5-7, 11). Undoubtedly there is a harmony between Jesus' messianic awareness and those words of the Baptist, which expressed the prophecy and expectation of the Old Testament.

4. Later, the Gospels present us with further information indicating Jesus' awareness of his sacrificial death. For instance, there is the case of the bridegroom's friends, his disciples, who are not expected to fast as long as the bridegroom is with them. "But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day" (Mk 2:20). It is a significant allusion that reveals Christ's state of awareness.

Besides, it is evident from the Gospels that Jesus never accepted any thought or discourse that could hold out hope of the earthly success of his work. The divine signs he offered, the miracles he worked, could provide a basis for such hopes. But Jesus did not hesitate to deny every intention and to dissipate every illusion in that regard, because he knew that his messianic mission could not be fulfilled otherwise than through his sacrifice.

5. With the disciples Jesus used a pedagogy that revealed to them little by little the death that awaited him. This is seen with particular clarity at the moment when the apostles seemed to have arrived at the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. Simon Peter expressed this conviction when he exclaimed, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). It may be regarded as the culminating point of the process of maturation of the Twelve in their already remarkable experience in following Jesus. It was precisely after this profession of faith (near Caesarea Philippi) that Christ spoke for the first time of his passion and death: "And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mk 8:31, cf. Mt 16:21; Lk 9:22).

6. Even the words of stern rebuke addressed to Peter, who was unwilling to accept what he heard ("God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you," Mt 16:22), prove how much Jesus' consciousness was identified with the certainty of the future sacrifice. Being the Messiah meant for him "giving his life in ransom for many" (Mk 10:45). From the very beginning Jesus knew that this was the definitive meaning of his mission and life. Therefore he rejected whatever could be or appear to be the negation of that salvific purpose. This can already be seen in the hour of temptation when Jesus resolutely rejected the tempter (cf. Mt 4:5-10; Lk 4:1-12).

7. We should note, however, that in the texts quoted, when Jesus announced his passion and death, he spoke also of his resurrection which would take place on "the third day." This does not in any way affect the essential significance of the messianic sacrifice by death on the cross. On the contrary, it emphasizes its salvific and life-giving meaning. This pertains to the most profound essence of Christ's mission: the world's Redeemer is he who fulfills the Pasch, that is, the passage of man to a new life in God.

8. In this same spirit Jesus formed his apostles and outlined the perspective in which his future Church should move. The apostles, their successors and all followers of Christ, in the footsteps of the crucified Master, shall have to follow the way of the cross: "They will hand you over to the courts. You will be arraigned before governors and kings because of me, as a witness before them" (Mk 13:9). "They will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name" (Mt 24:9). Jesus foretold also, both to the apostles and to the future followers who would partake in the redemptive passion and death of their Lord, "Truly, truly I say to will grieve, but your grief will become joy" (Jn 16:20). Both the apostles and the Church are called, in all ages, to take part in Christ's paschal mystery in its entirety. It is a mystery in which there is born the joy of the new life in God, from the suffering and grief of those who partake in the sacrifice of the cross."


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

Ai pellegrini francesi

J’ADRESSE Á TOUS les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française un très cordial salut. Je leur souhaite de recevoir pleinement la grâce du Christ sauveur et de retrouver leurs communautés chrétiennes dans une ardeur renouvelée à témoigner de l’Evangile. Aux aînés et aux jeunes, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai visitatori di lingua inglese

I EXTEND a special welcome to the new students of both the Pontifical Irish College and the Venerable English College. I am sure that you will make full use of the opportunity that is yours in pursuing your ecclesiastical studies in the City of the Apostles Peter and Paul, not only to acquire a profound knowledge of the academic subjects you will study in preparation for your future ordination to the priesthood, but even more importantly to strengthen your Christian faith and your love of the Church. I invoke God’s special blessings upon you and your Superiors, as you work together in the demanding task of your priestly formation.

* * *

I WELCOME the study-group from the Church of Sweden, the Lutheran study-group from Oslo and parishioners of Tyrvää in Finland. I look forward very much to visiting your countries in June of next year, and I pray that my visit will further strengthen the already deep bonds of understanding and ecumenical collaboration that exist between us.

* * *

I GREET THE PILGRIMS from Erie accompanied by Bishop Murphy, the priests and people of the Diocese of Paterson accompanied by Bishop Rodimer, and the groups from the Diocese of Rochester and the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Upon all the English-speaking visitors I invoke the grace and peace of Christ.

Ai numerosissimi pellegrini di espressione tedesca

MIT DIESER KURZEN Erinnerung an das Lebensgesetz Christi und seiner Kirche verbinde ich meinen herzlichen Gruß an alle Besucher deutscher Sprache. Besonders erwähnen möchte ich heute die Wallfahrt alter und behinderter Priester und Ordensschwestern, die der Schweizerische Hospitaldienst des Malteserritterordens durchführt, Ich freue mich mit euch, daß christliche Solidarität es möglich macht, daß ihr die heiligen Stätten Roms besucht und hier in eurer Lebenshoffnung bestärkt werdet.

* * *

EIN FROHES Willkommen gilt dann auch dem großen Pilgerzug der Diözese Hildesheim mit ihrem Weihbischof Mons. Machens. Es ist gewiß sinnvoll, daß die notwendige Begegnung der Ortskirchen untereinander nicht nur auf der Ebene der jeweiligen Oberhirten stattfindet, sondern eben auch auf der Ebene der einzelnen Christen in Familie und Pfarrei, wobei junge und alte und auch behinderte Menschen immer eingeschlossen sein sollen.

* * *

EBENSO HERZLICH grüße ich schließlich den Kinderchor mit seinen Begleitern aus der Pfarrei Dinklage in Oldenburg. Im Namen aller Anwesenden darf ich euch unseren besten Dank aussprechen für euer gekonntes Singen und Musizieren zur Ehre Gottes und zu unser aller Freude. Bewahrt euch auch als Erwachsene eure frohe Bereitschaft, das Leben eurer Pfarrei, vor allem auch die Liturgie, mitzugestalten.

Euch allen aber erbitte ich den mächtigen Schutz Gottes über euren Wegen und segne euch in der Verbundenheit der Liebe Christi.

Ai pellegrini giunti dalla Spagna e da alcuni Paesi latinoamericani

TRAS ESTAS PALABRAS de esperanza en el Señor que nos salva, quiero presentar mi cordial saludo de bienvenida a todos los peregrinos provenientes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, al grupo de sacerdotes Hijos del Amor Misericordioso, a quienes aliento a continua ilusionadamente en su servicio al clero diocesano para fomentar la fraternidad sacerdotal, y en favor de la juventud más necesitada.

* * *

IGUALMENTE SALUDO a los miembros de la Asociación “Damas Salesianas” de Venezuela, así como a la peregrinación de Palos de la Frontera (Huelva) a quienes invito a un generoso empeño para conmemorar dignamente el V Centenario de la llegada del Evangelio al Nuevo Mundo, partiendo de las costas onubenses.

A todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

SAUDO CORDIALMENTE, com votos de paz, graça e todo o bem no Senhor, quantos me escutam de língua portuguesa; em particular, a peregrinação da Arquidiocese de Curitiba-Brasil.

Sinto alegria em ver-vos aqui. Para todos imploro os dons divinos, para que caminheis em “vida nova” à luz da fé, ancorados na esperança da páscoa eterna com Cristo, com a minha Bênçao Apostólica.

Ad un pellegrinaggio nazionale ungherese promosso in onore di Santo Stefano

ALL’UDIENZA GENERALE è presente oggi un gruppo numerosissimo di ungheresi, che partecipano al pellegrinaggio nazionale organizzato in onore di Santo Stefano, fondatore della nazione magiara.

Ai connazionali polacchi

WITAM SERDECZNIE pielgrzymów z Polski: w szczególności z Krakowa - z parafii św. Szczepana; z dekanatu Wieliczka; z diecezji płockiej; współpracowników misyjnych ksieży pallotynów z całej Polski; z Wrocławia grupę Logos-Tour; kolejarzy ze Szczecina, z Wrocławia, z Jeleniej Góry; grupę esperantystów z całej Polski; grupy turystyczne Orbisu, Turysty, PTTK z Poznania; prócz tego grupy śpiewacze: “Scholę Cantorum” z Inowrocławia i chór Uniwersytetu Curie-Skłodowskiej z Lublina . . . . Cieszę się, że dzisiaj mogę na tym placu św. Piotra powitać nie tylko liczną grupę moich rodaków z Ojczyzny, ale także licznę grupę naszych sąsiadów Węgrów, bo stare porzekadło polskie mówi, że Węgier i Polak “dwa bratanki”.

Ad alcuni pellegrinaggi italiani

DESIDERO ORA porgere il mio saluto ai rappresentanti dell’Ordine degli Ingegneri italiani, la cui associazione celebra in Roma il 23° Congresso. Li ringrazio per il gentile pensiero di partecipare a questa Udienza e saluto con loro i familiari che li accompagnano, mentre invoco dal Signore la protezione sul loro lavoro e sulle loro iniziative. Li esorto altresì a considerare sempre con coscienza retta e con generosa dedizione le responsabilità che ad essi spettano nel recare il proprio contributo alla promozione umana, alla pace nei rapporti interni delle aziende e delle organizzazioni di lavoro. La grazia divina, con il dono della carità li assista e li conforti.

* * *

SALUTO POI le famiglie religiose qui, presenti per alcune significative circostanze; le Suore di Gesù Buon Pastore, che ricordano il 50° anniversario della loro donazione: ad esse auguro di tenere sempre viva la fiamma del carisma di Don Alberione, il quale le ha istituite come collaboratrici dei Pastori d’anime; le Suore Figlie di Sant’Anna, che partecipano ad un corso di formazione permanente, per aggiornare il loro ministero a favore delle famiglie e della gioventù femminile: possano tornare alle loro attività con una nuova carica di ardore apostolico.

* * *

IL PENSIERO, infine, va agli ospiti ed agli accompagnatori dell’Istituto Cottolengo di Firenze, ai quali mi rivolgo con affetto per esprimere l’invito a vivere la missione della carità verso i fratelli più umili, nello spirito del Vangelo e con la consolazione che viene dal Cuore di Cristo.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

IN QUESTO GIORNO che segue immediatamente la festa di San Francesco di Assisi, Patrono d’Italia, desidero rivolgermi a voi, giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli, col suo saluto di “pace e bene”.

Voi giovani, ispiratevi nella vostra vita a questa figura veramente evangelica per guardare al futuro con ottimismo; esorto voi malati ad affrontare, come il Santo di Assisi, le difficoltà con fortezza e coraggio cristiani; voi sposi, sappiate creare nell’ambito della famiglia un’atmosfera di vero amore, di armonia e di “perfetta letizia”, sull’esempio di San Francesco.

Vi benedico tutti di cuore, assicurandovi la mia costante preghiera.

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