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God made a covenant with Israel

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 30 October 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Second Vatican Council, which quotes St. Cyprian's text which we reflected on during the preceding catechesis, "The universal Church is seen to be 'a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit'" (LG 4; cf. St. Cyprian, De Oratione Dominica, 23: PL 4, 553). As we have explained, in these words the Council teaches that the Church is above all a mystery rooted in the triune God; the Church is a mystery whose primary and fundamental dimension is trinitarian. It is in relationship to the Trinity, the eternal source from which she arises, that the Church "is seen to be a people" (LG 4). Thus she is the people of God--of the triune God. We wish now to devote this catechesis and the following ones to this theme, always taking as our guiding principle the teaching of the Council, which was wholly inspired by Sacred Scripture.

2. The Council states precisely: "God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness" (LG 9). This plan of God began to be revealed in the history of Abraham by the first words God spoke to him: "The Lord said to Abram: 'Go forth from the land of your a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you'" (Gen 12:1-2).

This promise was then confirmed by a covenant (Gen 15:18; 17:1-4) and solemnly proclaimed after the sacrifice of Isaac. Following God's request, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son whom the Lord had given to him and his wife Sarah in their old age. But God only meant to test his faith. In this sacrifice, then, Isaac did not die, but continued living. However, Abraham had consented in his heart to the sacrifice and this sacrifice of the heart, the proof of a magnificent faith, obtained for him the promise of innumerable descendants: "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore" (Gen 22:16-17).

3. The fulfillment of this promise was to take place in different stages. Abraham was destined to become "the father of all who have faith" (cf. Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6-7; Rom 4:16-17). The first stage was achieved in Egypt where "the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them" (Ex 1:7). By now Abraham's stock had become "the Israelite people" (Ex 1:9). However, they were in the humiliating condition of slavery. Faithful to his covenant with Abraham, God called Moses and said, "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry.... I have come down to rescue them.... Come, now! I will send lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt" (Ex 3:7-10). So, Moses was called to lead that people out of Egypt. However, Moses was only God's agent in fulfilling his plan, the instrument of his power, for according to the Bible, God himself led Israel out of slavery in Egypt. "When Israel was a child I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son," we read in the Book of the Prophet Hosea (11:1). Israel, then, is the people of God's favor: "It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers" (Dt 7:7-8). The Israelites were not chosen to be the People of God because of their human qualities, but solely by God's initiative.

4. The divine initiative, the Lord's sovereign choice, assumed the form of a covenant. This occurred in regard to Abraham. It occurred after the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Moses was the mediator of this covenant at the foot of Mt. Sinai. "When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the Lord, they all answered with one voice, 'We will do everything that the Lord has told us.' Moses then wrote down all the words of the Lord and, rising early the next day, he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel." Then sacrifices were offered and Moses splashed half of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar. "Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people," once again receiving from those present the promise to obey the words of God. Finally, he sprinkled the people with the other half of the blood (cf. Ex 24:3-8).

5. The Book of Deuteronomy explains the significance of this event: "Today you are making this agreement with the Lord: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways and observe his statutes, commandments and decrees, and to hearken to his voice. Today the Lord is making this agreement with you: you are to be a people peculiarly his own" (Dt 26:17-18). The covenant with God is a special "promotion" for Israel. In this way Israel becomes "a people sacred to the Lord [their] God" (cf. Dt 26:19). This means that they belong to God in a special way. Even more it is a reciprocal belonging: "Then I will be your God and you shall be my people" (Jer 7:23). This is the divine arrangement. God commits himself to the covenant. All the infidelities on the people's part at the various stages of their history do not affect God's fidelity to the covenant. One can say at most that in a certain sense these infidelities open the way to the new covenant foretold in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts" (Jer 31:33).

6. In virtue of the divine initiative taken in the covenant, a people becomes the People of God, and as such they are holy, that is, sacred to the Lord God: "For you are a people sacred to the Lord, your God" (Dt 7:6; cf. Dt 26:19). The meaning of this consecration also clarifies the words of Exodus: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19:6). Even though during the course of their history this people would commit many sins, they did not cease being the People of God. For this reason, Moses appealed to the Lord's fidelity to the covenant which he himself had established, and addressed a moving petition to him: "Destroy not your people, your heritage," as we read in Deuteronomy (9:26).

7. For his part, God did not cease addressing his word to the Chosen People. He speaks to them many times through the prophets. The principal commandment continues to be to love God above all things: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:5). This commandment is joined to the commandment of love for one's neighbor: "I am the Lord. You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.... Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:13, 18).

8. Another element appears in the biblical texts: the God who made a covenant with Israel wants to be present among his people, present in a particular way. During the pilgrimage in the desert this presence was shown by the meeting tent. Later it was expressed by the temple which King Solomon built in Jerusalem.

In regard to the meeting tent, we read in Exodus: "Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face as one man speaks to another" (Ex 33:8-11). The gift of this presence was a special sign of divine election, which is revealed in symbolic ways and almost as the omen of a future reality: God's covenant with his new people in the Church."

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

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt den Ordensschwestern aus verschiedenen Kongregationen, die an einem geistlichen Kurs in La Storta teilnehmen sowie den Schwestern vom Heiligen Kreuz. Außerdem begrüße ich die Pilgergruppen der Katholischen Militärgemeinde aus Regensburg sowie der Pfarrei Sankt Alfons aus Würzburg; schließlich die Mitglieder des Ortsverbandes der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands aus Laudenbach.

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs, je salue cordialement les visiteurs francophones présents à cette audience. De tout cœur, je les bénis au nom du Seigneur.

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I am pleased to greet the visitors from Nigeria and Korea as well as the English pilgrims from Bradford celebrating the centenary of St Cuthbert’s Parish. To the priests from Los Angeles I give the assurance of my prayers that your renewal course will strengthen you in your priestly life and ministry. Upon all the Englishspeaking visitors I invoke the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Dirijo ahora mi cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos de lengua española procedentes de América Latina y de España. De entre los diversos grupos que participan en nuestro encuentro, doy mi bienvenida al grupo de jubilados del Club Edad de Oro, de Navarra (España), así como a la Capilla de música de la Catedral de Pamplona y a las autoridades civiles de aquella región presentes hoy aquí. Que la tradición católica de vuestras gentes os impulse a un renovado compromiso misionero para que seáis testigos del Evangelio a ejemplo de San Francisco Javier.

Igualmente me complace saludar a la peregrinación procedente de Panamá, así como a los grupos familiares y a todas las personas de los distintos países latinoamericanos.

A todos los visitantes de lengua española les exhorto a vivir cada día con renovado ardor la alianza que Dios ha hecho con nosotros y les imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amados Irmãos e Irmãs,

Caros peregrinos, que aqui renovais a vossa profissão de fé eclesial, reconhecei e adorai o Deus Uno e Trino que vos elegeu para seu Povo Santo. Para todos vós, nomeadamente para os brasileiros do Estado do Espírito Santo aqui presentes, vão os melhores votos de graça e paz divina, que alargo aos vossos queridos com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski, a w szczególności: pielgrzymkę ze Skałki w Krakowie; pielgrzymkę młodzieży i profesorów 38. Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z Warszawy-Wilanowa; Klub Inteligencji Katolickiej z Gorzowa Wielkopolskiego; oficerów Obrony Wybrzeża i pracowników cywilnych WOP-u, jak również sportowców z Klubu “Jantar” z Ustki; młodzież i profesorów II Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z Wałbrzycha; współpracowników misyjnych sióstr pallotynek; siostry misjonarki św. Antoniego Klaret - klaretanki; z parafii polonijnej ojców redemptorystów z Monachium (München); pielgrzymkę polonijną z Chicago; pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i z emigracji, nie objętych tymi grupami, a także kolejarzy z Krakowa i z Ostrowa Wielkopolskiego oraz grupę turystyczną “Sovpolda” z Warszawy.

Ai fedeli italiani

Saluto cordialmente i vari gruppi di lingua italiana presenti a questa Udienza.

In modo particolare saluto i pellegrini della cittadina di Muggia, in provincia di Trieste, venuti per ricordare il 50° di ordinazione sacerdotale del loro parroco, Monsignor Giorgio Apollonio.

Sono, inoltre, lieto di accogliere il Gruppo della “Fondazione del Premio Galilei dei Rotary Italiani”, che ricorda il 30° anniversario della sua istituzione.

Con tale opportuna iniziativa voi intendete onorare gli studiosi stranieri che hanno dedicato la loro esistenza alla civiltà italiana e che hanno scelto l’Italia come seconda patria. Voi promuovete con la vostra attività quei valori sociali e culturali che formano un patrimonio irrinunciabile, perché si fondano sul rispetto per la dignità dell’uomo, sul dialogo, sulla collaborazione.

Auspico di cuore che voi possiate proseguire su questo cammino, arricchendo di sempre nuovi risultati il vostro lavoro stimolante e impegnativo.

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai dirigenti dell’Agenzia Spaziale Europea e della RAI, i quali, grazie anche alla riattivazione del satellite “Olimpus”, hanno ripreso, oggi, la diffusione televisiva in diretta su gran parte dell’Europa delle Udienze Generali, per la programmazione sperimentale di RAI-SAT.

Carissimi, vi ringrazio di cuore per il vostro prezioso lavoro che mi dà l’opportunità di raggiungere tante persone.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Nell’imminenza della solennità di tutti i Santi, saluto cordialmente tutti voi, giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli presenti.

Vi invito ad elevare lo sguardo alla città del cielo, la santa Gerusalemme che è nostra madre, dove l’assemblea festosa dei nostri fratelli glorifica in eterno il Signore.

Tale ricorrenza renda a voi, giovani, spedito il cammino e rafforzi il vostro impegno nella carità.

A voi, ammalati, sia di conforto e di sostegno la Parola di Cristo che proclama beati i poveri in spirito, gli afflitti, i misericordiosi, i puri di cuore.

Voi, sposi novelli, recate ai fratelli la testimonianza dell’amore cristiano e vivete con grande impegno il messaggio delle beatitudini evangeliche.

A tutti imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

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