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God's plan for the Church is eternal

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 31 July 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church is a historical fact, whose origin can be and has been documented, as we will see later. But as we begin this cycle of theological catecheses on the Church, we want to start from the highest and most authentic source of Christian truth, that is, from revelation, as the Second Vatican Council did. In the Constitution Lumen Gentium, the Council considered the Church in her eternal foundation, which is the saving plan conceived by the Father within the Trinity. The Council says precisely: "The eternal Father, by a free and hidden plan of his own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world. His plan was to raise men to a participation of the divine life. Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave men to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ, the Redeemer" (LG 2).

In the eternal design of God the Church constitutes, in Christ and with Christ, an essential part of the universal economy of salvation in which the love of God is expressed.

2. That eternal plan contains the destiny of human beings, who have been created in the image and likeness of God, called to the dignity of children of God and adopted as children of the heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. As we read in Ephesians, God chose us and "destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in his beloved Son" (Eph 1:4-6). We read in Romans, "For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29).

To have a good understanding of the Church's beginning as an object of our faith (the "mystery of the Church"), it is necessary to return to St. Paul's program of "bringing to light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens. This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3:9-11). As is clear from this text, the Church is part of the Christocentric plan designed by God the Father from all eternity.

3. The same Pauline texts regard the destiny of the human person, chosen and called to be an adopted child of God, not only in the individual dimension of the human race, but in its community dimension as well. God conceives, creates and calls to himself a community of persons. This divine plan is expressed more explicitly in an important passage from Ephesians: "He has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him [Christ] as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth" (Eph 1:9-10). Therefore, in God's eternal design, the Church, as the unity of humanity in Christ the head, becomes part of a plan which includes all creation. One could say it is a "cosmic" plan, that of uniting everything in Christ the head. The firstborn of all creation becomes the principle of "recapitulation" for this creation, so that God can be "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). Therefore, Christ is the keystone of the universe. As the living body of those who belong to him by their response to the vocation of being children of God, the Church is associated with him, as participant and minister, at the center of the plan of universal redemption.

4. Vatican II explains the "mystery of the Church" against the background of this Pauline conception, in which the biblical vision of the world is reflected and made precise. The Council says: "He [the Father] planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ. Already from the beginning of the world the foreshadowing of the Church took place. It was prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the old covenant. In the present era of time the Church was constituted and, by the outpouring of the Spirit, was made manifest. At the end of time it will gloriously achieve completion, when, as is read in the Fathers, all the just, from Adam and 'from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,' will be gathered together with the Father in the universal Church" (LG 2). There is no better way of summarizing in a few lines the history of salvation which unfolds in Sacred Scripture than by focusing on its ecclesiological meaning, which was already formulated and interpreted by the Fathers in accord with the indications given by the apostles and Jesus himself.

5. When seen in the perspective of the Father's eternal plan, the Church appears from the beginning, in the thought of the apostles and the first Christian generations, as the fruit of the infinite, divine love which unites the Father to the Son within the Trinity. It is actually in virtue of this love that the Father has willed to unite humanity in his Son. The mysterium ecclesiae thus finds its origin in the mysterium Trinitatis. Here we must use the same exclamation we make at Mass when the renewal of the Eucharistic sacrifice is accomplished, where the Church in turn is gathered: mysterium fidei!

6. The principle of the Church's missionary dynamism is also found in this eternal source. The Church's mission is, as it were, the continuation, or historical expansion, of the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so one can call it a vital participation, in the form of ministerial association, in the Trinity's activity in human history.

In the Constitution Lumen Gentium (cf. nn. 1-4), Vatican II speaks at great length about the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Decree Ad Gentes it speaks precisely about the communal character of human participation in the divine life, when it says that God's plan "flows from the 'fount-like love' or charity of God the Father, who, being the 'principle without principle' from whom the Son is begotten and the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son, freely creating us on account of his surpassing and merciful kindness and graciously calling us moreover to share with him his life and his glory, has generously poured out, and does not cease to pour out still, his divine goodness. Thus he who created all things may at last be 'all in all' (1 Cor 15:28), bringing about at one and the same time his own glory and our happiness. But it pleased God to call men to share his life, not just singly, apart from any mutual bond, but rather to mold them into a people in which his sons, once scattered abroad, might be gathered together (cf. Jn 11:52)" (AG 2).

7. The foundation of the community willed by God in his eternal plan is the work of redemption, which frees human beings from the division and dispersion produced by sin. The Bible teaches us that sin is the source of hostility and violence, as appears in the fratricide Cain committed (cf. Gen 4:8), and as that fragmentation of nations which in its negative aspects finds its paradigmatic expression in the account of the tower of Babel.

God willed to free humanity from this state through Christ. This saving will of his seems to echo in Caiaphas' speech to the Sanhedrin, in regard to which John the evangelist writes: "Since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn 11:51-52). Caiaphas said these words in order to convince the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus to death, on the pretext that he was causing political danger for the nation in regard to the Romans who were then occupying Palestine. But John knew well that Jesus had come to take away sin from the world and save men (cf. Jn 1:29). So he did not hesitate to give those words of Caiaphas a prophetic meaning, as a revelation of the divine plan. It was written in that plan that Christ, through the redemptive sacrifice accomplished by his death on the cross, would become the source of a new unity for mankind, called in Christ, to regain their dignity as adopted children of God.

In that sacrifice on the cross the Church was born as a community of salvation."

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience, en particulier les membres du pèlerinage de I’ Ile Maurice. Egalement, je suis heureux de saluer les divers groupes de jeunes: les étudiants belges, fils de cheminots; le groupe de Saint Auban sur Durance; le groupe “Europ’ Trotter” de Dunkerque.

Chers jeunes, à l’invitation du Christ, soyez le sel de la terre et la lumière du monde. Votre vocation est de donner un goût au monde par votre foi.

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I wish to welcome all the Englishspeaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. My cordial greeting goes to the Carmelite Sisters of Charity from Japan and India. I also greet the pilgrim groups from Indonesia and Taiwan. Upon you and your families I invoke an abundance of grace and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai gruppi di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt der Brass Band Ermensee, die die diesjährige Bundesfeier der Schweizer Garde im Rahmen der 700-Jahrfeier der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft mitgestaltet. Ebenso herzlich begrüße ich die Gruppe von Mitgliedern des Zentralvorstandes der Vereinigung ehemaliger Schweizer Gardisten. Ferner begrüße ich die Pilgergruppe der Regens WagnerStiftung in Hohenwart.

Euch allen sowie Euren lieben Angehörigen und den mit uns über Rundfunk und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich gerne meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli della Spagna e di diversi Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora saludar muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, a las Religiosas de la Sagrada Familia de Urgel y del Sagrado Corazón, a quienes aliento a una entrega generosa a Cristo y a la Iglesia. Igualmente saludo a las peregrinaciones procedentes de México, de Argentina y de los demás países de América Latina y de España, e imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di espressione portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Amados peregrinos, vindos de Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre e São Paulo, bem como um Grupo do Movimento de Schoenstatt do Brasil, e ainda algumas Equipas portuguesas dos Cursos de Preparação para o Matrimónio da diocese do Porto . . . para todos vai a minha afectuosa saudação e uma propiciadora Bênção Apostólica, extensiva às vossas familias e comunidades cristãs.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi

Carissimi pellegrini appartenenti al Movimento “Buon Pastore”, mentre ascoltate la voce di Gesù, Buon Pastore, pregate per tutte quelle persone che ancora non conoscono Lui e il suo Vangelo.

Affidandovi alla guida di Maria Santissima, Madre di Gesù e di tutti noi, vi imparto di cuore la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana e ai bambini di Chernobyl

Nel salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana rivolgo anzitutto il mio pensiero ai bambini di Chernobyl e ai loro accompagnatori, ospiti della diocesi di Massa Marittima-Piombino, qui presenti con il Vescovo Monsignor Angelo Comastri. A tutti i cari ragazzi e alle loro famiglie esprimo l’augurio di una felice vacanza in Italia, con la protezione del Signore e della Vergine Santissima.

Saluto poi i gruppi delle Suore Orsoline di Parma e delle Suore di Santa Maria di Leuca, invocando da Dio il conforto nelle opere educative e assistenziali, mentre esorto ad essere sempre testimoni forti della carità spirituale e morale verso gli umili ed i piccoli.

Rivolgo, inoltre, il mio pensiero al numeroso complesso di partecipanti al Festival internazionale del Folklore di Valle di Comino ad Atina. Saluto i gruppi folkloristici provenienti da diverse nazioni e dalle regioni italiane, e formulo voti che tale occasione accresca la reciproca conoscenza, lo spirito di solidarietà.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero rivolgere un particolare saluto ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli presenti.

In questo giorno la Chiesa nella liturgia fa memoria di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. Le numerose celebrazioni svolte quest’anno per il quinto centenario della sua nascita, hanno fatto ancor più risaltare la straordinaria statura spirituale del Santo fondatore della Compagnia di Gesù.

Al termine della vita egli riassumeva la sua vicenda terrena definendosi un “pellegrino”. Realmente fu un pellegrino e non soltanto perché percorse molte strade per predicare il Vangelo, ma soprattutto perché sperimentò un lungo cammino interiore passando dalla ricerca degli onori e delle “vanità del mondo” alla ferma volontà di servire unicamente “il Signore universale Gesù Cristo”.

La sua esistenza fu un progressivo avvicinarsi sempre più intimamente a Cristo, che egli amò profondamente. Anche per voi avvenga lo stesso. Ogni momento sia un passo avanti verso di Lui, senza mai smarrire il sentiero.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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