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Religious offer their own wills to God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 7 December 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. When Jesus called disciples to follow him, he taught them the need for an obedience devoted to his person. This was not only a question of the common observance of the divine law and the dictates of a true and upright human conscience, but of a much greater commitment. Following Christ meant being willing to do all that he personally commanded and putting oneself under his direction in serving the Gospel for the coming of God's kingdom (cf. Lk 9:60, 62).

Therefore, in addition to the commitment to celibacy and poverty, with his "Follow me" Jesus also asked for one of obedience. This extended to the disciples his own obedience to the Father in the condition of the incarnate Word who became the "servant of Yahweh" (cf. Is 42:1; 52:13-53; Phil 2:7). Like poverty and chastity, obedience thus marked the fulfillment of Jesus' mission and indeed was its basic principle, expressed in the very intense feeling that led him to say: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work" (Jn 4:34; cf. RD 13).We know from the Gospel that in virtue of this attitude, Jesus went so far as the sacrifice of the cross with total self-dedication, when--as St. Paul wrote--he who was divine in nature "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). The Letter to the Hebrews stresses that Jesus Christ, "although he was Son, learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb 5:8).

Jesus himself revealed that his heart's desire was to sacrifice himself totally, as it were through a mysterious pondus crucis, a sort of law of gravity of immolated life. This would find its greatest expression in the prayer of Gethsemane: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mk 14:36).

2. Religious are heirs of the disciples directly called by Jesus to follow him in his messianic mission. The Council says: "In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God's salvific will" (PC 14). Their response to God's saving will justifies the renunciation of their own freedom. As openness to God's saving plan against the limitless horizon in which the Father embraces all creation, evangelical obedience goes far beyond the disciple's personal destiny. It is a sharing in the work of universal redemption.

St. Paul underscored this salvific value in regard to Christ's obedience. If sin came into the world through an act of disobedience, universal salvation was obtained by the Redeemer's obedience: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom 5:19). In the patristic literature of the early centuries the parallel St. Paul made between Adam and Christ was taken up and developed, as was the reference to Mary in relation to Eve, from the aspect of obedience. St. Irenaeus wrote: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by Mary's obedience.... As the former was seduced into disobeying God, so the latter was convinced to obey God" [1] . For this reason Mary became the cooperator of salvation: causa salutis. By their obedience religious are also deeply involved in the work of salvation.

3. St. Thomas sees in religious obedience the most perfect form of imitating Christ, who, as St. Paul says "...became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). Obedience thus holds the chief place in the holocaust of religious profession [2].

Following this strong, beautiful Christian tradition, the Council states: "After the example of Jesus Christ...religious, under the motion of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves in faith to their superiors who hold the place of God. Under their guidance they are led to serve all their brothers in Christ, just as Christ himself in obedience to the Father served his brethren and laid down his life as a ransom for many" (PC 14). Jesus lived obedience to the Father without excluding human intermediaries. As a child Jesus obeyed Joseph and Mary: St. Luke says that he "was obedient to them" (Lk 2:51).

Thus Jesus is the model for those who obey human authority by perceiving in this authority a sign of God's will. By the evangelical counsel of obedience religious are called to obey their superiors as God's representatives. For this reason, in explaining a text (ch. 68 of St. Benedict's Rule), St. Thomas asserts that religious must abide by the judgment of the superior [3] .

4. It is easy to understand that the difficulty of obedience often lies in perceiving this divine representation in a human creature. But if the mystery of the cross appears here, it should be kept in view. It should always be remembered that religious obedience is not simply a human submission to a human authority. Whoever obeys, submits himself to God, to the divine will expressed in the will of the superiors. It is a matter of faith. Religious must believe in God who communicates his will to them through their superiors. Even when the superiors' faults are apparent, their will, if not contrary to the law of God or to the rule, expresses the divine will. Even when from the standpoint of human judgment the decision does not seem wise, a faith judgment accepts the mystery of God's will: mysterium crucis.

Moreover, human mediation, though imperfect, bears a stamp of authenticity: that of the Church, which by her authority approves religious institutes and their laws as sure ways of Christian perfection. In addition to this reason of an ecclesial nature there is another stemming from the purpose of religious institutes: "They are contributing to building up the body of Christ according to God's plan" (PC 14). For the religious who regards and practices obedience in this way, it becomes the secret of true happiness given by the Christian certitude of having followed God's will instead of his own, with an intense love for Christ and the Church.

In addition, the Council urges superiors first to be docile to God's will, to be aware of their responsibility, to foster a spirit of service, to show charity to their brethren, to respect their subjects as human persons, to create an atmosphere of cooperation, and to listen to their brethren willingly, while retaining their authority to make decisions (cf. PC 14).

5. Love for the Church was at the origin of the rules and constitutions of religious families, which sometimes expressly declared their pledge of submission to Church authority. This explains the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In order to better serve Christ and the Church, he gave the Society of Jesus the famous "fourth vow" of "special obedience to the Pope concerning the missions." This vow states explicitly a norm that was and is implicit in any religious profession. Other institutes have also made this norm explicit in one way or another. Today the Code of Canon Law emphasizes it, in accord with the best tradition of gospel teaching and spirituality: "Institutes of consecrated life, inasmuch as they are dedicated in a special way to the service of God and of the entire Church, are subject to the supreme authority of this same Church in a special manner" [4] . "Individual members [of institutes] are also bound to obey the Supreme Pontiff as their highest superior by reason of the sacred bond of obedience" [5] . These are norms of life, which, when embraced and followed in faith, lead religious far beyond a juridical idea of structural organization in the Christian community. They feel the need to be as involved as possible in the Church's spiritual propensities and apostolic endeavors, in the various moments of her life, by their actions or at least by their prayer, and always with their filial affection.

[1]   Adv. Haer., III, 22, 4
[2]   cf. Summa Theol., II-II, q. 186, aa. 5, 7, 8
[3]   cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 13, a. 5, ad 3
[4]   can. 590, §1
[5]   can. 590, §2"

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française. Je vous souhaite une bonne préparation à la venue du Sauveur, au cours de l’Avent. Que le Seigneur vous bénisse et qu’il vous accompagne sur votre route! Que la Vierge Marie vous guide chaque jour vers son Fils!

Sur chacun de vous, mes chers amis, j’invoque la Bénédiction de Dieu, Père, Fils et Esprit Saint.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the group from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar to the Italian Republic. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Sri Lanka and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai visitatori giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, benvenuti! Avvicinandosi al Terzo Millennio la povera umanità ha bisogno di pace. Quindi noi, tutti, con un’anima sola operiamo per la pace del mondo. Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem Wunsch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, in dieser Adventszeit in Gebet und mit Werken der Nächstenliebe unserem Erlöser Jesus Christus entgegenzugehen, begrüße ich Euch alle sehr herzlich. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden zu Hause sowie allen, die uns in diesem Augenblick verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli spagnoli

Saludo ahora con afecto a los participantes de lengua española.

De modo especial a los peregrinos de Córdoba (España), así como a la Plana mayor y cadetes de la Escuela de Aviación Militar Argentina. A todos deseo que la peregrinación a Roma, en este tiempo de Adviento, os ayude a proseguir vuestro camino de fe en Dios y de amor a la Iglesia. A todas las familias y grupos venidos desde España y América Latina imparto, de corazón, mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini portoghesi

Queridos irmãos e irmãs,

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nas vésperas da Festa da Imaculada Conceição, queremos pedir a graça de buscar em tudo, e acima de tudo, a vontade de Deus. Enquanto Eva se deixara seduzir desobedecendo a Deus, a Virgem Maria deixou - Se persuadir pelo Anjo a obedecer: “ Faça-Se em Mim segundo a tua palavra ”. Tornou-se assim causa da nossa salvação, dando-nos o Salvador . . . e foi Natal! Como Maria, preparemos o coração, a família, os amigos para acolher e oferecer Jesus no Natal. São os meus votos e também a minha Bênção!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności z Limanowej i z Włocławka, członków grupy turystycznej “Sigma-Travel” z Warszawy i wszystkich innych uczestników tej audiencji zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Ai pellegrini croati

Saluto cordialmente il gruppo di pellegrini di Split. Allo stesso modo saluto pure i membri del Coro misto “Trebevic” dell’Associazione Culturale Croata “Napredak” di Sarajevo. Carissimi, non cessate di infondere il messaggio della speranza con il vostro canto presso i vostri concittadini, come lo avete fatto finora durante questi lunghi giorni di guerra a Sarajevo, impegnandovi per la giusta pace. La vostra presenza qui è un invito a un’urgente solidarietà tra gli uomini di buona volontà per porre fine ad una guerra così disumana e per risparmiare ulteriori sofferenze a tutte le care popolazioni delle zone coinvolte dalla guerra in Bosnia Erzegovina e in Croazia.

Imparto la mia benedizione apostolica a voi qui presenti, alle vostre famiglie e all’intera Bosnia Erzegovina.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Ai fedeli italiani

Porgo un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al gruppo della Parrocchia romana delle Sante Perpetua e Felicita, che, in occasione del 25o di fondazione, ospita alcuni membri della “Fraternité Sainte Perpétue et Félicite” di Vierzon, in Francia. Questo “gemellaggio” spirituale porti frutti di fede e di carità!

Saluto le Suore ed il personale della Clinica Psichiatrica di Colle Cesarano, in diocesi di Tivoli, come pure i dipendenti dell’Ospedale “ Annunziata” di Cento, in diocesi di Bologna, e il pellegrinaggio organizzato dall’AIAS di Pistoia, in modo speciale i portatori di handicap: il Signore doni a ciascuno pace e conforto.

Un saluto va poi ai giovani del Rotaract Club, che incoraggio a svolgere con spirito di autentica dedizione le loro iniziative di solidarietà e di promozione culturale.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

A tutti i giovani presenti, ai malati e agli sposi novelli, rivolgo infine un pensiero ispirato alla Solennità dell’Immacolata, che si celebra domani.

A voi, giovani, dico: con lo sguardo rivolto alla Vergine Madre, siate sempre audaci nel promuovere gli autentici valori dello spirito. Indicando a voi, cari ammalati, come conforto la tenerezza materna di Maria, vi esorto ad offrire la vostra preziosa sofferenza con generosità per la salvezza del mondo. A voi, sposi novelli, auguro di fondare una famiglia che sia comunità di fede e di amore nella consapevolezza di essere progetto di Dio.

A tutti la mia apostolica benedizione.

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