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Religious serve the growth of God's reign

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 11 January 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Second Vatican Council sheds light on the ecclesiological dimension of the evangelical counsels (cf. LG 44). In the Gospel, Jesus himself let it be understood that establishing the kingdom is the objective of his call to the consecrated life. Voluntary celibacy must be practiced for the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19:12), and total renouncement in order to follow the Master is justified by the "kingdom of God" (Lk 18:29).

Jesus established a very close connection between the mission he entrusted to the apostles and his request that they leave everything to follow him--their secular activities and their possessions (ta ídia), as we read in Luke 18:28. Peter realized this, which is why he declared to Jesus, also on behalf of the other apostles: "We have given up everything and followed you" (Mk 10:28; cf. Mt 19:27).

All that Jesus demanded of his apostles, he also asks of those who, in the various ages of the Church's history, are willing to follow him in the apostolate on the path of the evangelical counsels--the total gift of self and of every effort to promote the kingdom of God on earth, a development for which the Church has the main responsibility. It should be said that, according to Christian tradition, personal sanctification is never exclusively the aim of a vocation. On the contrary, an exclusively personal sanctification would not be authentic because Christ has closely linked holiness and charity. Therefore, those who strive for personal holiness must do so in the context of a commitment of service to the Church's life and holiness. Even purely contemplative life involves this ecclesiological orientation, as we have seen in a previous catechesis.

According to the Council, the task and duty of religious who work "to implant and strengthen the kingdom of Christ in souls and to extend that kingdom to every clime" (LG 44) stems from this fact. In the wide variety of services which the Church needs there is room for everyone. Every consecrated person can and should concentrate his or her whole strength to establish and spread Christ's kingdom on earth, according to the gifts and charisms with which each is endowed, in constructive harmony with the mission of each one's religious family.

2. Missionary activity seeks to spread Christ's kingdom (cf. LG 44). Indeed, history confirms that religious have played an important part in the Church's missionary expansion. Called and vowed to total consecration, religious show their generous dedication by bringing the proclamation of the Good News of their Lord and Master everywhere, even in regions furthest from their own countries, as happened with the apostles. Side by side with the institutes in which some members are devoted to missionary activity ad gentes, there are others founded expressly for the evangelization of peoples who have not or had not yet received the Gospel.

The Church's missionary nature thus becomes concrete in a "special vocation" (cf. RM 65), which makes her work extend beyond all geographical, ethnic and cultural boundaries, "in universo mundo" (Mk 16:5).

3. The Second Vatican Council's Decree Perfectae Caritatis recalls: "There are in the Church very many institutes, both clerical and lay, which devote themselves to various apostolic tasks. The gifts which these communities possess differ according to the grace which is allotted to them" (PC 8). The Holy Spirit distributes charisms in relation to the growing needs of the Church and the world. It is impossible not to recognize in this fact one of the clearest signs of divine generosity, which inspires and stimulates human generosity. We must indeed rejoice when this sign is as frequent as it is in our time, precisely because it demonstrates that the sense of service to the kingdom of God and to the Church's development is spreading and intensifying. According to the Council's teaching, the activity of religious, at both the more directly apostolic and the charitable level, is not an obstacle to their sanctification, but helps promote it. This is because it increases their love of God and neighbor, and enables those who carry out the apostolate to share in the grace granted to those who receive the benefits of this activity.

4. But the Council adds that all apostolic activity should be motivated by union with Christ, to which religious cannot fail to aspire by virtue of their profession itself. "The whole religious life of their members should be inspired by an apostolic spirit and all their apostolic activity formed by the spirit of religion" (PC 8). Religious must be the first in the Church to show that they know how to resist the temptation to sacrifice prayer to activity. It is incumbent on them to show how action draws its apostolic fruitfulness from an interior life rich in faith and the experience of divine things: "ex plenitudine contemplationis," as St. Thomas Aquinas says [1] .

The problem of how to combine apostolic activity with prayer has arisen at various times down the centuries as it does today, especially in monastic institutes. The Council pays tribute to "the monastic life, that venerable institution which in the course of a long history has won for itself notable renown in the Church and in human society" (PC 9). It recognizes the possibility of stressing different aspects of the "principal duty of monks," which is "to offer a service to the divine majesty at once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery, whether they dedicate themselves entirely to divine worship in the contemplative life, or have legitimately undertaken some apostolate or work of Christian charity" (PC 9).

More generally, the Council recommends that all institutes suitably adapt their observances and customs to the needs of their particular apostolate. They should nevertheless take into account the many forms of the active religious life and thus their diversity, and also the need that "the lives of religious dedicated to the service of Christ in these various communities be sustained by special provisions appropriate to each" (PC 8). Moreover, in this work of adaptation it should never be forgotten that it is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit, docility to whom is thus necessary for seeking the means of a more effective and fruitful activity.

5. By this many-faceted contribution which religious, in accordance with the variety of their vocations and charisms, give through prayer and activity to spreading and strengthening Christ's kingdom, the Council states: "The Church preserves and fosters the special character of her various religious institutes" (LG 44). "The Church not only raises the religious profession to the dignity of a canonical state by her approval, but even manifests that this profession is a state consecrated to God by the liturgical setting of that profession. The Church...accompanies their self-offering by the Eucharistic sacrifice" (LG 45).

In particular, according to the Council, the Roman Pontiff looks to the welfare of religious institutes and their individual members "in order to more fully provide for the necessities of the entire flock of the Lord" (LG 45). The scope of this objective includes the exemption by which some institutes are directly subject to papal authority. This exemption does not dispense religious from showing "reverence and obedience to bishops" (LG 45). Its only purpose is to ensure the opportunity for an apostolic activity which is better oriented to the good of the whole Church. In the service of the Church, consecrated life is more especially available for the concerns and programs of the Pope, the visible head of the universal Church. Here the ecclesial dimension of consecrated life reaches a summit which belongs not only to the canonical order but also the spiritual. This is a concrete expression of the profession of obedience which religious make to the authority of the Church, in the vicarious role assigned to her by Christ.

[1]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 288, a. 6; III, q. 40, a.1, ad 2"

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Chers pèlerins de langue française, je suis heureux de vous accueillir. Je vous demande de prier pour le voyage que j’entreprends aujourd’hui, tout spécialement pour la rencontre des jeunes à Manille et je vous accorde de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the faculty and students from Saint Olaf College in Minnesota. Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, Gott möge Euch auf Euren Wegen begleiten und beschützen, grüe ich Euch alle, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, sehr herzlich. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns in diesem Augenblick verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo con afecto a todas las personas de lengua española. En particular al Cardinal de Santiago de Chile como también a los grupos venidos de España y de Argentina.

Al exhortaros a todos a que en este nuevo año colaboréis activamente en la extensión del Reino de Dios, os imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que me escutam, com votos de cordiais felicidades! Peço a todos que rezem pela próxima viagem pastoral que o Papa vai realizar, e especialmente pelos frutos apostólicos do Seu encontro com a juventude em Manila.

Que Deus vos abençoe!

Ai pellegrini di lingua polacca

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski, a szczególnie Zespół Folklorystyczny “Pilsko” z Żywca.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e alle coppie di sposi novelli

Salutando i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli desidero riferirmi a quanto ho detto all’Angelus, domenica scorsa.

Carissimi giovani, vi do appuntamento a Manila, perché vi uniate spiritualmente a quanti là s’incontreranno per riflettere sulle parole di Cristo: “Come il Padre ha mandato me, così, anch’io mando voi”.

Voi, cari malati, ricordate nelle vostre preghiere e sacrifici i giovani che condivideranno con me un così importante evento per la Chiesa e per il mondo.

E voi, sposi novelli, possiate trovare sempre nelle vostre famiglie spazio per l’impegno formativo ed educativo nei confronti dei vostri figli, affinché essi sentano ed accolgano la chiamata di Cristo a seguirlo.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Giovanni Paolo II ha quindi parlato dell’imminente viaggio apostolico:

Con l’aiuto di Dio, nel tardo pomeriggio di oggi partirò per un pellegrinaggio apostolico, che mi condurrà anzitutto a Manila, nelle Filippine, per celebrarvi con i giovani di ogni parte del mondo la decima Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù. Mi recherò poi in Papua Nuova Guinea, in Australia e nello Sri Lanka, per proclamare tre nuovi Beati.

Nel corso del viaggio avrò modo di incontrare rappresentanti di varie religioni, tra i quali anche qualificati esponenti del Buddismo. Colgo volentieri l’occasione per assicurare gli aderenti alla religione buddista del mio profondo rispetto e della mia sincera stima.

Confido che la visita nello Sri Lanka e negli altri Paesi possa rafforzare il dialogo e la comprensione tra le religioni, favorendo una sempre più intensa collaborazione per la pace e la solidarietà tra i popoli. Per questo prego il Signore, invocandone la benedizione su quanti mi sarà dato di incontrare nei prossimi giorni.

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