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The Church is revealed in parables

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 18 September 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Gospel texts document Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God in relation to the Church. They also document how the apostles preached this teaching and how it was understood and believed in the early Church. The mystery of the Church as the kingdom of God is revealed in these texts. Vatican II says: "The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the kingdom of God.... In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men" (LG 5). In addition to everything we said in this regard during the preceding catecheses, today we will reflect further on the teaching that Jesus gave about the kingdom of God in his parables, especially in those which are especially concerned about explaining its significance and essential value.

2. Jesus said: "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son" (Mt 22:2). The parable of the wedding feast presents the kingdom of God as a royal--and therefore sovereign--undertaking by God himself. It also includes the theme of love, and precisely of spousal love: the son for whom the father is preparing the wedding feast is the bridegroom.

The circumstances indicate his presence and allow us to understand who he is. This will appear clearly in other New Testament texts which identify the Church as the bride (cf. Jn 3:29; Rev 21:9; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:23-27, 29).

3. In this parable instead, there is a clear indication of who the bridegroom is. It is Christ, who establishes the Father's new covenant with humanity. This is a covenant of love, and the kingdom of God itself appears as a communion (community of love), which the Son establishes through the Father's will. The feast is the expression of this communion. In the context of the economy of salvation described by the Gospel, it is not difficult to see in this wedding feast a reference to the Eucharist: the sacrament of the new and eternal covenant, the sacrament of the marriage of Christ and humanity in the Church.

4. Although the Church is not mentioned as the bride in this parable, other elements in the context recall what the Gospel tells us about the Church as the kingdom of God. Thus, the divine invitation is universal: "The king said to his servants, 'Invite to the feast whomever you find'" (Mt 22:9).

Among those invited to the Son's wedding feast some of those who were chosen first are missing. Those were to have been guests according to the tradition of the old covenant. They refused to go to the feast of the new covenant, giving various excuses. Then Jesus had the king, the master of the house, say: "Many are invited, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14). Many others are invited in their place and they fill the banquet hall. This detail makes us think of another parable of warning which Jesus taught: "I say to you, many will come from east and west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom will be drive out into the outer darkness" (Mt 8:11-12). Here one clearly sees how the invitation becomes universal. God intends to make a new covenant in his Son not only with the Chosen People, but with all humanity as well.

5. The next part of the parable indicates that definitive participation in the wedding feast is tied to certain essential conditions. Entering the Church is not enough to guarantee eternal salvation: "My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?" (Mt 22:12), the king asks one of the guests. At this point the parable seems to pass from the people of Israel's historical refusal of their election to the personal conduct of anyone who is invited and to the judgment which will be made in his regard. The parable does not give a precise meaning to this "garment." But it can be said that the explanation is found in all of Christ's teaching. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel speaks of the commandment of love which is the principle of divine life and perfection, modeled on the Father: "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). It is a matter of that new commandment which, as Jesus taught, consists in this: "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34). Therefore, it seems possible to conclude that the wedding garment, as a condition for participating in the feast, is precisely this love.

This fact is confirmed by another great parable which concerns the final judgment and so has an eschatological character. Only those who practice the commandment of love through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy toward their neighbor can take part in the feast of the kingdom of God: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34).

6. Another parable helps us understand that it is never too late to enter the Church. God's invitation can be addressed to a person even at the last moment of life. This is the well-known parable of the workers in the vineyard: "The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard" (Mt 20:1). He later went out several times at different hours of the day, until the last hour. Each of them was given a salary in which, beyond the limit of what was owed in strict justice, the landowner wished to show all his generous love.

In this regard, the moving episode comes to mind which was recounted by the evangelist Luke about the "good thief" who was crucified next to Jesus on Golgotha. The invitation was given to him as an act of mercy by God, as the thief said, almost breathing his last: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He heard from the mouth of the Redeemer and bridegroom, who had been condemned to death on a cross: "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:42-43).

7. Let us cite another one of Jesus' parables: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Mt 13:44). Analogously, there is the merchant in search of fine pearls: "When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it" (Mt 13:45). This parable instills a great truth in those who are invited: to be worthy of the invitation to the bridegroom's royal feast it is necessary to show that one understands the supreme value of what is being offered. Hence, there must be a willingness to sacrifice everything for the kingdom of heaven, which is worth more than everything. No earthly good is comparable to it in value. One can abandon everything, without loss, in order to take part in the feast of Christ the bridegroom.

Jesus indicated the essential condition of detachment and poverty, with all the other conditions, when he called blessed "the poor in spirit," "the meek," "those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness," for "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Mt 5:3, 10). He also indicated this when he presented a child as "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." He said: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:2-4).

8. Along with Vatican II, we can conclude that in the words and actions of Christ, especially in his teaching through parables, the "kingdom was clearly open to the view of men" (LG 5). In preaching the coming of that kingdom, Christ founded his Church and showed her inner, divine mystery (cf. LG 5)."

Il Papa ha aggiunto queste parole, un appello per il “cessate il fuoco” in Jugoslavia:

"Tra le ultime notizie che pervengono dalla Jugoslavia, ce n’è una che invita alla speranza: un Accordo di cessate il fuoco sarebbe stato raggiunto dalle parti interessate grazie al dedicato impegno di mediazione della comunità internazionale. Desidero fare appello al senso di responsabilità di chi ha dato la propria parola perché non vengano deluse le aspettative delle popolazioni in preda alla paura e alla sofferenza. Mentre ringraziamo il Signore per questi nuovi sviluppi, chiediamogli insieme di sostenere la buona volontà di tanti e di ispirare a tutti pensieri di pace."

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

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Willkommensgruß gilt den Missionsschwestern der Kongregation ”Dienerinnen des Heiligen Geistes“, die an einem Erneurungskurs in Spiritualität in Nemi teilnehmen, der Gruppe der Bildungsakademie des Österreichischen Cartellverbandes sowie den Mitarbeitern kirchlicher Gerichte aus Berlin und den östlichen Bundesländern, die zu einem kanonistischen Fortbilungskurs gekommen sind, und nicht zuletzt den zahlreichen Schülerinnen und Schülern, die an dieser Audienz teilnehmen.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir à cette audience les personnes de langue française. Je voudrais adresser un salut spécial aux Frères des Écoles chrétiennes qui célèbrent le tricentenaire du “Vœu héroïque” de leur fondateur, saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, par une session de ressourcement spirituel. Et je salue de même les Sœurs franciscaines Missionnaires de Marie. Aux uns et aux autres, je souhaite de trouver dans la vie religieuse la joie d’appartenir au Seigneur, et je les encourage pour les divers apostolats par lesquels ils contribuent à l’annonce du Royaume de Dieu.

A tous je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, I extend a cordial welcome to the new students at the Pontifical North American College. As you begin your studies for the priesthood in the Eternal City, may you grow in awareness and esteem of the mystery of holiness and grace which you will be called to serve in your future priestly ministry in the Church. My greeting also goes to the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the King from the United States and to the pilgrimage groups from England, Norway, India, Korea and the Philippines. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

A un gruppo proveniente dal Giappone

Saluto cordialmente i componenti del gruppo buddista “Risshokosei-kai” e del gruppo di studio della Bibbia. Considero assai utile la reciproca conoscenza e la collaborazione tra le religioni; inoltre, per i cristiani, è indispensabile l’approfondimento della parola di Dio. Tutto questo aiuta sicuramente anche nel ricercare e stabilire la pace nel mondo. Per questo auspico uno sforzo costante in questi campi.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo dirigir mi cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos de lengua española procedentes de España y de América Latina. De modo particular saludo al grupo de sacerdotes de la arquidiócesis de Morelia (México), que celebran sus Bodas de Plata Sacerdotales; así como al numeroso grupo de Legionarios de Cristo y al nuevo grupo de sacerdotes del Colegio Mexicano, que inician sus estudios en Roma. Pido al Señor que siempre seáis fieles e incansables trabajadores en su viña.

Igualmente me es grato dar la bienvenida a un grupo de parlamentarios, autoridades regionales y otros peregrinos de Chile, entre ellos los del movimiento de Schoenstatt, presentes en Roma, en este día de su Fiesta Nacional. En esta particular circunstancia elevo mi plegaria a Dios por el bienestar y la paz del querido pueblo chileno.

Entre los grupos españoles quiero saludar a los feligreses de la Insigne Colegiata de Gandía, de Valencia, que conmemoran el cincuenta aniversario de fundación de la Acción Católica, así como a los miembros del Coro “Francisco Salinas” de Salamanca. Que vuestro compromiso cristiano y la participación litúrgica por medio del canto os ayude al crecimiento del Reino de Dios en vuestra vida y en la sociedad.

A todos los peregrinos de lengua española os otorgo de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Estimados Irmãos e Irmãs,

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente os brasileiros vindos de Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Recife, Paraná, Minas Gerais, Maceió, Goiás, Espírito Santo, Brasília e Bahia, de todo o coração vos saúdo e abençoo, bem como aos vossos familiares. Que a passagem por Roma vos confirme na vossa adesão vital à Igreja, segundo o testemunho e os ensinamentos que nos deixaram os Apóstolos Pedro e Paulo.

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana e in particolare al Gruppo di Emigranti, provenienti dal Canada, in pellegrinaggio a Roma e a Lourdes; all’Associazione Anziani, Pensionati, Invalidi della “Organizzazione Cristiano-Sociale Ticinese” di Locarno; ai Dirigenti e Membri dell’Associazione “Verde Sport” di Roma, che ha predisposto il progetto “Mongolfiera Verde”.

Carissimi, vi ringrazio di cuore per la vostra partecipazione e vi auguro ogni bene nel Signore.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

E ora un particolare pensiero a tutti i giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli presenti a questa Udienza.

Abbiamo recentemente celebrato nella Liturgia la festa dell’Esaltazione della Santa Croce.

La Croce, segno della fede in Cristo e indice della testimonianza che dobbiamo al mistero della Redenzione, sia per tutti voi giovani un vessillo innalzato sul vostro cammino, un segno da “piantare” nella esistenza e nelle profondità dell’anima. Sia la Croce di Cristo conforto e immagine di un’incrollabile speranza per tutti voi che soffrite. Sia nelle nascenti famiglie un messaggio d’amore, poiché ogni amore coniugale deve esprimere l’eterno ed infinito amore divino, che si è rivelato pienamente nella Croce di Cristo.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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