|THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS|
|Pope John Paul II
|The overall theme for Pope John Paul II's pastoral visit to England and Wales
was the seven Sacraments. In Westminster Cathedral, London, he baptized four people; in
Southwark Cathedral, south London, he anointed the sick; he administered the Sacrament of
Confirmation in Coventry, ordained 12 men in Manchester, gave First Holy Communion to a
group of children in Cardiff, and spoke extensively about the Sacraments of Penance and
Matrimony in Liverpool and York, respectively. We give below the main points of the Holy
Father's homilies on all these occasions.]
In Baptism we are drawn into the community of faith. We become part of the pilgrim People of God, which, in all times and in all places, goes forward in hope towards the fulfillment of the "promise." It is our task to take our place responsibly and lovingly beside those who, from the beginning, "remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2,42).
Baptism creates a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it. But Baptism, of itself is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed towards the fullness of life in Christ (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 22). Baptism is the foundation of the unity that all Christians have in Christ: a unity we must seek to perfect. When we set out clearly the privilege and the duty of the Christian, we feel ashamed that we have not been capable of maintaining the full unity of faith and charity that Christ willed for his Church.
We the baptized have work to do together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The world is in need of Jesus Christ and his Gospelthe Good News that God loves us, that God the Son was born, was crucified and died to save us, that he rose again and that we rose with him, and that in Baptism he has sealed us with the spirit for the first time, gathered us into a community of love and of witness to his truth.
Another aspect of Baptism, perhaps the most universally familiar, is that we are given a namewe call it our Christian name. In the tradition of the Church it is a saint's name, a name of one of the heroes among Christ's followersan apostle, a martyr, a religious founder, like Saint Benedict, whose monks founded Westminster Abbey nearby, where your sovereigns are crowned. Taking such names reminds us again that we are being drawn into the Communion of Saints, and at the same time that great models of Christian living are set before us. London is particularly proud of two outstanding saints, great men also by the world's standards, contributors to your national heritage, John Fisher and Thomas More.
As the prophet Ezekiel reminds us, it is the Lord himself who is the true shepherd of this New People. He himself pastures his sheep. He shows them where to rest: "As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view ... so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and the darkness.... I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong" (Ez. 34,12 and 16).
Together we shall renew our baptismal promises. We shall reject sin, and the glamour of evil, and Satan, the father of sin and prince of darkness. We shall profess our faith in one God, in his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in life everlasting. And we shall be responsible for the words we say, and be bound by an alliance with our God.
Brothers and sisters! In order to be faithful to this alliance we must be a people of prayer and deep spirituality. Our society needs to recover a sense of God's loving presence, and a renewed sense of respect for his will.
Let us learn this from Mary our Mother. In England, "the Dowry of Mary," the faithful, for centuries, have made pilgrimage, to her shrine at Walsingham. Today Walsingham comes to Wembley, and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, present here, lifts our minds to meditate on our Mother. [Note: There was no time in his busy schedule for the Holy Father to visit the main Marian shrine in England, so the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was transported to Wembley.] She obeyed the will of God fearlessly and gave birth to the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faithful at the foot of the Cross, she then waited in prayer for the Holy Spirit to descend on the infant Church. It is Mary who will teach us how to be silent, how to listen for the voice of God in the midst of a busy and noisy world. It is Mary who will help us to find time for prayer. Through the Rosary, that great Gospel prayer, she will help us to know Christ. We need to live as she did, in the presence of God, raising our minds and hearts to him in our daily activities and worries.
May your homes become schools of prayer for both parents and children.
God should be the living heart of your family life. Keep Sunday holy. Go to Mass every Sunday. At Mass the people of God gather together in unity around the altar to worship and to intercede. At Mass you exercise the great privilege of your Baptism: to praise God in union with Christ his Son; to praise God in union with his Church.
Brothers and sisters, to be faithful to our alliance with God we must be, not only a people that prays, but also a people that does the will of the heavenly Father. Again it is Mary who teaches us how. Through her obedience she accepted the whole of God's plan for her life. And in doing so she achieved greatness. "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord" (Luke 1,45).
We express our real acceptance of Christ's word by respecting the moral demands of our Christian vocation. And the fulfillment of these demands is an act of loving obedience to the person of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God. If our faith is strong, the moral demands of the Christian lifealthough at times they are difficult to fulfill and although they always require an effort and gracewill seem neither unreasonable nor impossible. Certainly, our fidelity to the Gospel will put us at odds with the spirit of the "present age." Yes, we are in the world, indeed as disciples of Christ we are sent into the world, but we do not belong to the world (cf. Jn 17, 16-18). The conflict between certain values of the world and the values of the Gospel is an inescapable part of the Church's life, just as it is an inescapable part of the life of each one of us. And it is here that we must draw on the "patience" which Saint Paul spoke to us about in the second reading. We groan inwardly as we await our salvation, in hope and with patience (cf. Rom. 8,23-25).
I have often spoken of the decline of respect for the fundamental moral values that are essential to the Christian life. Indeed, moral values are essential to the life of all human beings as free agents created in the image and likeness of God, and destined to a higher creation.
The world has largely lost respect for human life from the moment of conception. It is weak in upholding the indissoluble unity of marriage. It fails to support the stability and holiness of family life. There is a crisis of truth and responsibility in human relationships. Selfishness abounds. Sexual permissiveness and drug addiction ruin the lives of millions of human beings. International relations are fraught with tensions, often because of excessive inequalities and unjust economic, social, cultural and political structures, and because of slowness in applying the needed remedies. Underlying all of this there is often a false concept of man and his unique dignity, and a thirst for power rather than a desire to serve.
Are we Christians to agree with such a state of affairs? Are we to call this progress? Are we to shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done to change all this?
My brothers and sisters, the essence of our Christian vocation consists in being "light" and "salt" for the world we live in. Let us not be afraid: "The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness" (Rom. 8,26).
Keep in mind that picture of Mary and the Apostles gathered together at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Remember that the same Holy Spirit who filled their minds and hearts also fills the whole Church today. And he brings us the loveliest and the most powerful gifts: "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5,22).
Let us really accept the words of Jesus: "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink" (Jn. 7,37). Then we shall receive his gift: "Out of our hearts shall flow rivers of living water.... Now he said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive." Then, in the power of the Spirit we shall become a people that prays: indeed, the Spirit himself will pray in us and for us (cf. Rom. 8,26). And we shall become a holy people.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, realize the greatness of your Christian vocation. Christ has called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light. Consider what God has done for you in Baptism, and lift up your eyes and see the final glory that awaits you.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great. O Lord how manifold are all your works. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth" (Ps. 104,1, 24 and 30). Amen.
I would now like to speak especially to the young people who are about to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Today's Gospel has special meaning for you, for it says that "Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, "Peace be with you," and showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you." After saying this he breathed on them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 20,20-22).
Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit is going to be poured out upon you in a particular way. You will hear the words of the Church spoken over you, calling upon the Holy Spirit to confirm your faith, to seal you in his love, to strengthen you for his service. You will then take your place among fellow-Christians throughout the world, full citizens now of the People of God. You will witness to the truth of the Gospel in the name of Jesus Christ. You will live your lives in such a way as to make holy all human life. Together with all the confirmed, you will become living stones in the cathedral of peace. Indeed you will be called by God to be instruments of his peace.
Today you must understand that you are not alone. We are one body, one people, one Church of Christ. The sponsor who stands at your side represents for you the whole community. Together, with a great crowd of witnesses drawn from all peoples and every age, you represent Christ. You are young people who have received a mission from Christ, for he says to you today: "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you."
"Jesus breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained'" (Jn. 20,23).
On the first Pentecost our Savior gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins when he poured into their hearts the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit comes to you today in the Sacrament of Confirmation, to involve you more completely in the Church's fight against sin and in her mission of fostering holiness. He comes to dwell more fully in your hearts and to strengthen you for the struggle with evil. My dear young people, the world of today needs you, for it needs men and women who are filled with the Holy Spirit. It needs your courage and hopefulness, your faith and your perseverance. The world of tomorrow will be built by you.
Today you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that you may work with deep faith and with abiding charity, so that you may help to bring to the world the fruits of reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit and his manifold gifts, commit yourselves wholeheartedly to the Church's struggle against sin. Strive to be unselfish; try not to be obsessed with material things. Be active members of the People of God; be reconciled with each other and devoted to the work of justice, which will bring peace on earth.
"How many are your works, O Lord!" (Ps. 104,24).
These words of the responsorial psalm evoke gratitude from our hearts and a hymn of praise from our lips. Indeed how many are the works of the Lord, how great are the effects of the Holy Spirit's action in Confirmation! When this sacrament is conferred, the words of the psalm are fulfilled among us: "You send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth" (v. 30).
On the first day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and upon Mary and filled them with his power. Today we remember that moment and we open ourselves again to the gift of that same Holy Spirit. In that Spirit we are baptized. In that Spirit we are confirmed. In that Spirit we are called to share in the mission of Christ. In that Spirit we shall indeed become the People of Pentecost, the apostles of our time. "Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love." Amen.
At the first Pentecost, Jesus said to his disciples: "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (Jn. 20,23). These words of our Savior remind us of the fundamental gift of our redemption: the gift of having our sins forgiven and of being reconciled with God. Remission of sin is a completely free and undeserved gift, a newness of life which we could never earn. God grants it to us out of his mercy. As Saint Paul wrote: "It is all God's work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5,18).
There is no sin that cannot be forgiven, if we approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts. No evil is more powerful than the infinite mercy of God. In becoming man, Jesus entered completely into our human experience, even to the point of suffering the final and most cruel effect of the power of sindeath on a cross. He really became one like us in all things but sin. But evil with all its power did not win. By dying, Christ destroyed our death; by rising, he restored our life; by his wounds we are healed and our sins are forgiven. For this reason, when the Lord appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection, he showed them his hands and his side. He wanted them to see that the victory had been won; to see that he, the risen Christ, had transformed the marks of sin and death into symbols of hope and life.
By the victory of his Cross, Jesus Christ won for us the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. And it is these gifts that Christ offers us when he gives the Holy Spirit to the Church, for he said to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven" (Jn. 20,23). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church continues Christ's work of reconciling the world to himself.
In every age the Church remains the community of those who have received the reconciliation that was willed by God the Father and achieved through the sacrifice of his beloved Son.
The Church is also by her nature always reconciling, handing on to others the gift that she herself has received, the gift of having been forgiven and made one with God. She does this in many ways, but especially through the sacraments, and in particular through Penance. In this consoling sacrament she leads each of the faithful individually to Christ, and through the Church's ministry, Christ himself gives forgiveness, strength and mercy. Through this highly personal sacrament, Christ continues to meet the men and women of our time. He restores wholeness where there was division, he communicates light where darkness reigned, and he gives a hope and joy which the world could never give. Through this sacrament the Church proclaims to the world the infinite riches of God's mercy, that mercy which has broken down barriers which divided us from God and from one another.
On this day of Pentecost, as the Church proclaims the reconciling action of Christ Jesus, and the power of his Holy Spirit, I appeal to all the faithful of Britainand to all the other members of the Church who may hear my voice or read my words: Dearly beloved, let us give greater emphasis to the Sacrament of Penance in our own lives. Let us strive to safeguard what I described in my first Encyclical as Christ's "right to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul's life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness" (Redemptor Hominis, n. 20).
And in particular I ask you, my brother priests, to realize how closely and how effectively you can collaborate with the Savior in the divine work of reconciliation.
For lack of time, certain worthy activities may have to be abandoned or postponed, but not the confessional. Always give priority to your specifically priestly role in representing the Good Shepherd in the Sacrament of Penance. And as you witness and praise the marvelous action of the Holy Spirit in human hearts, you will feel yourselves called to further conversion and to deeper love of Christ and his flock.
As Christians today strive to be sources of reconciliation in the world, they feel the need, perhaps more urgently than ever before, to be fully reconciled among themselves. For the sin of disunity among Christians, which has been with us for centuries, weighs heavily upon the Church.
The seriousness of this sin was clearly shown at the Second Vatican Council, which stated: "Without doubt, this discord openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 1).
Restoration of unity among Christians is one of the main concerns of the Church in the last part of the twentieth century. And this task is for all of us. No one can claim exemption from this responsibility. Indeed everyone can make some contribution, however small it may seem, and all are called to that interior conversion which is the essential condition for ecumenism. As the Second Vatican Council taught: "This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called 'spiritual ecumenism'" (ibid., n. 8).
The Holy Spirit, who is the source of all unity, provides the Body of Christ with a "variety of gifts" (1 Cor. 12,3), so that it may be built up and strengthened. As the Holy Spirit granted the Apostles the gift of tongues, so that all gathered in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost might hear and understand the one Gospel of Christ, should we not expect the same Holy Spirit to grant us the gifts we need in order to continue the work of salvation, and to be reunited as one body in Christ? In this we trust and for this we pray, confident in the power which the Spirit gave to the Church at Pentecost.
"Send forth your Spirit ... and renew the face of the earth" (Ps. 104,30).
These words of the psalmist are our heartfelt prayer today, as we ask Almighty God to renew the face of the earth through the life-giving power of the Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, renew our hearts and minds with the gifts of light and truth. Renew our homes and families with the gifts of unity and joy. Renew our cities and our countries with true justice and lasting peace. Renew your Church on earth with the gifts of penance and reconciliation, with unity in faith and love.
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!
The readings of the Mass today invite us to reflect on the mystery of the Eucharist. This great mystery was foreshadowed in Old Testament times when God provided the Israelites with manna in the wilderness.
In the first reading, we hear the words Moses spoke to the people: "Remember how the Lord your God led you for forty years in the wilderness ... he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Dt. 8,2-3). God taught the people that he alone was their Lord. He alone was the one who would lead them out of slavery. He alone was the one who would care for them amid the hardships and sorrows they would encounter on the way to the promised land. When they were hungry and thirsty, he gave them manna from heaven and water from the rock.
What was foreshadowed in Old Testament times has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He gave his followers food for the journey of faith when he entrusted to the Church the gift of the Eucharist. Jesus himself is the new spiritual food, for the Eucharist is his body and blood made present under the appearances of bread and wine. He himself says in the Gospel: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst" (Jn. 6,35).
Here in Wales, the Eucharist has held a place of prominence in the Church from the earliest times. This is shown by the Christian symbols of the Eucharist which have been discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Roman fort of Caerleon. Happily this great heritage has continued from the early beginnings down to the present time. This fact should not surprise us, since the Eucharist holds such a central place in Christian life and since the mystery of the Eucharist is so closely linked to the mystery of the Church. For every generation in the Church, the food which nourishes the people of God is the Eucharist, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What a beautiful prayer is recorded in today's Gospel. After Jesus speaks to the people about the true bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, they cry out: "Give us that bread always" (Jn. 6,34).
This prayer expresses a deep hunger on the part of the people, one which goes beyond the hunger for food. It is a hunger which arises from the depths of the soul and from the desire for love and fulfillment. It is a longing for wholeness and salvation and a yearning for fullness of lifeit is a hunger for union with God. Christ is God's answer to this prayer, God's response to the deepest hunger of the human heart. All the anguished cries of mankind to God since the fall of Adam and Eve find fulfillment in the Son of God become man. Jesus still says: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst" (Jn. 6,35). May this same prayer"Give us that bread always"often be our prayer too. From our First Communion until the day we die, may we have a deep yearning for Christ, the true bread which gives life to the world.
I would like to speak to these little ones who are about to receive Holy Communion for the first time. Dear children: Jesus is coming to you in a new way today, in a special way. He wants to live in you. He wants to speak to you in your heart. He wants to be with you all through your day.
Jesus comes to you in the Eucharist so that you will live for ever. Holy Communion is not ordinary food. It is the bread of eternal life. It is something more precious than gold or silver. It is worth more than anything you can imagine. For this sacred bread is the body and blood of Jesus. And Jesus promises that if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you will have life in you and you will live for ever.
You come to the altar today with faith and prayer. Promise me that you will try to stay close to Jesus always, and never turn your back on him.
As you grow older, go on learning about Jesus by listening to his word and by talking to him in prayer. If you stay close to him, you will always be happy.
Dear parents of these children: your love for Christ has made this day possible. For you are your children's first teachers in the ways of faith. By what you say and do, you show them the truths of our faith and the values of the Gospel. This is indeed not only a sacred duty, but a grace, a great privilege. Many other members of the Church share in this task, but the main responsibility for your children's religious formation rests upon your shoulders. So try to make your homes genuinely Christian.
Help your children to grow and mature as Jesus did at Nazareth, "in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and men" (Lk. 2,52). Allow no one to take advantage of their lack of experience and knowledge. As you share with them in their personal pilgrimage to God, may you always be united in prayer and worship and in humble love of God and his people.
Dear teachers in our Catholic schools: you too deserve an honored place in our celebration today. Together with the parents, you help to prepare the children for the worthy reception of the sacraments and for a more active role in the Christian community. You bring them to a reverence and knowledge of God's word and you explain to them the doctrine of the Church. And thus you introduce to them gradually into the riches of the mystery of salvation.
You are heirs of a great tradition, and the People of God is in your debt. As you carry out your important mission in that special community of faith which is the Catholic school, may you have a deep love for the Church. May your love for the Church radiate through all your various activities and be reflected in the way you faithfully hand on the sacred deposit of the faith.
Beloved brother priests: this is a day of joy for you also, for these little ones are members of the parishes in which you have the privilege to serve. Together with their families and teachers, you introduce the children to the wider Christian community and help them to grow to the fullness of maturity in Christ. To them and to the whole parish, you seek to give a shepherd's care. May you be the best of shepherds and model your lives on our Lord and Redeemer.
I know that your Bishops are anxious to develop throughout England and Wales practical programs of adult education in the faith. I urge you to be in the vanguard of those efforts, which are so important for the vitality of the Church.
I also encourage you to make the worthy celebration of the Eucharist the first priority of your pastoral ministry. Recall the words of the Second Vatican Council. "The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are linked with the holy Eucharist and are directed towards it. For the most blessed Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth, that is, Christ himself, our Passover and living bread" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5). No other work you do is of greater importance for the Church or of greater service to your people. For the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of all Christian life. Ensure that the Mass is celebrated with deep reverence and prayerfulness, and make every effort to foster the active participation of the laity. Bear witness to the Churchs faith in the Real Presence of Christ by your own daily visit of Eucharistic adoration (cf. ibid., n. 18). And through the liturgical renewal that was willed by the Council, may all your parishes become communities alive with faith and charity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every time we gather for the Eucharist, we take part in the great mystery of faith. We receive the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation. This is the cause of our joy and the source of our hope. May this great mystery be for you and the whole Church in Wales the center of your life and the way to eternal salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
In a marriage a man and a woman pledge themselves to one another in an unbreakable alliance of total mutual self-giving. A total union of love.
Love that is not a passing emotion or temporary infatuation, but a responsible and free decision to bind oneself completely, "in good times and in bad," to one's partner. It is the gift of oneself to the other.
It is a love to be proclaimed before the eyes of the whole world. It is unconditional. To be capable of such love calls for careful preparation from early childhood to wedding day. It requires the constant support of Church and society throughout its development.
The love of husband and wife in God's plan leads beyond itself and new life is generated, a family is born. The family is a community of love and life, a home in which children are guided to maturity.
Marriage is a holy sacrament. Those baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus are married in his name also. Their love is a sharing in the love of God. He is its source. The marriages of Christian couples, today renewed and blessed, are images on earth of the wonder of God, the loving, life-giving communion of Three Persons in one God, and of God's covenant in Christ, with the Church. Christian marriage is a sacrament of salvation. It is the pathway to holiness for all members of a family.
With all my heart, therefore, I urge that your homes be centers of prayer; homes where families are at ease in the presence of God; homes to which others are invited to share hospitality, prayer and the praise of God: "With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3,16-17).
In your country, there are many marriages between Catholics and other baptized Christians. Sometimes these couples experience special difficulties. To these families I say: You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity. Express that hope in prayer together, in the unity of love. Together invite the Holy Spirit of love into your hearts and into your homes. He will help you to grow in trust and understanding.
Brothers and sisters, "May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts....Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you" (Col. 3,15-16).
Recently I wrote an Apostolic Exhortation to the whole Catholic Church regarding the role of the Christian Family in the modern world. In that Exhortation I underlined the positive aspects of family life today, which include: a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, greater attention to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. But at the same time I could not fail to draw attention to the negative phenomena: a corruption of the idea and experience of freedom, with consequent self-centeredness in human relations; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship between parents and children; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the spread of a contraceptive and anti-life mentality. Besides these destructive forces, there are social and economic conditions which affect millions of human beings, undermining the strength and stability of marriage and family life. In addition there is the cultural onslaught against the family by those who attack married life as "irrelevant" and "outdated." All of this is a serious challenge to society and to the Church. As I wrote then: "History is not simply a fixed progression towards what is better, but rather an event of freedom, and even a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 6). Married couples, I speak to you of the hopes and ideals that sustain the Christian vision of marriage and family life. You will find the strength to be faithful to your marriage vows in your love for your children. Let this love be the rock that stands firm in the face of every storm and temptation. What better blessing could the Pope wish for your families than what Saint Paul wished for the Christians of Colossae: "Be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes ... put on love" (Col. 3,12-14).
Being a parent today brings worries and difficulties, as well as joys and satisfactions. Your children are your treasure. They love you very much, even if they sometimes find it hard to express that love. They look for independence and are reluctant to conform. Sometimes they wish to reject past traditions and even reject their faith.
In the family bridges are meant to be built, not broken; and new expressions of wisdom and truth can be fashioned from the meeting of experience and enquiry. Yours is a true and proper ministry in the Church. Open the doors of your home and of your heart to all the generations of your family. We cannot overlook the fact that some marriages fail. But still it is our duty to proclaim the true plan of God for all married love and to insist on fidelity to that plan, as we go towards the fullness of life in the Kingdom of heaven. Let us not forget that God's love for his people, Christ's love for the Church, is everlasting and can never be broken. And the covenant between a man and a women joined in Christian marriage is as indissoluble and irrevocable as this love (cf. AAS 71 , p. 1224). This truth is a great consolation for the world, and because some marriages fail, there is an ever greater need for the Church and all her members to proclaim it faithfully.
Christ himself, the living source of grace and mercy, is close to all those whose marriage has known trial, pain, or anguish. Throughout the ages countless married people have drawn from the Paschal Mystery of Christ's Cross and Resurrection the strength to bear Christian witnessat times very difficultto the indissolubility of Christian marriage.
And all the efforts of the Christian people to bear faithful witness to God's law, despite human weakness, have not been in vain. These efforts are the human response made, through grace, to a God who has first loved us and who has given himself for us.
As I explained in my Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Church is vitally concerned for the pastoral care of the family in all difficult cases. We must reach out with lovethe love of Christto those who know the pain of failure in marriage; to those who know the loneliness of bringing up a family on their own; to those whose family life is dominated by tragedy or by illness of mind or body. I praise all those who help people wounded by the breakdown of their marriage, by showing them Christ's compassion and counselling them according to Christ's truth.
To the public authorities, and to all men and women of good will, I say: treasure your families. Protect their rights. Support the family by your laws and administration. Allow the voice of the family to be heard in the making of your policies. The future of your society, the future of humanity, passes by the way of the family.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, who are now about to renew the promises of your wedding day: may your words express once more the truth that is in your heart and may they generate faithful love within your families. Make sure that your families are real communities of love.
Allow that love to reach out to other people, near and far. Reach out especially to the lonely and burdened people of your neighborhood, to the poor and to all those on the margin of society. In this way you will build up your society in peace, for peace requires trust, and trust is the child of love, and love comes to birth in the cradle of the family.
My dear brothers, candidates for the priesthood: for you Christ today renews his prayer to the Father: "Consecrate them in truth, your word is truth" (Jn. 17,17). This consecration makes you even more a "new creation." It sets you apart from the world, so that you may be completely dedicated to God. It gives you a mission to act as Christ's ambassadors in reconciling the world to God. It was for this purpose that Jesus came from the Father and was born of the Virgin Mary. And it is this same mission which Christ entrusted to his disciples: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth" (Jn. 17,18).
At this important moment of your lives I say to you young men: Realize how deeply Jesus desires you to be consecrated as he himself is consecrated. Realize how closely the bond of priesthood joins you to Christ. Be worthy of the privilege you are going to receive of bringing God's gifts of love to his people and offering to God the people's prayerful response.
You must be men of God, his close friends. You must develop daily patterns of prayer, and penance must be a regular part of your life.
Prayer and penance will help you to appreciate more deeply that the strength of your ministry is found in the Lord and not in human resources.
You must try to deepen every day your friendship with Christ. You must also learn to share the hopes and joys, the sorrows and frustrations of the people entrusted to your care. Bring to them Christ's saving message of reconciliation. Visit your parishioners in their homes. This has been a strength of the Church in England. It is a pastoral practice that should not be neglected. Teach your people boldly about the faithful love of God. And do not forget all those with special needs, particularly those who are in prison, and their families. In the gospel Christ identifies himself with prisoners when he says, "I was in prison, and you visited me." And remember that he did not specify whether they were innocent or guilty. Because you represent Christ, no one can be excluded from your pastoral love. I ask you, together with your brother priests, to take my greetings to all the prisons in Britain, especially the large one in Manchester. Christ Jesus went to offer peace of conscience and the forgiveness of all sins. Through Jesus Christ offer hope. Through you, in your heart, Jesus Christ wants to love those for whom he died. You must show that you believe in that faithful love by the fidelity with which you live your own life. You must proclaim the Gospel with your life.
When you celebrate the sacraments at the decisive moments of their lives, help them to trust in Christ's promised mercy and compassion. When you offer the redeeming Sacrifice of the Eucharist, help them to understand the need for transforming this great love into works of charity.
My brothers be aware of the effect on others of the witness of your lives.
Your ordination is a source of consolation for those who have already given many years of priestly service, large numbers of whom are present today. The Lord is grateful for their labor and today he blesses them with the assurance that he will continue to provide for the future of the Church.
May all these priests be renewed in the joyful enthusiasm of their early call, and may they continue to give generously of themselves in Christ's priestly work of reconciling the world to the Father.
I know of the many priests who could not be here because of old age or infirmity. To them also I send the expression of my love in Christ Jesus.
Their prayers, their wisdom, their suffering are rich treasures for the Church, from which will come forth abundant blessings.
And what of your contemporaries? Undoubtedly your acceptance of Christ's mission is a clear witness for those who are not yet sure what the Lord wants of them. You show them that being ordained for God's service is a noble vocation that demands faith, courage and self-sacrifice. I am sure that such qualities are to be found among the young people of Great Britain. To them I say: Be certain that Christ's call to the priesthood or religious life is addressed to some of you. Be certain that if you listen to his call and follow him in the priesthood or religious life, you will find great joy and happiness. Be generous, take courage and remember his promise: "My yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt. 11,30).
Finally, I wish to greet the parents and families of those about to be ordained. I say in the name of the Church, in the company of my fellow Bishops, thank you for your generosity. It was you who brought these men into the world. It was you who first gave them the faith and the values that have helped to lead them to God's altar today. The Church, too, must be a family, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity, supporting each other and sharing with each other the individual gifts given by God. Every priest relies on the faith and talents of his parish community. If he is wise he will not only know the joy of dispensing God's grace, but also of receiving it abundantly through his parishioners as well. The partnership between priests and people is built upon prayer, collaboration and mutual respect and love. That has always been the tradition of these islands. May it never be lost.
Through this ordination the Lord really and truly continues the work of his "new creation." And he continues to send forth his message over all the earth and to speak personally to those who will be ordained: "'Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you'it is the Lord who speaks!" (Jer. 1,7-8). Amen.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK
Today I greet you in the name of Jesus. I thank all of you for the welcome you have given me. I want you to know how I have looked forward to this meeting with you, especially with those of you who are sick, disabled or infirm. I myself have had a share in suffering and I have known the physical weakness that comes with injury and sickness.
It is precisely because I have experienced suffering that I am able to affirm with ever greater conviction what Saint Paul says in the second reading: "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8,38-39).
Dear friends, there is no force or power that can block God's love for you. Sickness and suffering seem to contradict all that is worthy, all that is desired by man. And yet no disease, no injury, no infirmity can ever deprive you of your dignity as children of God, as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
By his dying on the Cross, Christ shows us how to make sense of our suffering. In his passion we find the inspiration and strength to turn away from any temptation to resentment and grow through pain into new life.
Suffering is an invitation to be more like the Son in doing the Father's will. It offers us an opportunity to imitate Christ who died to redeem mankind from sin. Thus the Father has disposed that suffering can enrich the individual and the whole Church.
We acknowledge that the Anointing of the Sick is for the benefit of the whole person. We find this point demonstrated in the liturgical texts of the sacramental celebration: "Make this oil a remedy for all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul and in spirit, and deliver them from every affliction."
The anointing is therefore a source of strength for both the soul and the body. The prayer of the Church asks that sin and the remnants of sin be taken away (cf. DS 1969). It also implores a restoration of health, but always in order that bodily healing may bring greater union with God through the increase of grace.
In her teaching on this sacrament, the Church passes on the truth contained in our first reading from Saint James: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven" (James 5,14-15).
This sacrament should be approached in a spirit of great confidence, like the leper in the Gospel that has just been proclaimed. Even the desperateness of the man's condition did not stop him from approaching Jesus with trust. We too must believe in Christ's healing love and reaffirm that nothing will separate us from that love. Surely Jesus wishes to say: "I will; be clean" (Mt. 8,3); be healed; be strong; be saved.
My dear brothers and sisters, as you live the Passion of Christ you strengthen the Church by the witness of your faith. You proclaim by your patience, your endurance and your joy the mystery of Christ's redeeming power. You will find the crucified Lord in the midst of your sickness and suffering.
As Veronica ministered to Christ on his way to Calvary, so Christians have accepted the care of those in pain and sorrow as privileged opportunities to minister to Christ himself. I commend and bless all those who work for the sick in hospitals, residential homes and centers of care for the dying.
I would like to say to you doctors, nurses, chaplains and all other hospital staff: Yours is a noble vocation. Remember it is Christ to whom you minister in the sufferings of your brothers and sisters.
I support with all my heart those who recognize and defend the law of God which governs human life. We must never forget that every person, from the moment of conception to the last breath, is a unique child of God and has a right to life. This right should be defended by the attentive care of the medical and nursing professions and by the protection of the law. Every human life is willed by our heavenly Father and is a part of his loving plan.
No State has the right to contradict moral values which are rooted in the nature of man himself. These values are the precious heritage of civilization. If society begins to deny the worth of any individual or to subordinate the human person to pragmatic or utilitarian considerations, it begins to destroy the defenses that safeguard its own fundamental values.
Today I make an urgent plea to this nation. Do not neglect your sick and elderly. Do not turn away from the handicapped and the dying. Do not push them to the margins of society. For if you do, you will fail to understand that they represent an important truth. The sick, the elderly, the handicapped and the dying teach us that weakness is a creative part of human living, and that suffering can be embraced with no loss of dignity. Without the presence of these people in your midst you might be tempted to think of health, strength and power as the only important values to be pursued in life. But the wisdom of Christ and the power of Christ are to be seen in the weakness of those who share his sufferings.
Let us keep the sick and the handicapped at the center of our lives. Let us treasure them and recognize with gratitude the debt we owe them. We begin by imagining that we are giving to them; we end by realizing that they have enriched us.
May God bless and comfort all who suffer. And may Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and healer of the sick, make his light shine through human weakness as a beacon for us and for all mankind. Amen.
Catholic Position Papers
Electronic Copyright © 1999 EWTN
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