God Will Judge the World With Justice

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience 19 November 1996

1. "It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb 9:27).

This Sunday's liturgy has an "eschatological" character. In other words, it speaks of the "ultimate realities" which concern the death of every human being and the end of the world. It speaks specifically of the Judgment. The responsorial psalm had us repeat the response: "The Lord comes to judge the earth", and it invites creation to praise God because "he comes to judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity" (Ps 98 [97]:9).

It is significant that the Lord's coming has here nothing terrifying about it, but rather stresses the joy which fills all nature: the sea resounds, the rivers clap their hands, the mountains shout for joy (cf. Ps 98[97]:9). People too are urged to enter into this joyful atmosphere: "Sing praise to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and melodious song. With trumpets and the sound of the horn sing joyfully before the King, the Lord" (Ps 98[97]:5-6).

The definitive coming of God is Christ, the Gospel of salvation, in which humanity's eschatological waiting is fulfilled. The world and mankind who dwell in it are no longer condemned to death. The human being is no longer destined to return forever to that dust from which he was formed, but to present himself before the face of God and enter into eternal communion with him, thereby participating in his kingdom and his life.

An Invitation to Meditate on the Last Things

2. For this to come about, it is nonetheless necessary to cross the threshold of the judgment of God, to whom the individual's whole earthly life will be submitted.

The prophet Malachi expressed this truth concisely in the first reading: "Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire ... but for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays" (Mal 3:19-20). Here the two elements, fire and light, are combined with the announcement of the last judgment. Fire burns and purifies. Light illuminates and makes people rejoice in the beatific vision of God. But judgment comes at the end of each one's earthly pilgrimage. For him, to die also means in a certain sense to experience the end of the world.

This Sunday then, the last but one of the liturgical year, invites us to meditate on the "last things", the "ultimate realities": death, judgment, heavenly reward, purgatory and hell. It could almost be said that it is a continuation of the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, which we celebrated at the beginning of this month of November.

3. The Gospel passage from Luke also has an eschatological character. However, it is not dominated by the theme of the end of the world but by the announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus said, "as for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down" (Lk 21:6). Those who heard these words had seen with their own eyes the magnificence of the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, the Lord was announcing events which were relatively close in time. Indeed, it is well known that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 A.D.

To the question: "Teacher when will this be, and what will be the sign that it is about to happen?" (Lk 21:7), Christ gave an answer that directly concerned the destruction of Jerusalem, but could also refer to the end of the world. He foretold wars and insurrections and warned against false messiahs. "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, plagues and famines in various places, and in the sky fearful omens and great signs" (Lk 21:10-11).

Similar events accompanied the fall of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but it can be said that they also happened in other ages of history. Has not our own age witnessed many wars and revolutions? The history of man and of humanity bear the mark of their eschatological destiny. The orientation of time towards the "ultimate realities" makes us aware that we have no lasting dwelling place on earth. Indeed, we are awaiting an eternal destiny consisting of that future world, the redeemed aeon, where justice and peace abide forever.

Christians in Every Age Face Trials

4. Certainly Christ's words also refer to the community of the first disciples. They would have to undergo difficult trials; they would be handed over to synagogues and be put in prison, dragged before kings and governors all because of his name (cf. Lk 21:12). He added immediately: "You will be brought to give witness on account of it" (ibid., 21:13). Christ, who was to say: "You shall be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), stressed that here it is not a question of an easy witness but that it is all the more difficult because of the fact that all those who publicly profess their faith will be liable to persecution by their loved ones. "You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death. All will hate you for my name's sake" (Lk 21:16-17). Today we are listening yet again to these grave words which prepared the Apostles and the whole Church to face various trials, not only those encountered by Christians in the first century but also in our own.

5. At the same time, however, Christ did not present only to the disciples the prospect of hardship and trials. Although he spoke of a difficult witness, he immediately added: "I bid you resolve not to worry about your defense beforehand, for I will give you words and a wisdom which none of your adversaries can take exception to or contradict" (Lk 21:14-15). This promise has frequently been kept! By virtue of Christ's words, the Church became a "sign that is spoken against" (Lk 2:34), which progresses through history and guides believers on this way.

In many ages and in many places, Christians have been the object of hatred, persecution and extermination. They have nevertheless experienced the Redeemer's consoling promise: "Not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance you will save your lives" (Lk 21:18-19). Of course, it is not a question of saving their physical lives. It is enough to read the Acta Martyrum to realize that the great witnesses to Christ and the confessors of the faith were not spared their earthly lives. They went to meet death with great courage, aware that by dying for Christ they were in fact approaching the fullness of that divine life communicated to man by Christ through the paschal mystery.

6. Dear brothers and sisters of the parish of Sts. Martin and Anthony Abbot, today the Pope has come among you to confirm your faith in the Lord of life. Your parish is located in a district of Rome that has become, from the small farming community of scarcely more than 50 years ago, a crowded suburb. The farmers who had immigrated from various Italian regions at the time numbered little over 500. Today you are a community of 15,000 and belong to more than 3,000 families. It is not hard for me to imagine all the problems which affect you every day. First of all, employment, which is absolutely essential for a dignified life. Then housing, basic services such as transport, health care, education, culture, leisure. I am very much aware of your expectations and concerns and I hope that the problems of your neighborhood will be solved by the municipal authorities and the supportive collaboration of all.

Then how could I not rejoice with you that your long-standing wish for a new parish complex, a place for spiritual, social and cultural gatherings has been fulfilled? You can now rely on greater space and increased meeting room. I thank the Lord with you because the Church of Jesus the Divine Savior is now a reality, while the arrangements are going ahead for the sports facility next door.

I express sincere pleasure at the completion of these important projects organized by the Salvatorian Fathers and the Roman Society for the Preservation of the Faith and the Provision of New Churches in Rome but which could not have achieved these results without your active and concrete contribution.

Therefore, dear faithful, you are now able to give life to the many pastoral activities which, with considerable sacrifice, you have begun these past few years under the guidance of your priests, especially to meet the needs of the young people who, thanks be to God, are very numerous in your community.

I greet you all with affection, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the sector, your parish priest, Fr. Agostino Maiolini, and the priests who work with him. I greet the Dorothean Sisters, who sustain and have always supported the different parish projects, and all those who work in the parish in various capacities, giving it a courageous apostolic and missionary thrust.

We Prepare for Christ by Daily Effort

7. Dear friends, among this Sunday's readings, which are full of eschatological references, is a passage from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians, which in some way balances the prospect of the "ultimate realities" with significant notes on the theme of temporality. To those who expected the second coming of Christ, the parousia, to be imminent and, precisely for this reason, neglected their work and were careless in their daily tasks, St. Paul wrote: "We hear that some of you are unruly, not keeping busy but acting like busybodies.... Indeed, when we were with you we used to lay down the rule that anyone who would not work should not eat" (2 Thes 3:11, 10).

Paul certainly kept his gaze fixed on Christ's coming; at the same time, however, he was aware that eschatological expectation cannot obscure our daily duties. On the contrary, for the believer, daily effort is a way of preparing for Christ's coming. This is the lesson offered most effectively by the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes: "Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come" (Gaudium et spes, n. 39).

May the Lord help us to prepare for the coming of his glorious kingdom day by day, with joy and courage.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20/27 December 1995, page 6.

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069