Pope Francis’ catechesis at this morning’s Wednesday Audience
Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. The weather is somewhat unpleasant today, but you are courageous. Well done! We hope to pray together today.
In presenting the Church to the men of our time, the Second Vatican Council kept very much in mind a fundamental truth that we never should forget: the Church is not a static, halted reality, an end in herself. Rather, she is continually on a journey through history toward the final and marvelous end, which is the kingdom of heaven; the Church on earth is the initial budding forth and beginning of that kingdom (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 5).
When we turn out gaze toward this horizon, we realize that our imagination stops, and is scarcely able to perceive the splendor of the mystery that surpasses our senses. Several questions spontaneously arise in us: When will this final passage take place? What will the new dimension into which the Church enters be like? What will become of humanity? And of the created order around us? These questions are not new; the disciples of Jesus had already asked them: “When will this happen? When will be the triumph of the Spirit over creation, over the created order, over everything?” These are human questions. They are ancient questions. We also have these questions.
1. Faced with these questions, which have always resounded in the human heart, the Conciliar Constitution Gaudium et spes states: “We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart” (n. 39). This is the end toward which the Church tends: it is, as the Bible says, the “new Jerusalem,” “heaven.” More than a place, it is a “state” of soul in which our deepest desires will be fulfilled abundantly and our being, as creatures and as children of God, will attain to full maturity. We will finally be enfolded completely in the joy, the peace and the love of God, without limit, and shall see Him face to face. (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). It is lovely to think about this, to think about heaven. We will all be there, all of us. It is beautiful, it strengthens the soul.
2. In this perspective, it is lovely to perceive that there is an underlying continuity and communion between the Church in heaven and the one still journeying on earth. Those who already live in the sight of God can indeed support us and intercede for us, they can pray for us. On the other hand, we too are always invited to offer good works, prayer and the Eucharist in order to alleviate the suffering of souls who are still awaiting unending beatitude. Yes, for in the Christian perspective, the distinction is not between those who are already dead and those who are not yet, but between those who are in Christ and those who are not. This is the decisive factor, truly decisive for our salvation and for our happiness.
3. At the same time, Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful plan cannot not involve all that surrounds us and that came forth from the mind and heart of God. The Apostle Paul states it explicitly, when he says that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Other texts employ the image of the “new heavens” and the “new earth” (cf. 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1), in the sense that the whole universe will be renewed and liberated, once and for all, from every trace of evil and from death itself. What lies ahead as the fulfillment of a transformation that has been underway since the death and Resurrection of Christ, is therefore a new creation. Therefore, it is not an annihilation of the cosmos and of all that surrounds us, but a bringing of all things to their fullness of being, truth, and beauty. This is the plan that God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — has always willed to accomplish and is indeed accomplishing.
Dear friends, when we think about these wonderful realities that await us, we realize that belonging to the Church is a truly marvelous gift, which bears the inscription of a most lofty vocation. Let us therefore ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, always to watch over our journey and to help us to be, like her, a joyous sign of confidence and hope amid our brothers and sisters.
Following his catechesis, Pope Francis greeted all the English-speaking pilgrims:
I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, including those from England, Kenya, Nigeria, Canada and the United States. May your stay in the Eternal City confrim you in love for the Lord and His Church. May God bless you all!
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