CHRIST ALONE GIVES THE FULLNESS OF DIVINE LIFE
Pope John Paul II
The celebration proper of World Youth Day began on Saturday evening, 14 August, with a Prayer Vigil in Cherry Creek State Park. The service was marked by Scripture readings, prayers, hymns and testimonies by young people from various nations. At three different moments of the celebration the Pope addressed the young people on themes suggested by the Scripture, focusing his remarks on Christ’s words "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly". The Holy Father spoke mainly in English, with occasional passages in Spanish, French and Italian.
Dear Young People, Young Pilgrims on the path of Life:
"I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
1. This evening these words of Christ are addressed to you, young people gathered for the World Youth Day.
Jesus speaks these words in the parable of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd: what a beautiful image of God! It transmits something deep and personal about the way God cares for all that he has made. In the modern metropolis it is not likely that you will see a shepherd guarding his flock. But we can go back to the traditions of the Old Testament, in which the parable is deeply rooted, in order to understand the loving care of the Shepherd for his sheep.
The Psalm says: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Ps 23:1). The Lord, the Shepherd, is God-Yahweh. The One who freed his people from oppression in the land of their exile. The One who revealed himself on Mount Sinai as the God of the covenant: "If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine" (Ex 19:5).
God is the Creator of all that exists. On the earth which he created he placed man and woman: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). "And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over ... every living thing that moves upon the earth" (ibid., v. 28).
2. The special place of human beings in all that God made lies in their being given a share in God's own concern and providence for the whole of creation. The Creator has entrusted the world to us, as a gift and as a responsibility. He who is eternal Providence, the One who guides the entire universe towards its final destiny, made us in his image and likeness, so that we too should become "providence"—a wise and intelligent providence, guiding human development and the development of the world along the path of harmony with the Creator's will, and the well- being of the human family and the fulfillment of each individual's transcendent calling.
3. Yet millions of men and women live without giving a thought to what they do or to what will come later. Here, this evening, in Denver's Cherry Creek State Park, you represent the young people of the world, with all the questions which young people at the end of the 20th century need to ask themselves, and rightly so.
Our theme is life, and life is full of mystery. Science and technology have made great progress in discovering the secrets of our natural life, however even a superficial look at our personal experience shows that there are many other dimensions to individual and collective life on this planet. Our restless hearts seek beyond our limits, challenging our capacity to think and love: to think and love the immeasurable, the infinite, the absolute and supreme form of Being. Our inner eye looks upon the unlimited horizons of our hopes and aspirations. And in the midst of all life's contradictions, we seek the true meaning of life. We wonder and we ask ourselves "why?".
Why am I here?
Why do I exist?
What must I do?
We all ask ourselves these questions. Humanity in its entirety feels the pressing need to give meaning and purpose to a world in which being happy is increasingly difficult and complex. The Bishops of the whole world gathered at the Second Vatican Council expressed it as follows: "In the face of modern developments there is a growing body of people who are asking the most fundamental of all questions or are glimpsing them with a keener insight: What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, evil, death, which have not been eliminated by all this progress?... What can man contribute to society? What can he expect from it? What happens after this earthly life is ended?" (Gaudium et spes, n. 10).
Failure to ask these basic questions means renouncing the great adventure of seeking the truth about life.
4. You know how easy it is to avoid the fundamental questions. But your presence here shows that you will not hide from reality and from responsibility!
You care about the gift of life that God has given you. You have confidence in Christ when he says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Our Vigil begins with an act of trust in the words of the Good Shepherd. In Jesus Christ, the Father expresses the whole truth concerning creation. We believe that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Father reveals all his love for humanity. That is why Christ calls himself "the sheepgate" (Jn 10:7). As the gate, he stands guard over the creatures entrusted to him. He leads them to the good pastures: "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe. He will go in and out, and find pasture" (Jn 10:9).
Jesus Christ is truly the world's Shepherd. Our hearts must be open to his words. For this we have come to the World Meeting of Youth: from every state and Diocese in the United States, from all over the Americas, from every continent: all represented here by the flags which your delegates have set up to show that no one here this evening is a stranger. We are all one in Christ. The Lord has led us as he leads the flock:
The Lord is our Shepherd; we shall not want. In green pastures he makes us find rest. Beside restful waters he leads us; He refreshes our souls. Even though we walk in a dark valley we fear no evil; for he is at our side. He gives us courage (cf. Ps 23).
As we reflect together on the Life which Jesus gives, I ask you to have the courage to commit yourselves to the truth. Have the courage to believe the Good News about Life which Jesus teaches in the Gospel. Open your minds and hearts to the beauty of all that God has made and to his special, personal love for each one of you.
Young people of the world, hear his voice!
Hear his voice and follow him!
Only the Good Shepherd will lead you to the full truth about Life.
1. At this point the young people gathered in Denver may ask: what is the Pope going to say about Life?
My words will be a profession of the faith of Peter, the first Pope. My message can be none other than what has been handed on from the beginning, because it is not mine by the Good News of Jesus Christ himself.
The New Testament presents Simon—whom Jesus called Peter, the Rock— as a vigorous, passionate disciple of Christ. But he also doubted and, at a decisive moment, he even denied that he was a follower of Jesus. Yet, despite these human weaknesses, Peter was the first disciple to make a full public profession of faith in the Master. One day Jesus asked: "Who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Mt 16:16).
Beginning with Peter, the first apostolic witness, multitudes of witnesses, men and women, young and old, of every nation on earth, have proclaimed their faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the Redeemer of man, the Lord of history, the Prince of Peace. Like Peter, they asked: "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).
This evening we profess the same faith as Peter. We believe that Jesus Christ has the words of Life, and that he speaks those words to the Church, to all who open their minds and hearts to him with faith and trust.
2. "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11). Our first reflection is inspired by these words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint John.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life. Death assails Life.
At the level of our human experience, death is the enemy of life. It is an intruder who frustrates our natural desire to live. This is especially obvious in the case of untimely or violent death, and most of all in the case of the killing of the innocent.
It is not surprising then that among the Ten Commandments the Lord of Life, the God of the Covenant, should have said on Mount Sinai, "You shall not kill" (Ex 20:13; cf. Mt 5:21).
The words "you shall not kill" were engraved on the tablets of the covenant—on the stone tablets of the law. But, even before that, this law was engraved on the human heart, in the sanctuary of every individual's conscience. In the Bible, the first to experience the force of this law was Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. Immediately after his terrible crime, he felt the whole weight of having broken the commandment not to kill. Even though he tried to escape from the truth, saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9), the inner voice repeated over and over: "You are a murderer." The voice was his conscience, and it could not be silenced.
3. With time the threats against life have not grown weaker. They are taking on vast proportions. They are not only threats coming from the outside, from the forces of nature or the "Cains" who kill the "Abels"; no, they are scientifically and systematically programmed threats. The 20th century will have been an era of massive attacks on life, an endless series of wars and a continual taking of innocent human life. False prophets and false teachers have had the greatest success.
In the same way, false models of progress have led to a threat against the earth's ecological balance. Man—made in the image and likeness of the Creator—is called to be the good shepherd of the environment, the context of his existence and life. This is the task he was given long ago and which the human family has assumed not without success throughout its history, until recently when man himself has become the destroyer of his natural environment. This has already occurred in some places, where it is still going on.
However, there is still more. We are also witnessing the spread of a mentality which militates against life—an attitude of hostility towards life in the mother's womb and life in its last phases. At the very time that science and medicine are increasingly able to safeguard health and life, threats against life are becoming more insidious. Abortion and euthanasia—the actual taking of a real human life—are claimed as "rights and solutions to "problems," problems of individuals or those of society. The killing of the innocent is no less sinful an act or less destructive because it is done in a legal and scientific manner. In modern metropolises, life—God's first gift and a fundamental right of each individual, the basis of all other rights—is often treated more or less as a commodity to be controlled, marketed and manipulated at will.
All this takes place although Christ, the Good Shepherd, wants us to have life. He knows what threatens life; he knows how to recognize the wolf who comes to snatch and scatter the sheep. He can identify those who try to enter the sheepfold but who are really thieves and hirelings (cf. Jn 10:1, 13). He knows how many young people are wasting their lives, shirking their responsibility and living in falsehood. Drugs, the abuse of alcohol, pornography and sexual disorder, violence: these are some of the grave problems which need to be seriously addressed by the whole of society, in every nation and at the international level. However, they are also personal tragedies, which must be faced with concrete interpersonal acts of love and solidarity through a great renewal of one's personal responsibility before God, before others and before one's own conscience. We are our brothers' keepers! (cf. Gen 4:9).
4. Why do the consciences of young people not rebel against this situation, especially against the moral evil which flows from personal choices? Why do so many acquiesce in attitudes and behavior which offend human dignity and disfigure the image of God in us? The normal thing would be for conscience to point out the mortal danger to the individual and to humanity contained in the easy acceptance of evil and sin. Is it because conscience itself is losing the ability to distinguish good from evil?
In a technological culture in which people are used to dominating matter, discovering its laws and mechanisms in order to transform it according to their wishes, the danger arises of also wanting to manipulate conscience and its demands. In a culture which holds that no universally valid truths are possible, nothing is absolute. Therefore, in the end— they say—objective goodness and evil no longer really matter. Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes. Each person can build a private system of values.
5. Young people, do not give in to this widespread false morality. Do not stifle your conscience! Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person, where we are alone with God (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 16). "I the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience" (ibid.). That law is not an external human law, but the voice of God, calling us to free ourselves from the grip of evil desires and sin, and stimulating us to seek what is good and true. Only by listening to the voice of God in your most intimate being, and by acting in accordance with its directions, will you reach the freedom you yearn for. As Jesus said, only the truth will make you free (cf. Jn 8:32). And the truth is not the fruit of each individual's imagination. God gave you intelligence to know the truth, and your will to achieve what is morally good. He has given you the light of conscience to guide your moral decisions, to love good and avoid evil. Moral truth is objective, and a properly formed conscience can perceive it.
But if conscience itself has been corrupted, how can it be restored? If conscience—which is light—no longer enlightens, how can we overcome the moral darkness? Jesus says: "The eye is the body's lamp. If your eyes are good, your body will be filled with light; if your eyes are bad, your body will be in darkness. And if your light is darkness, how deep will the darkness be!" (Mt 6:22-23).
But Jesus also says: "I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life" (Jn 8:12). If you follow Christ you will restore conscience to its rightful place and proper role, and you will be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13).
A rebirth of conscience must come from two sources: first, the effort to know objective truth with certainty, including the truth about God; and secondly, the light of faith in Jesus Christ, who alone has the words of life.
6. Against the splendid setting of the mountains of Colorado, with its pure air which gives peace and serenity to nature, the soul spontaneously is lifted up to sing the Creator's praise: "O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your name over all the earth!" (Ps 8:2).
Young pilgrims, the visible world is like a map pointing to heaven, the eternal dwelling of the living God. We learn to see the Creator by contemplating the beauty of his creatures. In this world the goodness, wisdom and almighty power of God shine forth. And the human intellect, after original sin, too—in what has not been darkened by error or passion—can discover the Artist's hand in the wonderful works which he has made. Reason can know God through the book of nature: a personal God who is infinitely good, wise, powerful and eternal, who transcends the world and, at the same time, is present in the depths of his creatures. St. Paul writes: "Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made" (Rom 1:20).
Jesus teaches us to see the Father's hand in the beauty of the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the starry night, fields ripe for the harvest, the faces of children and the needs of the poor and humble. If you look at the world with a pure heart, you too will see the face of God (cf. Mt 5:8), because it reveals the mystery of the Father's provident love.
Young people are especially sensitive to the beauty of nature, and contemplating it inspires them spiritually. However, it must be a genuine contemplation; a contemplation which fails to reveal the face of a personal, intelligent, free and loving Father, but which discerns merely the dim figure of an impersonal divinity or some cosmic force, does not suffice. We must not confuse the Creator with his creation.
The creature does not have life of himself, but from God. In discovering God's greatness, man discovers the unique position he holds in the visible world: "You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet" (Ps 8:6-7). Yes, the contemplation of nature reveals not only the Creator, but also the human being's role in the world which he created. With faith it reveals the greatness of our dignity as creatures created in his image.
In order to have life and have it abundantly, in order to re- establish the original harmony of creation, we must respect this divine image in all of creation, especially in human life itself.
7. When the light of faith penetrates this natural consciousness we reach a new certainty. The words of Christ ring out with utter truth: "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly."
Against all the forces of death, in spite of all the false teachers, Jesus Christ continues to offer humanity the only true and realistic hope. He is the world's true Shepherd. This is because he and the Father are one (cf. Jn 17:22). In his divinity he is one with the Father; in his humanity he is one with us.
Because he took upon himself our human condition, Jesus Christ is able to communicate to all those who are united with him in Baptism the Life that he has in himself. And because in the Trinity, Life is Love, the very love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf. Rom 5:5). Life and love are inseparable: the love of God for us, and the love we give in return—love of God and love of every brother and sister. This will be the theme of the last part of our reflection later this evening.
Dear young pilgrims,
1. The Spirit has led you to Denver to fill you with new Life: to give you a stronger faith and hope and love. Everything in you—your mind and heart, will and freedom, gifts and talents—everything is being taken up by the Holy Spirit in order to make you "living stones" of the "spiritual house" which is the Church (cf. 1 Pet 2:5). This Church is inseparable from Jesus; he loves her as the Bridegroom loves the Bride. This Church today, in the United States and in all the other countries from which you come, needs the affection and cooperation of her young people, the hope of her future. In the Church each one has a role to play, and all together we build up the one Body of Christ, the one People of God.
As the third millennium approaches, the Church knows that the Good Shepherd continues, as always, to be the sure hope of humanity. Jesus Christ never ceases to be the "sheepgate." And despite the history of humanity's sins against life, he never ceases to repeat with the same vigour and love: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
2. How is this possible? How can Christ give us Life if death forms part of our earthly existence? How is it possible if "it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27)?
Jesus himself provides the answer—and the answer is a supreme declaration of divine Love, a high-point of the Gospel revelation concerning God the Father's love for all of creation. The answer is already present in the parable of the Good Shepherd. Christ says: "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10:11).
Christ—the Good Shepherd—is present among us, among the peoples, nations, generations and races, as the One who "lays down his life for the sheep." What is this but the greatest love? It was the death of the innocent One: "The Son of Man is departing, as Scripture says of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed" (Mt 26:24). Christ on the Cross stands as a sign of contradiction to every crime against the commandment not to kill. He offered his own life in sacrifice for the salvation of the world. No one takes that human life from him, but he lays it down of his own accord. He has the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again (cf. Jn 10:18). It was a true self-giving. It was a sublime act of freedom.
Yes, the Good Shepherd lays down his life. But only to take it up again (cf. Jn 10:17). And in the new life of the resurrection, he has become—in the words of Saint Paul—"a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45), who can now bestow the gift of Life on all who believe in him.
Life laid down—Life taken up again—Life given. In him, we have that Life which he has in the unity of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. If we believe in him. If we are one with him through love, remembering that "whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 Jn 4:21).
3. Good Shepherd:
The Father loves you because you lay down your life. The Father loves you as the crucified Son because you go to your death giving your life for us. And the Father loves you when you conquer death by your resurrection, revealing an indestructible life. You are the Life and, therefore, the Way and the Truth of our life (cf. Jn 14:6).
You said: "I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father" (Jn 10:14-15). You who know the Father (cf. Jn 10:15)—the only Father of all—know why the Father loves you (cf. Jn 10:17). He loves you because you give your life for each one. When you say: "I lay down my life for my sheep," you are excluding no one. You came into the world to embrace all people and to gather as one all the children of the whole human family who were scattered (cf. Jn 11:52). Nonetheless, there are many who do not know you. "However, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead" (Jn 10:16).
4. Good Shepherd,
Teach the young people gathered here, teach the young people of the world, the meaning of "laying down" their lives through vocation and mission. Just as you sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so now challenge the youth of the Church to carry on the vast mission of making you known to all those who have not yet heard of you! Give these young people the courage and generosity of the great missionaries of the past so that, through the witness of their faith and their solidarity with every brother and sister in need, the world may discover the Truth, the Goodness and the Beauty of the Life you alone can give.
Teach the young people gathered in Denver to take your message of life and truth, of love and solidarity, to the heart of the modern metropolis—to the heart of all the problems which afflict the human family at the end of the 20th century.
Teach these young people the proper use of their freedom. Teach them that the greatest freedom is the fullest giving of themselves. Teach them the meaning of the Gospel words: "He who loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 10:39).
5. For all of this, Good Shepherd, we love you.
The young people gathered in Denver love you because they love life, the gift of the Creator. They love their human life as the path through this created world. They love life as a task and a vocation.
And they love that other Life which, through you, the Eternal Father has given us: the Life of God in us, the greatest gift to us.
You are the Good Shepherd!
And there is none other.
You have come that we may have Life—and that we may have it abundantly. Life, not only on the human level, but in the measure of the Son—the Son in whom the Father is eternally pleased.
Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for having said: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). The young people of the Eighth World Youth Day thank you from their hearts.
Here, from Cherry Creek State Park in Denver, from this gathering of young people from all over the world, we cry out:
Maranatha! "Come Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).
Weekly Edition in English
18 August 1993, page 8/9
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