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APOSTOLIC JOURNEY
TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND CANADA

MASS FOR THE FAITHFUL OF SAN ANTONIO

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

Westover Hills, San Antonio, Texas
Sunday,
13 September 1987

 

"My soul, give thanks to the Lord; all my being, bless his holy name" (Ps. 103(102), 1). 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Friends,
Citizens of San Antonio
and of the State of Texas,

1. It gives me an immense joy to be with you on this Sunday morning and to invoke God’s blessings upon this vast State and upon the whole Church in this region.

¡Texas! Este nombre trae inmediatamente a mi memoria la rica historia y desarrollo cultural de esta parte de los Estados Unidos.

En este maravilloso emplazamiento, frente a la Ciudad de San Antonio, no puedo por menos de evocar el recuerdo del Padre Massanet, franciscano, el cual, el 13 de junio de 1691, en la fiesta de San Antonio de Padua, celebró la Santa Misa en las márgenes del río San Antonio para los componentes de una de las primeras expediciones españolas y para un grupo de indios del lugar.

Since then, people of many different origins have come here, so that today yours is a multicultural society, striving for the fullness of harmony and collaboration among all. I express my cordial gratitude to the representatives of the State of Texas and the City of San Antonio who have wished to be present at this moment of prayer. I also greet the members of the various Christian Communions who join us in praising the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. A special word of thanks to Archbishop Flores and to the bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and all the Catholic faithful of Texas. The peace of Christ be with you all!

2. Today is Sunday: the Lord’s Day. Today is like the "seventh day" about which the Book of Genesis says that "God rested from all the work he had undertaken" (Gen. 2, 2). Having completed the work of creation, he "rested". God rejoiced in his work; he "looked at everything that he had made, and he found it very good" (Ibid. 1, 31). "So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (Ibid. 2, 3).

On this day we are called to reflect more deeply on the mystery of creation, and therefore of our own lives. We are called to "rest" in God, the Creator of the universe. Our duty is to praise him: "My soul give thanks to the Lord... give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings" (Ps. 103(102), 1-2). This is a task for each human being. Only the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, is capable of raising a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Creator. The earth, with all its creatures, and the entire universe, call on man to be their voice. Only the human person is capable of releasing from the depths of his or her being that hymn of praise, proclaimed without words by all creation: "My soul, give thanks to the Lord; all my being, bless his holy name" (Ps. 103(102), 1).

3. What is the message of today’s liturgy? To us gathered here in San Antonio, in the State of Texas, and taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Saint Paul addresses these words: "None of us lives as his own master, and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord and when we die we die as his servants. Both in life and death we are the Lord’s" (Rom. 14, 7-8).

These words are concise, but filled with a moving message. "We live" and "we die". We live in this material world that surrounds us, limited by the horizons of our earthly journey through time. We live in this world, with the inevitable prospect of death, right from the moment of conception and of birth. And yet, we must look beyond the material aspect of our earthly existence. Certainly, bodily death is a necessary passage for us all; but it is also true that what from its very beginning has borne in itself the image and likeness of God cannot be completely given back to the corruptible matter of the universe. This is a fundamental truth and attitude of our Christian faith. In Saint Paul’s terms: "while we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as his servants". We live for the Lord, and our dying too is life in the Lord.

Today, on this Lord’s Day, I wish to invite all those who are listening to my words, not to forget our immortal destiny: life after death–the eternal happiness of heaven, or the awful possibility of eternal punishment, eternal separation from God, in what the Christian tradition has called hell (Cfr. Matth. 25, 41; 22, 13; 25, 30). There can be no truly Christian living without an openness to this transcendent dimension of our lives. "Both in life and death we are the Lord’s" (Rom. 14, 8).

4. The Eucharist that we celebrate constantly confirms our living and dying "in the Lord": "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life". In fact, Saint Paul wrote: "we are the Lord’s. That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living" (Rom. 14, 8-9). Yes, Christ is the Lord!

The Paschal Mystery has transformed our human existence, so that it is no longer under the dominion of death. In Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, "we live for the Lord" and "we die for the Lord". Through him and with him and in him, we belong to God in life and in death. We exist not only "for death" but "for God". For this reason, on this day "made by the Lord" (Ps. 119 (118), 24), the Church all over the world speaks her blessing from the very depths of the Paschal Mystery of Christ: "My soul, give thanks to the Lord; all my being, bless his holy name. Give thanks... and never forget all his blessings" (Ps. 103 (102), 1-2).

"Never forget!" Today’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew gives us an example of a man who has forgotten (Cfr. Matth. 18, 21-35). He has forgotten the favour given by his lord – and consequently he has shown himself to be cruel and heartless in regard to his fellow human being. In this way the liturgy introduces us to the experience of sin as it has developed from the beginnings of the history of man alongside the experience of death.

We die in the physical body when all the energies of life are extinguished. We die through sin when love dies in us. Outside of Love there is no Life. If man opposes love and lives without love, death takes root in his soul and grows. For this reason Christ cries out: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other" (Io. 13, 34). The cry for love is the cry for life, for the victory of the soul over sin and death. The source of this victory is the Cross of Jesus Christ: his Death and his Resurrection.

5. Again, in the Eucharist, our lives are touched by Christ’s own radical victory over sin – sin which is the death of the soul, and, ultimately, the reason for bodily death. "That is why Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord of the dead" (Cfr. Rom. 14, 9) – that he might give life again to those who are dead in sin or because of sin.

And so, the Eucharist begins with the penitential rite. We confess our sins in order to obtain forgiveness through the Cross of Christ, and so receive a part in his Resurrection from the dead. But if our conscience reproaches us with mortal sin, our taking part in the Mass can be fully fruitful only if beforehand we receive absolution in the Sacrament of Penance.

The ministry of reconciliation is a fundamental part of the Church’s life and mission. Without overlooking any of the many ways in which Christ’s victory over sin becomes a reality in the life of the Church and of the world, it is important for me to emphasize that it is above all in the Sacrament of Forgiveness and Reconciliation that the power of the redeeming blood of Christ is made effective in our personal lives.

6. In different parts of the world there is a great neglect of the Sacrament of Penance. This is sometimes linked to an obscuring of the religious and moral conscience, a loss of the sense of sin, or a lack of adequate instruction on the importance of this sacrament in the life of Christ’s Church. At times the neglect occurs because we fail to take seriously our lack of love and justice, and God’s corresponding offer of reconciling mercy. Sometimes there is a hesitation or an unwillingness to accept maturely and responsibly the consequences of the objective truths of faith. For these reasons it is necessary to emphasize once again that "with regard to the substance of the sacrament there has always remained firm and unchanged in the consciousness of the Church the certainty that, by the will of Christ, forgiveness is offered to each individual by means of sacramental absolution given by the ministers of Penance" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 30).

Again I ask all my brother bishops and priests to do everything possible to make the administration of this sacrament a primary aspect of their service to God’s people. There can be no substitute for the means of grace which Christ himself has placed in our hands. The Second Vatican Council never intended that this Sacrament of Penance be less practiced; what the Council expressly asked for was that the faithful might more easily understand the sacramental signs and more eagerly and frequently have recourse to the sacraments (Cfr. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 59). And just as sin deeply touches the individual conscience, so we understand why the absolution of sins must be individual and not collective, except in extraordinary circumstances as approved by the Church.

I ask you, dear Catholic brothers and sisters, not to see Confession as a mere attempt at psychological liberation – however legitimate this too might be – but as a sacrament, a liturgical act. Confession is an act of honesty and courage; an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God. It is an act of the prodigal son who returns to his Father and is welcomed by him with the kiss of peace. It is easy, therefore, to understand why "every confessional is a special and blessed place from which there is born new and uncontaminated a reconciled individual – a reconciled world!" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 31, V; cfr. III).

The potential for an authentic and vibrant renewal of the whole Catholic Church through the more faithful use of the Sacrament of Penance is immeasurable. It flows directly from the loving heart of God himself! This is a certainty of faith which I offer to each one of you and to the entire Church in the United States.

To those who have been far away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiving Love I make this appeal: come back to this source of grace; do not be afraid! Christ himself is waiting for you. He will heal you, and you will be at peace with God!

To all the young people of the Church, I extend a special invitation to receive Christ’s forgiveness and his strength in the Sacrament of Penance. It is a mark of greatness to be able to say: I have made a mistake: I have sinned, Father; I am sorry; I ask for pardon; I will try again, because I rely on your strength and I believe in your love. And I know that the power of your Sons’ Paschal Mystery – the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – is greater than my weaknesses and all the sins of the world. I will come and confess my sins and be healed, and I will live in your love!

7. In Jesus Christ the world has truly known the mystery of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation, which is proclaimed by God’s word this day. At the same time, God’s inexhaustible mercy to us obliges us to be reconciled among ourselves. This makes practical demands on the Church in Texas and the Southwest of the United States. It means bringing hope and love wherever there is division and alienation.

Your history registers a meeting of cultures, indigenous and immigrant, sometimes marked by tensions and conflicts, yet constantly moving towards reconciliation and harmony. People of different races and languages, colours and customs, have come to this land to make it their home. Together with the indigenous peoples of these territories, there are the descendants of those who came from almost very country in Europe: from Spain and France, from Germany and Belgium, from Italy, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, from Ireland, England and Scotland, and even from my own native Poland – for it was to Texas, and Panna Maria, that the first Polish immigrants came to the United States. There are descendants of those who came in chains from Africa; those from Lebanon, the Philippines and Vietnam, and from every Latin American country, especially from Mexico.

This land is a crossroads, standing at the border of two great nations, and experiencing both the enrichment and the complications which arise from this circumstance. You are thus a symbol and a kind of laboratory testing America’s commitment to her founding moral principles and human values. These principles and values are now being reaffirmed by America as she celebrates the Bicentennial of her Constitution and speaks once more about justice and freedom, and about the acceptance of diversity within a fundamental unity – a unity arising from a shared vision of the dignity of every human person, and a shared responsibility for the welfare of all, especially of the needy and the persecuted.

8. Against this background one may speak of a current phenomenon here and elsewhere – the movement of people northwards, not only from Mexico but from other southern neighbours of the United States. On this matter also there is work of reconciliation to be done. Among you there are people of great courage and generosity "who have been doing much on behalf of suffering brothers and sisters arriving from the south. They have sought to show compassion in the face of complex human, social and political realities. Here human needs, both spiritual and material, continue to call out to the Church with thousands of voices, and the whole Church must respond by the proclamation of God’s word and by selfless deeds of service. Here too there is ample space for continuing and growing collaboration among members of the various Christian Communions.

En este contexto, la comunidad hispana se enfrenta al mayor de los desafíos. Aquellos de entre vosotros de descendencia hispánica - tan numerosos, presentes en esta tierra desde hace tanto tiempo y bien preparados para poder responder - estáis llamados a oír la palabra de Cristo y a conservarla en vuestro corazón: «Os doy un mandamiento nuevo: que os améis los unos a los otros. Que, como yo os he amado, así os améis también vosotros los unos a los otros» (Io. 13, 34). Y Jesús especifica que este amor abraza todo el campo de las necesidades humanas, desde las más pequeñas hasta las más grandes: «Todo aquel que dé de beber tan sólo un vaso de agua fresca a uno de estos pequeños ... os aseguro que no perderá su recompensa » (Mаtth. 10, 42).

La comunidad hispana ha de responder también a sus necesidades propias, y mostrar una solidaridad generosa y eficaz entre sus propios miembros. Os exhorto pues a preservar vuestra fe cristiana y vuestras tradiciones, especialmente en lo que se refiere a la defensa de la familia. Ruego para que el Señor os bendiga con un mayor número de vocaciones al sacerdocio y a la vida religiosa entre vuestros jóvenes.

Ojalá que vosotros, que tanto habéis recibido de Dios, oigáis su llamada a la renovación de la vida cristiana y a la fidelidad a la fe de vuestros padres. Que podáis responder con el espíritu de María, la Virgen Madre que la Iglesia contempla « maternalmente presente y partícipe en los múltiples y complejos problemas que acompañan hoy la vida de los individuos de las familias y de las naciones... la ve socorriendo al pueblo cristiano en la lucha incesante entre el bien y el mal, para que "no caiga" o, si cae, "se levante" » (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Redemptoris Mater, 52).

9. Today’s liturgy helps us to reflect deeply on life and death, on the victory of life over death. On this earth, in the visible world of creation, man exists "for death"; and yet, in Christ, he is called to communion with God, with the living God who "gives life". He is called to this communion precisely through the death of Christ – the death which "gives life".

Today, all over the world, countless people – people of many countries and continents, languages and races, are sharing sacramentally in the death of Christ. We, here in Texas, journey together with them towards the fulfilment of the Paschal Mystery in life. We journey, conscious of being sinners, conscious of being mortal. But we journey on in hope, in union with the Sacrifice of Christ, through Eucharistic communion with him and with love for each other. We live for the Lord! We die for the Lord! We belong to the Lord! Come, Lord Jesus! (Cfr. Apoc. 22, 20)

Amen.

 

© Copyright 1987 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

 

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