ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Friday, 18 February 2000
1. It is a great joy for me to meet you in this basilica, in which some of the greatest geniuses of architecture and sculpture have had a hand. Welcome! I greet Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who has presided at the celebration of Holy Mass. With him I greet Archbishop Francesco Marchisano, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, and the other prelates and priests. I also greet the civil authorities who have spoken and the artists present. I express my appreciation to everyone for this intense witness of faith. No one, dear lovers of art, can feel as much at home here as you, where faith and art come together in so remarkable a way and lift us up to contemplation of the divine glory.
You have just experienced that in the Eucharistic celebration which is the heart of ecclesial life. If, as the Council said, "in the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium,
n. 8), it is particularly evident in the splendour of this Church. It transports us in spirit to the heavenly Jerusalem, whose foundations - according to the words of the Book of Revelation - are "adorned with every jewel" (21: 19), and the light of the sun and moon are no longer needed, "for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (21: 23).
3. The Jubilee invites us to accept this grace of resurrection so that it will penetrate every corner of our lives, healing them not only from sin but also from the dross that sin leaves in us even after we have been reconciled with God. In a certain sense it is a question of "sculpting" the stone of our hearts to bring out the features of Christ the new Man.
The Artist who can do this in depth is the Holy Spirit. However, he requires our responsiveness and docility. Conversion of heart, so to speak, is a work of art jointly produced by the Spirit and our freedom. You artists, accustomed to shaping the most diverse materials according to the inspiration of your genius, know how closely the daily effort to improve one's life resembles artistic work. As I wrote in my Letter to you, "through his "artistic creativity', man appears more than ever "in the image of God' and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous "material' of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him" (Letter to Artists, n. 1). There is a remarkable similarity between the art of forming oneself and that which takes place in the transformation of matter.
This dialogue with grace primarily involves the ethical level, but it touches all the dimensions of our lives and is particularly expressed in the exercise of artistic talent. God lets himself be glimpsed in your spirit through the fascination of beauty and your longing for it. Without doubt the artist has a special relationship to beauty, and it can be said that beauty is "the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator" (Letter to Artists, n. 3). If the artist can perceive a ray of the supreme beauty among the many manifestations of the beautiful, then art becomes a way to God and spurs the artist to combine his creative talent with his commitment to a life of ever greater conformity to the divine law. At times the encounter between the splendour of artistic achievement and the heaviness of one's heart can stir that salutary restlessness which makes one want to overcome mediocrity and to start a new life, generously open to the love of God and our brethren.
5. It is then that our humanity soars in an experience of freedom and, I would say, of the infinite, like the experience Michelangelo still inspires in us by his dome that both dominates and crowns this church. Viewed from the outside, it seems to outline the embrace of heaven over the community gathered in prayer, as if to symbolize God's love in drawing near to it. But when seen from the inside with its dizzying height, it suggests the fascination and effort required to rise to the full encounter with God.
Today's Jubilee celebration calls you, dear artists, precisely to rise in this way. It invites you to practise the wonderful "art" of holiness. If this should seem too difficult, may the thought that we are not alone on this journey give you comfort: grace also sustains us through that ecclesial companionship in which the Church becomes a mother to each of us, obtaining from her divine Bridegroom a superabundance of mercy and gifts. Is this not the meaning of the "mater Ecclesia" which Bernini powerfully depicted in the solemn embrace of the colonnade? Those majestic arms are always motherly arms reaching out to all humanity. Welcomed into them, every member of the Church can feel heartened on his pilgrim journey to our homeland.
Thus our reflection returns to its starting-point, to the splendour of the heavenly Jerusalem, for which we yearn as the pilgrim People of God.
I hope, dear artists, that you will always feel drawn by that splendour, and as a comfort to you in your efforts, I cordially give you my Blessing.