Holy Year 2000
Jubilee of Catechists and Religion Teachers
By His Eminence
James Francis Cardinal Stafford
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration
in the Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28)
Saturday of the I Week of Advent
December 9th 2000
Dearest Concelebrants, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood, dearest Catechists and Religion Teachers, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!
1. In particular, I address you esteemed Catechists and religion Teachers, beloved servants of the Truth, who with your jubilee pilgrimage to Rome have offered an enlightened catechesis of that particular bond of faith and communion in the charity that unites you to the Successor of the Apostle Peter and the Universal Church.
In fact, your Jubilee is an eloquent demonstration of continuity and faithfulness to the apostolic and missionary mandate you received from Christ.
Your faces, some young and others lined by the years, perhaps a bit tired from the pilgrimage but all filled with joy and effective hope, reflect the words of the Resurrected One: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (…) lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:18-20).
When addressing each one of you, I am also addressing all those Catechists and teachers from the five continents that could not come to Rome, and to whom you will bear the Holy Father’s salutation, full of paternal affection.
Transmit to them this new vigor, the parresía, the faithful courage Saint Paul tells us about (cf. 1 Thess 2:2) and which you have drawn from with such abundance on this occasion in the city of St. Peter.
To all of you, while returning to your own people, in your families and in schools, in the different areopagi of the world, announce and spread with a lively faith the evangelical richness of eternal and unchangeable truth and the good that the Son of God, made man, introduced into the history of humanity.
May the Mother of God who welcomes you on this first Saturday of Advent, a day as you well know dedicated by Christian tradition to the Virgin Mary, Temple of the Holy Spirit, the sublime icon of the Mystery of Incarnation, precede and accompany you in this mission: "The life was made manifest and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us." (1 Jn 1:2) in Jesus of Nazareth! In fact, as recalled in the Letter to the Colossians - in Him "(…) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (1 Col 2:9).
2. "Shower O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness ; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it also cause righteousness to spring up; I the Lord have created it." (Is 45:8)
The splendid prophetic invocation of the Entrance Antiphon introduces us into today’s Mass of this first jubilee day and throws new light on our missionary commitment in the Church facing today’s needs for evangelization.
"Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant iustum"! Through the Holy Father’s words, we recall that "after receiving the Word of God as rain falling from heaven we cannot allow ourselves to present to the world an image of dry earth; nor can we ever claim to be one bread if we prevent the scattered flour from becoming one through the action of the water which has been poured on us (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, no. 4; cf. Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 17: PG 7,930).
Recently, passing through the Holy Door with the spirit of penance and joyful hope, you have confirmed your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who conferred the same mandate He had received from the Father upon you: "to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives… to comfort all who mourn" (Is 61:1-3).
The luminous Nineteenth Century mosaic by the artists Agricola and Consoni that decorates the façade of this basilica, depicting the four great Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel – and beneath the majestic figure of the Savior imparting blessing between the Apostles Peter and Paul, is an eloquent demonstration of the unity and uniqueness of the salvific project that you too have welcomed and inherited: the Old Covenant joins the New, the primitive pact is completed and perfected in the joyful news of the Advent of the Savior.
In this context, the prophetic words of Isaiah, which we have just heard in the First Reading, announce the consent of a creature to this salvific project of God: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel, God with us" (Is 7:14).
The prophecy of the most admirable event of the economy of salvation is the demonstration of the merciful love of God, the epiphany of light and divine beauty.
"Veritas de terra orta est!" (Ps 84:12), let us sing out with the words of the psalmist: "Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. Yea, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase" (Ps 84:12- 13).Mary, as the virgin earth, well prepared by heavenly justice for all eternity, welcomed the divine seed planted by the mercy of the Father. She is the sublime Paschal joy, offering us the fruit of Her womb, Jesus, the semen mulieris, which by redeeming us from sin, will welcome us into the offspring of the woman announced in Genesis (cf. Gen 3:15).
Dearest ones, you too are the well prepared earth irrigated by the water of the Spirit of Christ, able to welcome the divine word and to transmit it by your witness of life.
I wish that every catechesis, every lesson of yours, may be enrobed in that enchantment and in that luminous mystery of the Advent of the Divine Word that Mary offered us in Nazareth and in the Grotto of Bethlehem, since "for two thousand years, the Church has been the cradle in which Mary places Jesus and entrusts Him to the adoration and contemplation of all peoples" (Bull Incarnationis Mysterium, no. 11).
Make yours the path followed by the Virgin Mary; embrace and put in the crib of your catechesis the loving figure of Christ, the merciful look of He who the Eastern spirituality called "the Most Handsome, of beauty more than all mortals" (Enkomia of the Orthó of the Saint and Great Saturday: cf. Letter by John Paul II to the Artists, no. 6).
Therefore, may your catechesis and your lessons, at the dawning of the Third Millennium, offer people first of all the occasion for the encounter and personal dialogue with the divine Emanuel, the God with us (cf. Mt 1:23) and open "to all people the prospect of being ‘divinized’ and thus of becoming more human" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, no. 2).
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). The main and essential duty of the Church, which is the extension of Christ in the centuries, is to conserve and transmit this lack of change in the announcement and in catechesis. Even the Church herself, as is therefore evident, must be understood in her continuity. Millennia go by, political regimes change, cultures and styles develop, but the Church remains always the same, yesterday, today and forever and by remaining herself there is yet the perennial creativity and novelty of the Spirit. It is not the spirit of the world but the Holy Spirit by which He makes the ship of Peter always go forth in eodem sensu, despite the storms and the inundations.
3. Respected brothers and sisters, it is God’s will that the announcement of this eternal life "which was with the Father and was made manifest to us" (1 Jn 1:2) be spread – according to the adhesion and the answer of each one to the action of the Holy Spirit – to all the Catholic Faithful, to all the Christians that "have been baptized and share the same faith in the Lord" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, no. 4); and also to all the "brothers of the one human family" that have crossed the threshold of the new millennium (cf. Ibid. no. 6), whose expectations, whose problems and whose solutions, because of their growing globalization, require the harmonious collaboration of all.
This is the ad gentes mission entrusted by Christ also and especially to you, that the plantatio Ecclesiae may be spread to every field and every culture! (Ecumenical Council Vatican II, Decree Ad gentes, 2; cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 9). In you, dear catechists and teachers, the Church always rediscovers and reinvigorates her mission, it inspires and reinforces that efficacious ecumenism that is born from the Savior’s priestly prayer "that they may all be one (…), so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn 17:21).
A reading of the times, in effect, evidences "globalization", but the diagnosis of the human heart reveals a great sense of emptiness and repugnance for this darkness full of ephemeral nothingness, which increases disorientation. Not knowing how to find oneself – the reason for life and death, the meaning of evil and suffering – man cannot even manage to find himself in the midst of others.
Well, to this human heart disoriented by the new idols of moral relativism and hedonistic pragmatism, disillusioned by the most different forms of secularism, you propose the propitious and efficacious way, of entering oneself and fully experience that life he so wishes for, in catechesis.
First of all, you do this by the witness of your holy life, with that interior joy and that creativity in serving all men, which is the eloquent sign of the presence of God made man in you.
Let us recall "people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories" (John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris missio no. 42).
The true catechist, the true religion teacher, just like the true missionary, is the saint. And we are here to convert to authentic holiness in our respective states of life.
I address all of you, that in your service of the truth that does not change, you may be the salt that gives the Christian flavor to life, that you may be the light that shines forth in the darkness of indifference and selfishness.
4. "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28)
Mary is the divine masterpiece where the Father entrusts the Son to humanity. She is the image of what God achieves in one who entrusts himself to Him: in Mary, the freedom of the Creator exalts the freedom of the creature. All of creation, and within it all of humanity, is waiting for the consent of a humble girl so that the salvific will of God may be achieved.
Let us place our eyes on Her; pure and splendid as the Star that guides us in the dark heaven of expectations and human uncertainties. In particular, this morning, when in the background of the month of December the joyous Solemnity of the Birth of the Redeemer shines, we can see Her in the eternal Divine Economy of the open Door through which the Savior of the world will pass (cf. John Paul II, Allocution on 8.12.1982).
"Hail, you Star of Ocean! Portal of the sky" (from the Hymn Ave Maris Stella): She is the entranceway and the access to the Word made flesh, she is "the outer gate of the Sanctuary, which faces east" (Ezek 44:1), because through Her Jesus came, the Sun of Justice.
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38).
There are no doubts that the efficacy of catechesis and of evangelization depends, in the majority of cases, upon you the faithful lay catechists and teachers, you who welcome with a lively faith the universal calling to bear witness to Christ, recalled with such great clarity in the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People: "It is the Lord Himself… who is once more inviting all the laity to unite themselves to Him ever more intimately, to consider His interests as their own, and to join in His mission as Savior" (no. 33).
This witness can and must be transmitted to the new areopagi of modern times: the world of social reality, of politics and of economy; the world of art in each of its multiple and noble expressions; the world of communication and scientific research as well as informatics, with all the honest and congruous means available to it, doing away with the fracture between the Gospel and culture (cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi no. 20), which is a falsehood and creates great obstacles to the communion of men with God.
You, the faithful laity, are expected to co-redeem, by catechesis and teaching, and by means of the new languages and the new techniques of communication: through the words of the Holy Father we should recall that "it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church’s authentic teaching; t is also necessary to integrate that message into the new culture created by modern communications" (John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris missio, no. 37).
And how can we avoid referring to other perpetual and fundamental areopagi of society, always in new areas because they are essential to man: the family, the school, the places of healthcare and scientific research, places of recreation, of sports, of entertainment and the world of art.
Dear parents, you are the first catechists of your children: may you be the image of divine love and forgiveness, trying with all your might to build a united and strong family.
Now I turn to you dear teachers, who within the scholastic teaching of religion, within the school, shape the youth with the faith in Christ, maintaining the full respect for their authentic freedom to lead them to true liberation. Remembering that the Word made Flesh came to propose the Truth not to impose it. To those opposed to the catechetical activities of the Church with the most varied pretexts, we repeat to them: open the doors to Christ! He does not coerce liberty but rather favors it (cf. Ibid no. 39).
To the weak, the marginalized, the sick, the doctrine of sequela Crucis must be spread, through catechesis about suffering, the path to the privileged union with the Crucified Christ for the co-redemption of humanity (cf. 1 Pet 4:13; cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, no. 26).
To Mary, Star of the new evangelization we entrust our prayers. By the intercession of the expectant Virgin, may the fruitful covenant between faith and catechetical art be re-established in us and in our times, that the Gospel, the good news, may be that immense vocabulary (P. Claudel) of Divine Knowledge, that iconographic atlas (M. Chagall) that must shine forth in our words and in our acts.
She will make us a worthy House of God, temple of the Holy Spirit, where many sons and daughters can be spiritually born and instructed in the fullness of life in Christ.