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Sunday, 28 September 1997


Your Eminences and Venerable Confrères,
Mr Ambassadors and Distinguished Authorities,
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord

There is a programme for the spiritual life, written by the young priest Giovanni Battista Montini, which re-echoes the words of the Gospel acclamation: "Your word, O Lord, is truth; make us holy in your love".

In fact, we read in one of his writings: "I would like my life to bear witness to the truth so as to imitate Jesus Christ properly (cf. John 18:37).... With this resolution I would like to give a specific moral meaning to my life and in this way I want to seek my spiritual perfection and my eternal salvation" (cf. Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, La spiritualità di Giovanni Battista Montini, in AA.VV. Paul VI et la modernité dans l’Église, Rome 1984, p. 151).

The personal traits of this great Pontiff come to mind as, gathered in the Vatican Basilica, we remember him and his Successor on the anniversary of their departure for the Father's house. Pope John Paul I died precisely on this day, 19 years ago. The memory of this beloved Pontiff is associated with the vivid memory of the unforgettable Servant of God Paul VI, the centenary of whose birth occurs this year.

1. "Your word is truth, Lord ... sanctify them in the truth" (Jn 17:17). How many times did these venerable Pontiffs repeat this invocation, making their lives a resolute "witness to truth", a firm and docile witness, after the example and teaching of Christ which is represented to us today by the Gospel text.

The Evangelist shows us Christ, on the one hand, open to those who did not belong to the group of Apostles, but did good in his name; on the other, clear-cut in putting people on guard against any compromise with "scandal", that is, with anything that can hinder the faith, especially that of the "little ones". An image emerges of a Christian, and in particular, a Pastor in whom we can easily recognize the spiritual and pastoral style of Pope Paul VI, his balance, perfect and ever renewed, between fidelity to the Tradition of the Church, "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tm 3:15), and attention to the seeds of truth present in the world thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. It is the style of the Second Vatican Council which, in turn, John Paul I resumed, passing it on to his Successor, John Paul II, at the end of his brief pastoral ministry. Our affectionate thoughts and the attestation of our filial devotion are addressed to His Holiness at this moment. Today, he is spiritually united with our prayer for his beloved Predecessors, as he presides in Bologna at the closing Eucharistic celebration of the 23rd National Eucharistic Congress.

2. "If your hand.... And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.... And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter life maimed ... lame ... with one eye ... than to be thrown into hell" (cf. Mk 9:43-47).

The Christian radicalism of which the Gospel speaks is also an eloquently radiant feature in the life and ministry of the Pontiffs whom we are commemorating. They often swam against the tide to remain faithful to the Gospel. Their concern was to proclaim it in its entirety, sine glossa. For this reason they lived and worked without letting themselves be discouraged by any difficulty. However besetting they did not fall into the temptation which determined young Joshua — as we heard just now in the first reading — to set limits to the initiative of the Lord's Spirit.

Cardinal Giovanni Colombo wrote: "Two attitudes, apparently contradictory, coexisted in Paul VI, an attitude of transigence on the practical level, and of intransigence on the level of doctrinal truth which had to remain what it is, an intangible divine value" (op. cit., p. 157). "Extremely respectful of the human person, he did not fear to tell individuals the truth.... However, with the right words, at the right moment, with the right tone of a gentle and strong love, ardent and encouraging yet never discouraging" (ibid., p. 162).

John Paul I, for his part, observed during a General Audience: "God is almighty, God loves me immensely, God is faithful to promises. And it is he, the God of mercy, who kindles trust in me; so that I do not feel lonely, or useless, or abandoned, but involved in a destiny of salvation which will lead to Paradise one day" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 Sept. 1978, p. 1).

3. "The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart" (responsorial psalm). The interior resources of the Petrine ministry of Paul VI and of John Paul I are found precisely here: in faithful devotion to the Lord. With this realism, which distinguishes authentic apostles of the Gospel, they have placed their trust in Christ and in him alone.

Paul VI writes in his Pensiero alla morte: "I see that with regard to this life it is vain to have hopes; one has duties towards it, and functional, short-lived expectations; hopes are for heaven" (Brescia, 1988, p. 23). And he adds: "So: it would please me, at the end, to be in the light" (ibid., p. 24).

Let us accept his invitation to live faithfully and trustingly in the Lord. Trust that is nourished by constantly fulfilling God's will. Trust that makes us walk in the light, in order to "end" in the light. In this light shines the face of Paul VI, rich in intense spirituality, and that of John Paul I, filled with peaceful serenity. They are faces that enrich the Church, because in them shines the radiance of Christ's face.

On the day of our definitive meeting with the heavenly Father, may he also recognize in us the likeness of his Only-begotten Son, Light of Light, blessed for ever.

4. Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!

In this Eucharist we would like to thank the Father who is in heaven for having given us two great Supreme Pontiffs, as were Paul VI and John Paul I. At the same time, in accepting the invitation of the Church which calls us to pray for the deceased, we would like to commend the late Pontiffs to the Lord's mercy, in the hope that we can all meet together in the homeland of Paradise. Amen.

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