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GENERAL AUDIENCE

December 15, 1999

 

1. "Recalling the Lord's words, 'because of this all will know that your are my disciples, that you love one another' (Jn 13,35), Christians cannot desire anything more ardently than to serve men and women of the contemporary world with greater generosity and effectiveness" (Gaudium et Spes, 93).

This task, which Vatican Council II assigned us in closing the Pastoral Constitution on 'The Church in the Modern World,' responds to the fascinating challenge to build a world animated by the law of love, a civilization of love, "based on universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty, which find their fulfillment in Christ" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 52).

The foundation of this civilization is the recognition of the universal sovereignty of God the Father, as inexhaustible source of love. On the occasion of the Great Jubilee of 2000, there must be a sincere examination of our acceptance of this fundamental value at the end of the millennium, to set off more rapidly toward the anticipated future.

We have witnessed the decline of ideologies that deprived so many of our brothers of spiritual references, but the deadly fruits of a secularism that generates religious indifference continue to exist, especially in more developed areas. Given the situation, undoubtedly it is not a valid answer to return to a vague religiosity, motivated by fragile instances of compensation or the search for a psycho-cosmic balance, which are manifest in many new religious paradigms that proclaim a religiosity without reference to a transcendent and personal God.

It is important, therefore, to analyze carefully the causes of the loss of the sense of God and re-propose courageously the announcement of the Father's face, revealed in Jesus Christ in the light of the Spirit. This revelation does not lessen but exalts the dignity of the human person as image of God who is Love.

2. Over the past decades, the loss of the sense of God has coincided with the progress of a nihilistic culture that impoverishes the sense of human existence and, in the ethical field, relativizes even the fundamental values of the family and respect for life. All this is carried out not in a flashy way but, rather, with the subtle method of indifference that makes all forms of behavior appear as normal, so that moral problems will no longer stand out. Paradoxically, there is a demand that governments recognize as 'rights' many forms of behavior that attack human life, especially the weakest and defenseless, not to mention the enormous difficulty of accepting another who is different, disturbing, foreign, sick, handicapped. In fact, the increasingly strong rejection of others as 'other' is a challenge to our conscience as believers. As I said in the encyclical 'Evangelium Vitae': "We are faced by a more vast reality, which can be considered a real and proper structure of sin, characterized by the imposition of a culture that is against solidarity, that is configured in many cases as a real 'culture of death.' " (n.12).

3. Faced with this death-loving culture our responsibility as Christians is expressed in the determination of the 'new evangelization,' among whose most important fruits is the civilization of love.

The Gospel and, consequently, evangelization, are of course not identified with one culture and are independent of all cultures (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 20), yet they possess a regenerating force that can positively influence culture. The Christian message does not weaken culture, destroying its peculiar characteristics; on the contrary it acts on these interiorly, appreciating that original power that their genius is capable of expressing. The influence of the Gospel on culture purifies and elevates the human, making shine the beauty of life, the harmony of peaceful coexistence, the genius that each nation contributes to the community of men. Such an influx has its force in love, which does not impose but proposes, giving an incentive for free adhesion, in an atmosphere of respect and mutual acceptance.

4. The message of love that is proper to the Gospel frees situations and human values, like solidarity, the desire for liberty and equality, respect for pluralism in forms of expressions. The cornerstone of the civilization of love is acknowledgement of the value of the human person and, concretely, of all human persons. The great contribution of Christianity is recognized in this very area. In fact, from reflection on the mystery of the Triune God himself and on the person of the Word made flesh, the anthropological doctrine of the human person as a being in relation gradually arose. This precious acquisition has matured the awareness of society, establishing the person as the point of departure and the objective to reach. The social doctrine of the Church, which the spirit of the Jubilee calls us to readdress, has contributed to base the very laws of social coexistence on the rights of the person. The Christian vision of the human being as image of God implies, in fact, that the rights of the person by their nature exact respect from society, which does not create them, but simply recognizes them (Cf. 'Gaudium et Spes', 26)

5. The Church is conscious that this doctrine can remain dead letter if social life is not animated by the breath of an authentic religious experience and, in particular, by Christian witness continually nourished by the creative and healing action of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is conscious that the crisis of society and of modern man is caused to a great extent by the reduction of the specific spiritual dimension of the human person.

Christianity offers its contribution to the construction of society in keeping with the measure of the human person, assuring him of a soul and proclaiming the demands of God's law, with which every organization and legislation of society must comply, if they intend to guarantee human development, freedom from every kind of slavery, and genuine progress.

This contribution of the Church takes place especially in the testimony offered by Christians, and in particular the laity, in their daily life. Modern man in fact accepts the message of love from witnesses far more than from teachers, or from these when they are authentic witnesses (Cf. EN, 41). This is the challenge that must be addressed, so that new horizons will open for the future of Christianity and of humanity itself.

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