Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Jesus' Life Is Reference Point For Our Faith

by Pope Saint John Paul II


The Holy Father's General Audience Address of December 17, 1997 in which he continues his catechesis on Jesus Christ and the Great Jublilee, the 5th in the series.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano



Publisher & Date

Vatican, December 31, 1997

1. The entrance of eternity into time through the mystery of the Incarnation makes Christ's whole life on earth an exceptional period. The span of this life is a unique time, a time for the fullness of Revelation, in which the eternal God speaks to us in his incarnate Word through the veil of his human existence.

It is the time that will remain for ever as a normative point of reference: the time of the Gospel. All Christians recognize it as the time from which their faith begins.

It is the time of a human life that changed all human lives. Christ's life was rather short; but its intensity and value are beyond compare. We stand before the greatest wealth for human history.

An inexhaustible richness, because it is the wealth of eternity and divinity.

2. Those who lived in Jesus' time and had the joy of being close to him, seeing him and hearing him were particularly fortunate. Jesus himself calls them blessed: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Lk 10:23-24).

Jesus invites disciples to see beyond the senses

The formula "I tell you" makes it clear that the affirmation goes beyond mere observation of a historical fact. What Jesus says is a word of revelation which sheds light on the profound meaning of history. In the past that precedes him, Jesus does not only see the external events that prepare his coming; he looks at the deep aspirations of hearts which underlie those events and anticipate their final outcome.

The majority of Jesus' contemporaries are unaware of their privilege. They see and hear the Messiah without recognizing him as the Saviour for whom they hoped. They address him without realizing they are speaking to God's Anointed foretold by the prophets.

In saying: "what you see", "what you hear", Jesus invites them to perceive the mystery, going beyond the veil of the senses. He helps his disciples especially to penetrate it: "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God" (Mk 4:11).

Our faith, based precisely on the disciples' witness, is rooted in their gradual discovery of the mystery. We do not have the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus, as was possible during the time of his earthly life, but with faith we receive the immeasurable grace of entering into the mystery of Christ and his kingdom.

3. The time of the Gospel opens the door to a deep knowledge of Christ's person. In this regard, we can recall Jesus' sad rebuke to Philip: "Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me, Philip?" (Jn 14:9). Jesus expected a penetrating knowledge full of love from the one who, as an Apostle, lived in a very close relationship with the Teacher and, precisely because of this intimacy, should have understood that the Father's face was revealed in him: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (ibid.). With the eyes of faith the disciple is called to discover the invisible face of the Father in Christ's face.

4. The span of Christ's earthly life is presented in the Gospel as the time of the wedding feast. It is a time made for spreading joy. "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast" (Mk 2:19). Here Jesus is using a simple and evocative image. He is the bridegroom who announces his wedding feast, the wedding feast of love between God and humanity. He is the bridegroom who wants to communicate his joy. The bridegroom's friends are invited to share it by coming to the wedding feast.

However, precisely in this wedding context, Jesus announces the time when he will no longer be present: "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day" (Mk 2:20): it is a clear reference to his sacrifice. Jesus knows that the joy will be followed by sadness. Then the disciples will "fast", that is, they will suffer as they participate in his Passion.

Christ's coming on earth, with all the joy it involves for humanity, is inseparably linked to suffering. The wedding feast is marked by the drama of the Cross but it will culminate in paschal joy.

5. This drama is the result of Christ's inevitable conflict with the power of evil: "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:5). The sins of all humanity play an essential part in this drama. But the failure of a certain group of his own people to recognize him was particularly distressing for Christ. Addressing the city of Jerusalem, he reproaches her: "You did not know the time of your visitation" (Lk 19:44).

Jesus' earthly life is a time of sacrifice

The time of Christ's earthly presence was the time of God's visitation. Of course, there were those who gave a positive response, the response of faith. Before recounting Jesus' tears over the rebellious city (cf. Lk 19:41-44), Luke describes for us his "royal", "messianic" entry into Jerusalem, when "the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying: 'Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest"' (19:37-38). But this enthusiasm could not, in Jesus' eyes, conceal the bitter fact of being rejected by the leaders of his own people and by the crowd they had incited.

Moreover, before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus had foretold his sacrifice: "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45; cf. Mt 20:28).

The time of Christ's earthly life is thus marked by his redeeming sacrifice. It is the time of the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection, from which flows the salvation of the human family.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a special welcome to the young people from Sweden and to the Brighton School Choir from Adelaide in Australia. I greet the participants in the International Christian Conference on Praise and Worship. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I cordially invoke the blessings of almighty God. To all of you, a Happy Christmas!

© L'Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.

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