Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Homily at the Inauguration of the Special Assembly for Oceania

by Pope Saint John Paul II


November 22, 1998 Homily of the Holy Father at the opening of the Special Assembly for Oceania.

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ZENIT News Agency

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ZENIT News Agency, November 22, 1998

1. "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of Jews". This is the message written on the Cross. Shortly before Christ's death, one of the two condemned men, crucified with Him, said: "Remember me when you enter your Kingdom". Which kingdom? The object of his request was most certainly not an earthly kingdom, but another kingdom.

The good thief speaks as if he had heard the dialogue which took place between Pilate and Christ. In fact, the accusation of Jesus' wish to become king was made in front of Pilate. Pilate had questioned him about this: "Are you the king of Jews?" (Jn 18,33). Christ never denied it, rather He explained: "Mine is not a kingdom of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is my kingdom does not belong here." (Jn 18,36). At the repetition of the question whether he was the king of Jews, made by Pilate, Jesus answered directly: "It is you who say I am king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice" (Jn 18,37).

2. Today's Liturgy speaks of the earthly kingdom of Israel by recalling the anointing of David as King. Yes, God had chosen Israel; he sent it not only prophets but even kings, when the Chosen People insisted on having an earthly ruler. Of all the kings who sat upon the throne of Israel, the greatest was David. When the first reading of this celebration speaks of that kingdom, it does so to recall that Jesus of Nazareth was of the line of King David, but also, and above all, to emphasize that the royalty proper to Christ is of a different kind.

The words which Mary heard at the Annunciation are significant: "The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:32-33). This kingdom, then, is not only the earthly kingdom of David, which came to an end. It is the Kingdom of Christ, which will never end, the eternal Kingdom, the Kingdom of truth, of love and of eternal life.

The Good Thief crucified with Jesus came in some way to the heart of this truth. Indeed, in a certain sense he became a prophet of this eternal Kingdom when, hanging on the cross, he said: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). Christ said in reply: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43).

3. To this Kingdom, which is not of this world, Jesus invited us to look when he taught us to pray: "Thy Kingdom come". Obedient to his command, the Apostles, the disciples and the missionaries of all times have done their best to extend, through evangelization, the boundaries of this Kingdom. For it is both the gift of the Father (cf. Lk 12:32) and the result of man's personal response. In the "new creation", we will be able to enter into the Kingdom of the Father only if we have followed the Lord during our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Mt 19:28).

This, then, is the programme of every Christian: to follow the Lord, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, in order to possess the Kingdom which he has promised and given. Today, in this solemn Eucharistic concelebration, we are inaugurating the Special Assembly for Oceania of the Synod of Bishops, which has as its theme: "Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania: Walking his Way, Telling his Truth and Living his Life".

Welcome, venerable and dear Brothers in the Episcopate, who have the pastoral care of the particular Churches of the Continent of Oceania. Together with you I greet all those who will take part in the work of the Synod and all who have been active in its preparation. I would also like to extend a cordial greeting to the Christian communities and the peoples of Oceania who are spiritually united with us at this moment.

"Jesus, the Incarnate Word, was sent by the Father to the world to bring it salvation, to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God . . . The Father, in raising him from the dead, made him, perfectly and for ever, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, for all who believe" (Instrumentum Laboris, 5). That far-flung portion of the Church, which extends over the immense spaces of Oceania, knows the Way and it knows that there it will find the Truth and the Life: the way of the Gospel, the way pointed out by the Saints and the Martyrs who gave their lives for the Gospel (cf. Instrumentum Laboris, 4).

4. While the Universal Church is preparing to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium of the Christian Era, the pastors of Oceania are assembled in communion, united with the Successor of Peter, to try to give new vigor to pastoral solicitude which leads them to announce the royalty of Christ in the diversity of cultures and human, social and religious traditions, and in the admirable multitude of their people.

In the second reading, Paul the Apostle explains the Kingdom Jesus speaks about. He writes to the Colossians: one must render grace to God "because it is He who has rescued us from the ruling force of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of the Son that He loves, and in Him we enjoy our freedom, the forgiveness of sin." (1, 13-14). It is precisely this remission of sins which has become the heritage of the good thief on Calvary. He was the first to actually experience Christ is king, because He is the Redeemer.

Then, the Apostle explains the royalty of Christ: "He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in Him were created all things in heaven and earth: everything visible and everything invisible, all things were created through Him and for Him. He exists before all things and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1, 15-17). Therefore Christ is King before all as the first-born of all creatures.

The Pauline text continues: "...and He is the Head of the Body, that is, the Church. He is the Beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He should be supreme in every way; because God wanted all fullness to be found in Him and through Him to reconcile all things to Him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, by making peace through His death on the Cross" (Ibid. 1, 18-20). With these words, the Apostle again confirms and justifies what he revealed about the essence of the royalty of Christ: Christ is king as the first-born from the dead. In other words, as Redeemer of the world, the crucified and resurrected Christ is the King of new humanity.

5. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23,42).

On Calvary, Jesus had a remarkable companion to his passion, a thief. For this unfortunate man, the way of the cross inevitably became the way to paradise (cf. Lk 23,43), the way of truth and life, the way to the Kingdom. Today we remember him as the "good thief". On this solemn occasion, where we gather around the altar of Christ to begin a Synod, which faces an entire Continent with its problems and with its hopes, we can make ours the prayer of the "good thief".

"Jesus, remember me, remember us, remember the peoples, to whom the pastors convened here daily give the living and true bread of Your Gospel through limitless territories, by sea and by land. As we pray for Your Kingdom to come, we realize that Your promise becomes reality: after following You, we come to You, in Your Kingdom, drawn to You raised on the Cross (cf. Jn 12,32); to You, raised over history and in its heart, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Ap 22,13), the Lord of all times and all centuries!

We address You with the words of an ancient hymn:

Through Your painful death, King of eternal glory,
You have obtained eternal life for the peoples,
Therefore the whole world calls You King of men.
Reign over us, Christ the Lord!".

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