The Heart of John
Paul II- General Audiences on God the Father
The Christian Life: A pilgrimage to
the house of the Father
John Paul II
August 11, 1999
Dear Brothers and
1. After meditating on the eschatological goal of our existence,
that is, eternal life, we now reflect on the journey that leads to
it. To do this, we develop the perspective presented in the
Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente: “The whole of the
Christian life is like a great pilgrimage to the house of the
Father, whose unconditional love for every human creature, and in
particular for the ‘prodigal son’ (cf. Lk 15:11-32), we discover
anew each day. This pilgrimage takes place in the heart of each
person, extends to the believing community and then reaches to the
whole of humanity” (n. 49).
In fact, what Christians will one day live to the full is already in
some way anticipated today. Indeed, the Passover of the Lord
inaugurates the life of the world to come.
2. The Old Testament prepares for the announcement of this truth
through the complex theme of the Exodus. The journey of the chosen
people to the promised land (cf. Ex 6:6) is like a magnificent icon
of the Christian’s journey towards the Father's house. Obviously
there is a fundamental difference: while in the ancient Exodus
liberation was oriented to the possession of land, a temporary gift
like all human realities, the new “Exodus” consists in the journey
towards the Father’s house, with the definitive prospect of eternity
that transcends human and cosmic history. The promised land of the
Old Testament was lost de facto with the fall of the two kingdoms
and the Babylonian Exile, after which the idea of returning
developed like a new Exodus. However, this journey did not end in
another geographical or political settlement, but opened itself to
an “eschatological” vision that was henceforth a prelude to full
revelation in Christ. The universalistic images, which in the Book
of Isaiah describe the journey of peoples and history towards a new
Jerusalem, the centre of the world (cf. Is 56-66), in fact point in
3. The New Testament announces the fulfilment of this great
expectation, holding up Christ as the Saviour of the world: “When
the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born
under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we
might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). In the light of this
announcement, this life is already under the sign of salvation. It
is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, which culminates in
the Passover but will have its full realization in the “parousia”,
the final coming of Christ.
According to the Apostle Paul, this journey of salvation which links
the past to the present, directing it to the future, is the fruit of
God's plan, totally focused on the mystery of Christ. This is the
“mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in
Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in
him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:9-10; cf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1042f.).
In this divine plan, the present is the time of the “already and not
yet”. It is the time of salvation already accomplished and the
journey towards its full actualization: “Until we all attain to the
unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature
manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”
4. Growth towards this perfection in Christ, and therefore growth
towards the experience of the Trinitarian mystery, implies that the
Passover will be fulfilled and fully celebrated only in the
eschatological kingdom of God (cf. Lk 22:16). But the events of the
Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection already constitute
the definitive revelation of God. The offer of redemption which this
event implies is inscribed in the history of our human freedom,
called to respond to the call of salvation.
Christian life is a participation in the paschal mystery, like the
Way of the Cross and the Resurrection. It is a Way of the Cross,
because our life is continually subject to the purification that
leads to overcoming the old world marked by sin. It is a way of
resurrection, because, in raising Christ, the Father conquered sin,
so that for the believer the “justice of the Cross” becomes the
“justice of God”, that is, the triumph of his truth and his love
over the wickedness of the world.
5. In short, Christian life is growing towards the mystery of the
eternal Passover. It therefore requires that we keep our gaze on the
goal, the ultimate realities, but at the same time, that we strive
for the “penultimate” realities: between these and the
eschatological goal there is no opposition, but on the contrary a
mutually fruitful relationship. Although the primacy of the Eternal
is always asserted, this does not prevent us from living historical
realities righteously in the light of God (cf. CCC, n. 1048f.).
It is a matter of purifying every human activity and every earthly
task, so that the Mystery of the Lord’s Passover will increasingly
shine through them. As the Council in fact reminded us, human
activity which is always marked by the sign of sin is purified and
raised to perfection by the paschal mystery, so that “when we have
spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise — human
dignity, brotherly communion, and freedom — according to the command
of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again,
cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and
transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and
universal kingdom” (Gaudium et spes, n. 39).
This eternal light illumines the life and the entire history of
humanity on earth.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am happy to extend a special welcome to the English-speaking
pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Japan,
Indonesia and the United States of America. Upon all of you, I
invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.
Before concluding the General Audience, the Pope recalled the 50th
anniversary of the Geneva Conventions:
I cannot forget that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Geneva
Conventions, adopted at the end of the Second World War to guarantee
protection of civilian persons, prisoners of war and all victims of
This anniversary draws the international community’s attention once
again to the situation of the war victims whose blood, still today,
stains many States.
That minimum protection of the dignity of every person, guaranteed
by international humanitarian law, is all too often violated in the
name of military or political demands which should never prevail
over the value of the human person.
Today we are aware of the need to find a new consensus on
humanitarian principles and to reinforce their foundations to
prevent the recurrence of atrocities and abuse.
The Church never tires of repeating that education in respect for
every human life, actively working with those who strive to assure
aid to the suffering and ensure respect for their dignity is
indispensable, whether they are civilians or the military.
I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon all those who are doing everything
they can to help the many innocent victims of conflicts, prisoners
and civilians, at the mercy of violence.
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