On St. Paul and the Second Coming
"Come, Lord! Come Where You Are Not Known"
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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 12, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The Holy Father continued today the cycle of catecheses dedicated to the figure and thought of St. Paul.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
The theme of the Resurrection, which we considered last week, opens a new perspective -- that of awaiting the return of the Lord. And therefore it brings us to reflect on the relationship between the present time, the time of the Church and the Kingdom of Christ, and the future (éschaton) that awaits us, when Christ will hand over the Kingdom to the Father (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24). Every Christian discourse on the last things, called eschatology, always starts from the event of the Resurrection: In this event the last things have already begun, and in a certain sense, are already present.
St. Paul probably wrote his first letter in the year 52, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, where he speaks of this return of Jesus, called the parousía, the advent, the new and definitive and manifest presence (cf. 4:13-18). To the Thessalonians, who have their doubts and problems, the Apostle writes thus: "If we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (4:14).
And he continues: "The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:16-17). Paul describes the parousía of Christ with very living tones and symbolic images, but transmitting a simple and profound message: At the end, we will be always with the Lord. That is, beyond the images, the essential message: Our future is "to be with the Lord." As believers, in our lives we already are with the Lord -- our future, eternal life, has already begun.
In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul changes the perspective: He speaks of negative events that must precede that conclusive end. Do not let yourselves be deceived, he says, as if the day of the Lord were truly imminent, according to a chronological calculation. "We ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a 'spirit,' or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way" (2:1-3).
The rest of this text announces that before the arrival of the Lord, there will be the apostasy and the revelation of the no better defined "wicked one," the "son of perdition" (2:3), which tradition will later call the Antichrist. But the intention of this letter of St. Paul is above all practical. He writes: "In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food" (3:10-12).
In other words, the awaiting of the parousía of Jesus does not dispense with the work of this world, but on the contrary, brings responsibilities before the divine Judge regarding our way of acting in this world. Precisely thus, our responsibility to work in and for this world arises. We will see the same thing next Sunday in the Gospel of the talents, where the Lord tells us that he has entrusted talents to everyone and the Judge will ask us to account for them, saying: Have you given fruits? Therefore, the awaiting of his coming implies a responsibility toward this world.
The same thing and the same nexus between parousía -- the return of the Judge-Savior -- and our commitment in life appears in another context and with new aspects in the Letter to the Philippians. Paul is in jail and awaiting his sentence, which might be death. In this situation, he thinks of his future being with the Lord, but he also thinks of the community of Philippi, which needs its father, Paul, and he writes: "For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better. Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. And this I know with confidence, that I shall remain and continue in the service of all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound on account of me when I come to you again" (1:21-26).
Paul is not afraid of death, on the contrary, it means in fact the complete being with Christ. But Paul also participates in the sentiments of Christ, who has not lived for himself, but for us. Living for others becomes the program of his life and because of that, he shows his perfect readiness to do the will of God, [readiness] for what God decides. He is ready above all, also in the future, to live on earth for the others, to live for Christ, to live for his living presence and thus for the renewal of the world. We see that this being yours with Christ creates a great interior freedom: freedom before the threat of death, but freedom also before all the tasks and sufferings of life. He was simply available to God and truly free.
And we turn now, after having examined the various aspects of the waiting for the parousía of Christ, to ask ourselves: What are the fundamental attitudes of a Christian toward the last things -- death and the end of the world? The first attitude is the certainty that Jesus has risen, is with the Father, and because of that, is with us forever. And no one is stronger that Christ, because he is with the Father, is with us. Because of this, we are secure and free of fear. This was an essential effect of Christian preaching. Fear of spirits and gods was spread throughout the entire ancient world. And today as well, missionaries find -- together with so many good elements in natural religions -- the fear of spirits and the ill-fated powers that threaten us. Christ is alive; he has overcome death and has overcome all these powers. With this certainty, with this freedom, with this joy, we live. This is the first element of our living directed to the future.
In second place, the certainty that Christ is with me. And that in Christ the future world has already begun -- this also gives the certainty of hope. The future is not a darkness in which no one gets one's bearings. It is not like that. Without Christ, also for the world today, the future is dark; there is fear of the future -- a lot of fear of the future. The Christian knows that the light of Christ is stronger and because of this, lives in a hope that is not vague, in a hope that gives certainty and courage to face the future.
Finally, the third attitude: The Judge who returns -- who is Judge and Savior at the same time -- has left us the task of living in this world according to his way of living. He has given us his talents. Because of this, our third attitude is responsibility toward the world, toward our brothers before Christ, and at the same time, also certainty of his mercy. Both things are important. We don't live as if good and evil were the same, because God only can be merciful. This would be a deceit. In truth, we live with a great responsibility. We have talents, we have to work so this world opens itself to Christ, so that it is renewed. But even working and knowing in our responsibility that God is a true judge, we are also sure that he is a good judge. We know his face -- the face of the risen Christ, of Christ crucified for us. Therefore we can we sure of his goodness and continue forward with great courage.
Following the Pauline teaching on eschatology is the fact of the universality of the call to faith, which unites Jews and Gentiles, that is, the pagans, as a sign and anticipation of the future reality, by which we can say that we are already seated in heaven with Christ, but to show to future centuries the richness of grace (cf. Ephesians 2:6ff): The "after" becomes a "before" to make evident the state of incipient fulfillment in which we live. This makes tolerable the sufferings of the present moment, which are not comparable to future glory (cf. Romans 8:18). We walk by faith and not by sight, and though it would be preferable to leave the body and live with the Lord, what matters definitively, whether dwelling in the body or leaving it, is being pleasing to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7-9).
Finally, a last point that perhaps seems a little difficult for us. St. Paul in the conclusion of his Second Letter to the Corinthians repeats and also puts on the lips of the Corinthians, a prayer originating in the first Christian communities of the area of Palestine: Maranà, thà!, which literally means, "Our Lord, come!" (16:22). It was the prayer of the first Christian community and the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, also closes with this prayer: "Come Lord!"
Can we also pray like this? It seems to me that for us today, in our lives, in our world, it is difficult to sincerely pray so that this world perishes, so that the new Jerusalem comes, so that the final judgment and Christ the judge come. I think that if we don't dare to sincerely pray like this for many reasons, nevertheless in a just and correct way we can also say with the first Christians: "Come, Lord Jesus."
Certainly, we don't want the end of the world to come now. But, on the other hand, we want this unjust world to end. We also want the world to be deeply changed, the civilization of love to begin, [we want] a world of justice and peace, without violence, without hunger, to arrive. We all want this -- and how can it happen without the presence of Christ? Without the presence of Christ, a just and renewed world will never really arrive. And though in another way, totally and deeply, we too can and should say, with great urgency and in the circumstances of our time, Come, Lord! Come to your world, in the way that you know. Come where there is injustice and violence. Come to the refugee camps, in Darfur and in North Kivu, in so many places in the world. Come where drugs dominate. Come, too, among those rich people who have forgotten you and who live only for themselves. Come where you are not known. Come to your world and renew the world of today. Come also to our hearts. Come and renew our lives. Come to our hearts so that we ourselves can be light of God, your presence.
In this sense, we pray with St. Paul: Maranà, thà! Come, Lord Jesus! And we pray so that Christ is really present today in our world, and that he renews it.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Holy Father then addressed the crowds in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now turn from his proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection to his teaching on the Lord’s second coming. For Paul, the Lord’s return at the end of time will be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead and the consummation of his Kingdom, when all those who believed in him and trusted in his promises "will be with him for ever" in glory (cf. 1 Thess 4:17). Christ’s victorious reign has in fact already begun. Yet we, who have received the Spirit as the first fruits of our redemption, patiently await the fulfilment of that plan in our lives. Our life in this world, marked by trials and tribulations, must be inspired by the hope of heaven and the expectation of our resurrection to glory. Paul’s rich eschatology, linking the "already" of Christ’s resurrection to the "not yet" of our life in this world, is reflected in his statement that "in hope we were saved" (Rom 8:24). This same joyful expectation of the Lord’s return and the fulfilment of the Father’s saving plan is seen in the ancient Christian prayer with which he concludes his first Letter to the Corinthians: Maranà, thà! Come, Lord Jesus!
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, particularly priests from the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, members of the Corpus Christi Movement for Priests, participants in the International Catholic Conference of Scouting, and pilgrims from the Philippines, England, Nigeria, and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
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