The Opening Presentation of the 2003-04 Spiritual Orientation Weekend
September 5, 2003
JOHN PAUL II’S PASTORAL VISION
The general outline (scheme shown at end of text) can be used for a
one-week retreat or an academic course, but let us now use it for a half
Since we intend to ground this formation year on the most recent documents
of John Paul II, it is fitting to frame them within the context of this
pope’s pastoral and theological and spiritual vision. It is always fundamental
for us to be in communion with the Pope (ecclesial communion).
I will follow the scheme – very quickly for what concerns the first twenty
years, more slowly for the last few years.
The pastoral plan of John Paul II comprises:
Great documents, none of them exceptionally innovative but all marked
by a powerful ability of actualization and dissemination. They all are
in modern language, easily understandable by the present culture. They
all follow in the wake of Vatican II and in continuation with the teachings
of Paul VI.
A simple list is reported here, incomplete, recalled only by the initials
of the “incipit”.
- The four basic encyclical letters – RH, DM, DetV, RMt.
- Documents issued in response to special needs: theological, pastoral,
moral, social – encyclical letters or pastoral letters or just “letters”.
- Documents linked to general synods of the universal Church or continental
and national synods – generally apostolic exhortations.
Besides the documents, personal contacts with the Church at different
levels were the main concern of this Pope: Episcopal synods, general audiences,
pastoral trips, ad limina visitations.
The Pope was young and full of energy, which he spent totally on his
ministry. Neither the criminal attempt in 1981, nor a stomach cancer or
a hip fracture could stop him. Only Parkinson’s disease is slowing him
down at the age of 83.
Both in Rome and around the world, he developed, adapted and disseminated
what he was teaching in his official documents.
“The Great Jubilee of the year 2000”, whose preparation began in 1994.
It was the first case in which a pastoral plan was proposed at a universal
level. Obviously the effect depended upon the adhesion and involvement
of the local churches, but the implant was logical, coherent and to the
point. The purpose was to review the Catholic doctrine and life in its
deepest content and articulations:
- the Blessed Trinity - an echo of the general setting of the
- the theological virtues, in which God’s life and grace inhabit
and breathe in us;
- the sacraments, as the means of the economy of salvation.
A remarkable importance was given to the presence of the BVM in
the whole process of catechesis and celebration, again as an echo of the
The New Millennium
The Jubilee was an extraordinary experience for the Pope and for those
Catholics who took it seriously. The gist of this experience was thus
formulated by the pope himself: Jesus Christ is alive.
“Jesus Christ is the only Saviour yesterday today and always” was the
title of the Jubilee.
How can we explain what we witnessed on the occasion of the various manifestations
which took place during the Jubilee?
- the millions of people who flocked to Rome or gathered in their local
- the endless lines of pilgrims (which the Pope often observed from
the windows of his apartment) who gathered in Saint Peter’s Square in
order to enter the Holy Door and go to confession,
- the more that two million young people who invaded Rome in the hot
summer, without leaving a scratch on the walls or a syringe on the ground.
All this happened not for concerts or similar entertainment but for prayer
All this can only be explained by the presence of the One who is alive
and has the power to call and to gather people to himself.
We knew that Jesus Christ is alive, of course. It is the core of our
faith. But the Jubilee made of it an experience at the level of the universal
That Jesus is alive is the basic experience of every believer, from the
apostles to each one of us. But this time something similar occurred at
the universal level.
What to do next? The pope had to continue to lead the Church.
Here is the new phase of a pastoral plan that is looming.
(NB. Pastoral planning is the art of continually reviewing and re-proposing,
in ever changing situations, the Christian dynamism of evangelization,
catechesis, sacraments and practice of charity).
NOVO MILLENNIO INEUNTE
If Jesus Christ is alive, we must keep our hearts and our lives fixed
on him. We must ceaselessly contemplate Jesus’ face.
He is the visible image of the invisible God. A face of love and mercy,
a suffering face (unforgettable pages on this aspect), the face of the
The pivotal point, the ignition to set in motion the new millennium,
is “Starting afresh from Jesus Christ”.
“Duc in altum”, put out into the deep.
As at the beginning, the Pope said: “Do not be afraid to open the doors
to Jesus Christ”, now he says: “put out into the deep”.
In this seminary we are familiar with the main points of this first document
of the new millennium, as we centred our two previous years of formation
- The call to holiness: “to settle for a life of mediocrity marked
by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity would be a contradiction”,
- Life of prayer: Even ordinary Christians “cannot be content
with shallow prayer, that is unable to fill their whole life. They would
be not only mediocre Christians, but Christians at risk”, 34.
- The Word of God, the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation.
- The spirituality of communion.
- The challenges of today’s world – life, ecology, laity, the
Sunday celebration, the courage of identity.
ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE
We shouldn’t be deceived by the title. This is not a marian-devotional
document. This is a document on “contemplating the face of Jesus Christ”.
What does it mean to contemplate the face of Jesus? How can we contemplate
By going through the various articulations of the mystery of salvation
– “the mysteries of the mystery”: incarnation, paschal mystery, the beginning
of the Church. Jesus’ birth, his infancy, his ministry, his death and
resurrection, his ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the eschatological
accomplishment of salvation in the first Christian, Mary of Nazareth.
All this we find present and well structured in the prayer of the Rosary,
which can be broadened to better fit the purpose.
The Rosary can be an outstanding way of contemplating the face of Jesus.
- It is a devotional prayer.
- It is a catechetical prayer.
- It is a method of meditation.
- It can lead to contemplation, acquired or infused.
- It is rooted in the Bible, for all the mysteries are present in Scripture.
It can even be a form of lectio divina, which today is coming back into
- It is rooted in the liturgy, as it deals with the same mysteries
we celebrate in the liturgy. What we approach and experience in the
liturgy in a one hour rite, must sink deeply into our lives. The rosary
is a means to reach this purpose.
- It is the summary of the gospel, of the mystery of salvation, of
- It is a Christological prayer. Even the Hail Mary, the Marian prayer
par excellence, has a Christological motivation at its heart. Mary is
praised because of her relationship with Christ, and she is invoked
because of her unique closeness to Christ.
In the rosary all this is done WITH MARY.
Jesus’ mysteries are supposed to become also our mysteries. They were
Mary’s mysteries first. She was involved in them and she meditated upon
them “live”, while happening historically. Her permanent attitude was:
“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”, Lk 2:19.51.
Consequently the rosary is:
- learning about Jesus Christ,
- conforming to Jesus Christ, WITH MARY.
- proclaiming Jesus Christ,
- praying to Jesus Christ
ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA
This Encyclical Letter shows that contemplation is still the unifying
thread of the pastoral plan of John Paul II.
Besides contemplating Jesus’ face, and contemplating it through the mysteries
of the rosary, there is still another aspect upon which to focus: the
Eucharist celebrated and adored. There Jesus’ face is present. There we
are called to contemplate him.
The document contains useful theological reminders:
- The Eucharist as the source of life of the Church (from a sentence
of Henri de Lubac). The Eucharist builds the Church. Baptism is the
wellspring of the Church’s life, but it must to be considered in relationship
with the Eucharist. Baptism is not enough to become a Christian. Baptism
is birth, Eucharist is growth.
(NB The modern tendency to de-baptize oneself!)
- The apostolicity of the Eucharist.
- The ecclesial communion, connectable with the theme of spirituality
of communion in NMI.
The document seems to be dominated by pastoral and disciplinary concerns:
- inappropriateness of intercommunion,
- dignity of ritual celebration,
- adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,
- defence of the Tridentine theology on the Eucharist.
The document’s originality lies in the insights it offers on the Eucharistic
spirituality and on the Marian dimension of the Eucharist.
I would like to call your attention to what the Pope says about eucharistic
spirituality in the life of the priest.
“If the Eucharist is the centre and the summit of the Church’s life,
it is likewise the centre and summit of the priestly ministry”. “The Eucharist
is the principal and central raison d’etre of the sacrament of priesthood”.
Priests today “risk losing their focus amid such a great number of different
tasks” (quotation from PO 14).
Eucharist “is therefore the centre and root of the whole priestly life”.
The Pope warmly recommends the daily celebration of the of the Eucharist,
“to counteract the daily tensions which lead to a lack of focus”, and
to draw “the spiritual strength needed to deal with their different pastoral
In spite of whatever difficulty for lack of priests in the communities,
it must be avoided “yielding to temptation to seek solutions which lower
the moral and formative standards demanded of candidates for the priesthood”,
The marian dimension of the Eucharist is announced from the beginning,
when the pope says that the purpose of his document is “to rekindle the
eucharistic amazement” in the Church, inviting her to contemplate the
“eucharistic face of Christ” “at the school of Mary woman of the Eucharist”.
Until now, both theology and the official teachings of the Church avoided
dealing with this topic, leaving it to devotion. Now the pope elaborates
it extensively, and his language is not merely devotional but theological
I would like to recall some points which we cannot read without feeling
that eucharistic amazement the pope wants to rekindle in us.
- When we obey the command of Jesus “Do this in memory of me”, we obey
at the same time the command of Mary “Do whatever he tells you”, 54.
- “There is a profound analogy” between the Fiat of Mary in the incarnation
and the Amen the faithful are requested to say when receiving communion”,
- In the Eucharistic memorial is present not only the Body and Blood
of Jesus, but “all that Christ accomplished by his passion and death”.
Consequently the fact that he entrusted us to his mother, and gave her
to us as mother. Consequently also, whenever we “do this in memory”
of Jesus, we accept also Jesus’ mother as our mother.
“Mary is present, with the Church and as the mother of the Church, at
each of our celebrations of the E. If the Church and the E are inseparably
united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the E”. For this reason
she is mentioned in every Eucharistic prayer, since the beginning, both
in western and eastern Churches, 57.
- There are interesting reflections on Mary’s feelings when she listened
to the words of consecration pronounced by the apostles: “The body given
up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body
which she had conceived in her womb. For Mary receiving the Eucharist
must have somehow meant welcoming once more Jesus in herself” 56.
Is this a devotional language or a theological and biblical language?
This certainly is a contemplative language – contemplating Jesus’ face,
Jesus’ eucharistic face, WITH MARY.
In conclusion and in synthesis, these are the main points of John Paul
II’s pastoral, spiritual and theological vision.
We can see this setting in continuity with what Paul VI affirmed in the
face of the whole world on December 7th, 1965, in the closing
sermon of the Second Vatican Council.
Vatican II was basically an experience of contemplation. After describing
the situation of today’s world, Paul VI said that Vatican II recognized
God “as our creator, our truth, our happiness; so much so that the effort
to look at him and to centre our heart in him – which we call contemplation
– is the highest, the most perfect act of the spirit, the act which even
today can and must be at the apex of all human activity”.
TRINITY – JESUS CHRIST – THE EUCHARIST
The pope brought the mystery of the trinity of God back into the awareness
of the Catholic Church. The Blessed Trinity is the author of human salvation.
The Father accomplishes it through the Son, in (the power of) the Holy
Eucharist, a work of the Blessed Trinity as well, is the permanently
active laboratory of salvation in history.
This is the aspect that has become increasingly evident in the plan of
this pope: Mary as mother and image of the Church and of all individual
members of the Church is the continual inspiration of the ministry of
John Paul II.
It was clear from the logo and the motto of his Episcopal coat of arms,
which stirred sarcastic smiles when he was elected pope.
Following the doctrinal setting of Vatican II and of Paul VI, John Paul
II officially disclosed this aspect of his pastoral vision in RMt /1987.
He confirmed this vision in his pastoral planning for the Jubilee. “Maria
Sanctissima, quae quasi oblique adstabit cum res jubilei parabuntur, (hoc
primo anno praesertim in mysterio suae maternitatis conspicietur), TMA
43. (Oblique = crosswise, transversally; not “indirectly”).
What he practically says is that Mary is present in every aspect of catholic
doctrine and spirituality. The letter of the CCE on the first anniversary
of RMt, makes this position explicit: The BVM is an “essential datum”
of Catholic faith, life, doctrine, spirituality…
The last development of John Paul II’s marian vision is found in RVM
and in EdE.
The language of John Paul II about the BVM is never merely devotional,
if we mean by devotional, based on sentiments or personal feelings.
His language is always biblical and theological, that is, based on biblical
references and implanted into the context of theological reflection.
- If the BVM is the mother of God the incarnate Word, there must be
a “relation” between this Man-God and his mother. Whenever we speak
of the body of Jesus Christ – birth, growth, passion, sacrificial death,
resurrection, ascension, eucharistic body, mystical body of the Church
– there must always be some relationship between this human and divinised
body and his mother.
- If the BVM is our mother “in the order of grace”, she must be present
there where grace springs from, beginning with our birth to grace (baptism),
continuing with the sacraments from which we draw grace, above all the
- If the BVM is the image of the Church (archetype, model) in her life
of faith and commitment to God, she must be present in every articulation
of our faith life – our relationship with the Blessed Trinity and our
daily experience of salvation.
Whatever we say about her, we say about the work of God in her and about
our relationship with God.
There are perplexities about an excessive “marianization” of the Catholic
Church, and there are concerns about ecumenical relationships.
John Paul II always responds that ecumenism is not to be achieved at
the expense of our identity. This Marian awareness is also a fruit of
the warning from the Protestants inviting Catholics to be more seriously
based on the Bible.
We are not insisting on Mary’s privileges, but on Mary’s faith. This
should be pleasing to Protestants.
The pope harbours the dream, we may legitimately infer, that this authentic
Catholic refocusing on Mary may become, in the long run, an incentive
It is impossible that the two most powerful gifts given to us by Jesus
to keep us united – his Mother and himself in the Eucharist – continue
to be the main reasons for our division.
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