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General Audiences - Wednesday, September 13th, 1978





My first greeting goes to my brothers, the Bishops, who I see here present in a big number.


Pope John, in one of his notes that has also been printed, said: 'This time, I have made the retreat on the seven lamps of sanctification'. Seven virtues, he meant, that are faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, strength and temperance. Perhaps if today the Holy Spirit helps the poor Pope to explain, at least, one of these lamps, the first one: faith.


Here in Rome there has been a poet, Trilussa, who has also tried to speak about faith on one of his poetries. He said: 'That little old blind woman who I met / the night that I got lost in the middle of the forest / told me: If you don' t know the way / I will show it to you that I know it / If you have the strength to follow me / I will often be giving voices to you / up to there at the bottom, where there is a cypress / up to the top where there is a cross. I answered: Is it possible?... but it is strange / that can guide me who does not see... / Then the blind woman took me the hand / and she sighed: 'Walk'... It was Faith'.


Our generous answer to the Lord


As poetry, is funny. As Theology, is defective. Defective because when it is spoken about faith, the great Scene Director is God; because Jesus has said: 'Nobody comes to me if my Father does not attract him'. St. Paul had not faith; he even persecuted the faithful. God is waiting for him on the way to Damascus: Paul – He told him -- don' t dream about rearing, about kicking as a bolt horse. I am Jesus to whom you persecute. I have my plans for you. It is necessary you change. Paul surrendered; he changed by turning upside down his own life. Some years later, he will write to the Philipenses: 'That time, on the way to Damascus, God grasped me; since then, I do not make but running after Him to see if I am able to grasp Him, too, imitating Him and loving Him more and more'.


This is faith: to surrender to God, but transforming the own life. A thing not always easy. Augustine has told the trip of his faith; especially the last weeks, it was something terrible; it is possible to feel his soul almost shaking and twisting in inner fights. On this side, it is God who calls and insists; and, on the other one, the old habits, 'old friends' - he writes -, which were pulling me smoothly by my dress of meat and told me: 'Augustine, Augustine, but what, are you leaving us? Look that you will not be able to do this any more, you will not be able to do that and, for ever'. Difficult! 'I was -- he says -- in the situation of who is in bed in the morning. They tell him: 'Out, Augustine, get up'. And I said: 'Yes, later, just a little bit more, yet!'. Finally, the Lord gave me a good push and I was out. Right, not to say: Yes, but; yes, later. It is necessary to say: Yes, Lord! Immediately! This is faith. To answer the Lord with generosity. But, who is saying this yes? It is necessary to be humble and trust on God totally.


The Church, Mother and Teacher

My mother used to tell me when I became elder: when you were a little boy you were very ill; I had to take you from a doctor to another one and have a sleepless night; do you believe me? How could I say: Mother, I do not believe in you? Of course, I believe in you, I believe in what you tell me, and mainly I believe in you. And so, in faith. It is not only to try to believe in things God has revealed, but to believe in Him, who deserves our faith, who has loved us so much and has done so much for love to us.


Right, it is also difficult to accept some truths, because the truths of faith are of two kind: some are pleasant; others are hard to our spirit. For example, it is pleasant to hear that God has much tenderness with us, even more tenderness than a mother' s with her children, as Isaiah says. This is pleasant and congenial.


There was a great French Bishop, Dupanloup, who used to tell the directors of seminaries: 'Be good with these ones who have to become Priests; be fathers, be mothers'. This pleases. However, other truths are difficult. God must punish if I am obstinate. He runs behind me, He prays: but, convert you! And I tell Him: No, no, no! until the end. It is almost me who obliges Him to punish me. This is not pleasant. But it is a truth of faith.


And there is another difficulty, the Church. St. Paul asked: 'Who are you, Lord?' - 'I am that Jesus to whom you persecute'. A light, a lightning has passed through his mind. I do not persecute Jesus, even I don' t know Him; I persecute Christians. It is seen that Jesus and Christians, Jesus and the Church, are the same thing: indivisible, inseparable.


Read St. Paul: 'Corpus Christi quad est Ecclesia '. Christ and the Church are an only thing. Christ is the Head, we, the Church, are its members. It is not possible to have faith and say 'I believe in Jesus, I accept Jesus, but I do not accept the Church'. It is necessary to accept the Church, as it is; and what is this Church like? Pope John has called it 'Mater et Magistra '. Teacher, too. St. Paul has said: 'Each one has to accept us like Christ' s assistants, and administrators and donors of His mysteries'.


John XXIII and Paul VI' s lessons


When the poor Pope, when Bishops and Priests present the doctrine, they do not do more than to help Christ. It is not a our doctrine, it is Christ' s. We only must keep it and we only must present it.


I was present when Pope John inaugurated the Council on October 11th, 1962. Among other things, he said: 'We hope that, with the Council, the Church can jump ahead'. All we hoped for it. But a jump ahead, on what way? He said it immediately: 'on the certain and immutable truths. Pope John has not even dreamt truths had to walk, to go ahead, and later to change, little by little. No! Truths are those; we must walk on the way of these truths, improve them, understand every time more, updating them, presenting them in a way adapted to the new times.


Pope Paul had the same worry, too. The first thing I did as soon as I was made a Pope, was to enter the Pontifical House private chapel; there, at the bottom, Pope Paul made place two mosaics, one of St. Peter and another one of St. Paul: St. Peter dying and St. Paul also dying. But bellow, bellow St. Peter, there are Jesus' words: 'I will pray for you, Peter, so that your faith cannot diminish'. And bellow St. Paul, who is receiving the blow of the sword: 'I have fulfilled my race, I have kept the faith'. You already know that in the last speech on June 29th, he has said: 'After fifteen years of Pontificate, I can thank the Lord because I have defended the faith and I have kept it'.


Gospel, sacraments and prayer


The Church is mother, too. If it is continuator of Christ. Christ is good, the Church must be good, too. It must be mother with all; but if perhaps sometimes there were bad people in the Church? But we have a mum. If mum is ill, if my mother perhaps became lame, I would still love her. So, still in the Church, there are, and there are sometimes, defects and faults, our love for the Church must never be diminished.


Yesterday -- and I finish – I was sent a copy of Città Nuova and I have seen that they have reported, recording it, a very brief speech mine, with this episode: An English preacher, Mac Nabb, speaking at Hyde Park, had talked about the Church. When finishing, one requests to speak: 'Pretty what you have said. But I know some Catholic Priests who do not have been with the poor and have become rich. I also know Catholic husbands who have betrayed their wives. I do not like this Church composed by sinners'. The Father said: 'You are a bit right. But, may I present an objection?' – Let us see. -- 'Sorry, but if I am not wrong, is the neck of your shirt a little dirty? ' - 'Yes, I realize it is, a little bit…' -- 'But it is dirty because it was not used soap or because it was used the soap and it was useless at all?' -- 'No, I have not used any soap'. Right!


Then, the Catholic Church has also an extraordinary soap: Gospel, sacraments, prayer. The Gospel: read and lived; Sacraments celebrated in a suitable way; prayer… would be a wonderful soap capable to make us everybody holy. Aren' t all we enough saints because we have not used enough of this soap?


Let us try to answer to the Popes' hopes who have summoned and applied the Council, Pope John and Pope Paul. Let us try to improve the Church be better ourselves. Each one of us and all the Church could say the prayer that I use to say: 'Lord, take me as I am, with my defects, with my faults, but make me be as you wish'.


The image of Christ reflected on the sick


I must also say a word to our beloved sick, who I see here.

You know it, Jesus has said: 'I hide behind them; whatever is done to them it is done to Me'. So, in their persons, we venerate the same Lord, and we wish them the Lord be near them, help them and keep them.


Greatness of the Christian marriage


On the right, however, there are just married. They have received a great sacrament; let us wish them that the received sacrament is really bringing them not only material goods of this world, but even more spiritual graces. Last century, there was in France, a distinguished professor, Federico Ozanam; he taught at the Sorbonne, he was eloquent, wonderful! He had a friend, Lacordaire, who used to say: 'This man is so wonderful and so good; he will become a Priest, a great Bishop, this one!' No!. He met an excellent young lady and they married. Lacordaire felt bad and said: 'Poor Ozanam! He has also fallen into the trap!'. Two years later, Lacordaire came to Rome and was welcomed by Pius IX: 'Come here, Father, - he told him -- come here. I had always heard to say that Jesus instituted seven sacraments: now you come, you change my cards over the table and tell me He has instituted six sacraments and a trap. No, father, marriage is not a trap, it is a great sacrament!'


With these wishes, we offer the congratulations to these beloved just married; may God bless them!