December 17, 2000
volume 11, no. 264
The Holy Father's most recent Wednesday General Audience from December 13 for the THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS for the December 17, 2000 issue
Biblical revelation and the best philosophical wisdom agree in underlining that, on one hand, humanity is oriented toward the infinite and eternity; on the other, it is solidly planted on earth, between the coordinates of time and space. There is a transcendent objective to attain, but through a journey that takes place on earth and in history. The words of Genesis are enlightening: The human creature is bound to the dust of the earth but, at the same time, he has a "sigh" that unites him directly to God (see Genesis 2:7).
2. Moreover, Genesis affirms that man, who issued from the divine hands, was placed "in the garden of Eden, to till it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). The two verbs of the original Hebrew text are those used elsewhere, which also indicate to "serve" God and "observe" His word, namely, Israel's commitment in relating to its covenant with the Lord. This analogy seems to suggest that a prior covenant united the Creator to Adam and to every human creature, a covenant that is fulfilled in the commitment to fill the earth, subjugating and dominating the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and every being that crawls on earth (see Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:7-9).
Unfortunately, man often carries out this mission assigned to him by God not like a wise craftsman, but like an arrogant tyrant. In the end he finds himself in a devastated and hostile world, in a broken and lacerated society, as Genesis shows us again in the great image of Chapter 3, where it describes the break in harmony of man with his fellowmen, with the earth, and with the Creator Himself. This is the fruit of original sin, namely the rebellion that occurred from the beginning against the plan that God had entrusted to humanity.
3. Therefore, with the grace of Christ the Redeemer, we must rethink our plan of peace and development, of justice and solidarity, of transformation and appreciation of terrestrial and temporal realities, outlined in the first pages of the Bible. We must continue the great adventure of humanity in the field of science and technology, uncovering the secrets of nature. Through the economy, commerce and social life, we must develop well-being, knowledge, and victory over poverty and every form of humiliation of human dignity.
In a certain sense, this creative work is delegated by God to man, so that it will continue either in the extraordinary enterprises of science and technology, or in the daily labor of workers, scholars, people who with their mind and hands look to "cultivate and safeguard" the earth, to join men and women in greater solidarity. God is not absent from His creation; on the contrary, "He has crowned man with glory and honor," rendering him, with his autonomy and liberty, virtually His representative in the world and in history (see Psalm 8:6-7).
4. As the Psalmist says, in the morning "Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening" (Psalm 104:23). In His parables, Christ also puts to good use this work of man and woman in the fields and the sea, in homes and gatherings, in courts and markets. He uses it to illustrate symbolically the mystery of the Kingdom of God, and its progressive action, while being aware that at times this work is frustrated by evil and sin, egoism and injustice. The mysterious presence of the Kingdom in history sustains and vivifies the Christian's efforts in his earthly tasks.
Involved in this work and this struggle, Christians are called to collaborate with the Creator to make a "home of man" on earth that is more in keeping with his dignity and the divine plan, a home in which "mercy and truth will meet, justice and peace will embrace" (Psalm 85:11).
5. In this light I would like to propose again for your meditation the pages that the Second Vatican Council dedicated, in the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes" (see cc. III and IV), to "human activity in the universe" and to "the task of the Church in the contemporary world." The council teaches, "Individual and collective activity, that monumental effort of man through the centuries to improve the circumstances of the world, presents no problem to believers: considered in itself, it corresponds to the plan of God" (GS, 34).
The complexity of modern society makes ever more arduous the task of leading political, cultural, economic and technological structures, which are often soulless. In this difficult but promising horizon the Church is called to recognize the autonomy of the earthly reality (see GS, 36), but also to proclaim effectively "the priority of ethics over technology, the primacy of the person over things, the superiority of the spirit over matter" (Congregation for Catholic Education, In These Last Decades ["In questi ultimi decenni"], Dec. 30, 1988, No. 44). Only in this way will Paul's proclamation be fulfilled: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; ... that creation itself would be set free from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:19,21). [Translation by ZENIT] ZE00121310
December 17, 2000
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