VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on the canticle of Chapter 1 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (3-10).
* * *
1. The splendid hymn of “blessing,” which opens the Letter to the Ephesians and is proclaimed every Monday in the liturgy of vespers, will be the object of a series of meditations in the course of our reflections. For the time being, we will be content with a glance at this solemn and well-structured text, almost like a majestic construction, directed to exalting the wonderful work of God, acted in Christ for us.
It starts with a “before” that precedes time and creation: It is the divine eternity in which a plan that surpasses us is already coming into being, a “predestination,” namely, the loving and free plan of a destiny of salvation and glory.
2. In this transcendent plan, which encompasses creation and redemption, the cosmos and human history, God had established, “in his benevolence,” to “recapitulate all things in Christ,” that is to re-establish the order and profound sense of the whole of reality, the heavenly and earthly (see 1:10). To be sure, he is “head over all things to the church, which is his body” (1:22-23), but he is also the vital principle of reference of the universe.
The lordship of Christ is extended, therefore, both to the cosmos as well as the more specific horizon which is the Church. Christ carries out a function of “fullness,” so that in him the “mystery” is revealed (1:9) hidden in the centuries and the whole of reality realizes — in its specific order and in its degree — the plan conceived by the Father from all eternity.
3. As we will have the opportunity to see later, this sort of Psalm of the New Testament focuses attention above all on the history of salvation, which is an expression and living sign of [benevolence] (1:9), “favor” (1:6) and divine love.
There is, then, the exaltation of the “redemption through the blood” of the cross, the “remission of sins,” the abundant effusion of “the riches of his grace” (1:7), the divine filiation of the Christian (see 1:5) to whom has been made known the knowledge of “the mystery of the will” of God (1:9), through which one enters in the intimacy of the Trinitarian life itself.
4. Having glanced at the whole of the hymn that opens the Letter to the Ephesians, we now listen to St. John Chrysostom, extraordinary teacher and orator, fine interpreter of sacred Scripture, who lived in the fourth century and became bishop of Constantinople in the midst of difficulties of every nature, and was even subjected to the experience of being exiled twice.
In his first homily on the Letter to the Ephesians, commenting on this canticle, he reflected with gratitude on the “blessing” with which we have been blessed “in Christ”: “What are you lacking, in fact? You have become immortal, free, a son, righteous, a brother, co-heir, with him you reign, with him you are glorified. Everything has been given to you and — as it is written — ‘will he not also give us everything else along with him?’ (Romans 8:32). Your first fruits (see 1 Corinthians 15:20,23) are adored by the Angels, the Cherubim, the Seraphim: what are you lacking, now?” (PG 62, 11).
God has done all this for us, Chrysostom continues, “according to the favor of his will.” What does this mean? It means that God passionately desires and ardently yearns for our salvation. And why does he love us so? For what reason does he desire so much good for us? Solely because of his goodness: ‘grace,’ in fact, is proper to goodness” (ibid., 13).
Precisely because of this, the Father of the Church concludes, St. Paul states that everything was accomplished “to the praise and glory of his grace which he has given us in his beloved Son.” God, in fact, “not only has freed us from sins, but has also rendered us lovable … he has adorned our soul and made it beautiful, desirable and lovable.” And when Paul declares that God has done so through the blood of his Son, St. John Chrysostom exclaims: “Nothing is greater than this: that the blood of God was poured out for us. Even greater than the adoption as sons and of the other gifts, is that not even the Son was spared (see Romans 8:32); great, in fact, is that sins were remitted, but even greater still is that this came about through the blood of the Lord” (ibid., 14).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the following summary was read, by an aide of the Pope, in English:]
Each Monday at Evening Prayer the Church chants the great canticle which opens the Letter to the Ephesians. The canticle is a hymn to the saving power of God revealed in Jesus Christ. In his infinite goodness, God planned before the creation of the world to bring all things into one through his beloved Son.
This mysterious plan of salvation culminates in the mystery of Christ and the Church. Through Christ’s Blood, shed on the cross, we have received redemption and the forgiveness of our sins. By grace we were predestined in love to become children of God and to share in the fullness of God’s own life.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in a number of languages. In English, he said:]
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.