On this day in 1994 Bl. Pope John Paul released his Apostolic Letter: Tertio Millennio Adveniente [As The Third Millennium Draws Near].
How quickly it seems we have arrived already near the end of the first year of the second decade of the millennium!
Over and over, leading up to the Great Jubilee Year 2000, Bl. John Paul reflected upon the words from Hebrews that Jesus is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever.
I have pondered this mystery in my heart today, recalling that time in my life when, indeed, Christ was making all things within me new through the mystery of the call to priesthood.
This afternoon I took a break from my prayer and spiritual reading to treat myself to the movie Titanic, which I had originally seen when it premiered.
My heart was struck how that disaster was truly a Babel experience for early twentieth century civilization, for it so traumatically demonstrated the limitations of technology because of human arrogance.
Then my heart reflected upon that other technological trauma, the atom bomb, and how it too showed us the dangers inherent in our misuse of what we discover.
These reflections led my heart to the Holy Rosary, the simple prayer of children and adults, of childlike hearts.
The Rosary weaves into our hearts contemplation of the mysteries of our redemption: the life, passion, death, glorification of Christ.
The Rosary invites us to place our hands in the hand of the Mother of the Redeemed.
Once again watching that movie, Titanic, my heart was struck by the powerful scene of the priest, holding desperately with one hand onto a ship’s cable stock, his other hand holding onto a desperate soul, she in turn being clung to by others.
The priest is first shown praying the Hail Mary and then quoting from Revelations.
Scene of a modern flood, a sinking tower of Babel, children crying out to their Heavenly Mother, confident she will speak to Jesus of them, the priest a living bridge between terror and peace, darkness and light, despair and hope, sin and mercy, death and eternal life.
This is the challenge for we priests to, like that priest on the deck of the Titanic — granted, a movie priest on a movie set, nonetheless a valid symbol — like that priest we are called, in spite of our own inner struggles with doubt, battle with fear, to stand firm, one hand holding the Anchor Himself, Jesus, the other, holding the hand of every human being.
It means, as at our ordination when we lay cruciform before the laying on of hands and our consecration by the Holy Spirit, the shape of our priestly lives, our very being, is the Cross.
It is the shape of Christ.
It is, no matter what may be happening on the surface of our beings, to dwell always in sheer joy!
So my heart was moved then to meditate upon the central phrase from Sacred Scripture Bl. Pope John Paul constantly repeated as the prism word through which the illumination of the Holy Spirit shines into souls: Jesus who was, is, always will be with us. [Hb. 13:8]
The great truth of this cry from Hebrews is found in the very mystery which is summit and the very source of our sacramental life: the Most Holy Eucharist.
Christ IS the same in His Real Presence, yesterday, today and forever.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we rightly proclaim, at Christmas, the today of His Birth, at Easter that this is the night of our redemption, the day of His Holy Resurrection.
Through the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of His Real Presence, we can enter the Bethlehem cave as surely and as in reality as the shepherds and behold the Child; take the place of the woman, our sister, at His feet and bathe them with our own tears; the place of the blind man, the prodigal, the Good Thief, our brothers, of the woman at the well, the ointment bearing women at the Tomb; take our place among those in the room on Holy Thursday — as indeed happened at my ordination — in the Upper Room at Pentecost.
All men and women are invited to open wide the doors of their being and encounter Christ in all His mysteries.
This is the wisdom known to the childlike of heart when they pray the Rosary and contemplate the mysteries; enter into those same mysteries, led deeply by the hand of Mary.
This is the illumination granted each soul who participates in the communion of Love during Holy Mass.
This is the reality of life lived sacramentally.
Christ, like a divine leaven, always and ever more fully penetrates the life of humanity, spreading the work of salvation accomplished in the Paschal Mystery. What is more, He embraces within His redemptive power the whole past history of the human race, beginning with the first Adam.
The future also belongs to Him: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever “ (Heb.13:8). For her part the Church “seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ Himself under the lead of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgement, to serve and not to be served “. [Ter. Mill. Adveniente: para. 56]
Standing on the shore looking out across the ocean, the burial place of thousands of souls over the millennia, walking amid the rubble of Hiroshima, hearing the cries of starving children, seeing the horrible films of death camps, it is understandable we can wonder, as the humble Rabbi who taught me about the theological challenge of the Holocaust did — as the equally humble woman survivor of Hiroshima also taught me — what of God, where God, when such things happen?
At such a moment, in the utter desperate depths of such a question, as the waters reach our necks and we sink in the mire without a foothold, when our throats are raw with crying out, eyes burned dimmed scanning the horizon as we seek our God-(Ps.69)-, the place to the Father is where His Son is, upon the Cross, within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — there Christ is in the depths of all human suffering, the desperation of every human shuddered ‘why?’ — His being there in fullness of His ‘ the same, yesterday and today and forever ‘, is also our awaiting at the mouth of the empty Tomb where we listen, for He approaches, calling us by name!
....it is helpful to recall the words of the Pastoral Constitution Guadium et Spes: “The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are so many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever. [op.cit. para 59]