Mary, Mother of Mercy, is our model of perfect openness to God’s grace

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Mary is also Mother of Mercy because it is to her that Jesus entrusts his Church and all humanity. At the foot of the Cross, when she accepts John as her son, when she asks, together with Christ, forgiveness from the Father for those who do not know what they do (cf. Lk 23:34), Mary experiences, in perfect docility to the Spirit, the richness and the universality of God’s love, which opens her heart and enables it to embrace the entire human race. Thus Mary becomes Mother of each and every one of us, the Mother who obtains for us divine mercy.

Mary is the radiant sign and inviting model of the moral life. As Saint Ambrose put it, “The life of this one person can serve as a model for everyone”,183 and while speaking specifically to virgins but within a context open to all, he affirmed: “The first stimulus to learning is the nobility of the teacher. Who can be more noble than the Mother of God? Who can be more glorious than the one chosen by Glory Itself?”.184 Mary lived and exercised her freedom precisely by giving herself to God and accepting God’s gift within herself. Until the time of his birth, she sheltered in her womb the Son of God who became man; she raised him and enabled him to grow, and she accompanied him in that supreme act of freedom which is the complete sacrifice of his own life. By the gift of herself, Mary entered fully into the plan of God who gives himself to the world. By accepting and pondering in her heart events which she did not always understand (cf. Lk 2:19), she became the model of all those who hear the word of God and keep it (cf. Lk 11:28), and merited the title of “Seat of Wisdom”. This Wisdom is Jesus Christ himself, the Eternal Word of God, who perfectly reveals and accomplishes the will of the Father (cf. Heb 10:5-10). Mary invites everyone to accept this Wisdom. To us too she addresses the command she gave to the servants at Cana in Galilee during the marriage feast: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Mary shares our human condition, but in complete openness to the grace of God. Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.

O Mary,
Mother of Mercy,
watch over all people,
that the Cross of Christ
may not be emptied of its power,
that man may not stray
from the path of the good
or become blind to sin,
but may put his hope ever more fully in God
who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
May he carry out the good works prepared
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10)
and so live completely
“for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 6 August, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the year 1993, the fifteenth of my Pontificate.

 

JOHN PAUL II

183 De Virginibus, Bk. II, Chap. II, 15: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Latina [PL] 16, 222.
184 Ibid., Bk. II, Chap. II, 7: PL 16, 220.

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Abandoning oneself to Christ both illuminates and empowers Christian morality

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Such is the consoling certainty of Christian faith, the source of its profound humanity and extraordinary simplicity. At times, in the discussions about new and complex moral problems, it can seem that Christian morality is in itself too demanding, difficult to understand and almost impossible to practise. This is untrue, since Christian morality consists, in the simplicity of the Gospel, in following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church. Saint Augustine reminds us that “he who would live has a place to live, and has everything needed to live. Let him draw near, let him believe, let him become part of the body, that he may have life. Let him not shrink from the unity of the members”.182 By the light of the Holy Spirit, the living essence of Christian morality can be understood by everyone, even the least learned, but particularly those who are able to preserve an “undivided heart” (Ps 86:11). On the other hand, this evangelical simplicity does not exempt one from facing reality in its complexity; rather it can lead to a more genuine understanding of reality, inasmuch as following Christ will gradually bring out the distinctive character of authentic Christian morality, while providing the vital energy needed to carry it out. It is the task of the Church’s Magisterium to see that the dynamic process of following Christ develops in an organic manner, without the falsification or obscuring of its moral demands, with all their consequences. The one who loves Christ keeps his commandments (cf. Jn 14:15).

182 In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 26, 13: Corpus Christianorum, Latin series 36, 266.

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Christ’s Mercy calls sinners to meet Him and confess Him as Son of God

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

At the end of these considerations, let us entrust ourselves, the sufferings and the joys of our life, the moral life of believers and people of good will, and the research of moralists, to Mary, Mother of God and Mother of Mercy.

Mary is Mother of Mercy because her Son, Jesus Christ, was sent by the Father as the revelation of God’s mercy (cf. Jn 3:16-18). Christ came not to condemn but to forgive, to show mercy (cf. Mt 9:13). And the greatest mercy of all is found in his being in our midst and calling us to meet him and to confess, with Peter, that he is “the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). No human sin can erase the mercy of God, or prevent him from unleashing all his triumphant power, if we only call upon him. Indeed, sin itself makes even more radiant the love of the Father who, in order to ransom a slave, sacrificed his Son:181 his mercy towards us is Redemption. This mercy reaches its fullness in the gift of the Spirit who bestows new life and demands that it be lived. No matter how many and great the obstacles put in his way by human frailty and sin, the Spirit, who renews the face of the earth (cf.Ps 104:30), makes possible the miracle of the perfect accomplishment of the good. This renewal, which gives the ability to do what is good, noble, beautiful, pleasing to God and in conformity with his will, is in some way the flowering of the gift of mercy, which offers liberation from the slavery of evil and gives the strength to sin no more. Through the gift of new life, Jesus makes us sharers in his love and leads us to the Father in the Spirit.

181 “O inæstimabilis dilectio caritatis: ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti!” Missale Romanum, In Resurrectione Domini, Præconium Paschale.

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The Church speaks on moral issues with the voice of Christ

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

In the heart of every Christian, in the inmost depths of each person, there is always an echo of the question which the young man in the Gospel once asked Jesus: “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16). Everyone, however, needs to address this question to the “Good Teacher”, since he is the only one who can answer in the fullness of truth, in all situations, in the most varied of circumstances. And when Christians ask him the question which rises from their conscience, the Lord replies in the words of the New Covenant which have been entrusted to his Church. As the Apostle Paul said of himself, we have been sent “to preach the Gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17). The Church’s answer to man’s question contains the wisdom and power of Christ Crucified, the Truth which gives of itself.

When people ask the Church the questions raised by their consciences, when the faithful in the Church turn to their Bishops and Pastors, the Church’s reply contains the voice of Jesus Christ, the voice of the truth about good and evil. In the words spoken by the Church there resounds, in people’s inmost being, the voice of God who “alone is good” (cf. Mt 19:17), who alone “is love” (1 Jn 4:8, 16).

Through the anointing of the Spirit this gentle but challenging word becomes light and life for man. Again the Apostle Paul invites us to have confidence, because “our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit . . . The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:5-6, 17-18).

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Bishops must see that God’s Word is taught faithfully in Catholic institutions

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

We have the duty, as Bishops, to be vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught. My Brothers in the Episcopate, it is part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that this moral teaching is faithfully handed down and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it. In carrying out this task we are all assisted by theologians; even so, theological opinions constitute neither the rule nor the norm of our teaching. Its authority is derived, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in communion cum Petro et sub Petro, from our fidelity to the Catholic faith which comes from the Apostles. As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the “sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses.

A particular responsibility is incumbent upon Bishops with regard to Catholic institutions. Whether these are agencies for the pastoral care of the family or for social work, or institutions dedicated to teaching or health care, Bishops can canonically erect and recognize these structures and delegate certain responsibilities to them. Nevertheless, Bishops are never relieved of their own personal obligations. It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title “Catholic” to Church-related schools,179 universities,180 health-care facilities and counselling services, and, in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away.

179 Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 803, 3.
180 Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 808.

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The reaffirmation of immutable Truth is a serious obligation

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching [on the moral law relevant to teleological tendencies], and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial.

In the light of Revelation and of the Church’s constant teaching, especially that of the Second Vatican Council, I have briefly recalled the essential characteristics of freedom, as well as the fundamental values connected with the dignity of the person and the truth of his acts, so as to be able to discern in obedience to the moral law a grace and a sign of our adoption in the one Son (cf. Eph 1:4-6). Specifically, this Encyclical has evaluated certain trends in moral theology today. I now pass this evaluation on to you [fellow bishops], in obedience to the word of the Lord who entrusted to Peter the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), in order to clarify and aid our common discernment.

Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.

In acknowledging these commandments, Christian hearts and our pastoral charity listen to the call of the One who “first loved us” (1Jn 4:19). God asks us to be holy as he is holy (cf. Lev 19:2), to be — in Christ — perfect as he is perfect (cf. Mt 5:48). The unwavering demands of that commandment are based upon God’s infinitely merciful love (cf. Lk 6:36), and the purpose of that commandment is to lead us, by the grace of Christ, on the path of that fullness of life proper to the children of God.

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Pastors must support the faithful in vigilance

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, responsibility for the faith and the life of faith of the People of God is particularly incumbent upon the Church’s Pastors: “Among the principal tasks of Bishops the preaching of the Gospel is pre-eminent. For the Bishops are the heralds of the faith who bring new disciples to Christ. They are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people entrusted to them the faith to be believed and put into practice; they illustrate this faith in the light of the Holy Spirit, drawing out of the treasury of Revelation things old and new (cf. Mt 13:52); they make it bear fruit and they vigilantly ward off errors that are threatening their flock (cf. 2 Tim 4:1-4)”.178

It is our common duty, and even before that our common grace, as Pastors and Bishops of the Church, to teach the faithful the things which lead them to God, just as the Lord Jesus did with the young man in the Gospel. Replying to the question “What good must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus referred the young man to God, the Lord of creation and of the Covenant. He reminded him of the moral commandments already revealed in the Old Testament and he indicated their spirit and deepest meaning by inviting the young man to follow him in poverty, humility and love: “Come, follow me!” The truth of this teaching was sealed on the Cross in the Blood of Christ: in the Holy Spirit, it has become the new law of the Church and of every Christian.

This “answer” to the question about morality has been entrusted by Jesus Christ in a particular way to us, the Pastors of the Church; we have been called to make it the object of our preaching, in the fulfilment of our munus propheticum. At the same time, our responsibility as Pastors with regard to Christian moral teaching must also be exercised as part of the munus sacerdotale: this happens when we dispense to the faithful the gifts of grace and sanctification as an effective means for obeying God’s holy law, and when with our constant and confident prayers we support believers in their efforts to be faithful to the demands of the faith and to live in accordance with the Gospel (cf. Col 1:9-12). Especially today, Christian moral teaching must be one of the chief areas in which we exercise our pastoral vigilance, in carrying out our munus regale.

178 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.

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The faithful have a right to pure, integral moral teaching

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

Teaching moral doctrine involves the conscious acceptance of these intellectual, spiritual and pastoral responsibilities. Moral theologians, who have accepted the charge of teaching the Church’s doctrine, thus have a grave duty to train the faithful to make this moral discernment, to be committed to the true good and to have confident recourse to God’s grace.

While exchanges and conflicts of opinion may constitute normal expressions of public life in a representative democracy, moral teaching certainly cannot depend simply upon respect for a process: indeed, it is in no way established by following the rules and deliberative procedures typical of a democracy. Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church’s Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit’s gifts. When this happens, the Church’s Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected. “Never forgetting that he too is a member of the People of God, the theologian must be respectful of them, and be committed to offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith”.177

177 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum Veritatis (May 24, 1990), 11: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 82 (1990), 1554; cf. in particular Nos. 32-39, devoted to the problem of dissent: ibid., loc. cit., 1562-1568.

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Moral norms are spiritual and eternal, not empirical

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The moral theologian must therefore exercise careful discernment in the context of today’s prevalently scientific and technical culture, exposed as it is to the dangers of relativism, pragmatism and positivism. From the theological viewpoint, moral principles are not dependent upon the historical moment in which they are discovered. Moreover, the fact that some believers act without following the teachings of the Magisterium, or erroneously consider as morally correct a kind of behaviour declared by their Pastors as contrary to the law of God, cannot be a valid argument for rejecting the truth of the moral norms taught by the Church. The affirmation of moral principles is not within the competence of formal empirical methods. While not denying the validity of such methods, but at the same time not restricting its viewpoint to them, moral theology, faithful to the supernatural sense of the faith, takes into account first and foremost the spiritual dimension of the human heart and its vocation to divine love.

In fact, while the behavioural sciences, like all experimental sciences, develop an empirical and statistical concept of “normality”, faith teaches that this normality itself bears the traces of a fall from man’s original situation — in other words, it is affected by sin. Only Christian faith points out to man the way to return to “the beginning” (cf. Mt 19:8), a way which is often quite different from that of empirical normality. Hence the behavioural sciences, despite the great value of the information which they provide, cannot be considered decisive indications of moral norms. It is the Gospel which reveals the full truth about man and his moral journey, and thus enlightens and admonishes sinners; it proclaims to them God’s mercy, which is constantly at work to preserve them both from despair at their inability fully to know and keep God’s law and from the presumption that they can be saved without merit. God also reminds sinners of the joy of forgiveness, which alone grants the strength to see in the moral law a liberating truth, a grace-filled source of hope, a path of life.

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Faithful moral theology develops man in God’s image

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993):

The service which moral theologians are called to provide at the present time is of the utmost importance, not only for the Church’s life and mission, but also for human society and culture. Moral theologians have the task, in close and vital connection with biblical and dogmatic theology, to highlight through their scientific reflection “that dynamic aspect which will elicit the response that man must give to the divine call which comes in the process of his growth in love, within a community of salvation. In this way, moral theology will acquire an inner spiritual dimension in response to the need to develop fully the imago Dei present in man, and in response to the laws of spiritual development described by Christian ascetical and mystical theology”.176

Certainly moral theology and its teaching are meeting with particular difficulty today. Because the Church’s morality necessarily involves a normative dimension, moral theology cannot be reduced to a body of knowledge worked out purely in the context of the so-called behavioural sciences. The latter are concerned with the phenomenon of morality as a historical and social fact; moral theology, however, while needing to make use of the behavioural and natural sciences, does not rely on the results of formal empirical observation or phenomenological understanding alone. Indeed, the relevance of the behavioural sciences for moral theology must always be measured against the primordial question: What is good or evil? What must be done to have eternal life?

176 Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, The Theological formation of Future Priests (February 22, 1976), No. 100. See Nos. 95-101, which present the prospects and conditions for a fruitful renewal of moral theology: loc. cit., 39-41.

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