"I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace. Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced" (Ps 84(85):8,10).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
These are words of today's liturgy, taken from the Responsorial Psalm. The God of the Covenant is a God of peace. Peace on earth is a good that belongs to his Kingdom and to his salvation. This good is obtained in justice and faithfulness to the divine commandments. This good, which is peace, is promised to us in different spheres: as the interior good of our conscience, as the good of our human living together, and finally as a social and international good.
This last meaning was above all what Paul VI had in mind when he wrote these memorable words: "The new name for peace is development". And he wrote these words in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio (No. 87).
Today we come together here in Edmonton to make this theme of the development or progress of peoples, the principal object of our meditations and prayers in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In this Eucharistic community is gathered first of all the whole Church of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. And I wish indeed to greet this Church with its Pastor, Archbishop MacNeil, as well as the Eparchy of Edmonton of the Ukrainians, together with Bishop Savaryn and Bishop Greschuk. I also acknowledge with deep gratitude the presence of the large group of faithful from Saskatchewan, who have brought their crosses to be blessed. I likewise embrace in the love of Christ Jesus our Lord all the pilgrims and visitors. The refugees from Central America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe have a special place in my heart.
Considering our theme, I think that in a certain sense all Canada shares in this meeting at Edmonton. If the theme was proposed by the local community, it was certainly done so with a thought towards the whole society for which the cause of the development of peoples is a question of greatest importance and social and international responsibility. Especially since this "development" or "progress" is the new name for "peace".
The liturgy leads us to consider this important theme, first of all, as it is presented in the twenty-fifth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel.
We have listened today to the Gospel about the final judgment with the same emotion as always. This passage touches some of the most fundamental questions of our faith and morality. These two fields are strictly linked to each other. Perhaps no other passage in the Gospel speaks of their relationship in such a convincing way.
Our faith in Jesus Christ finds here a kind of final expression: "The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son" (Jn 5:22). In today's Gospel Christ stands before us as our Judge. He has a special right to make this judgment; indeed he became one of us, our Brother. This brotherhood with the human race - and at the same time his brotherhood with every single person - has led him to the Cross and the Resurrection. Thus he judges in the name of his solidarity with each person and likewise in the name of our solidarity with him, who is our Brother and Redeemer and whom we discover in every human being: "I was hungry... I was thirsty... I was a stranger... naked... sick... in prison..." (Mt 25:35-36).
And those called to judgment - on his right hand and on his left – will ask: When and where? When and where have we seen you like this? When and where have we done what you said? Or: When and where have we not done it?
The answer: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). And, on the contrary:
"As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25:45).
"To one of the least of these my brethren". Thus: to man, to an individual human being in need.
Yet, the Second Vatican Council, following the whole of Tradition, warns us not to stop at an "individualistic" interpretation of Christian ethics, since Christian ethics also has its social dimension. The human person lives in a community, in society. And with the community he shares hunger and thirst and sickness and malnutrition and misery and all the deficiencies that result therefrom. In his or her own person the human being is meant to experience the needs of others.
So it is that Christ the Judge speaks of "one of the least of the brethren", and at the same time he is speaking of each and of all.
Yes. He is speaking of the whole universal dimension of injustice and evil. He is speaking of what today we are accustomed to call the North-South contrast. Hence not only East-West, but also North-South: the increasingly wealthier North, and the increasingly poorer South.
Yes, the South - becoming always poorer; and the North - becoming always richer. Richer too in the resources of weapons with which the superpowers and blocs can mutually threaten each other. And they threaten each other - such an argument also exists - in order not to destroy each other.
This is a separate dimension - and according to the opinion of many it is the dimension in the forefront - of the deadly threat which hangs over the modern world, which deserves separate attention.
Nevertheless, in the light of Christ's words, this poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations - poor in different ways, not only lacking food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights - will judge those people who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others.
The Gospel of today's liturgy is very rich in content. It is relevant to the different spheres of injustice and human evil. In the midst of each of these situations stands Christ himself, and as Redeemer and Judge he says: "You did it to me", "you did it not to me".
Nevertheless he wishes, in this final judgment - which is constantly in preparation and which in a certain sense is constantly present - to bear witness first of all to the good that has been done.
And here also that significant expression of the teaching of the Church takes a start, whose principal formulation became the Encyclical Populorum Progressio. What was the inner concern of Paul VI and the universal Church became a dynamic action and a loud appeal that echoes to this day: "It is not just a matter of eliminating hunger, or even of reducing poverty. The struggle against destitution, though urgent and necessary, is not enough. It is a question, rather, of building a world where every man, no matter what his race, religion or nationality, can live a fully human life, freed from servitude imposed on him by other men or by natural forces; a world where freedom is not an empty word and where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man" (No. 47).
Yes, "development" is the new name for peace. Peace is necessary; it is an imperative of our time. And so is this development or progress: the progress of all the disadvantaged.
Today we pray in this spirit. Today's liturgy emphasizes very clearly the link between justice and peace.
Look at the first reading from Isaiah: "There will be poured on us the spirit from above... Integrity will bring peace, justice give lasting security. My people will live in a peaceful home, in safe houses, in quiet dwellings" (Is 32:15,17-18).
This was written by the Prophet centuries before Christ. How lasting and unchanging are the desires of individuals and peoples!
And later on, after Christ, the Apostle Paul writes in the Letter to the Philippians: "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Ph 4:7).
Yet the condition for such peace is human behaviour in every dimension of existence. Hence, Saint Paul continues: "Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learned from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you" (Ph 4:8-9).
May our prayer pierce the heavens! May the God of peace be with us!
May the God of peace be with us! This cry brings with it the whole drama of our age, the whole threat. The nuclear threat? Certainly!
But even more: the whole threat of injustice, the threat coming from the rigid structures of those systems which man is not able to pass through - those systems which do not open themselves so as to permit themselves to go out towards man, to go out towards the development of peoples, to go out towards justice, with all its requirements, and towards peace.
Is the global balance not perhaps ever increasing - the global balance of what we "have not done for one of the least of the brethren"? for millions of the least of the brethren? for billions?
This must also be said here, in Canada, which is as vast as a continent. And at the same time here, from this very place, it must likewise be said to all people of good will, and to all groups, communities, organizations, institutions, nations and governments, that everything we "have done" and what we will still do, what we will plan and will do with ever greater energy and determination - all of this really matters.
And the balance is increasing and must increase of what we "have done" for one person, for millions, for billions: the balance of good in human history.
The judgment spoken of in today's Gospel is constantly being prepared and is already taking place: What you did for one... for millions... for billions, "you did it to me"!
May the God of peace be with us, here in Canada and everywhere.
May justice and peace embrace (cf. Ps 84(85):10) once again at the end of the second millennium which prepares us for the coming of Christ, in glory. Amen.
Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada