The deep aspect of the Church—called forth by Simeon during the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple—that so often becomes lost in the modern world, with its comfort, ease, tendency to go along to get along, and lack of easily perceived martyrs—though are not the millions of aborted babies such—yet as Pope John Paul II reminds us, the Church is surely a sign of contradiction in the world.
Over the next nine days I will continue to post excerpts from the final chapter of the first book published in English by John Paul—in 1979—Sign of Contradiction, which is a collection of talks then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla preached during the annual Lenten Retreat in March 1976 to his predecessor, Pope Paul VI.
“The times in which we are living provide particularly strong confirmation of the truth of what Simeon said: Jesus is both the light that shines for mankind and at the same time a sign of contradiction. If now—on the threshold of the last quarter-century before the second millennium, after the second Vatican Council, and in the face of the terrible experiences the human family has undergone and is still undergoing—Jesus Christ is once again reveling himself to men as the light of the world, has he not also become at one and the same time that sign which, more than ever, men are resolved to oppose?
“Let us think again about all that the world and present-day man are living through, all that undoubtedly causes particular distress of soul to the successor Peter, to whom the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven saying; “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven too; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven too” (Matthew 16:19); “You are Peter (that is, the rock)” (Matthew 16:18). This earth of ours seems smaller now, distances have shrunk (cf. Gaudium et specs, n. 5), even the moon…has been trodden by the feet of men. And because of this mutual growing-closer which we owe to the means of transport and the mass media we are better able to discern the paths followed by that opposition to Christ Jesus, his Gospel and the Church. It is difficult to collect up and put before you all the ways in which Simeon’s prophecy has come true in one form or another, but we shall try to make some of them evident.
“In men of today there undoubtedly is one form of contradiction which one may illustrate with the parable of Dives and Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31). Jesus in on the side of Lazurus. His kingdom will come in this world in accordance with the programme of the beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:3-10), and we know that the poor are the blessed ones (Luke 6:20), the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice and those who weep. Those who take pity, too, are blessed. The great poverty of many peoples, (first and foremost the poverty of the peoples of the Third World, hunger, economic exploitation, colonialism—which is not confined to the Third World—all this is a form of opposition to Christ on the part of the powerful, irrespective of political regimes and cultural traditions. This form of contradiction of Christ often goes hand-in-hand with a partial acceptance of religion, of Christianity and the Church, an acceptance of Christ as an element present in culture, morality and even education. Dives appealed to Abraham and turned to him as Father (Luke 16:24).” (pp. 198-199)