Pope John Paul II on the River of God

Pope John Paul II on the River of God
The Mighty Mississippi

On the “river of our journey” God is its source and its mouth, its beginning and its end

A touchstone truth we seek to explore in the Pope John Paul II Forum is the reality and pervading presence of God as the source and end of all things, the “exitus et reditus” plan of the Summa of St Thomas. We recently re-discovered a short talk by Pope John Paul II in which he puts this truth very beautifully and prayerfully in the most specific terms of Christian revelation – the Trinity.

On Wednesday, January 19, 2000  Pope John Paul II spoke of the Trinity as the origin and end of human existence. He said the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the birth of Christ should seek: “the glorification of the Trinity, from which everything comes and to which everything is directed, in the world and in history” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente §55). 

He said our encounter with the presence of God may be compared to a pilgrim’s path “along the shores of the river of God, that is, of his presence and of his revelation in the human history.”   He would have us consider the beginning and end of the Bible: “the divine Trinity is the origin of both being and history, and is their ultimate goal. It constitutes the beginning and the end of salvation history. Between the two extremes of the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 2) and the tree of life in the Heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Rev 22), stretches a long series of ups and downs marked by shadows and light, sin and grace. Sin has distanced us from the splendor of God’s paradise; redemption brings us back to the glory of a new heaven and a new earth, where ‘Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more’ (Ibid., 21:4).” This great vision of the divine presence sustains us on the journey and it inspires us to strive to live the life of the beatitudes, including purity of heart.

In an Augustinian mode, Pope John Paul II explains that looking back or behind us to creation is really to look deep into the present state of the world, for creation is not simply nor even primarily an event in the past but an ever present truth about our very being:

this mystery, which infinitely surpasses us, is also the reality closest to us, as the source of our being. In fact, in God we “live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and we can apply what St. Augustine said of God to all three divine persons: He is “intimior intimo meo” (Conf. 3, 6, 11) [more intimate than my most intimate]. In the depth of our being, where even we cannot see, grace makes present the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons. The mystery of the Trinity, far from being an arid truth confined to the intellect, is the life that resides in us and sustains us. 

Pope John Paul II is very much the disciple of John, the apostle who loved Jesus, and so he discovers God’s presence most of all in love, and purity of heart shows itself once more:

Above all he appears to us as Love, according to the beautiful definition in the First Letter of John (cf 1 Jn 4:8).  He is love in his intimate life, where the Trinitarian dynamism is the very expression of eternal love with which the Father generates the Son, and with which both reciprocally give themselves in the Holy Spirit. It is love in the relationship with the world, since the free decision to create it from nothing is the fruit of this infinite love that radiates in the sphere of creation. If the eyes of our hearts, illuminated by revelation, are made pure and penetrating enough, they become capable in faith of engaging this mystery, in which all that exists has its roots and foundation. 

Our life is a journey on this road along the river of God. We look forward to the destination, and enjoy the signs of his presence: “the Trinitarian mystery is also before us as the finish line towards which history runs, as the homeland for which we yearn.”

And then we anticipate an even greater presence, a greater event — the Trinitarian transformation and renewal of creation: “In the Heavenly Jerusalem, origins and end come together. In fact, we see God the Father who is seated on the throne and says: ‘See, I make everything new’ (Rev 21:5). Next to him is the Lamb, who is Christ, on his throne, with his light, with the book of life that records the names of the redeemed (cf. Ibid., 21: 23-27; 22:1-3). And at the end, in a sweet and intense dialogue, the Spirit who prays in us and together with the Church, which is the Lamb’s spouse, says: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (cf. Ibid., 22:17-20).”

John Paul II said “in our long pilgrimage in the mystery of God” we must often stop to contemplate the great mystery of divine life which glides along through all creation.  He uses the prayer of Dionysius the Areopagite to remind us of the necessity of contemplation: “It is in the silence, in fact, that they learn the secrets of this darkness … that shines with the most dazzling light… It, even remaining perfectly intangible and invisible, fills with splendors more beautiful than beauty the intelligences that know to close their eyes” (Theologia mystica I,1).

The Mississippi offers us a fitting vista for recalling this home truth..

1 Comment
  1. Everyday I think this blog could not be better than the previous day's. Everyday I am wrong. This posting on the "River of God" is a prayer. And I am always thrilled to see the deep Augustinian influence brought out in all of our great saints and thinkers.

    Thanks so much for this.

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