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Divine Providence and the Growth of the Kingdom of God

1986, June 25

General Audience

Today also, as in the previous catechesis, we draw on the abundant reflections of Vatican II on the historical condition of modern man. On the one hand, he is sent by God to have dominion over creation and subdue it, and on the other, he himself, as a creature, is subject to the loving presence of God the provident Father and Creator.

Today more than at any other time, man is particularly sensitive to the greatness and autonomy of his task as investigator and ruler of the forces of nature. One must however note that there is a serious obstacle in the development and progress of the world. It is constituted by sin and by the closure which it implies, that is, by moral evil. The conciliar Constitution Gaudium of Spes provides ample witness to this.

The Council stated: "Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the evil one. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God" (GS 13). Hence, as an inevitable consequence, "while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself" (GS 37).

Modern man is rightly aware of his own role, but, "if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear his revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible" (GS 36).

We especially recall a text which enables us to grasp the "other dimension" of the world's historical evolution at which the Council was always looking. The Constitution states: "God's Spirit, who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development" (GS 26). To overcome evil is at the same time to will man's moral progress, whereby human dignity is safeguarded, and to give a response to the essential requirements for a "more human" world. In this perspective God's kingdom which is developing in history finds in a certain way its "matter" and the signs of its effective presence.

The Second Vatican Council has emphasized with great clarity the ethical significance of evolution, showing how the ethical ideal of a "more human" world is in line with the Gospel teaching. While making a precise distinction between the development of the world and the history of salvation, it sought at the same time to point out in all their fullness the bonds that exist between them: "While earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the kingdom of God. For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in his Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: 'a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.' On this earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower" (GS 39).

The Council expressed the conviction of believers when it proclaimed: "The Church recognizes that worthy elements are found in today's social movements, especially an evolution toward unity, a process of wholesome socialization and of association in civic and economic realms. The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church, for she is, 'thanks to her relationship with Christ, a sacramental sign and an instrument of intimate union with God, and of the unity of the whole human race.' Thus she shows the world that an authentic union, social and external, results from a union of minds and hearts, namely from that faith and charity by which her own unity is unbreakably rooted in the Holy Spirit. For the force which the Church can inject into the modern society of man consists in that faith and charity put into vital practice, not in any external dominion exercised by merely human means" (GS 42).

For this reason a profound bond and even an elementary identity is created between the principal sectors of the "world's" history and evolution and the history of salvation. The plan of salvation sinks its roots in the most real aspirations and in the finalities of humanity. Redemption also is continually directed toward humanity "in the world." The Church always comes in contact with the "world" in the sphere of these aspirations and finalities of humanity. In like manner the history of salvation runs its course in the riverbed of the world's history, considering it in a certain way as its own. And vice versa-the real conquests of humanity, the authentic victories of the world's history, are also the "substratum" of the kingdom of God on earth (cf. Card. Karol Wojtyla, At the Sources of Renewal, Study on the implementation of the Second Vatican Council, Collins, London, 1981, pp. 166-l78).

In this regard we read in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes: "Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man.... Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has. Similarly, all that men do to obtain greater justice, wider brotherhood, a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances.... Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it" (cf. GS 35; cf. also GS 59).

The same document also states: "This social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained. God's Spirit, who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development" (GS 26).

The adaptation to the guidance and action of the Spirit of God in the unfolding of history is brought about through the continual appeal and the consistent and faithful response to the voice of conscience: "In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality" (GS 16).

The Council realistically recalled the presence, in the actual human situation, of the most radical obstacle to the true progress of man and humanity-moral evil, sin, as a result of which "man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains" (GS 13).

The whole of human history has been the story of "a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness [which] pervade the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested (cf. Mt 24:13; 13:24-30; 36-43). Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God's grace" (GS 37).

In conclusion we can say that, if the growth of God's kingdom is not identified with the evolution of the world, it is nonetheless true that the kingdom of God is in the world, and first of all in man, who lives and works in the world. The Christian knows that with his commitment for the progress of history and with the help of God's grace he cooperates in the growth of the kingdom, toward the historical and eschatological fulfillment of the plan of divine Providence.