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Five Ways to Prepare for the Third Millennium

From the first moment of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has been keenly aware of his responsibility to guide the Church toward the new millennium. In late 1994 he published The Coming Third Millennium, an apostolic letter outlining the Church's plan for this momentous event.

This month begins the three-year period of "immediate preparation" called for by the pope's plan. For any of us not yet involved, it is time to "get with the program." Though the total rich array of the pope's ideas cannot be set forth in one page, I can at least offer five key suggestions from his plan to help you prepare for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

1. Think Advent. Yes, we have just passed through one season of Advent. But the pope clearly wants to see the Church engaged in the larger advent looming before us--an advent focused on the 2,000th anniversary of that original Christmas when God first dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Here's how John Paul II puts it in The Coming Third Millennium: "Since the publication of the very first document of my pontificate [Redemptor Hominis, 1979], I have spoken explicitly of the Great Jubilee, suggesting that the time leading up to it be lived as 'a new Advent.'"

The perfect biblical figure for this advent period is, of course, Mary, the Mother of God. Just as Mary of Nazareth prayerfully carried Jesus in her womb up to the moment of his birth, which launched the first millennium, so with similar prayer and expectancy we now prepare for Jesus' 2,000th birthday.

2. Carry out the work of Vatican II. "The best preparation for the new millennium," the pope says, "can only be expressed by a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church."

There is hidden dynamite in the pope's calm, straightforward statement. It's hard to imagine the immense burst of new life that would blossom forth in the Church if this wish of the pope were fully and courageously imple mented by all the faithful. Holy Spirit, lead us to this rebirth!

3. Confess your faults; avoid triumphalism. The pope insists that the Church "cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to pu-rify themselves, through repentance, of past errors and instances of infidelity...." High on the list of sins to be confessed, insists the pope, are those against Christian unity.

Another sin for which the Church needs to repent in reviewing the millennium now ending, according to John Paul II, is "the acquiescence given...to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth." Commenting on this in "Preparing for the Third Millennium: The Church's Plan" (Catholic Update, October 1996), theologian Avery Dulles, S.J., writes that "the pope does not spell out what he has in mind, but one can easily imagine that he is thinking of events such as the Crusades, the wars of religion and the excesses of the Inquisition...."

Hopefully, such honest admissions of human weakness and frailty should keep us from falling into a frenzy of self-congratulations in our observance of the millennium. The pope's insistence on penance and the confessing of past mistakes, Father Dulles hopes, will steer us clear of "a triumphalistic tone that would embarrass Christians and repel adherents of other faiths."

4. Work for Christian unity. A true spirit of repentance should lead us to increased ecumenical efforts. Says the pope, "The approaching end of the second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the promoting of fitting ecumenical initiatives, so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee, if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium."

Jesus' prayer "that they may all be one" (John 17:21) motivates us to work hand in hand with people of other faiths to make his wish come true. The dream of all Christians coming together to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth should be energetically pursued by all of us, on all levels, through prayer and action.

5. Be servants of God's liberation. In Old Testament times, there were two kinds of "jubilee" years--those observed every seventh (sabbatical) year and those observed every 50th (jubilee) year. During such years of favor, slaves were liberated and debts canceled.

The Prophet Isaiah was using "jubilee year" language when he described the day of the Messiah's arrival with the now-familiar words: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me...he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly...to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord" (61:1-2).

As John Paul II points out, Jesus, in applying these words to himself, was "indicating that he himself was the Messiah foretold by the Prophet, and that the long-expected 'time' was beginning in him. The day of salvation had come, the 'fullness of time.' All jubilees point to this 'time' and refer to the messianic mission of Christ."

If Jesus coming to set the lowly free is indeed the shining model for all jubilees, then surely we cannot observe the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 without participating in that same liberating mission.

Indeed, the pope calls for an "emphasis on the Church's preferential option for the poor." He reminds us that a "commitment to peace and justice...is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee."--J.W.

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