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. Carry out the work of Vatican
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.
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"
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