To remain within the context of recent events, Your Holiness has often expressed the personal conviction (I remember, for example, the words you spoke in the Baltic countries, during your first visit to ex-Soviet territory, in the autumn of 1993) that in the collapse of atheistic Marxism one can discern the digitus Dei, the "finger of God." You often have alluded to a "mystery," even a "miracle," when speaking of the collapse, after seventy years, of a power that seemed as if it would be around for centuries.
Christ says: "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work" (Jn 5:17). What do these words refer to? Union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the essential constitutive element of eternal life. "This is eternal life, that they should know you and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (Jn 17:3). But when Jesus speaks of the Father who "is at work until now," He is not referring directly to eternity. He speaks of the fact that God is at work in the world. Christianity is not only a religion of knowledge, of contemplation. It is a religion of God's action and of man's action. That great master of mystical life and contemplation, Saint John of the Cross, has written: "At the evening of our life we will be judged on love" (The Sayings of Light and Love 60). Jesus expressed the same truth even more simply in speaking of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (25:31-46).
Can one speak of God's silence? And if so, how should one interpret such a silence?
Yes, in a certain sense God is silent, because He has already revealed everything. He spoke "in ancient times" through the Prophets and "in these last days" through His Son (cf. Heb 1:1-2). In the Son He said to us all that He had to say. Saint John of the Cross says that Christ is "like an abundant mine with many recesses of treasures, so that however deep individuals may go they never reach the end or bottom, but rather in every recess find new veins with new riches everywhere" (Spiritual Canticle 37. 4). We need then to listen once more to the voice of God who speaks in human history. And if His word is not heard, perhaps it is because "the ears" of our hearts are not open to it. In this sense Christ spoke of those who "look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand" (cf. Mt 13:13), while the experience of God is always within every man's reach, accessible to him in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today, despite how things might appear, there are many who find the way to experience God who is at work. This is powerfully experienced in our time, especially by the younger generation. What other interpretation could one give not only to all of the associations, but to the many movements flourishing in the Church? What else can these be, if not the word of God which has been heard and welcomed? And how else could the experience of the World Youth Day in Denver be understood, if not as the voice of God being heard by young people in a situation which, humanly speaking, offered no hope of success, also because much was being done to prevent that voice from being heard?
This hearing, this knowledge, is at the origin of action: it gives rise to the movement of thought, the movement of the heart, the movement of the will. I once said, to the leaders of apostolic movements, that the Church itself is first and foremost a "movement," a mission. It is the mission that begins in God the Father and that, through the Son in the Holy Spirit, continually reaches humanity and shapes it in a new way. Yes, Christianity is a great action of God. The action of the word becomes the action of the sacraments.
What else are the sacraments (all of them!), if not the action of Christ in the Holy Spirit? When the Church baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes; when
the Church absolves, it is Christ who absolves; when the Church celebrates the Eucharist, it is Christ who celebrates it: "This is my body." And so on. All the sacraments are an action of Christ, the action of God in Christ. And therefore it is truly difficult to speak of the silence of God. One must speak, rather, of the desire to stifle the voice of God.
Yes, this desire to stifle the voice of God is rather carefully planned. Many will do just about anything so that His voice cannot be heard, so that only the voice of man will be heard, a voice that has nothing to offer except the things of this world. And sometimes such an offer brings with it destruction of cosmic proportions. Isn't this the tragic history of our century?
By your question you confirm that in the fall of Communism the action of God has become almost visible in the history of our century. We must be wary of oversimplification. What we refer to as Communism has its own history. It is the history of protest in the face of injustice, as I recalled in the encyclical Laborem Exercens-a protest on the part of the great world of workers, which then became an ideology. But this protest has also become part of the teaching of the Church. We need but recall the encyclical Rerum Novarum, from the end of the last century. We add: this teaching is not limited to protest, but throws a far-seeing glance toward the future. In fact, it was Leo XIII who in a certain sense predicted the fall of Communism, a fall which would cost humanity and Europe dearly, since the medicine-he wrote in his encyclical of 1891-could prove more dangerous than the disease itself! The Pope said this with all the seriousness and the authority of the Church's Magisterium.
And what are we to say of the three children from Fátima who suddenly, on the eve of the outbreak of the October Revolution, heard: "Russia will convert" and "In the end, my Heart will triumph"...? They could not have invented those predictions. They did not know enough about history or geography, much less the social movements and ideological developments. And nevertheless it happened just as they had said.
Perhaps this is also why the Pope was called from "a faraway country," perhaps this is why it was necessary for the assassination attempt to be made in
St. Peter's Square precisely on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fátima-so that all could become more transparent and comprehensible, so that the voice of God which speaks in human history through the "signs of the times" could be more easily heard and understood.
This, then, is the Father who is always at work, and this is the Son, who is also at work, and this is the invisible Holy Spirit who is Love, and as Love is ceaseless creative, saving, sanctifying, and life-giving action.
Therefore, it would be simplistic to say that Divine Providence caused the fall of Communism. In a certain sense Communism as a system fell by itself. It fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses. It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself. It did not bring about true social reform, yet it did become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world. But it fell by itself, because of its own inherent weakness.
"My Father is at work until now, so I am at work" (Jn 5:17). The fall of Communism opens before us a retrospective panorama of modern civilization's typical way of thinking and acting, especially in Europe, where Communism originated. Modern civilization, despite undisputed successes in many fields, has also made many mistakes and given rise to many abuses with regard to man, exploiting him in various ways. It is a civilization that constantly equips itself with power structures and structures of oppression, both political and cultural (especially through the media), in order to impose similar mistakes and abuses on all humanity.
How else can we explain the increasing gap between the rich North and the ever poorer South? Who is responsible for this? Man is responsible-man, ideologies, and philosophical systems. I would say that responsibility lies with the struggle against God, the systematic elimination of all that is Christian. This struggle has to a large degree dominated thought and life in the West for three centuries. Marxist collectivism is nothing more than a "cheap version" of this plan. Today a similar plan is revealing itself in all its danger and, at the same time, in all its faultiness.
God, on the other hand, is faithful to His Covenant. He has made it with humanity in Jesus Christ. He cannot now withdraw from it, having decided once and for all that the destiny of man is eternal life and the Kingdom of Heaven. Will man surrender to the love of God, will he recognize his tragic
mistake? Will the Prince of Darkness surrender, he who is "the father of lies" (Jn 8:44), who continually accuses the sons of men as once he accused Job (cf. Jb 1:9ff)? It is unlikely that he will surrender, but his arguments may weaken. Perhaps, little by little, humanity will become more sober, people will open their ears once more in order to hear that word by which God has said everything to humanity.
And there will be nothing humiliating about this. Every person can learn from his own mistakes. So can humanity, allowing God to lead the way along the winding paths of history. God does not cease to be at work. His essential work will always remain the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. This is the ultimate word of truth and of love. This is also the unending source of God's action in the sacraments, as well as in other ways that are known to Him alone. His is an action which passes through the heart of man and through the history of humanity.