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Pope Benedict on The Gift of 'Communion'

"It Makes Us Come Out of Our Solitudes"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience. The Pope reflected on "The Gift of 'Communion'" in the context of his ongoing catechesis on the mystery of the relationship between Jesus and the Church.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Through the apostolic ministry, the Church, community assembled by the Son of God made flesh, will live throughout time, building and nourishing communion in Christ and in the Spirit, to which all are called and in which they can experience the salvation given by the Father. The Twelve Apostles -- as the third successor of Peter, Pope Clement, said at the end of the first century -- took care to provide their successors (cf. 1 Clement 42, 4) so that the mission entrusted to them would continue after their death. Throughout the centuries, the Church, structured under the leadership of legitimate pastors, has continued to live in the world as mystery of communion, in which in a certain sense, the Trinitarian communion itself is reflected, the mystery of God himself.

The Apostle Paul already mentions this supreme Trinitarian source when he wishes his Christians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:13). These words, probably an echo of the worship of the nascent Church, highlights how the free gift of the Father's love in Jesus Christ is realized and expressed in the communion wrought by the Holy Spirit.

This interpretation, based on the immediate relationship established in the text between the three genitives ("the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit"), presents "communion" as specific gift of the Spirit, fruit of the love given by God the Father and of the grace offered by the Lord Jesus.

Moreover, the context, characterized by the emphasis on fraternal communion, leads us to see in the "koinonia" of the Holy Spirit not only "participation" in divine life in an almost individual way, as if each one was on his own, but also logically "communion" among believers, which the Spirit himself infuses as its author and principal agent (cf. Philippians 2:1).

It might be affirmed that grace, love and communion, referred respectively to Christ, to the Father and to the Spirit, are different aspects of the one divine action for our salvation, action that creates the Church and that makes of the Church -- as St. Cyprian said in the third century -- "a throng gathered together by the unity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" ("De Oratione Dominica," 23: PL 4, 536, quoted in "Lumen Gentium," 4).

The idea of communion as participation in the Trinitarian life is illuminated with particular intensity in John's Gospel, where the communion of love that unites the Son with the Father and with men is at the same time the model and source of fraternal union, which must unite disciples among themselves: "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12; cf. 13:34). "That they also may be in us" (John 17:21,22), hence, communion of people with the Trinitarian God and communion of people among themselves. During the time of the earthly pilgrimage, through communion with the Son, the disciple can already participate in his divine life and in that of the Father: "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3).

This life of communion with God and among ourselves is the very end of the object of the proclamation of the Gospel, the object of conversion to Christianity: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 John 1:3). Therefore, this double communion with God and among ourselves is inseparable.

Wherever communion with God is destroyed, which is communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the root and source of communion among ourselves is also destroyed. And wherever communion among ourselves is not lived, communion with the Trinitarian God cannot be alive and true, as we have heard.

Let us now take a further step. Communion -- fruit of the Holy Spirit -- is nourished by the Eucharistic bread (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) and is expressed in fraternal relations, in a sort of anticipation of the future world. In the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us, unites us to himself, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit and among ourselves, and this network of unity that embraces the world is an anticipation of the future world in our time.

Given that it is anticipation of the future, communion is a gift which also has very real consequences; it makes us come out of our solitudes, of our own narrow-mindedness, and allows us to participate in the love that unites us to God and among ourselves. To understand the grandeur of this gift, suffice it to think of the divisions and conflicts that afflict relations between individuals, groups and entire nations. And if the gift of unity in the Holy Spirit is lacking, humanity's division is inevitable.

"Communion" is truly good news, the remedy the Lord has given us against the loneliness that threatens all today, the precious gift that makes us feel accepted and loved in God, in the unity of his People, gathered together in the name of the Trinity; it is the light that makes the Church shine as a sign raised among the nations: "If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1 John 1:6-7).

The Church thus presents herself, despite all the human frailties that are part of her historical features, as a wondrous creation of love, constituted to make Christ close to every man and woman who truly wishes to encounter him, until the end of times. And in the Church the Lord continues to be our contemporary. Scripture is not something of the past. The Lord does not speak in the past, but speaks in the present, he speaks to us today, gives us light, shows us the way of life, gives us fellowship and in this way prepares us and opens us to the light.

[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted pilgrims in English. These were his words:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Through the apostolic ministry, the Church perseveres in that saving communion with the Blessed Trinity to which all people have been called. The Twelve Apostles, in fact, took care to provide successors who would continue their mission after them.

Thus the Church in every age, organically structured under the leadership of her legitimate pastors, dwells in the world as "a people gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 4). When St. Paul speaks of the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2 Corinthians 13:13), he is referring not only to this participation in the life of the Trinity, but also to the Spirit-filled communion which unites those who believe in Christ.

For St. John, the communion of love between the Son and the Father is the model and source of all Christian fellowship (cf. John 17:21-22). Through the mystery of communion, the Church is revealed as a wondrous creation of God's love. By her preaching of the Gospel and her celebration of the Eucharist, she invites men and women in every age to share in the mystery of God's own life and love.

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this audience, particularly those from Japan and the United States of America. I also extend a special welcome to the priests from the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College and to the members of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord's blessings of peace and joy.

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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