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The Life of the Church as Communio: Let Us Embrace Again This Gift of God

Presidential Address -- Bishop Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville

Washington, D.C. -- November 10, 2002

My Brother Bishops, My Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Last month, I was privileged to travel to Rome for the Holy Father’s twenty-fifth anniversary as Universal Pastor of the Church.As a young priest in doctoral studies in Rome, I enjoyed the thrill of standing in St. Peter’s Square in the early evening of October 16, 1978 when Karol Wojty³a was presented to the world as Pope John Paul II.I very much looked forward to returning to Rome to celebrate the extraordinary gift that our Holy Father has been to the Church and to the entire world during the past quarter of a century.

In making the trip, I knew that there would be many events during the week-long celebration that would be special for me:being present as the Holy Father signed, on the day of his anniversary, the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis, Shepherds of the Flock, on the ministry of the Bishop in the Church today; concelebrating the anniversary Mass with the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square at the same hour of his election some twenty-five years before; taking part, together with an enormous gathering of the faithful, in the Mass of Beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta; witnessing the Creation of the new Cardinals, among whom was my former neighbor and dear friend, Justin Cardinal Rigali.

Each of these events did, in fact, touch me deeply. Each, in its own way, prompted in me a real satisfaction in and thanksgiving for the Catholic Faith that God Himself helped me to embrace in my youth.But there was more.As important as each of those events was for the strengthening of my faith, what gave me the greatest pleasure was the recurring recognition at each event that as different as each of the tens of thousands of us who were gathered in Rome happened to be, we were one in the communion of faith we shared in Jesus Christ.As unique as we each were as persons – in our gifts, our cultural, linguistic, and racial heritages and our familial and societal experiences, together we were one body, one communio or communion in Christ, celebrating the grace and the goodness of our common faith.

It is on this theme of communio that I wouldnow like to reflect for a few moments this morning, particularly on the need we have today of developing and promoting a genuine “spirituality of communion” as the foundation and impetus for our mission and activity as disciples of the Lord Jesus.I do this not only because of my recent experience in Rome, but principally because our Holy Father identified this need almost three years ago in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as “the great challenge facing us in the new millennium” (n. 43).Not surprisingly, the Holy Father returned to this theme last month in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Bishop’s ministry, stating that “the Bishop, in his own spiritual journey, has the primary duty of promoting and encouraging a spirituality of communion, and tirelessly working to make it a basic educational principle wherever human and Christian formation takes place” (Pastores Gregis, n 22).

“Brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound”

There is a hymn that all of us have long carried in our hearts and have brought often to our worship at the Eucharist, especially at the time of Holy Communion.It is a simple tune, but one that expresses beautifully and faithfully who we are in Christ:

Where charity and love prevail,
There God is ever found;
Brought here together by Christ’s love,
By love are we thus bound.

We are, brothers and sisters, a communio, a communion in Christ, brought about by the redemptive gift of Christ himself.By our Baptisms, we have each received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that unites us to Christ.St. Paul, reflecting on his own Baptism and life in Christ, provides the definitive description of this new life in his letter to the Galatians:“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20).In Baptism, then, we have been joined to Christ.But much more happened in that moment:By that joining we were given a share in the Lord’s own communion with his Father – now our Father – and the Holy Spirit.And, what’s more, the union that we now have with God, accomplished by God’s love for us, has also fashioned us into a communion with one another.We are a communio, created by God, in which we each belong to God and to one another in love.Brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound.

The Three Challenges That We Face on the Way to Communio

It is precisely because this is what God has made of us – and had always intended for us – that we have the deepest desire within ourselves and the responsibility to recognize and to ...

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