Happy Birthday to the Pope of Christian Unity, Benedict XVI
On the day when we pause to celebrate Pope Benedict XVI's 85th birthday, we also await the response from the Society of St Pius X to the latest exchange between their Bishops and the Holy See. We pray, along with millions around the world, for a healing with the followers of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Pope Benedict's pastoral effort to bring them fully back into the fold of full communion is one more of his untiring efforts to restore the visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In Catholic theology we teach what the early fathers, Saints and Councils throughout the ages have all affirmed; to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body. Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a "participation in the Divine nature". (2 Peter 1:4)
Catholics speak of our Christian friends in other Christian communities who have been validly baptized in accordance with a Trinitarian formula as already being in "imperfect communion" with the One Church. This is why Catholics do not "re-baptize" a Christian from another community who comes into the Catholic Church. We speak of them as coming into "full communion" because they are already joined to the one Church in an "imperfect" or incomplete communion.
The Church is God's Plan for the whole human race. Jesus came to found that Church and begin the New Creation. It is a communion from above into which we enter. It is His Body. He is the Head and we are the members. Through our Baptism the Church becomes our home, our mother, the place in which we now live our lives in Christ.
To perceive and live this reality requires a continuing and dynamic conversion brought about by grace, which is mediated to us through the Sacraments and, most especially through our Eucharistic communion. We are sons and daughters of the Church. In living our lives within her we are enlisted in the mission of carrying forward in time the continuing work of Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing patristic sources, states: "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (#895)
This Church is both human and divine; thus her members still sin. Sometimes evil enters and rots her from within. Sadly, she has been divided, but that is not the Lord's Plan. She is the means through which all men and women are invited to participate in the life of God and find true unity. She is, as the fathers were fond of saying, "the world reconciled" and a seed of the Kingdom to come.
To this Church has been entrusted the Sacraments (Mysteries), the Word of God, and the gift of a Teaching Office - Magisterium - through which Jesus Christ continues to speak through the Holy Spirit. The Church is not an optional "extra" that we add on to our lives, she is our life and we live our lives now in Christ.
From Christ's wounded side, the Church was birthed at the tree of Calvary, the altar of the new world. Through faith we are invited into this mystery and by grace we come to more fully comprehend and live it as we respond to the ongoing call to conversion and newness of life.
Pope Benedict XVI has remained faithful to the conviction he expressed on the day of his first allocution. It is his 'Impelling Duty to work toward the rebuilding of the full and visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
He is fulfilling that duty with prophetic courage. His teaching magisterium is characterized by orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice). It is also characterized by a recovery of the legitimate diversity of expression within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Into a world that is fractured, divided, wounded, filled with "sides" and "camps" at enmity with one another, the Church is called to proclaim, by both word and deed, the unifying love of a living God. The heart of the "Gospel" is the message that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God - and through Him, in the Spirit, with one another- is not only possible but is the plan of God for the entire human race.
The Church is the way. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion. Let us take our lead, as these historic events unfold, from the clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These paragraphs are in the section entitled "Wounds to Unity":
"817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame."
"The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . .
"All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."
"Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
820 "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her.
"This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may know that you have sent me." The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit."
We express our deep gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity. We also extend our heartfelt "Happy Birthday" to this Pope of Christian Unity. May he have many years! And, may the prayer of Jesus, "May they be One" become the prayer - and the mission - of the whole Church.
- - -
Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Benedicts Birthday, Pope's Birthday, ecumenism, Pope of Christian Unity, Pope Benedict XVI, SSPX, Deacon Keith Fournier
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