Let us ask ourselves today: how much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel myself a part of the family of the Church? What do I do to make the Church a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, [in which] everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life? Faith is a gift and an act that affects us personally, but God calls us to live our faith together, as a family: as the Church. (Pope Francis)
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - With his characteristic affection for God's people, Pope Francis showed no concern for the rain as he moved through the crowd who gathered to hear his Wednesday talk. Having finished the catechesis on the Creed begun by his predecessor, His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Francis began a new series on the Church.
His first talk was entitled "The Church as the Family of God" and is set forth in full below. The theme is that to belong to Jesus means to belong to His Body, the Church. It is as central to his pontificate as it was to his predecesssor. It truly shows the continuity of these two pontificates. We will bring the entire series to our readers.
In Patristic style, the Pope used the account from John's Gospel of the soldiers piercing the side of the crucified Christ as a biblical reference from which he began his teaching series on the Church. The early fathers pointed to the blood and water which flowed from the heart of Christ as a symbol of the Sacraments. they drew the beautiful anaolgy of the birth of the Church, the bride of Christ, flowing from the side of Jesus, the new Adam.
On the Feast of St George, Pope Francis gave another homily on the centrality of the Church. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles told of the missionary efforts of the early Christians in proclaiming the Gospel and planting the Church. The early Christians believed that to belong to Jesus was to belong to His Church. They believed that just as we were all born from our mother's womb - so we are invited by God, in and through Jesus Christ, to be born again into the Church, the new humanity which is being re-created in Him. The Baptismal font was even spoken of as a second womb.
The process of redemption began when we passed through the Sacramental Waters of the font of Holy Baptism. It continues as we cooperate with the Grace given to us in our life within the Church. It will be fully completed when the Lord Returns and we are raised in Resurrected Bodies and live in a new heaven and a new earth! This understanding of the Church as a participation in Christ and entry into the Trinitarian Communion runs throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Here two snippets.
First, from Origen: "Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His bride" Then, from Bishop Ireneaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John: "We need to take refuge with the Church, to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the scriptures of the Lord. For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise"
Pope Francis, like these early church fathers, spoke of the Church as mother in these words: "And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith. A Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church."
"Because - it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: "Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy. And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful."
Pope Francis stands on the shoulders of other great teachers in the history of the Catholic Church by reminding us it is not possible to live with Jesus without living in the Church. Remaining, living, and abiding in Jesus, calls us to find our home in His Church. The Church is not some-thing but Some -One. The Church is also meant to become the home of the whole human race. In living our lives in her we carry forward in time the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ who is the Head of His Body. In its treatment of this mystery of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 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."(CCC #845)
We are all called to live in the heart of Church for the sake of the world. From there, we are sent on a rescue mission, to bring the whole world back home. This teaching series on the Church promises to be a treasure. We encourage you to read it, pray over its content and then give the message away to others. Most importantly, we all need to live it.
Pope Francis: The Church as Family of God
Dear brothers and sisters,
Last Wednesday I stressed the deep connection between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Today I would like to start some reflections on the mystery of the Church, a mystery that we all live and of which we are part. I would like to do this, using some well-known phrases taken from the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Today the first: the Church as Family of God
In recent months, more than once I have made reference to the parable of the prodigal son, or rather of the merciful father (cf. Lk 15:11-32). The youngest son leaves the house of his father, squanders everything, and decides to return because he realizes he made a mistake, though he no longer considers himself worthy of sonship. He thinks he might be welcomed back as a servant. Instead, the father runs to meet him, embraces him, gives him back his dignity as a son, and celebrates. This parable, like others in the Gospel, shows well the design of God for humanity.
What is this God's plan? It is to make us all the one family of his children, in which each of you feels close to Him and feels loved by Him - feels, as in the Gospel parable, the warmth of being the family of God. In this great design, the Church finds its source. [The Church is] is not an organization founded by an agreement among [a group of] persons, but - as we were reminded many times by Pope Benedict XVI - is the work of God: it was born out of the plan of love, which realizes itself progressively in history. The Church is born from the desire of God to call all people into communion with Him, to His friendship, and indeed, as His children, to partake of His own divine life. The very word "Church", from the Greek ekklesia, means "convocation".
God calls us, urges us to escape from individualism, [from] the tendency to withdraw into ourselves, and calls us - convokes us - to be a part of His family. This convocation has its origin in creation itself. God created us in order that we might live in a relationship of deep friendship with Him, and even when sin had broken this relationship with God, with others and with creation, God did not abandon us.
The whole history of salvation is the story of God seeking man, offer[ing] humanity His love, embracing mankind. He called Abraham to be the father of a multitude, chose the people of Israel to forge an alliance that embraces all nations, and sent, in the fullness of time, His Son, that His plan of love and salvation be realised in a new and everlasting covenant with humanity. When we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus gathers around him a small community that receives His word, follows Him, shares His journey, becomes His family - and with this community, He prepares and builds His Church.
Whence, then, is the Church born? It is born from the supreme act of love on the Cross, from the pierced side of Jesus from which flow blood and water, a symbol of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In the family of God, the Church, the lifeblood is the love of God that is realised in loving Him and others, loving all without distinction, without measure. The Church is a family that loves and is loved.
When does the Church manifest itself? We celebrated [the Church's manifestation] two Sundays ago: the Church manifests itself when the gift of the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the Apostles and pushes them to go out and start the journey to proclaim the Gospel, to spread the love of God.
Even today, some say, "Christ yes, the Church no," like those who say, "I believe in God, but in priests, no." They say, "Christ: yes. Church: no." Nevertheless, it is the Church that brings us Christ and that brings us to God. The Church is the great family of God's children. Of course it also has the human aspects: in those who compose it, pastors and faithful, there are flaws, imperfections, sins - the Pope has his, as well: he has lots of them; but the beautiful thing is that, when we become aware that we are sinners, we find the mercy of God.
God always forgives: do not forget this. God always forgives, and He receives us in His love of forgiveness and mercy. Some people say - this is beautiful - that sin is an offence against God, but it is also an opportunity: the humiliation of realising [that one is a sinner] and that there is something [exceedingly] beautiful: the mercy of God. Let us think about this.
Let us ask ourselves today: how much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel myself a part of the family of the Church? What do I do to make the Church a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, [in which] everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life? Faith is a gift and an act that affects us personally, but God calls us to live our faith together, as a family: as the Church.
We ask the Lord, in a special way in this Year of the faith, that our communities, the whole Church be ever more true families that live and carry the warmth of God.
The Holy Father also had greetings for English-speaking pilgrims, which he delivered through an interpreter:
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In today's Audience I would like to speak of the Church as God's family. Like the merciful father in the parable of the prodigal son, God wants all of us to live in his love and to share in his life. The Church is an essential part of this divine plan; we were made to know and love God and, despite our sins, he continues to call us to return to him.
In the fullness of time, he sent his Son into our world to inaugurate the new and eternal covenant with humanity through his sacrifice on the cross. The Church was born of this supreme act of reconciling love, in the water and blood which flowed from Christ's pierced side. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sent the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel of God's love to the ends of the earth.
Christ can never be separated from his Church, which he has made the great family of God's children. Today, let [us] pledge ourselves to renewing our love for the Church and to letting her be God's true family, where everyone feels welcomed, understood and loved.
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
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