“Often, we hear people say: the Church doesn’t do this …the Church doesn’t do that!’ ‘Tell me who is the Church? – ‘Well the Church is the priests, the bishops, the Pope …’ We are all the Church! All of us all of us Baptized! We are the Church, the Church of Jesus’”.
This was the message at the heart of Pope Francis’ general audience Wednesday, which he dedicated to the relationship between the visible and spiritual reality of the Church.
The Pope observed that the Church represents the Body of Jesus, and that its visible dimension- that is the structures and people who make up the Church – are at the service of its spiritual reality, witnessing to God’s love for all mankind.
He underlined that the Church visible is not just the priests, bishops or Popes. It is made up of Baptized men and women all over the world who carry out immeasurable acts of love. Families who are firm in the faith, parents who give their all to transmit the faith to their children, the sick who offer their suffering to the Lord.
Pope Francis noted that often as a Church we experience our fragility and our limitations, which rightly provoke profound displeasure, especially when we give bad example and become a source of scandal, “because people go by our witness” as Christians.
“Through her Sacraments and her witness to Christ in our world, the Church seeks to proclaim and bring God’s merciful love to all, particularly the poor and those in need”.
Below please find a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis [Original text: Italian]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
in the previous catechesis we highlighted how the Church is spiritual in nature: it is the Body of Christ, built in the Holy Spirit. When we refer to the Church, however, our thoughts turn immediately to our communities, our parishes, our diocese, to the structures in which we usually gather together and, of course, of the component and institutional figures which guide and govern it. This is the visible reality of the Church. We must ask, then: Are they two different things or the One Church? And, if it is the One Church, how can we understand the relationship between its visible and spiritual reality?
1. First, when we speak of the visible reality of the Church we said there are two- the visible reality which we see and the spiritual one – we must not think only of the Pope, Bishops, priests and consecrated persons. The visible reality of the Church is made up of the many baptized brothers and sisters around the world who believe, hope and love. [Moving from the prepared text] “Often, we hear people say: the Church doesn’t do this …the Church doesn’t do that!’ ‘Tell me who is the Church? – ‘Well the Church is the priests, the bishops, the Pope …’ We are all the Church! All of us all of us Baptized! We are the Church, the Church of Jesus’”.
Of all those who follow the Lord Jesus and, in His name, are close to the poor and the suffering, trying to offer some relief, comfort and peace. [Moving from the prepared text ] “All of those who do these things, which the Lord sent us to do are the Church”. Thus we understand that the visible reality of the Church cannot be measured, it cannot be known in all its fullness: how can one know of all the good that is done? [Moving from the prepared text ] “So many acts of love, so much faithfulness in families, so much work in educating children, to carry on, to transmit the faith, so much suffering in the sick who offer their suffering to the Lord. We cannot measure this! It is so great, so great!” How can one know of all the wonderful things that, through us, Christ is able to operate in the hearts and lives of each person? You see: the reality of the visible Church goes beyond our control, beyond our strength, and it is a mysterious reality because it comes from God.
2. To understand the relationship, in the Church, between her visible and spiritual reality, there is no other way but to look to Christ, whose Body is the Church and from which the Church is generated, in an act of infinite love . Even in Christ, in fact, through the mystery of the Incarnation, we recognize a human nature and a divine nature, united in the same person in a wonderful and indissoluble way. This applies in a similar manner to the Church. Just as in Christ, human nature serves the divine in accordance with the fulfillment of Salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible reality serve the spiritual reality of the Church. The Church, therefore, is also a mystery, in which what is not seen is more important than what is seen, and can only be recognized with the eyes of faith (cf. Const. Dogmatic Constitution. On the Church Lumen Gentium, 8).
3. In the case of the Church, however, we must ask ourselves: How can the visible reality can be at the service of the spiritual? Again, we can understand it by looking to Christ. [Moving from the prepared text ] “But Christ is the model and the Church is His Body, He is the model for all Christians, all of us! Look to Christ, you can’t go wrong!”. The Gospel of Luke tells how Jesus came to Nazareth, where he grew up, went into the synagogue and read, referring to himself, the passage from the prophet Isaiah where it is written:”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free “(4,18-19). Look, how Christ used his humanity – because he was also a man – to announce and carry out God’s plan of Redemption and Salvation, so it must be for the Church. Through its visible reality – everything we see – , the Sacraments and testimony – of all of us Christians – it is called every day to draw closer to every person, starting with the poor, those who suffer and those who are marginalized, in order to continue to help all feel the compassionate and merciful gaze of Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, often as a Church we experience our fragility and our limitations, all of us, we all have them. We are all sinners, no one can say I am not a sinner. And this fragility, these limitations, these our sins, it is right that these should provoke in us a profound displeasure, especially when we give bad example and we realize we are becoming a source of scandal. How often have we heard, in our neighborhoods: “That person there is always in Church but gossips about everyone, denigrates others – what a bad example! This is not Christian! This is a bad example. So people say: ‘If this is a Christian, I prefer to be an atheist! Because people go by our witness”.
Then, let us ask for the gift of faith, so that we can understand how, despite our smallness and our poverty, the Lord has really made us means of grace and a visible sign of His love for all mankind. Yes, we can become a source of scandal but we can also be a source of hope through our lives our witness, just as Jesus wants! Thank you.
Below the English language summary of the catechesis.
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Church, we have seen that the Church is a spiritual reality, the mystical Body of Christ. Yet we know that the Church is also a visible reality, expressed in our parishes and communities, and in her institutional structures. This visible reality is itself mysterious, for it embraces the countless and often hidden works of charity carried out by believers throughout the world. To understand the relationship between the visible and the spiritual dimensions of Christ’s Body, the Church, we need to look to Jesus himself, both God and man. Just as Christ’s humanity serves his divine mission of salvation, so too, with the eyes of faith, we can understand how the Church’s visible dimension is at the service of her deepest spiritual reality. Through her sacraments and her witness to Christ in our world, the Church seeks to proclaim and bring God’s merciful love to all, particularly the poor and those in need. Let us ask the Lord to enable us to grow in holiness and to be an ever more visible sign of his love for all mankind.
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the various groups from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Nigeria, India, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!
Source: Vatican Radio