“The Church is not an charitable, cultural or political association, but a living Body, that walks and acts in history. And this Body has a head, Jesus, who guides, nourishes and supports it”, said Pope Francis Wednesday as he continued his series of lessons on the Creed during his General Audience.
A boiling summer sun brought temperatures to a high of 29°s, but despite this St Peter’s square was packed by tens of thousands of pilgrims. In his catechesis he told them we must remain united to the Church lamenting the divisions among Christians which he says ‘wounds this Body’. He said differences in church can enrich us and help us grow, but “a Body must be united to survive."
In off-the-cuff remarks Pope Francis revealed how earlier Wednesday morning he had spent almost 40 minutes in prayer with an evangelical pastor, praying for unity in the Church. Below a translation of the Holy Father’s Catechesis, Wednesday, June 20, 2013:
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
Today I will focus upon another expression with which the Second Vatican Council indicates the nature of the Church: that of the body, the Council says that the Church is the Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 7).
I would like to start from a text of the Acts of the Apostles which we know well: the conversion of Saul, who will then be called Paul, one of the greatest evangelists (cf. Acts 9:4-5). Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but while he is on the road leading to the city of Damascus, suddenly a light envelops him, he falls to the ground and hears a voice saying "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? '. He asks: "Who are you, Lord?", And the voice answers: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (v. 3-5). This experience of St. Paul tells us how deep the union between we Christians and Christ Himself. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us orphans, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit, our union with Him has become even more intense. The Second Vatican Council says that Jesus " communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body" (Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, 7).
The image of the body helps us to understand this deep Church-Christ bond, which St. Paul has developed especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. chap. 12). First, the body brings our attention to a living reality. The Church is not an charitable, cultural or political association, but a living body, that walks and acts in history. And this body has a head, Jesus, who guides, feeds and supports it. This is a point I want to emphasize: if the head is separated from the rest of the body, the whole person cannot survive. So it is in the Church, we must remain bound ever more deeply to Jesus. But not only that: just as the body needs the lifeblood to keep it alive, so we must allow Jesus to work in us, that His Word guide us, that His presence in the Eucharist nourish us, animate us, that His love gives strength to our love of neighbor. And this always! Dear brothers and sisters, let us remain united to Jesus, let us trust in Him, direct our life according to His Gospel, nourish ourselves with daily prayer, listening to the Word of God, participation in the Sacraments.
And here I come to a second aspect of the Church as the Body of Christ. St Paul says that as members of the human body, although different and many, we form one body, as we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13). In the Church, therefore, there is a variety, a diversity of tasks and functions, there is no dull uniformity, but the richness of the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes. But there is communion and unity: we are all in a relation to each other and we all come together to form one living body, deeply connected to Christ. Let us remember this well: being part of the Church means being united to Christ and receiving from Him the divine life that makes us live as Christians; it means remaining united to the Pope and the Bishops who are instruments of unity and communion, and also means overcoming personal interests and divisions, in order to understand each other better, to harmonize the variety and richness of each member; in a word, to love God and the people who are next to us more, in the family, in the parish, in the associations. In order to live a Body and its limbs must be united! Unity is beyond all conflict. Always! Conflicts, when they don’t end well, separate us from each other, they separate us from God. Conflict can help us to grow but can also divide us. We must not travel the path of division, of conflict among us, no we must all be united – with our differences – but united because that is the path of Jesus!
Unity is beyond all conflict. Unity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord so he may save us from the temptations of the division, from internal struggles and selfishness, from gossip. How much damage gossip does! How much damage! Never gossip about others, never!. How much damage divisions among Christians, being partisan, narrow interests causes to the Church,! Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity. But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics,...in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask God to help us to be members of the Body of the Church always deeply united to Christ, help us not to hurt the Body of the Church with our conflicts, our divisions, selfishness: help us to be living members bound to each other by a single power, that of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).
Below the English language summary
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Creed, today we consider the Church as the Body of Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, we are mystically united to the Lord as members of one body, of which he is the head. The image of the mystical body makes us realize the importance of strengthening our union with Christ through daily prayer, the study of God’s word and participation in the sacraments. Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that the Body of Christ, while one, is made up of a variety of members. Within the communion of the Church, and in union with the Pope and Bishops, each of us has a part to play, a gift to share, a service to offer, for building up the Body of Christ in love. Let us ask the Lord to help us reject every form of divisiveness and conflict in our families, parishes and local Churches. At the same time, let us ask for the grace to open our hearts to others, to promote unity and to live in harmony as members of the one Body of Christ, inspired by the gift of love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.