On Sacraments, Charisms and Charity
"The sacraments drive us to be missionaries"
Vatican City, (Zenit.org) | 1987 hits
Here is a translation of the address Pope Francis gave this morning at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Last Wednesday I talked about the communion of saints, understood as communion among holy persons, namely, among us believers. Today I would like to reflect further on the other aspect of this reality: You recall that there were two aspects: one of communion, of unity among us, and the other aspect being the communion of holy things, of spiritual goods. The two aspects are closely connected, in fact the communion among Christians grows through participation in spiritual goods. In particular we consider: the Sacraments, the charisms, and charity. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 949-953). We grow in unity, in communion, with the sacraments, the charisms that each one has from the Holy Spirit, and with charity.
First of all communion in the sacraments. The sacraments express and bring about an effective and profound communion among us, because in them we encounter Christ the Savior and, through Him, our brothers in the faith. The sacraments are not appearances, they are not rites, but they are the strength of Christ; it is Jesus Christ present in the sacraments. When we celebrate the Eucharist it is the living Jesus who gathers us, who makes us community, and who makes us adore the Father. Each one of us, in fact, through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, is incorporated to Christ and united with the whole community of believers. Therefore, if on one hand it is the Church that “makes” the sacraments, on the other it is the sacraments that “make” the Church, they build her, generating new children, adding them to the Holy People of God, solidifying their membership.
Every encounter with Christ, which in the sacraments gives us salvation, invites us to “go” and to communicate to others a salvation that we have been able to see, to touch, to encounter, to receive, and which is truly credible because it is love. In this way, the sacraments drive us to be missionaries, and the apostolic commitment to take the Gospel to every environment, also in those that are more hostile, constitutes the most authentic fruit of an assiduous sacramental life, in as much as it is participation in God’s salvific initiative, who wills to give salvation to all. The grace of the sacraments nourishes in us a strong and joyous faith, a faith that is able to be amazed by the “wonders” of God and is able to resist the idols of the world. Because of this, it is important to go to Communion, it is important that children be baptized soon, that they be confirmed, because the sacraments are the presence of Jesus Christ in us, a presence that helps us. It is important, when we feel ourselves sinners, to approach the sacrament of reconciliation. Someone might say: “But I’m afraid, because the priest will thrash me.” No, the priest won’t thrash you. Do you know who you will encounter in the sacrament of reconciliation? You will encounter Jesus who forgives you! It is Jesus who awaits you there; and this is a sacrament that makes the whole Church grow.
A second aspect of communion in holy things is that of the communion of charisms. The Holy Spirit dispenses to the faithful a multitude of spiritual gifts and graces; this so to speak “fanciful” richness of gifts of the Holy Spirit is aimed at the building of the Church. The charisms – a somewhat difficult word – are presents that the Holy Spirit gives us, abilities, possibilities … Presents given not for them to be hidden, but to share with others. They are not given for the benefit of the one who receives them, but for the benefit of the People of God. If, instead, a charism, one of these presents, serves to affirm the self, we must doubt that it is a genuine charism or that it is faithfully lived. The charisms are particular graces given to some to do good to many others. They are attitudes, inspirations and interior impulses, which are born in the conscience and in the experience of specific persons, who are called to put them at the service of the community. In particular, these spiritual gifts are for the advantage of the sanctity of the Church and of her mission. We are all called to respect them in ourselves and in others, to receive them as useful stimulants for the presence and fecund work of the Church. Saint Paul admonished: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Let us not quench the Spirit that gives us these presents, these abilities, these very beautiful virtues that make the Church grow.
What is our attitude in face of these gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we aware that the Spirit of God is free to give them to whom He wishes? Do we consider them as a spiritual help, through which the Lord sustains our faith and reinforces our mission in the world?
And we come to the third aspect of communion in holy things, namely, the communion of charity, unity among us that charity and love effect. Observing the first Christians, the pagans said: but how they love one another, how they wish good to each other! They do not hate each other, they do not speak ill of one another. This is charity, the love of God that the Holy Spirit puts in our hearts. The charisms are important in the life of the Christian community, but they are always means to grow in charity, in love, which Saint Paul places above the charisms (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Without love, in fact, even the most extraordinary gifts are vain; this man heals people, he has this quality, this other virtue … but does he have love and charity in his heart? If he does, that’s good, but if he doesn’t it is of no use to the Church. Without love all these gifts and charisms do not serve the Church, because where there is no love there is a void that is filled with egoism. And I ask myself: are we all egoistic? Can we live in communion and in peace? We cannot; that is why love, which unites, is necessary. The smallest of our gestures of love has good effects for all! Therefore, to live unity in the Church and the communion of charity means not to seek one’s own interest, but to share the sufferings and joys of brothers (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26), ready to carry the weights of those who are weaker and poorer. This fraternal solidarity is not a rhetorical figure, a way of speaking, but it is an integral part of communion among Christians. If we live it, we are a sign in the world, “sacrament” of the love of God. We are this for one another and we are this for all!” It is not just that little work of charity that we can offer one another, it is something more profound: it is a communion which renders us able to enter in the joy and sorrow of others and to make them sincerely ours.
And often we are too arid, indifferent, detached and, instead of transmitting fraternity, we transmit ill humor, coldness, egoism. And with ill humor, coldness, egoism we cannot make the Church grow; the Church grows only with the love that comes from the Holy Spirit. The Lord invites us to open ourselves to communion with Him, in the sacraments, in the charisms and in charity, to live in a worthy way our Christian vocation!
And now I permit myself to ask you for an act of charity: be at peace there won’t be a collection! Before coming to the Square I went to meet a one-and-a half-year-old girl with a very serious illness. Her father and mother pray, and they ask the Lord for health for this beautiful child. Her name is Noemi. The poor little thing smiled! Let us do an act of love. We do not know her, but she is a baptized child, she is one of us, she is a Christian. Let us do an act of love for her and in silence let us ask that the Lord help her at this moment and give her health. In silence for an instant, and then we will pray the Hail Mary. And now all together we pray to Our Lady for Noemi’s health. Hail Mary … Thank you for this act of charity.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[Here is the text of the English-language summary read after the Holy Father's reflection:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
In our continuing catechesis on the Creed, we now reflect on “the communion of saints” as a communion not only of persons but also of spiritual goods. Through our sharing in those goods, we grow in communion with Christ and with the members of his body, the Church. Today let us consider three of these spiritual treasures: the sacraments, charisms and charity. In the sacraments, we encounter Christ in all his saving power, are confirmed in the joy of faith, and sent forth to share with others the joy of salvation. Through the variety of charisms, the spiritual gifts and graces bestowed by the Holy Spirit, we help to build up the Church in unity, holiness and service. In charity, all these spiritual gifts find their fulfilment; everything is ordered to our growth in God’s love. Let us ask the Lord to increase our communion in these spiritual goods, so that we can live ever more fully our Christian vocation in union with him and as joyful signs of his saving love, present and at work in our midst.
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England and Wales, Ireland, Denmark, Australia, Japan and the United States. In a special way I greet the priests from England celebrating the anniversaries of their ordination. I also thank the choirs present for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!