On the Church as the Body of Christ

Vatican City, (Zenit.org) | 3583 hits

Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s weekly General Audience address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I will focus on another expression, with which Vatican Council II 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 that we know well: the conversion of Saul, who will later take the name of Paul, one of the greatest evangelizers (cf. Acts 9:4-5). Saul is a persecutor of Christians, but while he is travelling along the road that leads to the city of Damascus, suddenly a light surrounds him, he falls to the ground and hears a voice telling him "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?". He asks: "Who art you, Lord?", and the voice answers: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" (vv. 3-5). The experience of St. Paul tells us how deep is the union between us Christians and Christ himself. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us orphans, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit the union with him has become even more intense. The Second Vatican Council States that Jesus "By communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body» (Dogmatic Const.Lumen Gentium, 7).

The image of the body helps us understand this deep connection between the Church and Christ, that St. Paul develops especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. ch. 12). Above all, the body brings to mind a living reality. The Church is not a care association, or a cultural or political one, but is a living body, which walks and acts in history. And this body has a head, Jesus, who guides, nourishes and sustains it. This is a point that I would like to emphasize: if you separate the head from the rest of the body, the whole person cannot survive. So it is in the Church: we need to stay connected to Jesus in an increasingly intense way. But not only that: as in a body, it is important for the lifeblood to pass through it, so we must allow Jesus to operate in us, must allow his Word to guide us, his Eucharistic presence to nourish us, animate us, we must allow his love to give strength to our loving our neighbor. And this, always! Always! Dear brothers and sisters, let us remain united to Jesus, let us trust him, let us orient our lives according to his Gospel, nourishing ourselves with daily prayer, listening to the Word of God and participation in the Sacraments.

And here I come to a second aspect of the Church as Body of Christ. St. Paul says that as the limbs of the human body, though different and many, form one body, so we are 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 not flat uniformity, but the wealth of gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes. However, there is communion and unity: all are in relation with each other and all combine to form a single vital body, deeply attached to Christ. Let us remember 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 it also means learning to overcome personal favoritisms and divisions, to understand each other better, to harmonise the variety and wealth of each one; in a word, to better love God and the people near us, in the family, in the parish, in the associations. In order to live, body and limbs must be united! Unity is superior to the conflicts, always! Conflicts, if they’re not resolved well, separate us from one another, separate us from God. Conflict can help us grow, but it can also divide us. Let’s not take the path of division, of fights among ourselves! All united, all united with our differences, but united, always: this is Jesus’ path. Unity is superior to conflicts. Unity is a grace that we must ask from the Lord, so that He may free us from the temptations of division, of struggles among us, of selfishness, of gossip. How much harm gossiping does, how much! Never gossip about the others, never! How much damage comes to the Church from divisions between Christians, from being biased, from petty self-interests!

The divisions among us, but also the divisions among the communities: Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, why are we divided? We must seek to bring unity. I will tell you something: today, before leaving the house, I spent forty minutes, more or less, half an hour, with an Evangelical pastor and we prayed together, and sought unity. But we must pray among ourselves as Catholics and also with the other Christians, pray that the Lord may give us unity, unity among us. But how can we achieve unity among Christians if we Catholics are unable to achieve it among ourselves? To have it in our family? How many families fight and are divided! Seek unity, the unity that makes the Church. Unity comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to create unity.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask God: help us to be members of the Body of the Church always deeply united to Christ; help us not to cause the Body of the Church to suffer with our conflicts, our divisions, our selfishness; help us to be living limbs linked to each other by a single force, that of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).

[Translation by Peter Waymel]

Speaker:

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.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Slovakia, Sweden, South Africa, Papua New Guinea, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the West Indies and the United States. May your stay in the Eternal City confirm you in love for our Lord and for his Body which is the Church. God bless you all!

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

* * *

I warmly welcome all the Italian-speaking faithful: parishes, associations, groups, various bodies. In particular, the pilgrimages of the Diocese of Pozzuoli, Lecce, Velletri-Segni and Alessandria, led by their pastors. I greet the faithful of Osimo, with their Archbishop, of the Vicariate of Marino, with the Bishop of Albano; and those of the parish of Sts. Crisante and Daria, in Rome. I address a special greeting to the young people, the sick and newlyweds.

I thank you all for your presence at this encounter. I ask you to pray for me and for my service to the Church, and I wish for each of you abundant graces, so that your generous intentions of fidelity to the Lord's call may be strengthened.

APPEALS

Tomorrow we will celebrate World Refugee Day. This year we are invited to consider particularly the situation of refugee families, forced often to leave their home and their homeland in a hurry, and to lose every material good and safety, to escape from violence, persecution, or serious discrimination because of their professed religion, or their belonging to an ethnic group, or their political views.

In addition to the dangers of the journey, these families are often at risk of disintegration and, in the country that welcomes them, they must contend with cultures and societies different from her own.   We cannot be insensitive to the families and to all our refugee brothers and sisters: we are called to help them, opening ourselves to understanding and to hospitality.

Let there not be missing throughout the world people and institutions that assist them: in their face, is impressed the face of Christ! 

* * *

Last Sunday, in the Year of Faith, we celebrated God who is Life and the source of life, Christ who gives us the divine life, the Holy Spirit that keeps us in the vital relationship of true children of God. I would like to extend once again the call to all to welcome and witness the "Gospel of Life", to promote and defend life in all its dimensions and in all its phases. The Christian is one who says "Yes" to life, who says "Yes" to God, the Living One.

[Translation by Peter Waymel]