Front Row With Francis: The Nature of the Church

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the GospelAfter concluding his talks on the gifts of the Spirit, Pope Francis now takes up the subject of the Church, its identity and mission. He began by warmly welcoming everyone as his brothers and sisters. This was a fitting greeting since his address emphasized God’s desire to form a family of people through Fatherly love. During this introduction, the Holy Father centered on the roots of the church in God’s dealings with Abraham.

It was fascinating that Pope Francis opened his teaching by rejecting a narrow view that the Church is “restricted to the clergy or the Vatican ” . He pointed out that we are “all the Church, all family, all of the Mother.” I was pleasantly surprised that his definition of Church included “a much broader reality, which opens to the whole of humanity ….She was founded by Jesus but is a people with a long history behind it and a preparation that began much before Christ himself.”

The idea that a sense of church did not begin with Jesus or Peter was a whole new concept for me. It made so much sense as the Holy Father explained that the church began even in Genesis when “God did not call Abraham alone, as an individual, but from the beginning involved his family, his relatives and all those who served in his household. Beginning with Abraham, God forms a people to take His blessing to all the families of the earth. And Jesus is born within this people.”

“Abraham and his family listened to God’s call and set out despite the fact that they did not know who this God was and where he wanted to lead them,” the pope said. “It’s true. Abraham set out when this God called him, but he didn’t have a theology book to study to find out who this God was. He trusted. He trusted in the love that God made him feel.” Yet too often we tend to focus on what Abraham did, on what people do not on God.

Pope Francis instructs us in this second element when he says, “it is not for Abraham to constitute a people around him, but it is God who gives life to this people.” It is all about God’s actions, not man’s because “it is God Himself who takes the initiative. Let us listen to this: it is God who knocks on Abraham’s door and says to him: go forth, go from your land, begin to walk and I will make of you a great people. ” In ancient times and still today, “God walks with us,” Our focus must be on God because it is God himself who teaches us , it is God who proceeds us and waits for us He arrives before us .”

As for us, if we wish to form church, we need only to listen and respond to God who acts and speaks first. Of course, our response is not perfect. As Pope Francis reminds us, “When we recognize that we are sinners, God fills us with his mercy and love, and he forgives us. He always forgives us. This is what makes us grow as the people of God, the church.”

Throughout this teaching, the Holy Father reminds us of man’s pride ,egoism and hardness heart. Yet, he also stresses that “when we acknowledge ourselves sinners, God fills us with His mercy and His love. And He forgives us, He forgives us always. And, in fact, it is this which makes us grow as people of God, as Church: it’s not our bravura, it’s not our merits – we are but a little thing; it’s not that –, but it is the daily experience of how much the Lord loves us and takes care of us”

Pope Francis has gently chided us for both our self-centered idea that it is we who form Church and challenged the way we look at the Church. However, as usual, he closes with inspiring words that both warm our hearts and encourage us. “When God called Abraham this was his plan: form a people blessed by his love and who would bring his blessing to all the people of the earth. This plan has never changed and in Christ it reached its fulfillment and, still today, God continues this work in the church… I like to think that a synonym for being Christian is being men and women – a people – who always bless. Through their lives, Christians must always bless God and bless others….It’s a beautiful vocation.”

Melanie Jean Juneau is a petite wife, writer and mother of nine children who blogs at Joy of nine9. When the words "The Joy of Mothering on a Hobby Farm" popped into her head as a subtitle for her short stories, it was like an epiphany for her because those few words verbalized her experience living with little people.The very existence of a joyful mother of nine children seems to confound people. Her writing is humorous and heart warming; thoughtful and thought provoking with a strong current of spirituality running through it. Part of her call and her witness is to write the truth about children, family, marriage and the sacredness of life, especially a life lived in God.