The mystery of the Church will be the theme of Pope Francis’ new cycle of catechesis during the Wednesday general audiences. “A mystery,” he said, “that we all live and in which we all take part.” The Pope, who will discuss this topic in light of Vatican Council II texts, began from the parable of the prodigal son that illustrates God’s plan for humanity.
In spite of the rain that suddenly fell on Rome this morning, Francis followed his custom of winding through St. Peter’s Square in the Popemobile, greeting the tens of thousands of people present and, before beginning his catechesis, he joked with them, praising their endurance in spite of the inclement weather.
In his teaching, the Holy Father explained that God’s plan is “to make of all of us one family of his children, [a family] in which each one feels close to and loved by him … feels the warmth of being the family of God. The Church—not an organization born out of an agreement between some persons but … the work of God, born of this love and progressively built in history—has her origin in this great plan.”
The Church, the pontiff explained, “is born of God’s desire to call all men and women to communion with him, to friendship with him, even further, to participate as his children in his very divinity. The word ‘Church’ itself, from the Greek ‘ekklesia’, means ‘convocation’. God calls us, urges us to leave selfishness behind, the tendency to be wrapped up in oneself, and calls us to be part of his family. This call has its origins in creation itself. God created us so that we might live a relationship of profound friendship with him and, when sin cut off that relationship with him, with others, and with creation, God did not abandon us. The entire story of salvation is the story of God seeking humans, offering us his love, gathering us to him. He called Abraham to be the father of many; He chose the people of Israel to forge a covenant that embraces all peoples; and he sent, in the fullness of time, his Son so that his plan of love and salvation might be fulfilled in a new and eternal covenant with all of humanity.”
“When we read the Gospel we see that Jesus gathers a small community around him that welcomes his word, follows it, shares his journey, becomes his family. And with this community He prepares and builds his Church.” It is a Church whose origin lies in the “supreme act of love on the Cross, in Jesus’ opened side from which flow blood and water, symbol of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. In the family of God, in the Church, the lifeblood is God’s love that is made concrete in loving him and others, all, without distinction or limits. The Church is a family in which we love and are loved.” The Church is made manifest, as on Pentecost, “when the gift of the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the Apostles and compels them to go out and begin the journey to proclaim the Gospel, to spread God’s love.”
The Pope observed that, even today, “there are some who say: ‘Christ yes, the Church no’. Like those who say: ‘I believe in God, but not in the priests’. But it is precisely the Church that brings us Christ and brings us to God. The Church is the great family of the children of God. Of course it also has human aspects. there are defects, imperfections, and sins in those who make her up, pastors and faithful. Even the Pope has them, and many. But what is beautiful is that, when we realize that we are sinners we encounter the mercy of God who always forgives. He never forgets us. He gathers us up in his love of forgiveness and mercy. Some say that sin is an offence against God, but it is also an opportunity for the humility to realize that there is something better: God’s mercy. Let’s think about this.”
“How much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel part of the family of the Church? What am I doing to make it a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, feels God’s mercy and love that renews life? Faith is a gift and an act that has to do with us personally, but God calls us to live our faith together, as a family, as the Church.”
“Let us ask the Lord, particularly in this Year of Faith, that our communities, that all the Church, be ever more truly families that live and bring the warmth of God,” the Holy Father concluded.