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The House of Harmony: Pope Francis on the Catholicity of the Church
By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
During his Wednesday instruction, Pope Francis continued his series on the marks of the Church. He focused on what it means when we profess in the Creed that the Church is Catholic. He offered the sixty thousand pilgrims gathered in St. Peters Square some beautiful insights into the unity of the Church as it is found expressed within legitimate diversity. Pope Francis reminds us that to live in Jesus means to find our home in the Church, a House of Harmony in legitimate diversity. The Church is meant to become the home of the whole human race
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - During his Wednesday instruction, Pope Francis continued his series on the marks of the Church. He focused on what it means when we profess in the Creed that the Church is Catholic. He offered the sixty thousand pilgrims gathered in St. Peters Square some beautiful insights into the unity of the Church as it is found expressed within legitimate diversity. Here are his words:
In what sense do we say that the Church is Catholic? I would say it has three basic meanings. First of all, the Church is Catholic because it is the space, the house in which the entire faith is announced, in which the salvation that Christ brought us is offered to all. The Church helps us encounter the mercy of God that transforms us because Jesus Christ is present in it, which gives it the true confession of faith , the fullness of the sacramental life , the authenticity of the ordained ministry. In the Church we can all find what we need to believe, to live as Christians, to become saints, to walk in every place and in every age. To take an example, we can say it's like family life; in the family we are each given what we need to grow, to mature, to live. You cannot grow on your own, you cannot walk alone, isolated, but walk and grow in a community, a family - and it is the same with the Church. In the Church we can hear the Word of God, sure that it is the message that the Lord has given to us.
In the Church we can meet the Lord in the Sacraments which are the open windows through which we are given the light of God, streams from which we draw the very life of God. In the Church we learn to live in communion, the love that comes from God. Each of us can ask ourselves: how do I live in the Church? When I go to church, is it as if I were at the stadium, at a football game ? As if I were, at the movies? No. It is something different! How do I go to church? How do I accept the gifts offered to me , to grow, to mature as a Christian? Do I participate in community life or go to church and lock myself up in my own problems , isolate myself from others? In this first sense, the Church is catholic because it is everyone's home: we are all children of the Church and we all belong in this house.
Secondly, the Church is catholic because it is universal; it is spread all over the world and proclaims the gospel to every man and every woman. The Church is not an elite group, not just a few. The Church has no closures, it is sent to all people, the entire human race. And the One Church is present even in the smallest parts of it. Everyone can say, my parish is the Catholic Church, it too is part of the Church universal, it also has the fullness of the gifts of Christ, faith, the sacraments, ministry; it is in communion with the bishop, with the pope and is open to all without distinction. The Church is not only the shadow of the bell tower , but embraces a vast array of peoples , peoples who profess the same faith, feed on the same Eucharist, are served by the same pastors.
To feel in communion with all the churches, with all the Catholic communities large and small in the world! That is really nice! And then feel that we are all on a mission, big and small communities together, we all have to open our doors and go out for the Gospel. So let us ask ourselves: what do I do to communicate to others the joy of encountering the Lord, the joy of belonging to the Church? Proclaiming and witnessing to the faith is not a matter of a few, it also concerns me, you, each one of us. The Church then is Catholic because it is the House of Harmony where unity and diversity cleverly combine together to become a precious treasure. Think of the image of the symphony, which means agreement and harmony, different instruments play together, each maintains its unique sound and the individual characteristics agree on something in common.
Then there are those who guide, the conductor, and in the symphony they all play together in harmony, but the mark of each instrument, their own merits is not erased, rather it is exploited to its fullest! This beautiful picture tells us that the Church is like a great orchestra in which there is variety: we are not all the same and we should not all be -the same. Everyone is different, different. each with their own qualities and that's the beauty of the Church: everyone brings his or her own, what God gave them, to enrich others. And there is this difference between the components, but it is a diversity that does not enter into conflict, it is not opposed, it is a variety allows us to melt in harmony by the Holy Spirit , He is the true "maestro" , and He Himself is the harmony . And here let us ask ourselves: in our communities do we live in harmony, or we fight between ourselves?
In my parish community, in my movement, where I am in the Church, Do I gossip? And, if we gossip, there is no harmony: only conflict. And this is not the Church: the Church is the harmony of all. Never talk against each other, never argue. Accept each other; accept that there is a tremendous variety and that we can think in different ways."But, in the same faith, you can think so! Or do we tend to standardize everything? But, uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we want to cover everything with this uniformity, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit! We pray that the Holy Spirit, the author of this unity in variety, this harmony, makes us ever more Catholic, that is, in this Church that is catholic and universal.
Pope Francis reminds us that to live in Jesus means to find our home in the Church, a House of Harmony in legitimate diversity. The Church is meant to become the home of the whole human race. He reminds us that to belong to Jesus is to belong to His Body, the Church, of which we are members. The early Christians believed that to belong to Jesus was to belong to His Church. They believed that just as we were all born from our mother's womb - so we are invited by God, in and through Jesus Christ, to be born again into the Church, the new humanity which is being re-created in Him. The Baptismal font was even spoken of as a second womb.The process of redemption began when we passed through the Sacramental Waters of the font of Holy Baptism. It continues as we cooperate with the Grace given to us in our life within the Church. It will be fully completed when the Lord Returns and we are raised in Resurrected Bodies and live in a new heaven and a new earth!
This rich understanding of the Church runs throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Origen wrote: Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His side. From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His bride. Bishop Ireneaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote We need to take refuge with the Church, to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the scriptures of the Lord. For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise.
Pope Francis, like the early fathers, also speaks of the Church as mother. On the Feast of St George he gave a homily where he reflected on how the early Christians understood their faith within the Church. He said And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother - A Mother who gives us the faith - A Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church - Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: "Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy. And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
Pope Francis stands on the shoulders of teachersthroughout the history of the Catholic Church in reminding us that it is not possible to really follow Jesus without living in the Church. Here are a few more snippets from Patristic sources: Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church. Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother (St. Augustine) No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother (St. Cyprian) For where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and all grace. And the Spirit is truth. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)
Do we experience this communion kind of with the Church? Do we view her as a mother? Do we understand that we now live in the Church and go into the world? Have we come to perceive the Church as Some - One, rather than some-thing? Is this all supposed to only be the experience of the mystics,only the talk of the Saints and Fathers? No! It is meant to be the common experience of every Christian. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it can be. Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a "participation in the Divine nature". (2 Peter 1:4) The Church is not some - thing - outside of us, which we try to fix or have our issues with.
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.(CCC #845)
We are called to live in the heart of Church for the sake of the world. From there, we are sent on a rescue mission, to bring the whole world back home, into the House of Harmony.Pope Francis is calling us to embrace the mission.
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