CATECHESIS OF 19 JUNE AUDIENCE
On the Church as the Body of Christ
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, Zenit.org]