Audiences 2005-2013 10306
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Lenten journey of 40 days begins that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the memorial of the passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of our salvation. It is a favourable time when the Church invites Christians to have a keener awareness of the redeeming work of Christ and to live their Baptism in greater depth.
Indeed, in this liturgical season, the People of God from the earliest times have drawn abundant nourishment from the Word of God to strengthen their faith, reviewing the entire history of creation and redemption.
With its 40-day duration, Lent has an indisputably evocative power. Indeed, it intends to recall some of the events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel, presenting its paradigmatic value anew also to us.
We think, for example, of the 40 days of the great flood that led to God's Covenant with Noah, and hence, with humanity, and of the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, after which he was given the Tables of the Law.
The Lenten period is meant to serve as an invitation to relive with Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in preparation for his public mission.
Today, we too, together with all the world's Christians, are spiritually setting out towards Calvary on a journey of reflection and prayer, meditating on the central mysteries of the faith. We will thus prepare ourselves to experience, after the mystery of the Cross, the joy of Easter.
Today, an austere and symbolic gesture is being made in all parish communities: the imposition of ashes, and this rite is accompanied by two formulas, full of meaning, that are a pressing appeal to recognize that we are sinners and to return to God.
The first formula says: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return" (cf. Gn Gn 3,19). These words of the Book of Genesis call to mind the human condition placed under the sign of transience and limitation, and are meant to spur us once again to place our every hope in God alone.
The second formula refers to the words that Jesus spoke at the beginning of his itinerant ministry: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mc 1,15). This is an invitation to base our personal and community renewal on a firm and trusting attachment to the Gospel.
The Christian's life is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God and nourished by it. In the trials of life and in every temptation, the secret of victory lies in listening to the Word of truth and rejecting with determination falsehood and evil.
This is the true and central programme of the Lenten Season: to listen to the word of truth, to live, speak and do what is true, to refuse falsehood that poisons humanity and is the vehicle of all evils.
It is therefore urgently necessary in these 40 days to listen anew to the Gospel, the Word of the Lord, the word of truth, so that in every Christian, in every one of us, the understanding of the truth given to him, given to us, may be strengthened, so that we may live it and witness to it.
Lent encourages us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and thus to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what road to take in life. And thus, the Season of Lent offers us an ascetic and liturgical route which, while helping us to open our eyes to our weakness, opens our hearts to the merciful love of Christ.
The Lenten journey, by bringing us close to God, enables us to look upon our brethren and their needs with new eyes. Those who begin to recognize God, to look at the face of Christ, also see their brother with other eyes, discover their brother, what is good for him, what is bad for him, his needs.
Lent, therefore, as a time of listening to the truth, is a favourable moment to convert to love, because the deep truth, the truth of God, is at the same time love.
By converting to the truth of God, we must necessarily be converted to love; a love that knows how to make its own the Lord's attitude of compassion and mercy, as I wanted to recall in the Message for Lent, whose theme consists of the Gospel words: "Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity" (Mt 9,36).
Aware of her mission in the world, the Church never ceases to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to turn his compassionate gaze upon the people and peoples of every time. "In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world's population", I wrote in the above-mentioned Message for Lent, "indifference and self-centred isolation stand in stark contrast to the "gaze' of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this "gaze'" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 8 February 2006, p. 7), to the gaze of Christ, and to see ourselves, humanity, others, with his gaze.
In this spirit, let us enter the austere and prayerful atmosphere of Lent, which is truly an atmosphere of love for our brethren.
May these be days of reflection and of intense prayer, in which we let ourselves be guided by the Word of God, which the liturgy offers to us in abundance. May Lent also be a time of fasting, penance and watchfulness of ourselves, and may we be convinced that the fight against sin is never-ending, because temptation is a daily reality and we all experience fragility and delusion.
Lastly, through almsgiving and doing good to others, may Lent be an opportunity for sincere sharing with our brethren of the gifts that we have received, and of attention to the needs of the poorest and most abandoned people.
On this penitential journey, may we be accompanied by Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, who is a teacher of listening and of faithful adherence to God. May the Virgin Most Holy help us to arrive purified and renewed in mind and in spirit, to celebrate the great mystery of Christ's Pasch. With these sentiments, I wish you all a good and productive Lent.
To special groups:
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Denmark, Japan, Pakistan and the United States of America. In particular, I greet the delegation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders from America and also the many students present at this Audience. Upon all of you I invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace.
I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet those taking part in the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, accompanied by Mons. Walter Brandmüller. Dear friends, thank you for your service to the Holy See in the international field of historical studies; continue on your way as researchers in a spirit of fidelity to the Church and to historical truth.
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick and the newly-weds. May the Lenten Season that is beginning today lead each one of you to a more intimate knowledge of Christ, so that in your different situations you may have his same sentiments and do everything in communion with him.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following the Catecheses on the Psalms and Canticles of Lauds and of Vespers, I would like to dedicate the upcoming Wednesday Audiences to the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, reflecting upon it from the experience of the Apostles, in light of the duty entrusted to them.
The Church was built on the foundation of the Apostles as a community of faith, hope and charity. Through the Apostles, we come to Jesus himself. The Church begins to establish herself when some fishermen of Galilee meet Jesus, allowing themselves to be won over by his gaze, his voice, his warm and strong invitation: "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men" (Mc 1,17 Mt 4,19).
At the start of the third millennium, my beloved Predecessor John Paul II invited the Church to contemplate the Face of Christ (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 16 ff.). Continuing in the same direction, I would like to show, in the Catechesis that I begin today, how it is precisely the light of that Face that is reflected on the face of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 1), notwithstanding the limits and shadows of our fragile and sinful humanity.
After Mary, a pure reflection of the light of Christ, it is from the Apostles, through their word and witness, that we receive the truth of Christ. Their mission is not isolated, however, but is situated within a mystery of communion that involves the entire People of God and is carried out in stages from the Old to the New Covenant.
In this regard, it must be said that the message of Jesus is completely misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of the Chosen People: like John the Baptist, his direct Precursor, Jesus above all addresses Israel (cf. Mt 15,24) in order to "gather" it together in the eschatological time that arrived with him. And like that of John, the preaching of Jesus is at the same time a call of grace and a sign of contradiction and of justice for the entire People of God.
And so, from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of Nazareth strives to gather together the People of God. Even if his preaching is always an appeal for personal conversion, in reality he continually aims to build the People of God whom he came to bring together, purify and save.
As a result, therefore, an individualistic interpretation of Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom, specific to liberal theology, is unilateral and without foundation, as a great liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack summed it up in the year 1900 in his lessons on The essence of Christianity: "The Kingdom of God, insofar as it comes in single individuals, is able to enter their soul and is welcomed by them. The Kingdom of God is the dominion of God, certainly, but it is the dominion of the holy God in individual hearts" (cf. Third Lesson, 100 ff.).
In reality, this individualism of liberal theology is a typically modern accentuation: in the perspective of biblical tradition and on the horizon of Judaism, where the work of Jesus is situated in all its novelty, it is clear that the entire mission of the Son-made-flesh has a communitarian finality. He truly came to unite dispersed humanity; he truly came to unite the People of God.
An evident sign of the intention of the Nazarene to gather together the community of the Covenant, to demonstrate in it the fulfilment of the promises made to the Fathers who always speak of convocation, unification, unity, is the institution of the Twelve. We heard about this institution of the Twelve in the Gospel reading. I shall read the central passage again: "And he went up into the hills and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. The names of the twelve Apostles are these..." (Mc 3,13-16 cf. Mt 10,1-4 Lc 6,12-16).
On the site of the revelation, "the mount", taking initiative that demonstrates absolute awareness and determination, Jesus establishes the Twelve so that, together with him, they are witnesses and heralds of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
There are no doubts about the historicity of this call, not only because of the antiquity and multiplicity of witnesses, but also for the simple reason that there is also the name of Judas, the Apostle who betrayed him, notwithstanding the difficulties that this presence could have caused the new community.
The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, already reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implicit in the new initiative to re-establish the holy people. As the system of the 12 tribes had long since faded out, the hope of Israel awaited their restoration as a sign of the eschatological time (as referred to at the end of the Book of Ezekiel: Ez 37,15-19 Ez 39,23-29 Ez 40-48).
In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with himself and involving them in his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom in words and works (cf. Mc 6,7-13 Mt 10,5-8 Lc 9,1-6 Lc 6,13), Jesus wants to say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the 12 tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.
Appeal for Israel
With their very own existence, the Twelve - called from different backgrounds - become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect fulfilment of the ancient one. The fact that he entrusted to his Apostles, during the Last Supper and before his Passion, the duty to celebrate his Pasch, demonstrates how Jesus wished to transfer to the entire community, in the person of its heads, the mandate to be a sign and instrument in history of the eschatological gathering begun by him. In a certain sense we can say that the Last Supper itself is the act of foundation of the Church, because he gives himself and thus creates a new community, a community united in communion with himself.
In this light, one understands how the Risen One confers upon them, with the effusion of the Spirit, the power to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20,23). Thus, the Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus' will regarding the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition: despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, they are inseparable.
Therefore, a slogan that was popular some years back: "Jesus yes, Church no", is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus.
We cannot have Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God-made-flesh and his Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in his people. He is always contemporary with us, he is always contemporary with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the succession of the Apostles. And his very presence in the community, in which he himself is always with us, is the reason for our joy. Yes, Christ is with us, the Kingdom of God is coming.
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To special groups
I welcome the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience, and in particular the pilgrims from England, Wales, Finland, Japan, The Philippines, Canada and the United States of America. I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God's abundant Blessings.
Lastly, I address an affectionate greeting to the young people, the sick people and the newly-weds, encouraging them to continue the Lenten journey with commitment. May the grace of this unique liturgical period help you, dear friends, to imitate the filial adhesion of Jesus to the will of the Father.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church to us as a structure built "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (Ep 2,20). In the Book of Revelation the role of the Apostles, and more specifically, of the Twelve, is explained in the eschatological perspective of the heavenly Jerusalem, presented as a city whose walls "had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb" (Ap 21,14).
The Gospels agree in mentioning that the call of the Apostles marked the first steps of Jesus' ministry, after the baptism he received from John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan.
According to the accounts of Mark (Mc 1,16-20) and of Matthew (Mt 4,18-22), the scene of the call of the first Apostles is the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had just begun to preach about the Kingdom of God when his gaze came to rest upon two sets of brothers: Simon and Andrew, and James and John. They were fishermen busy with their daily work, casting their nets and mending them.
But it was another sort of fishing that awaited them. Jesus purposefully called them and they promptly followed him: subsequently, they were to become "fishers of men" (cf. Mc 1,17 Mt 4,19). Luke, while following the same tradition, gave a more elaborate account (Lc 5,1-11).
Luke's account illustrates the development of the first disciples' faith, explaining that Jesus' invitation to follow him came after they had heard his first preaching and had seen the first miraculous signs that he worked. The miraculous catch in particular was the immediate context, and it gave its symbol to the mission of fishers of men that was entrusted to them. The destiny of those who were "called" would henceforth be closely bound to that of Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent, but even before that he is an "expert" on Jesus.
This very aspect is highlighted by the Evangelist John from Jesus' very first encounter with the future Apostles. Here the scene is different. The meeting takes place on the banks of the Jordan. The presence of the future disciples, who, like Jesus, also came from Galilee to receive the baptism administered by John, sheds light on their spiritual world.
They were men who were waiting for the Kingdom of God, anxious to know the Messiah whose coming had been proclaimed as imminent. It was enough for John the Baptist to point out Jesus to them as the Lamb of God (cf. Jn 1,36), to inspire in them the desire for a personal encounter with the Teacher.
The lines of Jesus' conversation with the first two future Apostles are most expressive. To his question "What do you seek?", they replied with another question: ""Rabbi' (which means Teacher), where are you staying?". Jesus' answer was an invitation: "Come and see" (cf. Jn 1,38-39). Come, so that you will be able to see.
This is how the Apostles' adventure began, as an encounter of people who are open to one another. For the disciples, it was the beginning of a direct acquaintance with the Teacher, seeing where he was staying and starting to get to know him. Indeed, they were not to proclaim an idea, but to witness to a person.
Before being sent out to preach, they had to "be" with Jesus (cf. Mc 3,14), establishing a personal relationship with him. On this basis, evangelization was to be no more than the proclamation of what they felt and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ (cf. 1Jn 1,1-3).
To whom would the Apostles be sent? In the Gospel Jesus seemed to limit his mission to Israel alone: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt 15,24). In a similar way he seemed to restrict the mission entrusted to the Twelve: "These Twelve Jesus sent out, charging them: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (Mt 10,5ff.).
A certain rationally inspired modern criticism saw these words as showing a lack of universal awareness by the Nazarene. Actually, they should be understood in the light of his special relationship with Israel, the community of the Covenant, in continuity with the history of salvation.
According to the Messianic expectation, the divine promises directly addressed to Israel would reach fulfilment when God himself had gathered his people through his Chosen One as a shepherd gathers his flock: "I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey.... I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them; he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, shall be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them" (Ez 34,22-24).
Jesus is the eschatological shepherd who gathers the lost sheep of the house of Israel and goes in search of them because he knows and loves them (cf. Lc 15,4-7 Mt 18,12-14; cf. also the figure of the Good Shepherd in Jn 10,11ff.). Through this "gathering together", the Kingdom of God is proclaimed to all peoples: "I will set my glory among the nations; and all the nations shall see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand which I have laid on them" (Ez 39,21). And Jesus followed precisely this prophetic indication. His first step was to "gather together" the people of Israel, so that all the people called to gather in communion with the Lord might see and believe.
Thus, the Twelve, taken on to share in the same mission as Jesus, cooperate with the Pastor of the last times, also seeking out the lost sheep of the house of Israel, that is, addressing the people of the promise whose reunion is the sign of salvation for all peoples, the beginning of the universalization of the Covenant.
Far from belying the universal openness of the Nazarene's Messianic action, the initial restriction to Israel of his mission and of the Twelve thus becomes an even more effective prophetic sign. After Christ's passion and Resurrection, this sign was to be made clear: the universal character of the Apostles' mission was to become explicit. Christ would send the Apostles "to the whole creation" (Mc 16,15), to "all nations", (Mt 28,19 Lc 24,47), "to the ends of the earth" (Ac 1,8).
And this mission continues. The Lord's command to gather the peoples together in the unity of his love still continues. This is our hope and also our mandate: to contribute to this universality, to this true unity in the riches of cultures, in communion with our true Lord Jesus Christ.
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To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience, including the various student groups. May your time in Rome strengthen your love of the universal Church and deepen your commitment to witness to the "Good News" of Jesus Christ. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's abundant Blessings of joy and peace.
Lastly, my thoughts turn to the young people, so numerous here - we can see and hear how numerous they are! -, to the sick and to the newly-weds. In the spiritual atmosphere of Lent in which we are living, a time of conversion and reconciliation, I invite you to follow the example of Jesus the Teacher in order to faithfully proclaim his saving message.
The day after tomorrow, 24 March, will be the United Nations' World Day for the Fight against Tuberculosis. I hope for a renewed commitment at the global level, so that there may be available the necessary resources to treat those sick with this disease, notoriously associated with poverty. I encourage initiatives of assistance and solidarity for these patients who need help to live their condition with dignity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Through her apostolic ministry the Church, a community gathered by the Son of God who came in the flesh, will live on through the passing times, building up and nourishing the communion in Christ and in the Holy Spirit to which all are called and in which they can experience the salvation given by the Father.
The Twelve - as Pope Clement, the third Successor of Peter, said at the end of the first century - took pains, in fact, to prepare successors (cf. I Clem 42: 4), so that the mission entrusted to them would be continued after their death. The Church, organically structured under the guidance of her legitimate Pastors, has thus continued down the ages to live in the world as a mystery of communion in which, to a certain extent, the Trinitarian Communion itself is mirrored.
The Apostle Paul was already referring to this supreme Trinitarian source when he wished his Christians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2Co 13,14).
These words, probably echoed in the worship of the newborn Church, emphasize how the free gift of the Father in Jesus Christ is realized and expressed in the communion brought about by the Holy Spirit.
This interpretation, based on the close parallelism between the three genitives that the text establishes: ("the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ... the love of God... and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit), presents "fellowship" as a specific gift of the Spirit, the fruit of the love given by God the Father and the grace offered by the Lord Jesus.
Moreover, the immediate context, marked by the insistence on fraternal communion, guides us to perceiving the "koinonía" of the Holy Spirit not only as "participation" in the divine life more or less singularly, each one individually, but also, logically, as the "communion" among believers that the Spirit himself kindles as his builder and principal agent (cf. Phil Ph 2,1).
One might say that grace, love and communion, referring respectively to Christ, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, are different aspects of the one divine action for our salvation. This action creates the Church and makes the Church - as St Cyprian said in the third century - "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (De Orat. Dom. 23; PL 4, 553, cit. in Lumen Gentium LG 4).
The idea of communion as participation in Trinitarian life is illuminated with special intensity in John's Gospel.
Here, the communion of love that binds the Son to the Father and to men and women is at the same time the model and source of the fraternal communion that must unite disciples with one another: "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15,12 cf. Jn 13,34); "that they may all be one... even as we are one" (Jn 17,21-22). Hence, it is communion of men and women with the Trinitarian God and communion of men and women with one another.
During the time of his earthly pilgrimage, the disciple can already share through communion with the Son in his divine life and that of the Father: "our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Jn 1,3).
This life of fellowship with God and with one another is the proper goal of Gospel proclamation, the goal of conversion to Christianity: "That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1Jn 1,2).
Thus, this twofold communion with God and with one another is inseparable. Wherever communion with God, which is communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another is destroyed. And wherever we do not live communion among ourselves, communion with the Trinitarian God is not alive and true either, as we have heard.
Let us now go a step further. Communion, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is nourished by the Eucharistic Bread (cf. 1Co 10,16-17) and is expressed in fraternal relations in a sort of anticipation of the future world.
In the Eucharist, Jesus nourishes us, he unites us with himself, with his Father, with the Holy Spirit and with one another. This network of unity that embraces the world is an anticipation of the future world in our time.
Precisely in this way, since it is an anticipation of the future world, communion is also a gift with very real consequences. It lifts us from our loneliness, from being closed in on ourselves, and makes us sharers in the love that unites us to God and to one another.
It is easy to understand how great this gift is if we only think of the fragmentation and conflicts that afflict relations between individuals, groups and entire peoples. And if the gift of unity in the Holy Spirit does not exist, the fragmentation of humanity is inevitable.
"Communion" is truly the Good News, the remedy given to us by the Lord to fight the loneliness that threatens everyone today, the precious gift that makes us feel welcomed and beloved by God, in the unity of his People gathered in the name of the Trinity; it is the light that makes the Church shine forth like a beacon raised among the peoples.
"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (1Jn 1,6ff.).
Thus, the Church, despite all the human frailties that mark her historical profile, is revealed as a marvellous creation of love, brought into being to bring Christ close to every man and every woman who truly desire to meet him, until the end of time. And in the Church, the Lord always remains our contemporary. Scripture is not something of the past. The Lord does not speak in the past but speaks in the present, he speaks to us today, he enlightens us, he shows us the way through life, he gives us communion and thus he prepares us and opens us to peace.
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To special groups
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, particularly those from Japan and the United States of America. I also extend a special welcome to the priests from the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College and to the members of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious. Upon all of you I invoke the Lord's Blessings of peace and joy.
Lastly, my thoughts go to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, especially the students of the "Andrea Bafile" High School in Collesapone dell'Aquila, as well as the young people of the Diocese of Caserta who are gathered here with their Pastor, Bishop Raffaele Nogaro. May the Lenten Season, with its repeated invitations to conversion, lead you, dear young people, to a love for Christ and his Church that is ever more aware; may it increase in you, dear sick people, the awareness that the Crucified Lord sustains us in trial; may it help you, dear newly-weds, to make your family life a place of constant growth in faithful and generous love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the new series of Catecheses that began a few weeks ago, we are considering the origins of the Church so as to understand Jesus' original plan and thereby grasp the essential of the Church that lives on through the changing times. Thus, we also understand the reason for our being in the Church and how we must strive to live it at the dawn of a new Christian millennium.
In thinking about the newborn Church, we can discover two aspects: a first aspect is strongly highlighted by St Irenaeus of Lyons, a martyr and great theologian of the end of the second century, the first to have given us a theology that was to a certain extent systematic. St Irenaeus wrote: "Wherever the Church is, God's Spirit is too; and wherever God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace; for the Spirit is truth" (Adversus Haereses,III, 24, 1: PG 7, 966).
Thus, a deep bond exists between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit builds the Church and gives her the truth; he pours out love, as St Paul says, into the hearts of believers (cf. Rm 5,5).
Then there is a second aspect. This deep bond with the Spirit does not eradicate our humanity, with all of its weaknesses. So it is that from the start the community of the disciples has known not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace of truth and love, but also trials that are constituted above all by disagreements about the truths of faith, with the consequent wounds to communion.
Just as the fellowship of love has existed since the outset and will continue to the end (cf. 1Jn 1,1ff.), so also, from the start, division unfortunately arose. We should not be surprised that it still exists today. "They went out from us, but they were not of us", John says in his First Letter, "for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they are not of us" (1Jn 2,19).
Thus, in the events of the world but also in the weaknesses of the Church, there is always a risk of losing faith, hence, also love and brotherhood. Consequently, it is a specific duty of those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her to recognize this danger too and accept that communion is no longer possible with those who have drifted away from the doctrine of salvation (cf. 2Jn 9,11).
That the newborn Church was well aware of the possible tensions in the experience of communion is clearly shown by John's First Letter: no voice is more forcefully raised in the New Testament to highlight the reality and duty of fraternal love among Christians; but the same voice is addressed with drastic severity to adversaries of the Church who used to be members of the community but now no longer belong to it.
The Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood primarily as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his followers. It was being made children of the same Father by the Spirit of truth that gave rise to Christian brotherhood: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rm 8,14).
However, if the family of God's children is to live in unity and peace, it needs someone to keep it in the truth and guide it with wise and authoritative discernment: this is what the ministry of the Apostles is required to do.
And here we come to an important point. The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given by Christ, from whom the capacity to love also comes.
The first brief description in the Acts sums up very effectively the convergence of these values in the life of the newborn Church: "And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Ac 2,42). Communion is born from faith inspired by apostolic preaching, it is nourished by the Breaking of Bread and prayer, and is expressed in brotherly love and service.
We have before us the description of fellowship in the newborn Church with the riches of its internal dynamism and visible expressions: the gift of communion is safeguarded and promoted in particular by the apostolic ministry, which in turn is a gift for the entire community.
The Apostles and their successors are therefore the custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity. These are two aspects that go together.
They must always be mindful of the inseparable nature of this twofold service which in fact is only one: truth and love, revealed and given by the Lord Jesus. In this regard, their service is first and foremost a service of love: and the charity they live and foster is inseparable from the truth they preserve and pass on.
Truth and love are the two faces of the same gift that comes from God and, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our present time!
And the love of the Trinitarian God also reaches us through the service of the Apostles and their successors, to communicate to us the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8,32)!
All this, which we see in the newborn Church, impels us to pray for the Successors of the Apostles, for all the Bishops and for the Successors of Peter, so that together they may truly be at the same time custodians of truth and love; so that, in this regard, they may truly be apostles of Christ and that his light, the light of truth and love, may never be extinguished in the Church or in the world.
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To special groups:
I am happy to offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today's Audience, including the class from the NATO Defense College and the groups from England, Denmark, the Faroe Islands and the United States of America. May your time in Rome strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord and his Church. May God bless you all!
Lastly, I address a cordial greeting to the sick, the newly-weds and the young people, among whom I greet in particular the students from Ponte Felcino. In this last part of Lent I urge you to continue with commitment on your spiritual journey towards Easter.
Dear young people, intensify your witness of faithful love to the Crucified Christ. May you, dear sick people, look at the Lord's Cross, to offer up the trial of illness courageously. And you, dear newly-weds, ensure that your spousal union is always enlivened by divine love.
In his greeting to the Spanish-speaking pilgrims, the Holy Father mentioned the fifth centenary of St Francis Xavier's birth on 7 April. He announced that Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela would preside on this day as the Pope's Special Envoy at the celebrations at the Shrine of Javier, Navarre, Spain. The Pope also encouraged prayer for peace in the region.
Audiences 2005-2013 10306