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11) A visible and spiritual reality

Catechesis by Pope Francis on the Church (12th of 16)
General Audience, Wednesday 29 October 2014 - in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
In preceding catecheses we showed how the Church has a spiritual nature: it is the body of Christ, built up by the Holy Spirit. When we refer to the Church, however, the mind immediately turns to our communities, our parishes, our dioceses, to the structures where we usually gather and, obviously, to the more institutional components and the figures who administer, who govern her. This is the most visible reality of the Church. We must ask ourselves, then: are these two different things or the one single Church? And, if it is one single Church, how should we understand the relationship between the visible reality and the spiritual?

1. First of all, when we speak of the visible reality of the Church, we shouldn’t just think of the Pope, Bishops, priests, sisters and all the consecrated people. The visible reality of the Church is made up of the many baptized brothers and sisters in the world who believe, hope and love. But many times we hear: “But, the Church doesn’t do this, The Church does not do something else...” — “But, tell me, who is the Church?” — “They are the priests, the bishops, the Pope...” — the Church is us all, us! All baptized persons are the Church, Jesus’ Church. Made up of: all those who follow the Lord Jesus and who, in his name, come close to the least and the suffering, seeking to offer a little relief, comfort and peace: all those who do what the Lord commanded of us are the Church. We understand also, then, that the visible reality of the Church is not measurable, she cannot be known in her fullness: how can we know all the good that is done? So many works of love, so much fidelity in families, so much effort to educate children, to transmit the faith, so much suffering among the sick who offer their suffering up to the Lord.... But this cannot be measured and it is so very great! How can we know all the marvels that, through us, Christ manages to work in the heart and life of every person? You see: even the visible reality of the Church is beyond our control, beyond our power, and it is a mysterious reality because it comes from God.

2. In order to comprehend the relationship, in the Church, the relation between her visible reality and the spiritual realm, there is no other way than to look to Christ, whose body is constituted by the Church and who generates her, in an act of infinite love. Also in Christ, indeed, by the power of the mystery of the Incarnation, we recognize a human nature and a divine nature, united in the same person in a miraculous and indissoluble way. This holds in an analogous way for the Church. How, as in Christ, the Church’s human nature fully seconds the Divine nature, by placing herself at his service, in order to bring salvation to completion. And the Church, therefore, is a mystery, in which what is not seen is more important than what is seen, and can be recognized only with the eyes of faith (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

3. In the case of the Church, however, we must ask ourselves: how can the visible reality be at the service of the spiritual reality? Once again, we can understand it by looking at Christ. Christ is the model for the Church, because the Church is his body. He is the model for all Christians, for us all. When one looks to Christ, one does not err. The Gospel of Luke recounts how Jesus, having returned to Nazareth, where he grew up, entered the synagogue and read, making reference to himself, the passage from the Prophet Isaiah where it is written: “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’s favour” (4:18-19). Behold how Christ used his humanity — for was also a man — to proclaim and fulfil the divine plan of redemption and salvation — because he was God; so too must it be for the Church. Through her visible reality, all that can be seen, the sacraments and witness of all us Christians, the Church is called every day to be close to every man, to begin with the one who is poor, the one who suffers and the one who is marginalized, in such a way as to make all people feel the compassionate and merciful gaze of Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, often as Church we experience our own weakness and our limits. We all have them. We are all sinners. None of us can say: “I’m not a sinner”. If someone among us feels that he is not a sinner, raise your hand. We all are. And this weakness, these limitations, these sins of ours... it is right that they stir great sorrow in us, especially when we set a bad example and we notice we have to become a source of scandal. How many times have we heard in the neighbourhood: “That person there is always going to Church but he/she slanders everyone...”. This is not Christian, it is a bad example: it is a sin. And this is how we set a bad example: “and, in short, if this or that person is a Christian, then I shall become an atheist”. Our witness is to make others understand what it means to be Christian. Let us ask not be a source of scandal. Let us ask for the gift of faith, so that we can understand how, despite our smallness and our poverty, the Lord has made us a true vehicle of grace and a visible sign of his love for all humanity. We can become a cause of scandal, yes. But we can also become a cause of witness, by saying with our life what Jesus wants of us."


"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones, en particulier le pèlerinage de la province de Lyon, avec le Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, et celui du diocèse de Luxembourg avec son Archevêque, Mgr Jean-Claude Hollerich. Demandons à Dieu le don de la foi, pour que nous puissions comprendre comment, malgré notre faiblesse et notre pauvreté, nous sommes appelés à être les signes visibles de l’amour de Dieu pour toute l’humanité. Que Dieu vous bénisse !

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the various groups from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Nigeria, India, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!

Einen herzlichen Gruß richte ich an die Pilger deutscher Sprache, besonders an die Gläubigen der Pfarrei St. Cäcilia in Bösel sowie an die Schülerinnen und Schüler des Gymnasiums Höchstadt an der Aisch und der Maristenschule in Recklinghausen. Werden wir nicht müde, den Herrn um die Gabe des Glaubens zu bitten, damit wir trotz unser Schwachheit und unserer Grenzen Werkzeug und sichtbares Zeichen seiner Liebe zu den Menschen sein können. Von Herzen segne ich euch alle.

Quisiera hoy elevar una oración y traer cerca de nuestro corazón al pueblo mexicano, que sufre por la desaparición de sus estudiantes, y por tantos problemas parecidos. Que nuestro corazón de hermanos esté cerca de ellos orando en este momento.

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los venidos de España, México, Argentina y otros países latinoamericanos. Pidamos, por intercesión de la Virgen María, que comprendamos cómo, a pesar de nuestras debilidades, el Señor nos ha hecho instrumentos de su gracia y signo visible de su amor para toda la humanidad. Muchas gracias.

Saúdo cordialmente os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, em particular os Amigos do Museu do Oriente, o grupo de sacerdotes de São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, bem como os membros das Comunidades “Canção Nova”, em festa pelo reconhecimento eclesial, e “Doce Mãe de Deus” e “Copiosa Redenção”, pelo jubileu de fundação. O Senhor vos encha de alegria e o Espírito Sano ilumine as decisões da vossa vida, para realizardes fielmente a vontade do Pai celeste. Sobre todos vós e vossas famílias e comunidade, vele a Santa Mãe da Igreja.

أُرحّبُ بالحجّاجِ الناطقينَ باللّغةِ العربيّة، وخاصةً بالقادمينَ منالشرق الأوسط. أيّها الإخوةُ والأخواتُ الأعزّاء، نحنُ واقعُ الكنيسةِ المنظور! لنطلبْ من الربِّ أنْ يجعلنا على الدوامِ أدواتٍ لنعمتِهِ وعلاماتٍ منظورةً لحبِّه! ليبارككُم الرب!

Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów. Zbliżamy się do uroczystości Wszystkich Świętych. Dziękujemy Panu za wszystkich mężczyzn i kobiety, którzy w różnych okolicznościach historycznych umieli współpracować z Bożą łaską i mieli odwagę dawać świadectwo wiary, nadziei i miłości w codziennym życiu. Uczmy się od nich jak stawać się świętymi w naszych czasach! Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Srdečne pozdravujem slovenských pútnikov, osobitne Detský spevokol Vinimini z Bardejova.
Milé deti, spievajte Pánovi novú pieseň ústami, ale predovšetkým svojim kresťanským životom. S láskou žehnám vás i vaše rodiny vo vlasti. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!


Di fronte all’aggravarsi dell’epidemia di ebola, desidero esprimere la mia viva preoccupazione per questa implacabile malattia che si sta diffondendo specialmente nel Continente africano, soprattutto tra le popolazioni più disagiate. Sono vicino con l’affetto e la preghiera alle persone colpite, come pure ai medici, agli infermieri, ai volontari, agli istituti religiosi e alle associazioni, che si prodigano eroicamente per soccorrere questi nostri fratelli e sorelle ammalati. Rinnovo il mio appello, affinché la Comunità Internazionale metta in atto ogni necessario sforzo per debellare questo virus, alleviando concretamente i disagi e le sofferenze di quanti sono così duramente provati.

Vi invito a pregare per loro e per quanti hanno perso la vita.

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Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto in particolare le Suore Minime di Nostra Signora del Suffragio che celebrano il Capitolo Generale e i fedeli di San Pietro in Pensilis con i carri di San Leo, accompagnati dal Vescovo di Termoli-Larino Mons. Gianfranco De Luca. Saluto i membri di Betania Onlus, di Catanzaro e di Verona; gli infermieri e i tecnici dell’Ospedale Pediatrico Bambin Gesù e il personale della Terna Rete Italia. La visita alle tombe degli Apostoli accresca in tutti l’amore per Dio che si manifesta nell’amore concreto per i fratelli.

Rivolgo infine un pensiero speciale ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli. Ci avviciniamo alla Solennità di tutti i Santi. Cari giovani, guardate ai Santi come a modelli di vita; cari ammalati, offrite la vostra sofferenza per quanti hanno bisogno di conversione; e voi, cari sposi novelli, curate la crescita nella fede della vostra casa coniugale."

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