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Christ and the Church are inseparable

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 24 July 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We are continuing our cycle of catecheses devoted to the Church. We have already explained how the profession of this truth in the creed has a specific character, inasmuch as the Church is not only an object of faith, but also its subject. We ourselves are the Church in which we profess our faith; we believe in the Church, while at the same time being the Church which believes and prays. We are the Church in her visible dimension, which expresses her faith in her own reality as Church, a reality which is divine and human. These two dimensions are so inseparable that, if one is missing, the entire reality of the Church, as willed and founded by Christ, is canceled.

This divine-human reality of the Church is organically joined to the divine and human reality of Christ himself. The Church is in a certain sense the continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation. The Apostle Paul actually spoke of the Church as the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 1:23; Col 1:24), just as Jesus compared the Christic-ecclesial "whole" to the unity of a vine with its branches (cf. Jn 15:1-5).

From this premise it follows that believing in the Church, stating in regard to her the "yes" of acceptance in faith, is a logical consequence of the entire creed, and especially of our profession of faith in Christ, the God-man. It is a demand resulting from the internal logic of the creed. This should be kept in mind, especially in our time, when we feel that many are separating, and even opposing the Church and Christ, when they say, for example, Christ--yes, the Church--no. This opposition is not entirely new, but has been proposed again in certain parts of the contemporary world. So it is good to devote today's catechesis to a calm and accurate examination of the meaning of our yes to the Church, even in reference to the opposition just mentioned.

2. We can admit that this opposition Christ--yes, the Church--no, originates within the particular complexity belonging to our act of faith, by which we say: "I believe in the Church." One could ask whether it is legitimate to include among the divine truths to be believed a human, historical, visible reality such as the Church. It is a reality, which like any human thing, has limitations, imperfections and sinfulness on the part of the persons who belong to every level of her institutional structure: lay people as well as ecclesiastics, even among the pastors of the Church, without anyone being excluded from this sad inheritance of Adam.

We must note, however, that Jesus Christ himself wanted our faith in the Church to face and overcome this difficulty, when he chose Peter as "the rock upon which I will build my Church" (cf. Mt 16:18). We know from the Gospel, which reports the very words of Jesus, how humanly imperfect and weak the chosen rock was, as Peter demonstrated at the time of his great test. Nevertheless, the Gospel itself testifies that Peter's triple denial, shortly after he had assured the Master of his fidelity, did not cancel his selection by Christ (cf. Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15-17). Rather, one notices that Peter acquired a new maturity through contrition for his sin, so that after the resurrection he balanced his triple denial with a triple confession: "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" (Jn 21:15). From the risen Christ Peter received the triple confirmation of his mandate as pastor of the Church: "Feed my lambs" (Jn 21:15-17). Peter then proved that he loved Christ "more than these" (cf. Jn 21:15), by serving in the Church, according to his mandate of apostleship and governance, until his death by martyrdom, his definitive witness for building the Church.

By reflecting on the life and death of Simon Peter, it is easier to move from the opposition Christ--yes, the Church--no, to the conviction Christ--yes, the Church--yes, as a continuation of our yes to Christ.

3. The logic of the mystery of the Incarnation--synthesized in that yes to Christ--entails acceptance of everything that is human in Christ, in virtue of the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in solidarity with the nature tainted by the sin of Adam's race. Although he was absolutely without sin, Christ took on himself all of humanity's sin--agnus dei qui tollit peccata mundi. The Father "made him to be sin," the Apostle Paul writes (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, the sinfulness of Christians (about whom it is said, and sometimes not without reason, that "they are no better than others"), the sinfulness of ecclesiastics themselves, should not elicit a pharisaical attitude of separation and rejection. Rather, it should compel us to a more generous and trusting acceptance of the Church, to a more convinced and meritorious yes in her regard. This is because we know that precisely in the Church and by means of the Church this sinfulness becomes an object of the divine power of redemption, under the action of that love which makes possible and accomplishes the individual's conversion, the sinner's justification, a change of life and progress in doing good, sometimes even to the point of heroism and holiness. Can we deny that the Church's history is full of converted and repentant sinners who, having returned to Christ, followed him faithfully to the end?

One thing is certain: the life which Jesus Christ - and the Church with him - proposes to man is full of moral demands which bind him to what is good, even to the heights of heroism. It is necessary to observe whether, when one says no to the Church, in reality one is not seeking to escape these demands. Here, more than in any other case, the no to the Church would be the equivalent of a no to Christ. Unfortunately, experience shows that this is often the case.

On the other hand, one cannot fail to observe that if the Church--in spite of all the human weaknesses and sins of her members--in her entirety remains faithful to Christ and brings to Christ her many children who have failed in their baptismal commitments, this occurs because of the "power from on high" (cf. Lk 24:49), the Holy Spirit, who gives her life and guides her on her perilous journey through history.

4. We must also say, however, that the no to the Church is sometimes based, not on the human defects of the Church's members, but on a general principle of rejecting mediation. There are indeed people who, although admitting the existence of God, wish to maintain an exclusively personal contact with him, without allowing any mediation between their own conscience and God. Therefore, they reject the Church above all.

But be careful. Appreciation of conscience also lies at the heart of the Church, which claims to be the representative of God for man's good, both in the moral order as well as on the more specifically religious level. So the Church gives light, formation and service to the human conscience. Her job is to help human minds and consciences to have access to the truth of God which is revealed in Christ, who entrusted to his apostles and to his Church this ministry, this diakonia of preaching the truth in love. Every conscience, motivated by a sincere love for the truth, cannot fail to want to know, and so to hear--at least the latter--what the Gospel preached by the Church says to human beings for their own good.

5. Yet frequently the problem of yes or no to the Church becomes complicated at this point, because it is the very mediation of Christ and his Gospel which is rejected. This means a no to Christ, more than to the Church. This fact must be seriously considered by anyone who claims and wants to be a Christian. He cannot ignore the mystery of the Incarnation, by which God himself granted man the possibility of establishing contact with him only through Christ, the incarnate Word, of whom St. Paul says: "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Since the Church's beginning, the apostles preached that "there is no other name [besides Christ's] under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12). Christ instituted the Church as a community of salvation, in which his saving mediation is continued to the end of time in virtue of the Holy Spirit whom he sent. The Christian, therefore, knows that according to God's will, man--who, because he is a person, is a social being--is called to be in relationship with God precisely in the community of the Church. It is impossible to separate mediation from the Church which participates in Christ's function as mediator between God and men.

6. Finally we cannot ignore the fact that the no to the Church often has deeper roots, both in individual persons and in human groups and contexts. This happens especially in certain sectors of true or presumed culture--where today, as before or perhaps more than before, it is not difficult to find attitudes of rejection or even hostility. At the bottom of this there is a psychology characterized by the will for total autonomy, originating in a sense of personal or collective self-sufficiency. By this one maintains independence from the superhuman Being which is proposed--or interiorly discovered--as author and Lord of life, of fundamental law, of the moral order, and so, as the ground of the distinction between good and evil. Some pretend to establish on their own what is good or bad, and thus refuse to be directed by another, either by a transcendent God or by a Church which represents him on earth.

This position generally results from a great ignorance of reality. God is conceived as an enemy of human freedom, as a tyrannical master, even though he is actually the one who created freedom and is its most authentic friend. His commandments have no other purpose than to help people to avoid the worst and most shameful form of slavery, that of immorality, and to foster the development of true freedom. Without a trusting relationship with God, it is not possible for the human person to achieve fully his own spiritual growth.

7. We should not be surprised, then, when we see that an attitude of radical autonomy easily produces a form of subjugation worse than the feared heteronomy: dependence on the opinions of others, on ideological and political ties, on social pressures, or on one's own inclinations and passions. Whenever one believes or boasts that he is independent, free from all servitude, he thus reveals that he is subject to public opinion and to other old and new forms of domination over the human spirit! It is easy to see that the attempt to do without God, or the claim not to need the mediation of Christ and his Church, comes at a high price. It was necessary to recall our attention to this problem in order to conclude our introduction to the cycle of ecclesiological catecheses which we are beginning. Today let us say once again, yes to the Church, precisely because of our yes to Christ."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Indem ich nach diesen Worten herzlich einlade, den Herrn zu bitten, uns in unserem “Ja” zur Kirche zu bestärken, grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. E

in besonderer Gruß gilt der Gruppe von behinderten Jugendlichen und jungen Erwachsenen mit ihren Begleitern aus Köln.

Es mögen Euch allen in Rom erlebnisreiche und erholsame Ferien tage beschieden sein.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je suis heureux de saluer et de remercier les pèlerins de langue française, en particulier le groupe des Mauriciens, ainsi que les Salésiens français en session de renouvellement spirituel à Rome. A tous, j’accorde mon affectueuse Bénédiction.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the international group of Third Order Franciscan Sisters and Brothers attending a course in Rome. My greetings likewise go to the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who are preparing to profess their perpetual vows. I thank the Choir of Ormond College for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the pilgrim groups from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malta, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings of grace and peace.

Ai fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Saluto i pellegrini della parrocchia di Akita, i terziari francescani guidati dal P. Berardo, min. prov. OFM Conv. e le studentesse dell’università Nanzan di Nagoya.

Auspico di cuore che il vostro pellegrinaggio o il periodo di studio di aggiornamento in Europa contribuiscano alla realizzazione dell’ideale di “pace e bene”.

Affidandovi alla Madre di Dio, vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini provenienti dalla Spagna e da alcuni Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a las Hermanas Franciscanas del Espíritu Santo y a las Misioneras del Corazón de María, que celebran su Capítulo General. Os encomiendo al Señor para que os ilumine en vuestras reuniones y seáis siempre testimonios vivos de consagración a Dios y a la Iglesia.

Saludo igualmente al grupo de Profesores y alumnos de la Facultad Teológica “San Vicente Ferrer”, de Valencia, y a los numerosos peregrinos provenientes de México.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa,

uma saudação cordial para todos vós, em particular para os de Guimarães, de Vila Nova de Gaia e da paróquia de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios no Porto, e para os brasileiros de Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo e de Vitória. Fortaleça-se o vosso amor a Cristo e à Sua Igreja, ao renovardes a vossa fé aqui sobre o túmulo do Apóstolo Pedro que serviu Cristo e amou a Igreja até ao martírio. Sirva-vos de ânimo e conforto a minha Bênção Apostólica que benevolamente vos concedo e faço extensiva aos vossos familiares e às vossas paróquias.

A un gruppo di Croati

Cari giovani della Croazia, vi saluto di cuore! Mentre la vostra Patria è impegnata, nonostante le gravi difficoltà, a difendere la libertà e la democrazia, sappiate conservare la dignità umana e cristiana. Vogliate, pertanto, resistere alla tentazione della violenza e ad ogni forma di provocazione, che sono negazione di umanità e di civiltà. Unica strada che porta verso il futuro e la convivenza pacifica sono il rispetto reciproco, il sincero dialogo e la collaborazione fattiva nella soluzione dei problemi esistenti. E non cessate di pregare insieme Maria, Regina della Pace, poiché “nulla è impossibile a Dio!” (Lc 1,37). Invoco su di voi e sulla vostra Patria, Croazia, la benedizione e la pace di Dio. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

A due gruppi di ragazzi provenienti da Chernobyl

Desidero innanzitutto salutare i due gruppi di ragazzi provenienti da Chernobyl (Ucraina), i quali sono venuti in Italia per un periodo di vacanza, l’uno accompagnato dal Signor Cardinale Fiorenzo Angelini, presidente del Pontificio Consiglio per la pastorale degli Operatori Sanitari, e l’altro da alcuni dirigenti dell’Associazione Guide e Scouts Cattolici Italiani (Agesci).

Ai gruppi di fedeli italiani

Porgo il mio cordiale saluto ai pellegrini dell’Arcidiocesi di Messina-Lipari-Santa Lucia del Mela, guidati dal loro Arcivescovo, Monsignor Ignazio Cannavò, e diretti a Lourdes. Rivolgo un pensiero particolare ai sacerdoti che partecipano al corso estivo per Rettori e Formatori di seminari, organizzato dai Legionari di Cristo, provenienti da diversi paesi dell’Europa e delle Americhe, e ai sacerdoti Figli dell’Amore Misericordioso, in ritiro a Collevalenza per la professione perpetua.

Saluto poi il gruppo di religiose di diverse Congregazioni e nazionalità presenti a Roma presso la Comunità di preghiera “Mater Ecclesiae”, per un mese di formazione, e il gruppo di suore Ancelle dell’Amore Misericordioso, accompagnato dalla Superiora Generale, riunito a Collevalenza per un corso di rinnovamento spirituale.

Saluto anche il Sindaco di Cossombrato d’Asti, accompagnato da altri Sindaci ed Amministratori pubblici, tutti provenienti dall’Astigiano e presenti oggi a questa Udienza.

Saluto, infine, i giovani che partecipano al Campo Italia, organizzato dai Lions Clubs Italiani, provenienti da varie parti del Mondo e riuniti con lo scopo di “creare e stimolare uno spirito di comprensione fra i popoli”, e i membri dei gruppi folkloristici presenti al Festival della Collina e quelli che partecipano alle “Giornate del Folklore Internazionale”.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

E ora un particolare saluto a tutti i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli qui presenti. Ad essi esprimo la mia gratitudine per aver preso parte con attenzione e con gioia a questa Udienza.

Vi invito a far tesoro delle parole che avete ascoltato perché esse, come il buon seme, producano molto frutto. Tornando alle vostre case rimanga in voi la parola del Papa con l’invito a far vostra la ricchezza del Vangelo di Gesù Cristo.

Conservate, insieme con la memoria di questo incontro, il messaggio che vi ho annunciato così che il ricordo diventi viva sorgente di interiore rinnovamento e di profonda trasformazione.

Tale è il mio augurio e la mia speranza, perché siete un terreno buono dove quanto seminato produrrà certamente molto frutto per il bene di ciascuno e per l’edificazione di tutta la Chiesa.

A tutti la mia Benedizione.

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