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The Church lives in the mystery of communio

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 5 February 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Before Pentecost we already find the first outline of the community which the Church was to become. The "communio ecclesialis" was formed according to the exhortations received directly from Jesus before his ascension into heaven in expectation of the Paraclete's coming. This community already possessed the basic elements which would be further strengthened and specified after the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles: "They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42); and in another place: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind" (Acts 4:32). These final words express most incisively, perhaps because most concretely, the content of koinonia, or ecclesial communion. The teaching of the apostles, the common prayer--also in the temple of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:46)--contributed to that interior oneness of Christ's disciples--"one heart and mind."

2. To achieve this unity a particularly important element was prayer, the soul of communion, especially at difficult times. So we read that Peter and John, after being set free by the Sanhedrin, "...went back to their own people and reported what the chief priests and elders had told them. When they heard it, they raised their voices to God with one accord and said, 'Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them...'" (Acts 4:23-24). "As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). The Consoler immediately answered the apostolic community's prayer. It was almost a constant fulfillment of Pentecost.

Again we read: "Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the Temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart" (Acts 2:46). Though at the time their place of prayer was still the Temple in Jerusalem, they also celebrated the Eucharist "in their homes," joining it to a joyful meal in common.

This sense of communion was so intense that it spurred them to use each one's material possessions to serve the needs of all. "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common." This does not mean that they made a principle of rejecting personal (private) property; it merely indicates a great fraternal sensitivity to the needs of others, as is proved by the words of Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5:4).

The clear conclusion we can draw from Acts and from other New Testament sources is that the early Church was a community which led its members to share with each other the goods they had available, especially for the benefit of the poorest.

3. This was even more the case with the treasury of truth they received and possessed. Here it is a question of spiritual goods which are to be shared--communicated, spread and preached--as the apostles taught by the witness of their word and example: "It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). Therefore, they spoke and the Lord confirmed their witness. "Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles" (Acts 5:12).

The Apostle John expressed this purpose and commitment of the apostles by declaring in his first letter: "What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1:3). This text enables us to understand the awareness that the apostles (and the early community formed by them) had of the trinitarian communion which gave the Church her impulse for evangelizing, and then aided the further development of the community (the communio ecclesialis).

One finds Christ at the center of this communion and the communion which it opens up. In fact, John writes: "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life--for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us" (1 Jn 1:1-2). St. Paul, in turn, writes to the Corinthians: "God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9).

4. St. John highlights communion with Christ in the truth. St. Paul emphasizes "sharing in his sufferings," conceived of and presented as a communion with Christ's Passover, a sharing in the paschal mystery, that is, a redemptive "passing over" from the sacrifice of the cross to the manifestation of "the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10).

In the early Church--and in every age--communion in Christ's Passover becomes a source of reciprocal communion: "If one part [of the community] suffers, all the parts suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26). This gives rise to a tendency toward reciprocal giving, including the giving of temporal goods, which Paul urges to be done for the poor, as if to realize a certain compensation in the balance of love between the giving of the well-off and the receiving of the needy: "Your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs" (2 Cor 8:14). According to the Apostle, those who give, receive at the same time. This process does not only promote a leveling of society (cf. 2 Cor 8:14-15), but also the building up of the community of the Body-Church, which "joined and held together...receives strength to grow and build itself up in love" (Eph 4:16). Through this exchange the Church is also realized as a communio.

5. Christ in his paschal mystery always remains the source of everything. According to John's text, Jesus himself compared to the pains of childbirth this "passing over" from suffering to joy: "When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world" (Jn 16:21). This text can also be related to the pain of Jesus' mother on Calvary, as she who "precedes" and sums up the Church in her own person by "passing over" from the grief of the passion to the joy of the resurrection. Jesus himself applies this metaphor to his disciples and the Church: "So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you" (Jn 16:22).

6. To achieve communion, to nourish the community gathered in Christ, the Holy Spirit continues to intervene so that in the Church there is a "participation in the Spirit" (koinonia pneumatos), as St. Paul says (cf. Phil 2:1). Precisely through this "participation in the Spirit," the giving of temporal possessions also enters the realm of mystery and promotes the institution of the Church, increases communion, and results in "growing in every way into him who is the head, Christ" (cf. Eph 4:15).

By Him, through Him, and in Him--Christ--in virtue of the life-giving Spirit, the Church is realized as a body "joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part" (Eph 4:16). From this experience of the first Christians' communion, perceived in all its depth, Paul derived his teaching about the Church as the body of Christ, the head."

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

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue très cordialement toutes les personnes de langue française qui sont venues à cette audience. J'adresse en particulier mes vœux aux membres du Secrétariat de la Coordination internationale des Jeunesses Ouvrières Chrétiennes, en les encourageant à poursuivre leur mission d'évangélisation auprès des jeunes.

Je souhaite que chacun d'entre vous, après ce séjour romain, rentre chez lui plus fort dans la foi, affermi dans l'espérance et brûlant de charité. Que le Seigneur vous bénisse et vous garde tous les jours!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience. My special greeting goes to the pilgrims from Thailand. I also welcome the student groups from the United States of America, including the professors and students from the Rome Center of Loyola University in Chicago. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachi gen Pilger und Besucher. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora saludar muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, entre los cuales se encuentra un nutrido grupo de jóvenes chilenos, así como los integrantes del equipo de rugby de Lomas de Zamora (Argentina).

A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

O sentido da comunhão era tão forte que, por uma admirável sensibilidade fraterna às carências alheias, cada um colocava o que era seu ao serviço das necessidades do outro — e isto, tanto a nível dos bens materiais, como sobretudo dos espirituais. De facto, assim escreve São João: «O que vimos e ouvimos acerca do Verbo da Vida, isso vos anunciamos, para que também vós tenhais comunhão connosco».23 No centro desta comunhão, está o Verbo da Vida, Jesus Cristo Senhor: D'Ele, por Ele e n'Ele, graças ao Espírito Vivificante, a Igreja edifica-se na caridade, como o Seu Corpo. Amados filhos do Brasil, vindos da Bahia, Minas Gerais e Rio de Janeiro e todos os presentes, agradeço a vossa Visita e de coração vos abençoo, exortando-vos a que sejais no meio da vossa gente testemunhas da caridade, que Jesus Cristo usou convosco.

Ai fedeli provenienti dalla Boemia e dalla Moravia

Drazí poutníci z Cech a Moravy!

Apoštol Slovanu Svatý Cyril krátce pred svou smrtí zde v Ríme (14.2.867) naléhal na svého bratra Metodeje, aby nepodlehl touze po klášterním ústraní ale vrátil se k moravskému lidu hlásat evangelium. Tyto únorové dny nám staví pred oci oba spolupatrony Evropy. Metodej se vrátil na Velkou Moravu. Hlásal evangelium, byl veznen, trpel pro Bozí slovo, ale dokoncil dílo evangelisace. Zivá víra ve vaší vlasti je ovocem jeho velkodušnosti, která vás vyzývá napodobovat ho: nepodléhat touze mít ode všeho pokoj, ale vrátit se do vlasti nove hlásat evangelium a otevírat srdce svých krajanu pro Krista.

K tomu vám udeluji své apoštolské pozehnání.

Ai componenti del coro giapponese «Sakura»

Saluto cordialmente i membri del Coro «Sakura».

Il vostro Coro ha nome «Sakura», cioè «ciliegio», simbolo del Giappone. Con i vostri canti voi, carissimi, promuovete la fratellanza tra i popoli, così come l'albero del ciliegio è segno della primavera e della gioia. Auspicando il successo alla vostra attività, vi benedico di cuore ed aggiungo: «Arigato!», grazie!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam dodajac na wstepie, ze wraz z ksiezmi biskupami zwiazanymi z ruchem Focolari sa tu takze obecni Ksiadz Kardynal z Krakowa oraz inni biskupi z Polski. Pozdrawiam nastepujace grupy pielgrzymów: zespól dziecieco-mlodziezowy z parafii Matki Bozej Szkaplerznej z Witowa w archidiecezji krakowskiej; z parafii Pana Jezusa Konajacego z Pacanowa w diecezji kieleckiej; z parafii sw. Antoniego i sw. Mikolaja z Leszna w archidiecezji poznanskiej; z parafii sw. Józefa ze Swidnicy w archidiecezji wroclawskiej; z parafii Matki Bozej Rózancowej z Boleslawca w archidiecezji wroclawskiej; mlodziez z Liceum Ogólnoksztalcacego z Otwocka w archidiecezji warszawskiej; nauczycieli i mlodziez z Liceum Ogólnoksztalcacego im. Boleslawa Chrobrego w Gnieznie i z Liceum Ogólnoksztalcacego im. Henryka Sienkiewicza we Wrzesni; nauczycieli i mlodziez z technikum ekonomicznego w Zarach; przedstawicieli Zespolu Szkól Gospodarczych z Elblaga; grupy turystyczne «Prima» z Bialegostoku i «Rumat» z Zamoscia oraz pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai fedeli italiani

Desidero rivolgere un saluto particolarmente cordiale ai Signori Cardinali, agli Arcivescovi e Vescovi, amici del Movimento dei Focolari, i quali partecipano al loro Convegno annuale presso il Centro Mariapoli di Castel Gandolfo sul tema-guida: «La nuova Evangelizzazione».

Mi compiaccio con voi per tale riunione, con la quale intendete dare un seguito ai lavori della recente Assemblea del Sinodo dei Vescovi per l'Europa. Fate tesoro anche dell'esperienza spirituale del Movimento dei Focolari, che si incentra sul «comandamento nuovo» dell'amore verso il prossimo e sul testamento di Gesù: «che tutti siano uno affinché il mondo creda» 24 per accrescere sempre più il vostro slancio apostolico e per incrementare l'animazione evangelica nelle vostre rispettive Comunità diocesane e nel mondo intero. Auguro pure che gli incontri di questi giorni vi servano per mettere in comune le vostre esperienze pastorali nello spirito di comunione, di unità e di fraternità episcopale.

* * *

Saluto anche gli Studenti di Liceo e di Teologia del Seminario di Vigevano, i quali, insieme ai loro Superiori, prendono parte a questa Udienza. Vi ringrazio per questa vostra visita e vi auguro che possiate trarre stimolo da questo pellegrinaggio al centro del Cristianesimo per rafforzare la vostra fede e la vostra adesione a Cristo, redentore dell'uomo. Nella vostra preparazione al sacerdozio, lasciatevi plasmare da Lui, imitando l'umiltà e la mitezza del suo Cuore.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Nel salutare i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli desidero riferirmi alla festività liturgica appena trascorsa della Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio. In quel giorno abbiamo proclamato Gesù «Luce del mondo».

Sia Cristo la vostra luce, cari giovani, e sappiate trovare in lui la chiarezza e la certezza della vostra fede. Sia luce, forza e sostegno per voi che soffrite. Sia per voi, cari sposi novelli, la luce vera, che guidi i vostri passi e le vostre scelte nel cammino che vi attende.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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