Friday, 25 July 2008

What the Pope said in Australia Part II - Images of the Church

I noted in the first part of this series that one of the central focuses of the Pope's catechesis was the necessity of the Church - a nice contrast to the wishy washy stuff we've typically been served up in recent years in the name of ecumenism!

Even amongst conservatives, there has been a bit of a tendency to pump for CS Lewis' 'Mere Christianity', and ignore issues about what the Church is and her necessity - Kreeft and Tacelli's otherwise useful book on apologetics (which a commenter pointed to a few weeks back) for example, goes down this track.

But what I want to focus on today are some of the images of the Church that the Pope employed in his series of addresses.

The big focus over the last several decades has been on horizontal relationships - our relationship to each other. Pope Benedict XVI certainly isn't walking away from the horizontal element of 'communio'. But he is trying to get it back into proportion I think, both through his changes to liturgical practice and in what he has said, putting the focus back on our vertical relationship with God. The images he employs also, I think, say something important about the relationship between the Church and the world, pointing to an inherent tension between them.

The Church as the Upper Room

One of the key images he referred to throughout his WYD addresses is the Church as the Upper Room - the place where the Last Supper was enacted, and to which the apostles, together with Mary and the women, returned after his Ascension to await the coming of the Holy Ghost.

The Upper Room is a place of retreat from the world, a place where we prepare ourselves through prayer:

"..we do know that their deep love for Jesus, and their trust in his word, prompted them to gather and to wait; to wait not aimlessly, but together, united in prayer, with the women and Mary in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1:14). Tonight, we do the same." (Vigil)

And it is a place where we are transformed through the grace of the Holy Ghost:

"Almost two thousand years ago, the Apostles, gathered in the upper room together with Mary and some faithful women, were filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:4). At that extraordinary moment, which gave birth to the Church, the confusion and fear that had gripped Christ’s disciples were transformed into a vigorous conviction and sense of purpose. They felt impelled to speak of their encounter with the risen Jesus whom they had come to call affectionately, the Lord." (Welcoming Ceremony, 17.7.08)

The Pope of course made much of the people of many nations and tongues who gathered at that first Pentecost, and the mission to spread the message to the ends of the Earth:

"Standing before me I see a vibrant image of the universal Church. The variety of nations and cultures from which you hail shows that indeed Christ’s Good News is for everyone; it has reached the ends of the earth. Yet I know too that a good number of you are still seeking a spiritual homeland. Some of you, most welcome among us, are not Catholic or Christian. Others of you perhaps hover at the edge of parish and Church life. To you I wish to offer encouragement: step forward into Christ’s loving embrace; recognize the Church as your home. No one need remain on the outside, for from the day of Pentecost the Church has been one and universal."

The Church as Temple

In the events of the Passion and Resurrection, Christ proclaimed himself as the true Temple, torn down and rebuilt in three days. The new Temple is a living Temple, built on the cornerstone of Jesus, and the rock that is Peter:

"...a solid, well-structured temple composed of living stones rising on its sure foundation. Jesus himself brings together in perfect unity these images of “temple” and “body” (cf. Jn 2:21-22; Lk 23:45; Rev 21:22). (Ecumenical meeting)

The Church is 'the living temple of the Holy Spirit', guiding her in all her activities.

The Pope did also use the image of the Body of Christ:

"By employing the image of a body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31), Paul draws attention to the organic unity and diversity that allows the Church to breathe and grow." (Ecumenical meeting)

and

"...the Body of Christ, a living community of love, embracing people of every race, nation and tongue, of every time and place, in the unity born of our faith in the Risen Lord."

Living altars

But his emphasis, particularly to those called to consecrated life, was on uniting with the sacrifice of the head of the body, Christ, so as to become living altars to God:

"...the Church reminds us that, like this altar, we too have been consecrated, set “apart” for the service of God and the building up of his Kingdom....

We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy.

The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world. It is in this truth – this mystery of faith – that we have been “consecrated” (cf. Jn 17:17-19), and it is in this truth that we are called to grow, with the help of God’s grace, in daily fidelity to his word, within the life-giving communion of the Church."

Inspirational stuff, I think, for priests and religious, and those preparing for that life.


The final image of the Church that the Pope employed several times that I want to mention is us as God's family. For example:

"...And together we stand in our world as God’s family, disciples of Christ, empowered by his Spirit to be witnesses of his love and truth for everyone." (Welcoming Ceremony)

A family of course has a head - and children are subject to their parents' guidance and teaching, even as they go out and bear witness to others:

"We recalled how in the great gift of baptism we, who are made in God’s image and likeness, have been reborn, we have become God’s adopted children, a new creation. And so it is as children of Christ’s light – symbolized by the lit candles you now hold – that we bear witness in our world to the radiance no darkness can overcome (cf. Jn 1:5). " (Vigil)

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