Wednesday, 23 July 2008

What the Pope said Part I - The centrality of the Church

One of the fascinating things about WYD events was watching how intently people seem to listen to the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI never dumbs things down, even speaking to young people. His words replay rereading several times. His voice is not dynamic. But it does penetrate the consciousness.

Most importantly, what he says is thoroughly traditional, reiterating and representing the key truths of our faith, but told with vivid imagery, and offering powerful new insights. This is truly catechesis to take note of.

And on his Australian visit, one of his most central themes was the importance of the Church itself. He tackled head on those who think they can use the label Catholic but go their own way, inventing their own doctrine and praxis.

Truth only lies within the Church

At the Ecumenical meeting, Pope Benedict XVI said: "Saint Paul teaches that it is within the koinonia of the Church that we have access to and the means of safeguarding the truth of the Gospel, for the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Jesus himself as the cornerstone."

One of the constant threads through all of his addresses - and in the visual imagery of WYD (save for a few wasted opportunities such as the vigil) - was that this Church he is speaking of is the Catholic Church, the one Church founded in the Upper Room at that first Pentecost and handed down through the generations, and visible here in the 'presence of the successor of Peter' and the other successors to the Apostles. The idea of having the bishops lead the various catechesis sessions was a nice way to emphasize the teaching authority of the Church.

The institutional Church is crucial:

"To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church’s institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit’s gift! It would betray the nature of the Church as the living temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). It is the Spirit, in fact, who guides the Church in the way of all truth and unifies her in communion and in the works of ministry." (Vigil)

And here is the counter to separatists of various kinds:

"Unfortunately the temptation to “go it alone” persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit..." (Vigil)

Necessity of the Church

The institutional Church is necessary because it is to her that the 'abundant treasures of grace' can be found, particularly in the sacraments.

Most importantly, it is in the Mass that our sacrifices are joined to those of Christ:

"In the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrifice of the Mass consummated on the altars of the world, he invites us, the members of his mystical Body, to share in his self-oblation. He calls us, as the priestly people of the new and eternal covenant, to offer, in union with him, our own daily sacrifices for the salvation of the world...."(Sat Mass)

Practice flows from doctrine

One of the most important messages related to the importance of doctrine as taught by the Church.

A lot of emphasis has been put of late on ideas such as 'practical ecumenism', co-operation between the Church and ecclesial communities at the political level, in doing good works and so forth. But at the Ecumenical Meeting the Pope told participants not to be afraid of robust discussion on doctrine:

"We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live. In fact, the history of the Church demonstrates that praxis is not only inseparable from, but actually flows out of didache or teaching. The more closely we strive for a deeper understanding of the divine mysteries, the more eloquently our works of charity will speak of God’s bountiful goodness and love towards all."

Building up the Church is a key task

The implication of all this is that building up the Church herself, in her institutional manifestations, and resisting the temptation to walk away from it, is a central task to which we are all called:

"Every element of the Church’s structure is important, yet all of them would falter and crumble without the cornerstone who is Christ. As “fellow citizens” of the “household of God”, Christians must work together to ensure that the edifice stands strong so that others will be attracted to enter and discover the abundant treasures of grace within." (Ecumenical meeting)


"Directed to unity, the gifts of the Spirit bind us more closely to the whole Body of Christ, equipping us better to build up the Church in order to serve the world (cf. Eph 4:13). They call us to active and joyful participation in the life of the Church: in parishes and ecclesial movements, in religious education classes, in university chaplaincies and other catholic organizations. Yes, the Church must grow in unity, must be strengthened in holiness, must be rejuvenated, must be constantly renewed." (Vigil)

We must resist the temptation to reject the Church:

"Unity is of the essence of the Church; it is a gift we must recognize and cherish. Tonight, let us pray for the resolve to nurture unity: contribute to it! resist any temptation to walk away! For it is precisely the comprehensiveness, the vast vision, of our faith – solid yet open, consistent yet dynamic, true yet constantly growing in insight – that we can offer our world." (Vigil)

Rather, we all have a role to play in it:

"Paul reminds us that each and every Christian has received a gift meant for building up the Body of Christ. The Church especially needs the gifts of young people, all young people. She needs to grow in the power of the Spirit who even now gives joy to your youth and inspires you to serve the Lord with gladness."

Part of the particular power of this message comes from the nature of the Church that the Pope articulates. And I'll talk a bit about that soon!

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