On the Church as the Family of God

Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s weekly General Audience address in St. Peter’s Square where he began a new cycle of catecheses on the mystery of the Church.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday I underlined the deep bond between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Today I would like to start some catecheses on the mystery of the Church, a mystery that we all live in and of which we are part. I would like to do this with some well-known expressions of the texts of Vatican II.

First: the Church as the family of God.

In recent months, more than once I made reference to the parable of the prodigal son, or rather of the merciful father (cf. Lk 15:11-32). His youngest son leaves his father’s house, squanders everything and decides to return because he realizes that he has made a mistake, but no longer considers himself worthy of being a son, and thinks that he might be readmitted as a servant. The father instead runs to meet him, hugs him, restores him to the dignity of a son and throws a feast. This parable, as others in the Gospel, well describes God’s plan for humanity.

What is this plan? It’s to make of all of us the one family of his children, in which each will feel close and feel loved by Him, as in the Gospel parable, that each may feel the warmth of being the family of God. In this great design, the Church finds its roots; the Church is not an organization born out of an agreement made by some people, but – as Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us many times – it’s God’s work, it is born from this plan of love that takes place progressively in history. The Church was born from the desire of God to call all people to communion with Him, to His friendship, and indeed to participate as his sons of his own divine life. The very word «Church», from the Greek word ekklesia, means «convocation»: God summons us, he urges us to come out of our individualism, of our tendency to close in upon ourselves and calls us to be his family. And this call has its origin in creation itself. God created us to live in a deep friendship with him, and even when sin broke this relationship with him, with others and with creation, God did not abandon us. The whole history of salvation is the story of God seeking man, offering him His love, welcoming him. He called Abraham to be the father of a multitude, he chose the people of Israel to forge a covenant that embraces all people, and sent, in the fullness of time, his Son so that his plan of love and salvation might come true in a new and everlasting covenant with all humanity. When we read the Gospels, we see that Jesus gathers around him a small community that welcomes his word, follows him, shares his journey, becomes his family, and with this community He prepares and builds his Church.

Where is the Church born? It is born from the supreme act of love of the cross, from the open side of Jesus from which flow blood and water, symbol of the sacraments of the Eucharist and baptism. In the family of God, in the Church, the lifeblood is the love of God that is expressed in loving Him and others, all without distinctions and without measure. The Church is a family in which one loves and is loved.

When does the Church become manifest? We celebrated this two Sundays ago: it is manifested when the indwelling of the Holy Spirit fills the heart of the Apostles and drives them to go out and start the journey to proclaim the Gospel, to spread the love of God.

Still today someone says: «Christ yes, the Church no.» Like those who say, “I believe in God but not in priests”. But it is precisely the Church that brings us Christ and leads us to God; the Church is the great family of God’s children. Of course it also has human aspects; in those who compose it, pastors and faithful, there are flaws, imperfections, sins, even the Pope has them, and he has many, but the beautiful thing is that when we realize that we are sinners, we find the mercy of God, which always forgives. Don’t forget it: God always forgives and receives us in his forgiving and merciful love. Some say sin is an offence against God, but it is also an opportunity to be humbled, to realize that there’s something more beautiful: the mercy of God. Let us think of this.

Let us ask ourselves today: how much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel part of the family of the Church? What do I do so that it may be a community where everyone feels welcomed and understood, feels the mercy and love of God that renews life? Faith is a gift and an act that affects us personally, but God calls us to live our faith together, as a family, like the Church.

Let us ask the Lord, in a special way in this Year of Faith that our communities, the whole Church, may increasingly be true families living and bearing within them the warmth of God. Thank you.

[Translation by Peter Waymel]

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: In today’s Audience I would like to speak of the Church as God’s family. Like the merciful father in the parable of the prodigal son, God wants all of us to live in his love and to share in his life. The Church is an essential part of this divine plan; we were made to know and love God and, despite our sins, he continues to call us to return to him. In the fullness of time, he sent his Son into our world to inaugurate the new and eternal covenant with humanity through his sacrifice on the cross. The Church was born of this supreme act of reconciling love, in the water and blood which flowed from Christ’s pierced side. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sent the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love to the ends of the earth. Christ can never be separated from his Church, which he has made the great family of God’s children. Today, let us pledge ourselves to renewing our love for the Church and to letting her be God’s true family, where everyone feels welcomed, understood and loved.

Holy Father (in Italian):

I offer a cordial welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States. May you always grow in love for Christ and for God’s family which is the Church. God bless you all!

© Copyright 2012 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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I greet now the many Italian-speaking pilgrims: parishes, associations, institutions and schools. In particular, my affectionate thought goes out to the faithful of the Diocesan Community of L’Aquila, Vallo della Lucania, Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi, accompanied by their respective pastors. May your pilgrimage in this Year of Faith help each of you to participate more fully in Christ and to bear witness to him with joy and courage. I greet the participants in the meeting sponsored by Caritas Italiana, with the Presiding Bishop Mons. Giuseppe Merisi; as well as those who take part in the meeting of the Foundation «Communità di Gesù»; the seminarians and students of the Pontifical Faculty of Southern Italy and the pilgrimage sponsored by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Genoa.

I turn, finally, to you, dear young people, the sick and newlyweds. In this last audience of the month of May, my thoughts go spontaneously to Mary, bright star of our Christian walk. May we make constant reference to her to find in her intercession and in the examples of her life inspiration and sure guidance in our daily pilgrimage of faith.

Tomorrow, the feast of Corpus Domini, as every year, we will be celebrating Holy Mass in St. John Lateran at 7:00 p.m. At the end, a solemn procession will follow that will end at St. Mary’s Major Basilica. I invite the faithful of Rome and pilgrims to join in this act of faith in the Eucharist, which is the most precious treasure of the Church and of humanity.

[Translation by Peter Waymel]
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