On the Church's Journey Towards Heaven

«The Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church is not an end in herself, but that she is continually journeying through history to the kingdom of heaven, of which the Church on earth is the seed and beginning.»

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Here is the translation of Pope Francis’ catechesis during today’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.

The day is not very nice, but you are courageous, congratulations! We hope to pray together today.

In presenting the Church to the men of our time, Vatican Council II was very conscious of a fundamental truth, which must never be forgotten: the Church is not a static, still reality, an end in herself, but is continually journeying in history towards the ultimate and wonderful end which is the Kingdom of Heaven, of which the Church on earth is the seed and the beginning (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 5). When we turn to this horizon, we notice that our imagination is arrested, revealing itself just capable of intuiting the splendor of the mystery that surpasses our senses. And some questions arise spontaneously in us: when will this final passage happen? What will the new dimension be like, which the Church will enter? What, then, will happen to humanity and to the creation that surrounds it? But these questions are not new; they were already asked by the disciples to Christ at that time: “But when will this happen? When will be the triumph of the Spirit over creation, over the created, over everything …” These are old, human questions. We also ask these questions.

In front of these questions, which always resound in man’s heart, the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes states: “We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.” (n. 39). Behold the end to which the Church tends: as the Bible says, it is the “new Jerusalem,” “Paradise.” More than a place, it is about a “state” of mind in which our most profound expectations will be fulfilled overabundantly and our being, as creatures and children of God, will reach full maturity. We will finally be clothed with joy, with peace and with the love of God in a complete way, no longer with any limit, and we will be face to face with Him! (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). It is beautiful to think this, to think of Heaven. All of us find ourselves down here, all of us. It is beautiful; it gives strength to the soul.

In this perspective, it is beautiful to perceive how there is an underlying continuity and communion between the Church that is in Heaven, and the Church that is still journeying on earth. In fact, those who already live in the presence of God can assist and intercede for us, they can pray for us. On the other hand, we are also always sent to offer good works, prayers and the Eucharist itself to alleviate the tribulation of souls that are still awaiting blessedness without end. Yes, because in the Christian perspective the distinction is no longer between one who is already dead and one who is not dead yet, but between who is in Christ and who is not! This is the determining element, which is truly decisive for our salvation and for our happiness.

At the same time, Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfilment of this wonderful plan cannot but be of interest also to all that surrounds us and that issued from the thought and heart of God. The Apostle Paul affirms it explicitly,  when he says that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Other texts use the image of a “new heaven” and a “new earth” (cf. 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), in the sense that the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself. What is anticipated, as fulfilment of a transformation that in reality is already in act since the Death and Resurrection of Christ, is, therefore, a new creation; not, therefore, an annihilation of the cosmos and of all that surrounds us, but a bringing of everything to its fullness of being, of truth and of beauty. This is the plan that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has always willed to realize and is realizing.

Dear friends, when we think of this stupendous reality that we await, we realize how much our belonging to the Church is truly a wonderful gift, which bears inscribed a very high vocation. Let us then ask the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, to always watch over our way and to help us to be, as she is, a joyful sign of trust and hope in the midst of our brothers.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church is not an end in herself, but that she is continually journeying through history to the kingdom of heaven, of which the Church on earth is the seed and beginning. This journey will reach fulfillment in the end times, when the universe will be transformed and we will be fully enveloped by joy, peace and the love of God in the new heavenly Jerusalem. Even now we experience a communion between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven through our union with those who have died. The souls in heaven assist us with their prayers, while we assist the souls in purgatory through our good works, prayer and participation in the Eucharist. As members of the Church then, the distinction is not between who has died and who is living, but rather who is in Christ and who is not. Saint Paul tell us further that it is not only humanity which will be liberated from corruption, but the whole of creation. All things will be brought into the fullness of being, truth and beauty. This is God’s design for us and the Church’s vocation. Let us ask Mary, Mother of the Church, to watch over us on our way and to help us be a joyful sign of faith and hope among our brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis: (in Italian)

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Kenya, Nigeria, Canada and the United States. May you r stay in the Eternal City confirm you in love for our Lord and his Church. May God bless you all!

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As you know, from next Friday to Sunday I will go to Turkey on an Apostolic Visit. I invite all to pray that this visit of Peter to his brother Andrew will bear fruits of peace, sincere dialogue between the religions, and harmony in the Turkish nation.

I offer a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism, on the occasion of their General Chapter; the faithful of the diocese of Biella and the Silent Workers of the Cross. I greet the members of the Eurosolar-Italy and of UISP – SPORT FOR ALL,  as well as the youth of the Koinonia Community. May the visit to the Tombs of the Apostles foster in all a renewed commitment to peace, with God, with brothers and with creation.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Next Sunday, the liturgical season of Advent will begin. Dear young people, may the expectation of the Savior fill your heart with joy; dear sick, do not tire of adoring the Lord who also comes in trial; and you, dear newlyweds, learn to love, following the example of him who out of love was made man for our salvation.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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