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“I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” I don’t know if you have ever reflected on the meaning of the expression “the Church is Apostolic.” Perhaps never, or perhaps some time, coming to Rome, you thought of the importance of the Apostles Peter and Paul, who gave their life here to bring the Gospel and witness to it.
But it is more. To profess that the Church is Apostolic means to stress the profound, constitutive bond that she has with the Apostles, with that small group of twelve men that one day Jesus called to himself; He called them by name, so that they would stay with Him and to send them to preach (cf. Mark 3:13-19). “Apostle,” in fact, is a Greek work which means “sent.” An apostle is a person who is sent, he is sent forth to do something and the Apostles were chosen, called and sent by Jesus, to continue his work, that is, to pray – it is the first job of an apostle – and second, to announce the Gospel. This is important, because when we think of the Apostles we may think that they are only sent to announce the Gospel, to do so many works. But in the first moments of the Church there was a problem because the Apostles had so much to do so they formed deacons, so that there would be more time for the Apostles to pray and announce the Word of God. When we think of the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, including the Pope because he is also a Bishop, we should ask ourselves if this successor of the Apostles first prays and then announces the Gospel: this is being an Apostles and for this the Church is apostolic. All of us, if we want to be apostles as I will explain now, we must ask ourselves: do I pray for the salvation of the world? Do I announce the Gospel? This is the apostolic Church! It is an associative bond we have with the Apostles.
Beginning, precisely, from this I would like to underline briefly three meanings of the adjective “Apostolic” applied to the Church.
The Church is Apostolic because she was founded on the preaching and prayer of the Apostles, on the authority that was given to them by Christ himself. Saint Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, it compares therefore, christians with the living stones that make up the building that is the Church, and this building is founded upon the apostles, as columns, and the rock that holds everything is Jesus Himself. Without Jesus the Church cannot exist! Jesus is the very basis of the Church, the foundation! The Apostles lived with Jesus, they listened to his words, they shared his life, above all they were witnesses of his Death and Resurrection. Our faith, the Church that Christ desired, is not founded on an idea, on a philosophy, but on Christ himself. And the Church is like a plant that has grown in the course of the centuries; she has developed, borne fruit, but her roots are well planted in Him and the fundamental experience of Christ that the Apostles had, chosen and sent by Jesus, reaching down to us. From that small plant to our times: that is how the Church is in the whole world.
But let’s ask ourselves: how is it possible for us to connect with that witness, how can what the Apostles lived with Jesus, what they heard from him, reach us? See the second meaning of the term “apostolicity.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Church is Apostolic because “with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching, the ‘good deposit’,’ the salutary words she has heard from the Apostles” (no. 857). The Church keeps, throughout the centuries, this precious treasure, which is the Sacred Scripture, the Doctrine, the Sacraments, the ministry of Pastors, so that we can be faithful to Christ and participate in his very life. It is as a river that runs in history, it develops, irrigates, but the running water is always that which comes from the source, from Christ himself: He is the Risen One, the Living One, and his words do not pass away, because He does not pass away, He is alive, He is here with us today, He hears and we speak with Him, He is in our hearts. Jesus is with us, today! This is the beauty of the Church: the presence of Jesus Christ among us. Do we ever think of how important this gift is that Christ has given us, the gift of the Church, where we can encounter Him? Do we ever think how it is precisely the Church in her long journey throughout these centuries – despite the difficulties, the problems, the weaknesses, our sins – that transmits to us the authentic message of Christ? That she gives us the certainty that what we believe in is really what Christ has communicated to us?
The last thought: the Church is Apostolic because she is sent to take the Gospel to the whole world. The same mission that Jesus entrusted to the Apostles continues in the journey of history: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is what Jesus told us to do! I insist on this aspect of missionary activity, because Christ invites all to “go” and meet others, he sends us, he asks us to move to take the joy of the Gospel! Once again we ask ourselves: are we missionaries with our word and above all with our Christian life, with our witness? Or are we Christians that are closed in our hearts and in our churches, ‘sacristy christians’? Christians only by word but that live like pagans? We should ask ourselves these questions, which are not a rebuke. I too tell myself the same: how am I a Christian, with a true witness?
The Church has her roots in the teaching of the Apostles, authentic witnesses of Christ, but she always looks to the future, she has the firm awareness of being sent – sent by Jesus – of being missionary, carrying the name of Jesus with prayer, the announcement and the witness. A Church that is shut-in on herself and in the past, a Church that looks only at the small rules of habit, of attitude, is a Church that betrays her own identity; a closed Church betrays its own identity! Now then, let us rediscover today all the beauty and the responsibility of being an Apostolic Church! And remember: [We are an] apostolic Church because we pray – our first task – and because we announce the Gospel with our life and with our words.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Creed, we profess in faith that the Church is “apostolic”. We can understand this in three ways. First, the Church is apostolic because Jesus founded her upon the Apostles whom he chose and sent forth to continue his work; thus Saint Paul compares the Church to a temple which has the Apostles as its foundation and Christ as its cornerstone (Eph 2:19-20). The Church is also apostolic because she preserves and hands down the fullness of Christ’s teaching and the means of salvation which he instituted. Finally the Church is apostolic because she accomplishes in history the mission which Christ entrusted to the Apostles: making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them his commands (cf. Mt 28:19-20). May we come to appreciate and love the Church as the place where we encounter the Risen Lord, who sends us forth as his missionaries, inviting all whom we meet to know the truth of the Gospel, the joy of faith and the promise of eternal life proclaimed by the Apostles.
Pope Francis (in Italian):
I cordially greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Ghana, Nigeria, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the delegation from the NATO Defense College and the pilgrims from Norway. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the faithful of the diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio, Faenza-Modigliana, Bergamo, Fabriano-Matelica, Forli-Bertinoro and Agrigento, with their Pastors, who have come to the See of Peter on the occasion of the Year of Faith. In addition I greet the women religious, in particular the Augustinian Missionaries who are holding their General Chapter; the Raphael Foundation, working for children of detainees, and the parish groups, especially the faithful of Jelsi and Bisceglie.
I address a warm greeting to the personnel of several embassies to the Holy See, whom I thank heartily for their precious work, and to the delegates of the Fourth World International Movement, on the eve of the Day of the Rejection of Misery, on the day in which the World Food Day is being observed, proclaimed by the United Nations. I hope that all will be reinforced in their bond with Christ and His Church!
Finally, an affectionate thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. May devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus teach you, dear young people, especially the youngsters of the Borgo di Roma Salesian Institute and of the Smaldone Institute of Salerno, to love as He loved; may it render you strong, dear sick people, in carrying the cross of suffering with patience; and may it be of support to you, dear newlyweds, in building your family on fidelity and dedication. Thank you![Translation by ZENIT]