On the Body of Christ

“War does not begin in the field of battle. Wars begin in the heart of these misunderstandings, divisions, jealousies with this struggle with others.”

Here is a translation of the Holy Father’s address during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square:

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Dear brothers and sisters, Good Morning.

The image of the body is used when one wants to show how the elements that make up a reality are closely united with one another and form together one thing. Starting from the apostle Paul, this expression is applied to the Church and is recognized as his most profound and beautiful distinctive trait. Today, we wish to ask ourselves: in what sense does the Church form the body? And why is it defined as “the body of Christ”?

In the Book of Ezechiel, there is a peculiar vision that is described, impressive, but capable of instilling confidence and hope in our hearts. God shows the prophet a valley of bones, detached from each other and dry. A desolate scenario. Imagine, an entire hill full of bones. God asks him, then, to invoke the Spirit upon them. At that moment, the bones begin to draw closer and unite, first the nerves grow on them and then the flesh and thus the body is formed, complete and full of life. (Ez. 37, 1-14). This is the Church! I  recommend, today when you are home, to read Ezechiel, Chapter 27. Do not forget! It is beautiful. It is a masterpiece, a masterpiece of the Spirit, in which the new life of the Risen One is infused and puts one next to the other, one at the service and support of the other, thus making us all one body, built in communion and love.

The Church, however, is not only a body built in the Spirit: the Church is the body of Christ! And it is not simply a way of saying: we truly are! It is the great gift that we receive on the day of our Baptism! In the Sacrament of Baptism, in fact, Christ makes us His, welcoming us into the heart of the mystery of the Cross, the supreme mystery of his love for us, to make us rise again with Him, as new creatures. Behold: that is how the Church is born, that is how the Church is recognized as the body of Christ. Baptism constitutes a true rebirth, that regenerates us in Christ, making us a part of Him, and unites us intimately among us, as members of the same body, of which He is the head. (cfr Rom. 12,5; 1 Cor 12, 12-13).

That which emerges, then, is a profound communion of love. In this sense, it is enlightening how Paul, exhorting husbands to “love their wives as their own body”, he states: “As Christ also does with the Church, because we are members of his body.” (Eph. 5, 28-30). It would be beautiful if we remembered more often what we are, of what the Lord Jesus has made of us: we are His Body, that Body that nothing and no one can ever tear us from and that he covers all with his passion and His love, just like a husband with his wife. This thought, however, should arise in us the desire to respond to the Lord and to share his love among us, as living members of his body. In the time of Paul, the community of Corinth found many difficulties in that sense, living, as we too often, the experience of division, of jealousies, of misunderstandings and marginalizations.

All these things are not good because, instead of building and making the Church grow as the body of Christ, it shatters into many pieces, it dismembers it.

And even this happens in our days. Think about the Christian communities, the parishes, think about our neighbourhoods. How many divisions, how many jealousies, talking behind one’s back, how many misunderstandings and marginalizations!

And what does this do? It dismembers us! It is the start of war. War does not begin in the field of battle. Wars begin in the heart of these misunderstandings, divisions, jealousies with this struggle with others. And this community of Corinth were like this. They were experts!

And so the Apostle gave the Corinthians some concrete advice that applies to us: do not be jealous, but appreciate in our communities the gifts and qualities of our brothers and sisters;

Jealousies…I look at that one who bought a new car and I start to feel jealous. That one won the lottery, another jealousy. And that one does something well, yet another jealousy. This dismembers, it hurts us! You shouldn’t do it! Because jealousies grow and fill the heart. A jealous heart, is a bitter heart, a heart that instead of blood looks like its full of vinegar. It is heart that is never happy. It is a heart that dismembers the community.

But what should we do? Appreciate in our community the gifts, the qualities of others, of our brothers and sisters. But when we are jealous, because it comes to all, we are all sinners. When you become jealous, say “Thank you Lord because you gave this to that person.”

Appreciate the qualities; be close and participate in the sufferings of the last ones and of those most needy; expresses your gratitude to all.

Say thank you! The heart that knows how to say thank you is a good heart, a noble heart, a heart that is happy. Know how to say thank you. I ask myself: all of us, do we always know to say thank you? Not always, eh! Because envy, jealousy…it stops us a bit.

And lastly, this is a word of advice that the apostle Paul gives to the Corinthians and we should give to ourselves: do not esteem anyone as superior to the other.

How many people feel they are superior to others! Even we many times say like the Pharisee in the parable: “I thank you Lord because I am not like that one, I am superior.” This is aweful! Don’t ever do it! And when this thought comes to you, remember your sins, those that no one knows about, humble yourself before God and say, “You Lord, you know know who is superior. I will close my mouth.” This does us well.

And always in charity consider yourselves members one to another, that you may live and give to the benefit of all (cfr 1 Cor 12-14).

Dear brothers and sister, like the prophet Ezechiel and like the apostle Paul, let us also invoke the Holy Spirit, so that His grace and the abundance of His gifts help us to live always as the body of Christ, united! As a family, like the body of Christ and as a visible and beautiful sign of the love of Christ.

Thank you.

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Speaker:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Church, we now consider what it means to say, with Saint Paul, that the Church is “the Body of Christ”. Just as our body is one, but made up of many members, so it is with Christ and the Church. The vision of Prophet Ezechiel, in which God’s Spirit gives flesh and life to a field of dry bones, is a foreshadowing of the Church, filled with the Spirit’s gift of new life in Christ and united in fellowship and love.

Through Baptism we are made one with Christ in the mystery of his death and resurrection; all of us become sharers in the Holy Spirit and members of a mystical body of which the Risen Christ is the head. Paul uses the image of marital love to illustrate this great mystery: just as a husband and wife are one flesh, so it is with Christ and the Church. As members of the one body, we are called to live in unity, overcoming every temptation to discord and division. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, may we work to build up Christ’s Body in love by accepting with gratitude his many gifts, valuing those gifts in others and always showing generous concern for our brothers and sisters in need.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including the various groups from England, Ireland, Denmark, Lithuania, Nigeria, Vietnam, China, Japan, Qatar and the United States of America. In a particular way, my greeting goes to the Irish pilgrims from the Diocese of Limerick, accompanied by their Bishop. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus. God bless you all!

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The Pope said the following words to the Polish pilgrims:

I cordially greet the Polish pilgrims who have come to this audience. Today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of St. John Paul II, who invited everyone to open the doors to Christ. In his first visit to your homeland, he invoked the Holy Spirit to descend and renew the land of Poland. He reminded the world of the mystery of Divine Mercy. His spiritual heritage is not forgotten, but urges us to reflect and concrete action for the good of the Church, of the family and of society. May Jesus Christ be praised.  

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The Pope addressed the following words to the Italian pilgrims:

I give a cordial welcome to the Itailian-speaking  pilgrims. I greet the faithful from the Diocese of Romagna, with their Bishop, and urge them to draw from the Gospel the inspiring criteria for personal and community life.

I greet the pilgrims from Gela, who celebrate a significant Jubilee event and those from Agromonte, accompanied by their respective Pastors; I greet the Servants of Mary, Ministers of the Sick, who are celebrating their General Chapter. I am pleased to welcome the “Arance di Natale” Association of Camisano Vicentino, AVIS of Montegranaro and the Province of Brinidisi, and the Fraternal Apostolic Movement, encouraging the service each one does at the service of their neighbour.

I would like to join the Diocesan community of Tempio-Ampurias in expressing my profound closeness and solidarity to the employees of Meridiana airlines, who are living hours of anguish for their future employement. I sincerely hope that a just solution can be found that takes into account, above all, the dignity of the human person and the essential needs of so many families.

Lastly, I address my thoughts to the youth, the sick and the newlyweds. The month of October invites us to renew our active cooperation with the mission of the Church. With the fresh energy of youth, with the strength of prayer and sacrifice and with the power of conjugal life, may you become missionaries of the Gospel, offering your concrete support to those who are struggling and to bring to those who do not know it.

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]

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