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Today’s news dispatch: Dec. 4, 2015

Pope Meets President of Philippines

Speaking on International Situation, Special Reference Given to Climate Change and Paris COP21 Conference

This morning, Pope Francis received in audience President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III.

According to a communique from the Holy See Press Office, during cordial discussions, “the dialogue between the various members of Filipino society was evoked, as well as the contribution of the Catholic Church to the life of the country.” Also, special reference was made to the peace process in Mindanao, with the hope that commitment from the parties may guarantee stable and lasting peace to the region.

These discussions, it also stated, were followed by an exchange of opinions on the international and regional situation, with special reference to the question of climate change and the COP21 Conference in Paris.

The Filippino President subsequently met with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri.

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Pope Receives Book of Gospels to Commemorate Jubilee of Mercy

‘Evangeliario di Misericordia’ Publication Is Illustrated With Mosaics by Slovenian Jesuit Artist Who Produced Them for Vatican, Basilica of Fatima

Less than a week away from the start of the Jubilee of Mercy in the Vatican, Pope Francis has been presented with a book of Gospels.

Intended to commemorate the start of the Holy Year, the “Evangeliario di Misericordia” was presented to the Holy Father in the Hall of Popes in Vatican yesterday morning by President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

The book is to be used for the upcoming Jubilee’s liturgies. The Jubilee of Mercy begins on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica, and ends on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.

An initiative by the Italian bishops’ conference, the publication of the four Gospels was illustrated with mosaics by Jesuit Slovenian artist Maro Ivan Rupnik, who produced the mosaics for the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the Vatican and for the Basilica of Fatima.

Archbishop Fisichella wrote the publication’s prologue and  Fr. Alessandro Amapani contributed a series of its introductory texts.

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Pope Francis Encourages Council for Economy to Continue Reform Efforts

At Meeting, Pontiff Reminds Members Important Role They Fulfill for Vigilance of Holy See’s Financial, Administrative Structures

Pope Francis has thanked the members of the Council for the Economy for their reform efforts so far and has encouraged them to recognize their important role.
 
According to a statement released by the Holy See, yesterday afternoon the Pope participated in the meeting of the Council for the Economy and explained the reason for his visit was “to personally thank and encourage Council members for the important role they fulfil in the vigilance of the financial and administrative structures of the Holy See.”
 
The Holy Father also confirmed the central role of the council in these reform efforts, to which Pope Francis is committed.

Coordinator of the Council, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, warmly thanked the Holy Father for his presence at the meeting, on the council’s behalf, and reconfirmed its full commitment to the financial and administrative reforms initiated by Pope Francis.

Since its institution, the Council for the Economy has dedicated significant time and energy to the consideration and eventual implementation of measures aimed at transparency and a more effective management of the resources of the Holy See. (D.C.L.)

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Pope Francis Affirms Women’s ‘Indispensable’ Role in Family, Workplace

Francis Sends Telegram to International Workshop on ‘Women and Work’ in Rome

Pope Francis has lauded the invaluable role women play in the family and the workplace.

According to Vatican Radio,  Pope Francis gave his support to a two-day International Workshop on “Women and Work” taking place in Rome beginning today through a telegram he sent through Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the workshop is focused on the dichotomy between the needs of work and family facing women today. It will explore proposals for a more effective promotion of the work of women, especially in the face of discrimination, such as pay disparities, and other prejudices faced by mothers in the workplace.

In the telegram, Pope Francis expresses his hope that the symposium “will help to affirm the indispensable role of women in the family and the formation of children,” as well as “the essential contribution of women workers in the building up of economic structures and a politics worthy of humanity.”

Francis also encouraged the conference’s participants to work toward “identifying concrete suggestions and positive models for the harmonization of work commitments and family needs.”

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Archbishop Fisichella’s Remarks on Jubilee Year of Mercy at Press Conference

Underscores Holy Year of Mercy Will Be 1st in Era of Internet, Social Media

Below is the Vatican-provided translation of the full text of President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s prepared remarks during the press conference on the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that was held this morning in the Holy See Press Office:

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Pope Francis, in the Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,Misericordiae vultus, wrote that “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy” (n. 10). It is with these sentiments in mind that we begin to live the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will commence on December 8th with the simple but richly significant ceremony for the opening of the Holy Door.

A first note of information pertains to a few of the immediately important aspects of the organization of the Jubilee. There is a Pilgrimage Information Center at Via della Conciliazione, 7 that opened on December 1st. This is a place to find information about the schedule of events for the Jubilee; to register for the reserved walkway to the Holy Door; to pick up the requested free access tickets for the various celebrations which are required for pilgrims; and to pick up the testimonium of participation in the Jubilee. It is important for me to stress that only the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, through the Information Center, has been given the responsibility of certifying a pilgrim’s presence at the Jubilee, as well as the journey made on foot. Any other attestation issued by other organizations should not be considered authentic. The Information Center will be open every day from 7:30 to 18:30, including Saturdays and Sundays.

An important role will be played by the Volunteers who will be of service in welcoming and assisting all pilgrims, in particular at Via della Conciliazione and Saint Peter’s Square, in the other Basilicas, and at the Jubilee Churches. In the past months, many have responded to our invitation, and although we are still waiting for further registrations, we now have approximately 100 volunteers every day in service for the Holy Year. This number, obviously, is intended to reach 800-1000 for the Major Events.

The series of Pastoral Resources prepared by the Pontifical Council is already complete. These publications will be of assistance in living the Jubilee Year in a profound way. We have been pleased to see that the series has already reach top sales rankings, a concrete sign of the attention being given to the event, but also of a sincere willingness to live it in a most spiritual way. The series ofPastoral Resources is presently available in 10 languages; of these the publications in Ucrainian and Korean are forthcoming.

With that, we arrive at the celebration of the opening of the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The celebration will take place in Saint Peter’s Square beginning at 9:30 a.m. It will be introduced by readings taken from the four Conciliar Constitutions (Dei VerbumLumen gentiumSacrosanctum conciliumGaudium et spes), along with two passages taken from, Unitatis redintegratio on ecumenism and Dignitatis humanae on religious liberty. As is well known, this day will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The reading of these passages is intended to recall the profound teaching which came forth from that event, and its continued significant importance for the life of the Church. It was an event that we cannot forget and was reflected upon and achieved over the course of three intense years, in the light of mercy, as Pope Francis himself reminded us in the Bull, citing Saint John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI. In the procession for the Eucharistic celebration will be carried the Book of the Gospels prepared specifically for the Jubilee by P. Rupnik and published by San Paolo editions. It is a work of art on whose cover is a mosaic reproduction of the Jubilee logo. This Book of the Gospels will be set on the same podium which stood by the altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica during all the sessions of the Council to make evident to everyone the primacy of the Word of God.

Regarding the opening of the Holy Door: the ceremony, which is very simple, will be broadcast on television worldwide. The Holy Father will request the opening of the Door, and he will then pass through it. After him, the Cardinals, Bishops, and representatives of priests, religious men and women, and laity will cross its threshold, and will continue in procession to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, where the concluding rite of the Holy Mass will take place. The Pope will then lead the Angelus as usual from the window of the Apostolic Palace.

The evening of December 8th will conclude in Saint Peter’s Piazza with a meaningful and unique presentation entitled “Fiat lux: Illuminating Our Common Home”. It will be a projection of photographs onto the façade and cupola of Saint Peter’s, taken from a repertoire of some of the world’s great photographers. These illuminations will present images inspired of Mercy, of humanity, of the natural world, and of climate changes. The show is sponsored by the World Bank Group (Connect4Climate), by Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions, by the Li Ka-shing Foundation and by Okeanos. This event, inspired by the most recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’, is intended to present the beauty of creation, especially on the occasion of the Twenty-first United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop 21), which began in Paris last Monday, November 30, and ends on December 11. The show will begin at 19:00. I can assure everyone that it is a unique event for its genre and for the fact that it is being displayed for the first time on such a significant backdrop.

On Sunday, December 13, for the first time in the history of the Jubilee Years, there will be Holy Doors opened in all the cathedrals of the world. Pope Francis has desired that the Jubilee of Mercy unfold above all in the Particular Churches, and it is precisely for this reason that he wanted to open the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Bangui in the Central African Republic last Sunday, November 29, making it become a world capital of peace and an instrument of mercy. It is a highly significant gesture that makes one understand how much value the Extraordinary Jubilee will have for the life of the Church when it is lived within the context of the daily events of our communities.

Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of his Cathedral of Rome, Saint John Lateran, with the liturgy beginning at 9:30 a.m. It is worth noting the enthusiasm with which the churches throughout the world are preparing for this event. We have received hundreds of communications about this, but would like to make special mention of the Cathedrals of the Holy Spirit in Istanbul; of Saints Peter and Paul in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka; of Christ the King in Mushasha in Gitega, Burundi; of Saint Joseph in Dunedin, New Zealand; of Our Lady of the Presentation in Natal, Brasil; of Myeogdong in Seoul, South Korea; and of Saint George in the Maronite Archdiocese of Beirut.

The following Friday, December 18, the Holy Father will perform a symbolic gesture as he opens the Door of Mercy at the Hostel “Don Luigi Di Liegro”, run by Caritas of Rome, located on Via Marsala. For 25 years, persons in grave need, who require our help, have been received at this hostel. With this first gesture the Holy Father will begin a series of symbolic actions that will take place on one Friday of the month, and which he intends as concrete expressions of the works of mercy. It is important to be mindful that these gestures will have the character of private visits from the Holy Father, in order to maintain, as much as possible, a personal rapport of closeness and solidarity with the persons or institutions visited. They will be a testimony through which Pope Francis intends to highlight the major forms of need, marginalization, and poverty that are present in society, although these forms of poverty are nevertheless united with a strong solidarity on the part of many people who dedicate their time and energy to consoling and giving daily support to those in need.

Beginning on the day of the opening of the Holy Door and throughout the entire Jubilee, the Rosary will be recited daily in Saint Peter’s Square in front of the statue of Saint Peter. Various parishes in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and Religious Institutes present in Rome with a particular consecration to the Mother of God, along with various Institutes of formation, will take turns leading this Rosary.

I would also like to mention the healthcare services available for pilgrims. In each of the four Papal Basilicas there will be a First Aid Station (Pronto Soccorso). Through the generosity of the Onlus Foundation “Giorgio Castelli”, every center will be furnished with a defibrillator. Medical and nursing services are being provided by the Order of Malta, which has the competency and expertise for the management of the First Aid services. It is important to remember that the healthcare structures of the Region of Lazio will also be involved. The Region has organized a structural plan for the entire city, and guarantees, among other services, the permanent placement of a P.M.A. (Posto Medico Avanzato/Advance Medical Post) at Castel Sant’Angelo, along with the new Emergency Room at Santo Spirito Hospital, which will be inaugurated in the coming weeks. In this context, I am also pleased to remind you that we have planned multiple means of communication for the deaf and blind. In particular, for the former, there will be video-tutorials with Italian and International Sign Language (LIS); while for the latter, there will be audio files that can be downloaded from the Jubilee website that describe the paths, pilgrimages to the Holy Door, and much else. In addition, in Saint Peter’s Basilica and in other Churches, confessionals have been set up without structural barriers, and with other considerations that will facilitate confessions for the deaf. Furthermore, there is also a touch book planned in A3 format that will permit the blind to be guided through the Pilgrimage to the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Finally, the internet site has also been equipped with a facilitated navigation.

The Holy Year of Mercy, will in fact be the first in the era of internet and of social media. In this regards, I would like to draw your attention to the importance of the official website of the Jubilee (www.im.va). This site, translated into seven languages, will permit those who cannot be physically present to follow the Major Jubilee events that will take place in Rome. To register for the passage through the Holy Door, and likewise to become a volunteer, it is necessary to enroll on the indicated sections of the site. In addition, I believe it opportune here to say a few words about the Portal “vatimecum”, endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, by means of which pilgrims may obtain services relating to room and board in Rome at controlled prices, along with a great deal of other information about living the Jubilee.

A Holy Year to place mercy at the center. The initiatives already planned for within the Church are many, but there are also others who are seeking to reflect on this theme, unfortunately too-often forgotten. Among these, I would like to point out that of CENSIS, “Mercy 2016, The Peripheries at the Center”, which will be concerned with promoting an organized program on the theme of Mercy, seeking to understand today, in society, in the economy and in the reception of the other, what it means to be merciful, to take on oneself the difficulties of others, bringing back to the center that which the contemporary world marginalizes and pushes to the peripheries.

The initiative of the “Missionaries of Mercy” merits a final consideration. We have closed registration for the Missionaries because the number of priests has already reached more than 800 requests. The Missionaries are priests who come from various parts of the world, and who were proposed by their own bishops to carry out this special service. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, they will receive the mandate from the Holy Father to be preachers of mercy and confessors full of mercy. They will receive from the Holy Father the faculty to forgive sins reserved to the Holy See, and will be the sign of the closeness and pardon of God for all. It is important for me to underscore that the Missionaries of Mercy are appointed exclusively by the Holy Father, and that the faculty of forgiving reserved sins will be given to each one of them personally. No bishop in his own diocese may appoint these Missionaries, nor may he confer faculties that he does not possess. Anyone wishing to invite the Missionaries for a liturgy, a retreat, or a special event can do so by accessing the list that will be made available to bishops.

The Jubilee is already at hand. We are certain that it will be lived intensely by pilgrims who, whether it be in their own Particular Churches or in Rome, will cross through the Holy Door. For this occasion the Holy Father has granted all the Bishops of the world the power to give the Papal Blessing at the Holy Mass for the opening of the Holy Door, and for the closure of the door at the end of the Holy Year. This Jubilee will be an experience of mercy for each person to feel more intimately the love of God, who like a Father welcomes everyone and excludes no one. It will be a significant time for all the Church to remember that mercy is the essence of her proclamation to the world, and to render every believer a tangible instrument of the tenderness of God. As Pope Francis wrote: “In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (n. 12).

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Father Cantalamessa’s 1st Advent Homily

‘The best service anyone of us can do for the Church is therefore to love Jesus and grow in intimacy with Him.’

Below is the full text of Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s first Advent Sermon for 2015:

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Below is the full text of Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s first Advent Sermon for 2015:

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Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcap

First Advent Sermon, 2015

“CHRIST, THE LIGHT TO THE NATIONS”

A Christological Reading of Lumen gentium

1. A Christological Ecclesiology

The fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second Vatican Council prompted in me the idea of dedicating the three Advent meditations to revisiting the principal topics of the Council. Concretely, I would like to develop reflections on each of the four main documents of the Council: the constitutions on the Church (Lumen gentium), on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum concilium), on the Word of God (Dei Verbum), and on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).

One observation has given me the courage, in the short time I have, to deal with themes that are so vast and have already been so debated. There has been non-stop writing and discussion about the Council, but it has almost always concerned its doctrinal and pastoral applications; it has focused very few times on its spiritual content strictly speaking. I would like, then, to concentrate on that content by trying to see what the Council documents, as texts of spirituality, still have to tell us that is useful for the building up of faith.

We will begin by dedicating these three Advent meditations to Lumen gentium, saving the rest for the Lent coming up, God willing. The three themes in this constitution I want to reflect on are the Church as the body and bride of Christ, the universal call to holiness, and the doctrine on the Blessed Virgin.

The idea for this first meditation on the Church came to me in a rereading, by chance, of the beginning of the constitution in its Latin text, which says, “Lumen gentium cum sit Christus,” “Christ is the light of the nations.”[1] I must say, to my embarrassment, that I had never paid attention to the enormous implications contained in this beginning. Because the title of the constitution has only the first part of the sentence (Lumen gentium), I thought (and I do not think I am the only one) that the title “light of the nations” referred to the Church while, as we see, it actually refers to Christ. It is the title with which the elderly Simeon greeted the infant Messiah when he was taken to the temple by Mary and Joseph: “a light to the nations and the glory of his people Israel” (see Luke 2:32).

This initial statement is the key to interpreting the whole ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council. It is a christological ecclesiology and is therefore spiritual and mystical before being social and institutional. It is necessary to bring this christological dimension of the Council’s ecclesiology back to the forefront also in view of a more effective evangelization. People do not accept Christ because of love for the Church but they accept the Church because of love for Christ, even a Church disfigured by the sin of its many representatives.

I have to say immediately that I am certainly not the first one to highlight this essentially christological dimension of the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesiology. Rereading the numerous writings of the former Cardinal Ratzinger on the Church, I became aware of the persistence with which he had tried to keep this dimension of the doctrine on the Church in Lumen gentium alive. His reminder to us of the doctrinal implications of the first sentence—“Lumen gentium cum sit Christus,” “Christ is the light of the nations”—can be found in his writings followed by the affirmation, “If you want to understand Vatican II correctly, you must begin again and again with this first sentence.”[2]

We need to immediately qualify this to avoid any misunderstanding: no one has ever denied this inner spiritual vision of the Church. However, as often happens in human affairs, the new risks overshadowing the old, the present makes us lose sight of the eternal, and the urgent takes precedence over the important. This explains how the concept of ecclesial communion and of the people of God was often developed only in its horizontal and sociological sense, that is, in the context of the contrast between koinonia and hierarchy, and was thus focused more on the communion of the Church’s members with each other than on the communion of all its members with Christ.

It was a priority for that particular time, and as such St. John Paul II welcomed and promoted it in his apostolic letter, Novo millennio ineunte.[3] But fifty years after the end of the Council, it is perhaps useful to try to reestablish the balance between this vision of the Church, shaped by the debates of that time, and the spiritual and mystic vision found in the New Testament and in the Fathers of the Church. The fundamental question is not “What is the Church?” but “Who is the Church?”[4] That is the question that will guide me in this current meditation.

2. The Church as the Body and the Spouse of Christ

The heart and the christological content of Lumen gentium emerge particularly in the first chapter where the Church is presented as the spouse of Christ and the body of Christ. Let us listen to some of its statements:

The church, which is called “that Jerusalem which is above,” and “our mother” (Gal 4:26; see Apoc 12:17) is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb [see Apoc 19:7, 21:2 and 9; 22:17], whom Christ “loved . . . and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her” (Eph 5:25-26). It is the church which he unites to himself by an unbreakable alliance, and which he constantly “nourishes and cherishes” (Eph 5:29). It is the church which, once purified, he willed to be joined to himself, subject in love and fidelity (see Eph 5:24).[5]

This is what it says about being the spouse, and concerning the “body of Christ” it says,

In the human nature united to himself, the Son of God, by overcoming death through his own death and resurrection, redeemed humanity and changed it into a new creation (see Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). For by communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constituted as his body his brothers and sisters who are called together from every nation. . . . Really sharing in the body of the Lord in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread, we are taken up into communion with him and with one another. “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).[6]

It was the former Cardinal Ratzinger who also deserves credit for highlighting the intrinsic relationship between these two images of the Church: the Church is the body of Christ because she is the spouse of Christ! In other words, the Pauline image of the Church as the body of Christ is not primarily based on the metaphor of the harmony of the human body’s parts (even though he applies it at times this way as in Romans 12:4ff and 1 Corinthians 12:12ff), but rather on the spousal idea of the one flesh that a man and a woman form when they join themselves in marriage (see Eph 5:29-32) and even more so on the eucharistic idea of the one body that is formed by those who partake of the same bread: “Because the bread is one, we, though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:17).[7]

We hardly need to mention that this was at the heart of the Augustinian concept of the Church, to such an extent that he at times gave the impression of identifying the body of Christ, which is the Church, purely and simply with the body of Christ, which is the Eucharist.[8] This is demonstrated by the evolution of the expression “mystical body” of Christ. From initially indicating the Eucharist, it slowly moved to mean, as it does today, the Church.[9] This, as we know, is also a perspective that brings Catholic ecclesiology closer to the eucharistic ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. Without the Church and without the Eucharist, Christ would not have a “body” in the world.

3. Going from the Church to the Soul

A principle that is often repeated and applied by the Fathers of the Church is “Ecclesia vel anima,” “the church or the soul.”[10] It means that what is said about the Church in general can be applied, after the necessary distinctions, to each person in particular in the Church. An assertion attributed to St. Ambrose says, “It is within [its] souls that the Church is beautiful.”[11] Wanting to be faithful to the intention I stated for these meditations to focus on the more directly “edifying” aspects of the Council’s ecclesiology, we can ask ourselves, “What does it mean for the spiritual life of a Christian to live out and achieve this idea of the Church as the body and spouse of Christ?”

If the Church in its innermost and truest meaning is the body of Christ, then I actualize the Church in myself, I am an “ecclesial being,”[12] to the extent that I allow Christ to make me his body, not just in theory but also in practice. What counts is not the position I occupy in the Church but the position that Christ occupies in my heart!

This occurs objectively through the sacraments, and especially two of them: baptism and the Eucharist. We receive baptism only once, but we can receive the Eucharist every day. This is why it is important to celebrate it and receive it in such a way that we can carry out the task of making ourselves the Church. The famous maxim by Henri de Lubac that “the Eucharist makes the Church”[13] applies not only on the community level but also on the personal level. The Eucharist makes each of us a body of Christ, that is, the Church. Here too I would like to quote the profound words of the former Cardinal Ratzinger:

Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my “I” is left wide open. . . . [It] means the fusion of two existences; just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself, and is thereby enabled to live, in the same way my “I” is assimilated to that of Jesus, it is made similar to him in an exchange that increasingly breaks through the lines of division.[14]

Two lives, mine and Christ’s, become one “without confusion and without division,” not hypostatically as in the Incarnation but mystically and really. From two “I’s” there ends up being only one: not my insignificant “I” as a creature but that of Christ, to the point that after receiving the Eucharist each of us can dare to say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Nicholas Cabasilas writes that through the Eucharist,

Christ infuses Himself into us and mingles Himself with us. He changes and transforms us into Himself, as a small drop of water is changed by being poured into an immense sea of ointment.[15]

The image of the Church as body of Christ is intrinsically linked, as we said, to that of the Church as the spouse of Christ, and this too can be a great help for us to experience the Eucharist in a profoundly mystagogical way. The Letter to the Ephesians says that marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and the Church: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church!” (Eph 5:31-32). According to St. Paul, the immediate consequence of marriage is that the body of the husband now belongs to the wife and, conversely, the body of the wife belongs to the husband (see 1 Cor 7:4).

When applied to the Eucharist, this means that the incorruptible flesh of the incarnate Word that gives life becomes “mine,” but it also means that my flesh, my humanity, becomes Christ’s and belongs to him. In the Eucharist we receive the body and blood of Christ, but Christ also “receives” our body and blood! St. Hilary of Poitiers writes that Jesus assumes the flesh only of the person who assumes his.[16] Christ says to us, “Take this; it is my body,” but we too can say to him, “Take this; it is my body.”

In the collection of eucharistic poetry called The Place Within, the future pope Karol Wojtyla called this new person whose life is made of Christ “the eucharistic I”:

Then a miracle will be,

a transformation:

You will become me,

and I—eucharistic—You.[17]

There is nothing in my life that does not belong to Christ. No one should say, “Oh, Jesus does not know what it means to be married, to be a woman, to have lost a son, to be sick, to be elderly, or to be a person of color!” If you experience something, he experiences it too, thanks to you and through you. Whatever Christ himself was not able to experience “in the flesh”—since his earthly existence, like everyone else’s, was limited to certain experiences—is now lived and “experienced ” by the Risen One “in the Spirit” thanks to the spousal communion at Mass. He experiences what it is like to be a woman in women, what it is like to be elderly in the elderly, what it is like to be sick in a sick person. All that was “lacking” in the complete “incarnation” of the Word is now accomplished through the Eucharist.

The Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity wrote in a letter to her mother: “The Bride belongs to the bridegroom; mine has taken me; he wants me to be an extended humanity for him.”[18] It is as if Jesus is saying to us, “I hunger for you, I want to live in you, so I need to live in all your thoughts, in all your affection; I need to live through your flesh, through your blood, through your daily weariness; I need to feed off you the way you feed off me!”

What an inexhaustible reason for amazement and comfort at the thought that our humanity becomes Christ’s humanity! However, what responsibility comes along with all this! If my eyes have become Christ’s eyes and my mouth has become Christ’s mouth, what a reason not to allow my gaze to indulge in lustful images, or allow my tongue to speak against a brother, or allow my body to serve as an instrument of sin! The apostle asks, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Cor 6:15). These words apply to every baptized person. But then what can be said about consecrated people, the ministers of God who should be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3)? One can only shudder at the thought of the terrible damage that is done to the body of Christ that is the Church.

4. A Personal Encounter with Jesus

Up to this point I have spoken of the objective or sacramental benefits to our becoming the Church, the body of Christ. However, there is also a subjective and existential dimension that consists in what Pope Francis defined in Evangelii gaudium as a “personal encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.” Let us hear his words again:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.[19]

Perhaps we need to take a step forward here even with respect to the Council’s ecclesiology. In Catholic language, “a personal encounter with Jesus” has never been a very familiar concept. Instead of a “personal” encounter people prefer the idea of an ecclesial encounter that occurs through the Church’s sacraments. The phrase had a vaguely Protestant resonance to our Catholic ears. What is being proposed here is clearly not a personal encounter with Christ that substitutes for the sacramental encounter but one that makes the sacramental encounter a freely chosen and welcomed encounter rather than a purely nominal, legal, or habitually routine one. If the Church is the body of Christ, a free and personal adherence to Christ is the only way to enter it and be part of it from the existential point of view.

To understand what having a personal encounter with Jesus means, we need to take a brief look at history. How did people become members of the Church in the first three centuries? Despite the differences from individual to individual and from place to place, they became members after a long initiation, the catechumenate; it was the result of a personal decision, and a risky one as well because of the possibility of martyrdom.

Things changed when Christianity became, first, a tolerated religion and then, in a short time, the preferred religion and at times even directly imposed. In this situation, the focus was no longer on the precise moment and the way in which a person became a Christian, that is, how he or she came to faith, but on the moral requirements of the faith itself, on the change in a person’s habits—in other words, on morality.

The situation, despite everything, was less negative than it might seem to us today because even with all the inconsistencies that we are aware of, the family, education, culture, and little by little even society helped people to absorb faith almost naturally. In addition to this, new ways of life emerged from the beginning of this new state of affairs, like monastic life and then the life in various religious orders, in which baptism was radically lived out and Christian life was the result of a personal decision that was often heroically courageous.

This so called “regime of Christianity” has now radically changed. Therefore, there is an urgency for a new evangelization that takes the new situation into account. On the practical level, it means creating opportunities for people today that allow them, in a new context, to make that free, personal, and mature decision that Christians initially used to make when they received baptism and that made them true Christians rather than just nominal ones.

Since 1972 the “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults” has offered a kind of catechumenal path for the baptism of adults. In some countries where many people come to baptism as adults, this program has proven to be very effective. But what are we going to do for the massive number of Christians already baptized who live like Christians just in name only, and not in actual fact, and are not at all involved in the Church and sacramental life?

One answer to this problem has been the numerous ecclesial movements, lay associations and renewed parish communities, which appeared after the Council. The common contribution of these groups—which vary greatly in style and in membership numbers—is that they provide the context and the means that allow so many adults to make a personal choice for Christ, to take their baptism seriously, and to become active participants in the Church.

But I will not linger on the pastoral aspects of this issue. What I want to underscore at the end of this meditation is once again the spiritual and existential aspect that concerns us individually. What does it mean to have a personal encounter with Jesus? It means saying,  “Jesus is Lord!”, the way that Paul and the early Christians said it, which determines a person’s whole life forever because of it.

When this happens Jesus is no longer a personage but a person. He is no longer someone who is only talked about but someone to whom and with whom we can speak because he is risen and alive; he is no longer just a memory, although alive and operative liturgically, but an actual presence. It also means not making any important decisions without having submitted them to him in prayer.

I said at the beginning that people do not accept Christ out of love for the Church but they accept the Church out of love for Christ. Let us seek to love Christ and to make him loved, and we will have rendered our best service to the Church. If the Church is the spouse of Christ, then like every spouse she will generate new children only in uniting herself to her Spouse through love. The fruitfulness of the Church depends on her love for Christ. The best service anyone of us can do for the Church is therefore to love Jesus and grow in intimacy with him.

Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson


[1] Lumen gentium, 1, in Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello, 1996), p. 1.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Ecclesiology of Second Vatican Council,” in Church, Ecumenism, and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), p. 15.

[3] See St. John Paul II, Novo millennnio ineunte, 42 and 45.

[4] See Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology, Vol. 2: Spouse of the Word, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), pp. 143-192.

[5] Lumen gentium, 6, p. 6.

[6] Ibid., 7, pp. 6-7.

[7] See Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “The Origin and Essence of the Church,” in Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), pp. 13-40.

[8] See St. Augustine, “Sermon 272,” in The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 3, vol. 7, trans. Edmund Hill, ed. John E. Rotelle (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), pp. 300-301. See also (PL 38, 1247f.).

[9] See Henri de Lubac, Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages, trans. Gemma Simmonds (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

[10] See Origen, On the “Song of Songs,” III (GCS 33, pp. 185, 190); St. Ambrose, <em>Expositions of Psalm 118, 6, 18 (CSEL 62, p. 117).

[11] St. Ambrose, On the Mysteries, 7, 39, quoted in Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, Volume 2: The Four Senses of Scripture, trans. E. M. Macierowski (London: A & C Black, 2000), p. 135.

[12] See John Zizioulas [L’être ecclésiale, 1981], Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997).

[13] De Lubac, Corpus Mysticum, p. 88.

[14] Ratzinger, “The Origin and Essence of the Church,” p. 25.

[15] Nicholas Cabasilas, Life in Christ, 4, 6, trans. Carmino J. deCatanzaro (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), p. 123; see also PG 150, 593.

[16] St. Hilary of Poitiers, The Trinity, 8, 6: “Eius tantum in se adsumptam habens carnem, qui suam sumpserit”: “He has assumed and taken upon himself the flesh of him only who has received His own.” English trans., Stephen McKenna, in vol. 25, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010), p. 287; see also PL 10, p. 248.

[17] Karol Wojtyla, “Song of the Inexhaustible Sun,” in The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II, trans. Jerzy Peterkiewicz (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 23.

[18] Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, in Jean Lafrance, Learning to Pray According to Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, trans. Florestine Audette (Sherbook, QC: Médiaspaul, 2003), p. 124.

[19] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 1, 3.

 

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