Pope Francis began a new series of reflections by saying that although some people want Jesus but not the Church, “it is the Church that brings us Christ” and reunites us to God.
“Even today, some say, ‘Christ yes, the Church no,’ like those who say, ‘I believe in God, but in priests, no.’ They say, ‘Christ: yes. Church: no.’ Nevertheless, it is the Church that brings us Christ and that brings us to God. The Church is the great family of God’s children,” the Pope said May 29 to around 90,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
“Of course,” he noted, the Church “also has the human aspects: in those who compose it, pastors and faithful, there are flaws, imperfections, sins – the Pope has his, as well: he has lots of them; but the beautiful thing is that, when we become aware that we are sinners, we find the mercy of God. God always forgives: do not forget this.”
Pope Francis began his regular Wednesday audience by complimenting the pilgrims on withstanding the periodic rain that swept through the square as he was touring through it in the open-air popemobile. Since he did not use an umbrella or the covered popemobile, the Pope arrived at the stage with a damp cassock, apparently unfazed.
He announced to the crowd that today he was beginning a new set of reflections on the Church, which he will illustrate using well-known phrases from the Second Vatican Council’s documents. This new theme marks the end of the series on the Creed that Benedict XVI initiated and Francis continued for the Year of Faith.
Citing “the parable of the prodigal son or the forgiving father,” the Pope Francis taught that God’s plan is “to make us all the one family of his children, in which each of you feels close to Him and feels loved by Him – feels, as in the Gospel parable, the warmth of being the family of God.
“In this great design, the Church finds its source,” he explained.
The pontiff also said what the Church is not. It is “not an organization founded by an agreement among (a group of) persons, but – as we were reminded many times by Pope Benedict XVI – it is the work of God: it was born out of the plan of love, which realizes itself progressively in history.”
Being in this family means that God “urges us to escape from individualism, the tendency to withdraw into ourselves, and calls us – convokes us – to be a part of his family.”
“This convocation has its origin in creation itself,” he asserted.
“God created us in order that we might live in a relationship of deep friendship with him, and even when sin had broken this relationship with God, with others and with creation, God did not abandon us.
Pope Francis then gave a brief tour of salvation history, outlining how God has been working to rebuild his family since Adam and Eve fell from grace.
When we read the Gospels, he said, “we see that Jesus gathers around him a small community that receives his word, follows him, shares his journey, becomes his family – and with this community, he prepares and builds his Church.”
He drew his reflection to a close by answering the question, ‘Where is the Church born from?’
“It is born from the supreme act of love on the Cross, from the pierced side of Jesus from which flow blood and water, a symbol of the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In the family of God, the Church, the lifeblood is the love of God that is realized in loving him and others, loving all without distinction, without measure. The Church is a family that loves and is loved,” he told the crowd.
And the Church manifests itself when “the gift of the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the Apostles and pushes them to go out and start the journey to proclaim the Gospel, to spread the love of God,” Pope Francis added.
“Let us ask ourselves today: how much do I love the Church? Do I pray for her? Do I feel myself a part of the family of the Church? What do I do to make the Church a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, (in which) everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life?” he challenged the pilgrims.
The Pope also made a reference to the Year of Faith, saying, “we ask the Lord, in a special way in this Year of the faith, that our communities, the whole Church be ever more true families that live and carry the warmth of God.”