Jesus’ responds to Peter’s confession by speaking of the Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church”. What do these words mean? Jesus builds the Church on the rock of the faith of Peter, who confesses that Christ is God.
The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God. Christ himself speaks of her as “his” Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body (cf. 1 Cor ). The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.
Dear young friends, as the Successor of Peter, let me urge you to strengthen this faith which has been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. Make Christ, the Son of God, the centre of your life. But let me also remind you that following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. Anyone who would be tempted to do so “on his own”, or to approach the life of faith with kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.
Having faith means drawing support from the faith of your brothers and sisters, even as your own faith serves as a support for the faith of others. I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love.
Homily, Closing Mass of WYD
, Madrid August 21, 2011
Reflection - We continue to reflect on Pope Benedict’s words to the WYD pilgrims. In the previous post, taken from the same closing homily, knowing Jesus Christ meant entering a life-long relationship, a communion which draws us into the depths of mystery and love. Now, we see that this same knowledge, this same relationship, and this same mystery of love is one with the mystery of the Church.We cannot have Christ without his Church. Why not? Because he ordains it so. The head is not separate from the body, the shepherd from the sheep, the king from the kingdom, the bridegroom from his bride, Christ from his Church. To be in relationship with one is to be in relationship with the other, or we are not truly in relationship with the One.
This is difficult, admittedly. Not only is it difficult in our individualistic era, but always. The Church has always been made up of sinful human beings; some of the structures, policies and procedures of the
All of this means that, as Flannery O’Connor put it, the Catholic has to suffer as much from the Church as for the Church. But this too is part of the mystery of Christ and our knowledge of Him. He died for the Church; we suffer from its human failures. And in this we are called to an ever-deeper intimacy with our Beloved.
And the Church itself in all its messy humanity invites us into a permanent overcoming, an ongoing thwarting of our ego, our self-enclosed ways and means and viewpoints. It’s not unlike getting married, or joining a religious community. You make the commitment, and then, there you are, and there is the other person or people. And they’re not going to change, particularly, and you have to deal with that. You have to find a way of living with that man, that woman, those folks. They are a constant and at times very painful reminder to you that you are not God, not in control, not the one calling the shots about life (at times the reminder can be delightful and joyful, too!). But commitment to any vocation places us into that deeply humble position.
And our total commitment to the Church has the same effect. It strips us of any illusion that we are the center of reality, that we are the measure of all things. There is this Thing (as Chesterton called it) that Christ created, that He loves, and that He commands us to love and be in communion with. Our choice to obey his command places us, as nothing else does, in a deep place of humble crying out for grace, for help, for vision, for mercy. And so it is all bound up together – Christ, the Church, our own self – in the mystery of love, pain, and communion, a mystery that has it joyful, sorrowful, and luminous aspects, but which bears us day by day to a glorious consummation in the kingdom of heaven.