THE HOLY FATHER SEES THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH TODAY AS THAT OF FORMING ISLANDS WHERE FAITH IN GOD AND THE INTERIOR SIMPLICITY OF CHRISTIANITY ARE ALIVE AND RADIANT
…Time and again the Pope has insisted that we need to understand the Church as ‘Communion’. The root of this communion comes from the personal holiness of all the individual Christians. Sometimes people mistakenly think that holiness belongs to a particular group in the Church, such as the clergy or the consecrated religious, but ‘Lumen Gentium’ spoke of a universal call to holiness proper to each member of the Church. Thankfully holiness doesn’t depend on our own personal strength or goodness. ‘Lumen Gentium’ speaks of holiness in a realistic way when it says that “the followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to his own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the Baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way, they are really made holy.” Ultimately therefore holiness depends on how fully we accept the Lord’s call in our everyday lives.
THREE PATHS TO HOLINESS
If we want to know how to respond to the Lord’s call in a fruitful way, not surprisingly the Pope suggests a number of traditional paths to this holiness. In his first encyclical, ‘Deus Caritas Est’ he proposes the three fundamental activities of the Church as paths to holiness, “proclaiming the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity.” The proclamation of the Word of God entails not just giving catechesis or preaching to people. It is mainly in the way we live our lives, in the phrase attributed to St Francis, we need to preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary to use words. Likewise, it is through our active participation in the sacraments that we can become holy. If we are nourished by the Eucharist and by prayer then we can live holier lives. This will necessarily be reflected in our works of Christian charity towards our brothers and sisters.
Indeed the true mission of the Church is to be a sacrament of salvation, as Pope Benedict said in a homily in Berlin in September 2011, “the Church as the Second Vatican Council expresses it, is the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’, existing for sinners, for us, in order to open up to us the path of conversion, healing and life. That is the Church’s great perennial mission, entrusted to her by Christ.
This universal sacrament of salvation is a true hope for today’s generation where so many people are suffering. The Church can be a place of shelter and healing. In his book ‘Light of the World’, the Pope spoke of the mission of the Church today as forming “islands where faith in God and the interior simplicity of Christianity are alive and radiant; oases, Noah’s arks, to which people can always come back for refuge.” According to the Pope, these ‘protective zones’ can be found in liturgical spaces, parishes, movements, pilgrimages and exercises of piety, and we must labour towards providing an open, vital and authentic Christianity so that these ‘protective zones’ can be available for everyone who needs them so that the Church can truly present Christ as the Light of the World to everyone in our generation.
– This is an excerpt from an article by Neil Xavier O’Donoghue, published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, issue January 2013. For subscriptions etc., contact “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy.