The Church as the Body of Christ was the focus of Pope Francis’ general audience Wednesday, attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in an autumnal St. Peter’s Square.
Referring to the Apostle Paul’s advice to the quarreling community in Corinth, the Pope noted that many Christian communities and parishes are divided by envy, gossip, misunderstanding and marginalization.
He said this “dismembers us” and moreover is the beginning of war. “War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other.”
No one is superior in the community of the Church, and when we feel tempted to think of ourselves as superior “especially to those who perform the most humble and hidden services,” the Pope said, we should “remember our sins” in shame before God.
The only way to counter such division is to appreciate the individual qualities and gifts of others and give thanks to God for them.
The Church understood as the Body of Christ, he concluded, is a profound communion of love, its deepest and most beautiful distinguishing feature.
Here is a Vatican Radio translation of the general audience:
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning.
When you want to highlight how the elements that form a reality are closely united with one another and together form one single body, the image of the body is often used. Starting with the Apostle Paul, this expression has been applied to the Church and was recognized as its deepest and most beautiful distinguishing feature. Thus today, we want to ask ourselves: in what sense does the Church form a body? And why is it called the "body of Christ"?
The Book of Ezekiel describes a vision that is somewhat particular and shocking, but one which instills confidence and hope in our hearts. God shows the prophet a field of bones, broken and parched. A bleak scenario … Imagine: an entire plain full of bones. God asks him, then, to invoke the Spirit upon them. At that point, the bones move, they begin to draw closer to each other and join together, nerves begin to grow and then flesh and thus the body is formed, whole and full of life (cf. Ez 37.1 to 14). Well, this is the Church! When you go home toady pick up a Bible, Ezekiel Chapter 37, do not forget, and read this passage, it’s beautiful. This is the Church, it is a masterpiece, the masterpiece of the Spirit, which instills in each of us new life of the Risen Christ and places us next to each other, to help and support each other, thus making all of us one body, built in the communion and love.
The Church, however, is not only a body built in the Spirit: The Church is the Body of Christ! It may seem a little strange, but this is how it is. It is not just a saying, we really 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, thus the Church was born, and so the Church recognizes herself as the body of Christ. Baptism is truly a rebirth, which regenerates us in Christ, making us a part of Him, and unites us intimately among each other, as members of the same body, of which He is the head (cf. Rom 12.5, 1 Cor 12, 12-13).
What emerges from this, then, is a profound communion of love. In this sense, it is illuminating how Paul, in exhorting husbands to "love their wives as their own bodies," states: "Even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body" (Eph 5.28 to 30). How nice it would be if we remembered what we are more often, what the Lord Jesus has made us, we are His body, that body that nothing and no one can snatch from Him and which he covers with all His passion and all His love, just like a bridegroom with his bride. This thought, however, must give rise in us to the desire to respond to the Lord Jesus and share His love among ourselves, as living members of His own body. In Paul’s time, the community of Corinth experienced a lot of difficulties in this sense, experiencing, as we too often do, divisions, jealousies, misunderstandings and marginalization. All of these things are not good, because rather than building and helping the Church to grow as the Body of Christ, they shatter it into many pieces, they dismember it. And this also happens in our day. Just think of our Christian communities, our parishes, think of how many divisions there are in our neighborhoods, how much envy, gossip, how much misunderstanding and marginalization. And what does it do? It dismembers us. It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: war, wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other. And the community of Corinth was just like this, they were champions in this. And the Apostle, then, gave some practical advice to the Corinthians that can apply to us: Do not be jealous, but appreciate the gifts and the quality of our brothers and sisters in our communities. Jealousy: "But … he bought a car," and I am jealous; "This one won the lotto," and I am jealous; "And he’s good at this," and another jealousy. And that dismembers, it hurts, it should not be done. Because jealousy grows, grows and fills the heart. And a jealous heart is a bitter heart, a heart that instead of blood seems to have vinegar, eh! It is a heart that is never happy, it is a heart that disrupts the community. But what should I do? Appreciate the gifts and the quality of others in our communities, of our brothers. But, when I am jealous — because it happens to us all no? All of us, we are all sinners eh! — When I am jealous, I must say to the Lord: "Thank you, Lord, for you have given this to that person".
Appreciating the qualities and countering division; drawing close and participating in the suffering of the poorest and the most needy; expressing gratitude for everything — saying thank you, the heart that knows how to say thank you is a good heart, a noble heart, a heart that is happy because it knows how to say thank you. I ask you: do we all know to say thank you? No? Not always? Because envy, jealousy holds us back a bit? Everyone, and especially those who perform the most humble and hidden services; and, finally, this is the advice that the apostle Paul gives the Corinthians and we to should give one another: never consider yourself superior to others — how many people feel superior to others! We too, often sound like the Pharisee in the parable: "Thank you Lord that I am not like that person, that I am superior." But this is bad, do not do that! When you are tempted to this, remember your sins, those no one knows, shame yourself before God and say, "You, Lord, you know who is superior, I close my mouth." And this is good. And always, in charity consider yourself as members who belong to one another and who live and give yourselves for the benefit of all (cf. 1 Cor 12-14).
Dear brothers and sisters, like the prophet Ezekiel, and like the Apostle Paul, we also implore the Holy Spirit, so that His grace and the abundance of His gifts help us to really live as the Body of Christ, united as a family, but a family that is the body of Christ, and as a beautiful and visible sign of the love of Christ. Thank you.