The Church

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2008 (zenit.org)

The Church is not a human association born from common interests, but an assembly gathered together by God, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope spoke of the mystery of the Church today at the general audience held in St. Peter’s Square. He continued with his series of catechesis on St. Paul, as the Church is marking the Pauline Jubilee in celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the Apostle’s birth.

The Holy Father explained that “this word ‘Church’ has a multifaceted meaning: It indicates on one hand the assemblies of God in particular places — a city, a country, a house — but it also means all of the Church taken together. And thus we see that ‘the Church of God’ is not just the sum of the particular local Churches, but that these are at the same time the actualization of the one Church of God. All together they are the ‘Church of God,’ which precedes each local Church and which is expressed and actualized in them.”

The Pontiff said it is important to note how St. Paul nearly always puts the word “Church” with the “added descriptor ‘of God’: It is not a human association, born from ideas or common interests, but a gathering of God. He has gathered it together and because of this it is one in all of its actualizations. The unity of God creates the unity of the Church in all of the places where it is found.”

Later, Benedict XVI continued, “Paul presents the only Church of God as ‘spouse of Christ’ in love, one spirit with Christ himself.”

Though Paul originally persecuted this Church of God, the Pope added, “After his encounter with the risen Christ, Paul understood that the Christians weren’t traitors; on the contrary, in the new situation, the God of Israel, through Christ, had extended his call to all people, becoming the God of all peoples.”

His temples

The Holy Father went on to explain the Pauline concept of the Church as “Body of Christ.”

“In this respect, it is fitting to keep in mind the two dimension of this concept,” he said. “One is of a sociological character, according to which the body is formed by its components and wouldn’t exist without them. […] He says that a people is like a body with distinct members, each one of which has its function, but all, even the smallest and apparently insignificant, are necessary so the body can live and perform its functions. […]

“The other interpretation makes reference to the very Body of Christ. Paul sustains that the Church is not just an organism, but rather becomes truly the Body of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, where all receive his Body and truly become his Body. Thus is fulfilled the spousal mystery, that all are one body and one spirit in Christ.”

Thus, Paul shows that he well knows, the Pope affirmed “that the Church is not his and is not ours: The Church is the body of Christ, it is ‘Church of God’ […] temple of God.”

“This last designation is particularly interesting,” the Holy Father said, “because it attributes to an interweaving of interpersonal relationships a term that was commonly used to indicate a physical place, considered sacred. The relationship between Church and temple assumes therefore two complementary dimensions: On one hand, the characteristic of separation and purity, which the sacred building had, is applied to the ecclesial community; on the other hand, the concept of a material space is surpassed, to transfer this value to the reality of a living community of faith.

“If before, temples were considered places of the presence of God, now it is known and seen that God does not dwell in buildings made of stone, but that the place of the presence of God is in the world of the living community of the believers.”

“This is the greatness of the Church and the greatness of our call,” the Pontiff concluded. “We are the temple of God in the world, the place where God truly dwells, and we are, at the same time, community, family of God, who is love. As family and house of God we should carry out in the world the charity of God and thus be, with the strength that comes from faith, the place and sign of his presence.”

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