The One Body of Christ: Sign and Instrument of the Unity of the Human Family
When a reporter on the plane back to Rome said that Pope Francis had “become a star in the United States,” our Holy Father responded that he preferred the traditional title of “Servant of the servants of God.” This humility characterized the Pope’s meeting with the bishops of this country, saying that he came to speak to us as a “brother among brothers” as he shared some reflections to help the shepherds of the Church in our mission, but which in many respects apply equally to the lay faithful, inasmuch as we are one body of Christ.
Again and again, the Successor of Peter spoke to the bishops of the vital importance of communion, both in the Church and throughout the human family. The world “is already so torn and divided, brokenness is now everywhere,” he said. “As pastors, we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth. We see their fear in the face of life, their despair and the many forms of escapism to which it gives rise.”
In the midst of these challenges, Pope Francis emphasized the need to be one, reminding us also that “we have been given a spirit of courage and not of timidity.” Most especially, the Church, “‘the seamless garment of the Lord’ cannot allow herself to be rent, broken or fought over,” he said.
Jesus prayed that his Church be one as he and our heavenly Father are one (John 17:21-22). Thus, just as it is his mission as Pope “to watch over the unity of the universal Church and to encourage in charity the journey of all the particular Churches toward ever greater knowledge, faith and love of Christ,” he reminded the bishops that our mission “is first and foremost to solidify unity. . . to watch over that unity, to safeguard it, to promote it and to bear witness to it.”
This effort is essential not only so that the Church might remain true to the Lord’s will that we be one Church, one body of Christ, but it is also indispensible to our apostolic mission. Our unity is “a sign and instrument which, beyond every barrier, unites nations, races, classes and generations,” Pope Francis reminded the bishops.
Viewing the social landscape, our Holy Father pointed us to the “innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, [and] the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature.” How we respond to these challenges will determine the fate of our nation and world.
If we respond with anger or force, if we try to return aggression for aggression, we will clearly fail. This Jesus says to us repeatedly. Moreover, Pope Francis said, “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
Love, mercy, reconciliation – the ongoing dialogue to restore unity between people and between humanity and God – this is the way of Jesus Christ and his Church. “It is an essential part of your mission to offer to the United States of America the humble yet powerful leaven of communion,” affirmed our Holy Father. “May all mankind know that the presence in its midst of the ‘sacrament of unity’ (Lumen Gentium, 1) is a guarantee that its fate is not decay and dispersion. This kind of witness is a beacon whose light can reassure men and women sailing through the dark clouds of life that a sure haven awaits them, that they will not crash on the reefs or be overwhelmed by the waves.”
As we face all manner of division and antagonism, not only in our society, but also at times within the Church, this is precisely the message we all need to hear. When people are being pitted one against the other, these words of Pope Francis to foster harmony are most timely and welcome not only among us bishops, but throughout society.
May our Holy Father’s words become our own – “May the forthcoming Holy Year of Mercy, by drawing us into the fathomless depths of God’s heart in which no division dwells, be for all of you a privileged moment for strengthening communion, perfecting unity, reconciling differences, forgiving one another and healing every rift, that your light may shine forth like ‘a city built on a hill’” (Matthew 5:14).