Pope Francis on Unity in the Body of Christ

Jun 19th, 2013 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Unity in the News

On Wednesday, June 18, in his general audience Pope Francis spoke of the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the importance of unity in the Body. Toward the end, he described meeting with an evangelical pastor that very morning, and praying together with him for unity.


Dear brothers and sisters, good day!

Today I will focus upon another expression with which the Second Vatican Council indicates the nature of the Church: that of the body, the Council says that the Church is the Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 7).

I would like to start from a text of the Acts of the Apostles which we know well: the conversion of Saul, who will then be called Paul, one of the greatest evangelists (cf. Acts 9:4-5). Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but while he is on the road leading to the city of Damascus, suddenly a light envelops him, he falls to the ground and hears a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ‘. He asks: “Who are you, Lord?”, And the voice answers: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (v. 3-5). This experience of St. Paul tells us how deep the union between we Christians and Christ Himself. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us orphans, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit, our union with Him has become even more intense. The Second Vatican Council says that Jesus ” communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body” (Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, 7).

The image of the body helps us to understand this deep Church-Christ bond, which St. Paul has developed especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. chap. 12). First, the body brings our attention to a living reality. The Church is not an charitable, cultural or political association, but a living body, that walks and acts in history. And this body has a head, Jesus, who guides, feeds and supports it. This is a point I want to emphasize: if the head is separated from the rest of the body, the whole person cannot survive. So it is in the Church, we must remain bound ever more deeply to Jesus. But not only that: just as the body needs the lifeblood to keep it alive, so we must allow Jesus to work in us, that His Word guide us, that His presence in the Eucharist nourish us, animate us, that His love gives strength to our love of neighbor. And this always! Dear brothers and sisters, let us remain united to Jesus, let us trust in Him, direct our life according to His Gospel, nourish ourselves with daily prayer, listening to the Word of God, participation in the Sacraments.

And here I come to a second aspect of the Church as the Body of Christ. St Paul says that as members of the human body, although different and many, we form one body, as we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13). In the Church, therefore, there is a variety, a diversity of tasks and functions, there is no dull uniformity, but the richness of the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes. But there is communion and unity: we are all in a relation to each other and we all come together to form one living body, deeply connected to Christ. Let us remember this well: being part of the Church means being united to Christ and receiving from Him the divine life that makes us live as Christians; it means remaining united to the Pope and the Bishops who are instruments of unity and communion, and also means overcoming personal interests and divisions, in order to understand each other better, to harmonize the variety and richness of each member; in a word, to love God and the people who are next to us more, in the family, in the parish, in the associations. In order to live a Body and its limbs must be united! Unity is beyond all conflict. Always! Conflicts, when they don’t end well, separate us from each other, they separate us from God. Conflict can help us to grow but can also divide us. We must not travel the path of division, of conflict among us, no we must all be united – with our differences – but united because that is the path of Jesus!

Unity is beyond all conflict. Unity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord so he may save us from the temptations of the division, from internal struggles and selfishness, from gossip. How much damage gossip does! How much damage! Never gossip about others, never!. How much damage divisions among Christians, being partisan, narrow interests causes to the Church,! Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity. But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics,…in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask God to help us to be members of the Body of the Church always deeply united to Christ, help us not to hurt the Body of the Church with our conflicts, our divisions, selfishness: help us to be living members bound to each other by a single power, that of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/19/audience:_unity_in_the_body_of_christ/en1-702889
of the Vatican Radio website

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  1. As a Reformed pastor I agree wholeheartedly with most of what Pope Francis writes above. I despair at the chaos and confusion within Protestantism. Christians however are already united spiritually with Christ our Lord and Saviour but must indeed seek greater visible unity. It is encouraging to read of the Pope referring to others outseide the Roman Catholic Communion as Christians. How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity. It is moreover our Lord’s High Priestly prayer that we be One. This unity must be in love and truth. Where I would take issue is with his claim that this unity must be achieved in union with the Papacy and bishops. Papal supremacy in particular is a barrier to church unity. For the sake of unity I could live with bishops in spite of my Scottish presbyterian heritage but conciliar authority would be a necessary step to healing the divisions within Christendom.

  2. Wayne,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that we should be more united in love and truth, but I think that pursuing this path, as Christians, will involve seeking unity in faith, sacramental life, and church leadership. Regarding the latter: If the Pope and the bishops in full communion with him are indeed the rightful leaders of the Church that Christ founded, then stipulating that unity in love and truth need not “be achieved in union with the Papacy and bishops” would be to direct the quest for unity towards a dead end right from the outset. Of course, the converse is also true: If the Pope and bishops in full communion with him are not the rightful leaders of the Church that Christ founded, then to stipulate that unity in love and charity must be achieved in union with them would be counter-productive to our goal. This points to the need for a careful, charitable conversation about our differences, with a view to resolving those differences and arriving together at unity in truth, which for Christians will involve unity in Church, specifically, unity in the one universal Church that Christ founded.

  3. Thanks Andrew, yes jaw, jaw is certainly much preferable to war, war. I agree that the way forward for Roman Catholics and Reformed Christians is via frank but friendly dialogue and discussion. No question that we should be part of the pillar and buttress of truth built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ the chief and head cornerstone. Christ’s church is catholic, confessional and commissional. I have to confess that until joining FB a few weeks ago I had little contact with RCs or EO folks. I look forward to perusing the articles on Called to Communion and to interacting on occasion. God bless.

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