Last week I wrote about attending two of our Holy Father's audiences on May 3 and May 10 in Rome. At each audience our Holy Father gives a (roughly) 20-minute catechesis about some particular theme which he develops over the course of several weekly audiences.
The theme on which he is currently focused is the inseparability of Christ and the Church - there can be no driving of any wedge between Christ and the Church so that one would be tempted to say, "The Church says or does this, but Christ would say or do otherwise." It is truly a mystery that Christ has decided that salvation should come to the world through a concrete, visible, physical Church which is marred by sin. But sin and evil themselves are destined to be overcome finally by the Resurrection of Christ, and whatever sin or evil may reside within the Church cannot keep the Church from fulfilling her role for the salvation of all according to God's Providence.
On May 3 the Holy Father discussed the sending of the Church for her mission in the world. The Holy Father pointed out that God sent His only Son into the world, and that the Son ascended back into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles who were sent to the various parts of the world, so that the Gospel might be kept alive, and all might come to know the truth of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father then focused on the mission of bishops who are sent according to the will of the Holy Spirit today, just as the Apostles were sent in those earliest days of the Church. "Apostle" means, "one who is sent," and all members of the Church, the Body of Christ, are sent to their mission by keeping faith with their own local successor of the Apostles, their own bishop who is called to keep faith with the living Peter, our Holy Father in Rome.
To reflect on this truth as spoken by the Holy Father himself gave me a deep self-awareness of my responsibility to be "the glue," as I have said many times, which binds our local Church in the Diocese of Madison to the Universal Church by binding us to the successor of St. Peter, our Holy Father. When Pope Benedict says, "the Church is alive," he means that the successors of the Apostles are sent, they keep the faith alive in the Lord's vineyard entrusted to them, and they keep faith with Peter - this is what the unity to which the Church is called is all about.
On May 10, the Holy Father spoke about the truth that Christ gave to the Apostles. The most important word in the Bible, Pope John Paul the Great said, is truth. Jesus said, "For this was I born, for this have I come into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth," and then he prayed that the Father would consecrate the Apostles precisely in truth.
Pope Benedict then went on to reflect upon how the Apostle Paul said, "I handed on to you, what I myself received from the Lord." Christ handed the saving truth on to His Apostles, and that saving truth is passed on dynamically down through history by Apostolic succession, that is, every bishop can trace his "lineage" back to that early college of apostles.
All of us, as bishops, are called to hand on to you precisely what we have received through the laying on of hands of others who have received the gift of that truth down through history. Thus, the bishops' primary responsibility is to teach that truth with love so that the people, entrusted to our care, might receive what Christ handed on to the Apostles in the very beginning.
Again, this is a very daunting responsibility and one that I take very seriously - and I always beg your prayers that I may be faithful to this and to my other responsibilities. But just imagine - the truth of Christ is alive and present for the salvation of the world today just as it was in the earliest days of our Church. That truth calls us to a union of minds and hearts, and all of us need to examine our consciences as to our response to that call for unity which is precisely unity in the truth of Christ, as taught by the Apostles and by their successors, the bishops.
In so many ways, our Church today seems a divided Church, and yet how powerful is the truth of Christ, powerful enough to overcome and heal any divisions. Let us pray for one another in the days ahead that through the ministry of the Successors of the Apostles, the bishops, in union with our Holy Father, all of us might be consecrated in the truth.
Thank you for reading these reflections on the two catecheses given by Pope Benedict during my days in Rome. God love you and all of your loved ones! Praised be Jesus Christ!
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
Offices: Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Road, Madison
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