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The Faith of the Church

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI 
General Audience, Wednesday 31 October 2012, Saint Peter's Square - in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
We continue on our pathway of meditations on the Catholic faith. Last week I showed how faith is a gift, because it is God who takes the initiative and comes to meet us; and thus faith is a response with which we welcome Him as the firm foundation of our lives. It is a gift that transforms existence, because it makes us enter into the very vision of Jesus, who works in us and opens us to love for God and for others.

Today I would like to take another step in our reflection, starting once again with some questions: Does faith have only a personal, individual character? Does it concern only my own person? Do I live my faith alone? Certainly, the act of faith is an eminently personal act, that takes place in our deepest innermost selves and marks a change of direction, a personal conversion: it is my existence that takes a turn, a new direction. In the Liturgy of Baptism, at the moment of the promises, the celebrant asks for a manifestation of Catholic faith and formulates three questions: Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? Do you believe in Jesus Christ his only Son? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? In ancient times these questions were addressed personally to the one who was to receive Baptism, before he was immersed three times in the water. And today, too, the answer is in the singular: “I believe”. But this faith of mine is not the result of my solitary reflection, it is not the product of my own thought, but it is the fruit of a relationship, of a dialogue, in which there is a listening, a receiving and a responding; it is the communicating with Jesus which makes me come out of my “I” enclosed in on myself so as to open me to the love of God the Father. It is like a rebirth in which I find myself united not only to Jesus, but also to all those who have walked and are walking on the same road; and this new birth, which begins with Baptism, continues throughout the course of life. I cannot build my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a community of believers which is the Church and I am thus part of the multitude of believers in a communion which is not only sociological, but is rooted in the eternal love of God, who in Himself is communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal, only if it is also communal: it can be my faith only if it lives and moves in the “we” of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.

On Sunday, at Holy Mass, reciting the “Creed”, we express ourselves in the first person, but we confess as a community the one faith of the Church. That “I believe” pronounced singularly is united to that of an immense choir across time and space, in which each person contributes, so to speak, to the harmonious polyphany in faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this in a clear way thus: “to believe” is an ecclesial act. The faith of the Church precedes, engenders, sustains and nourishes our faith. The Church is the Mother of all believers. “‘No one can say they have God as Father, who does not have the Church as Mother’" (St Cyprian, 181). Hence, faith is born in the Church, leads to her and lives in her. This is important to remember.

At the beginning of the Christian adventure, when the Holy Spirit descends with power upon the disciples, on the day of Pentecost — as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (cf 2:1-13) — the nascent Church receives the force to carry out the mission entrusted to her by the risen Lord: to spread the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God, to every corner of the earth and thus to guide every man to an encounter with Him, to the faith that saves. The Apostles overcome every fear in proclaiming that which they had heard, seen, experienced in person with Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they start to speak in new languages, announcing openly the mystery of which they were witnesses. In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told then of the great discourse which Peter pronounces on the day of Pentecost itself. He begins with a passage from the Prophet Joel (3:1-5), referring to Jesus and proclaiming the central nucleus of the Christian faith: the One who had been bountifully good to all, who was attested to by God with wonders and great signs, who was nailed to the cross and killed, but God raised him from the dead, making him Lord and Christ. With Him we have entered into the definitive salvation announced by the prophets and whoever invokes his name will be saved (cf Acts 2:17-24). Hearing these words of Peter, many felt personally called, repented of their sins and were baptized receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf Acts 2:37-41). Thus began the pathway of the Church, the community that bears this announcement through time and space, the community that is the People of God founded on the new covenant thanks to the blood of Christ and whose members do not belong to a particular social or ethnic group, but are men and women who come from every nation and culture. It is a “catholic” people, which speaks new languages, universally open to welcoming everyone, beyond every border, breaking down all barriers. St Paul says: “Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11).

The Church, therefore, since the beginning has been the place of faith, the place of the transmission of the faith, the place in which, through Baptism, we are immersed in the Pascal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, who frees us from the imprisonment of sin, gives us the freedom of children and introduces us into communion with the Trinitarian God. At the same time, we are immersed in communion with the other brothers and sisters in faith, with the entire Body of Christ, brought out of our isolation. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminds us: “God wanted to save and sanctify men not individually and without any bond between them, but he wanted to make of them a people, which recognises Him in truth and faithfully serves Him” (Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 9). Recalling again the Liturgy of Baptism, we note that, at the conclusion of the promises in which we express our renunciation of evil and repeat “I believe” to the truths of faith, the celebrant declares: “This is our faith, this is the faith of the Church and we rejoice to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Faith is a theological virtue, given by God, but transmitted by the Church throughout history. Again St Paul, writing to the Corinthians, affirms having communicated to them the Gospel which he in turn had received (cf 1 Cor 15:3).

There is an unbroken chain of the life of the Church, of the proclamation of the Word of God, of the celebration of the Sacraments, which comes all the way down to us and which we call Tradition. It gives us the guarantee that what we believe is the original message of Christ, preached by the Apostles. The nucleus of the primordial proclamation is the event of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, from which flows all the patrimony of faith. The Council states: “The apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by a continuous succession until the end of time” (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 8). Thus, if Sacred Scripture contains the Word of God, the Tradition of the Church preserves it and transmits it faithfully, so that the men of every epoch might have access to its immense resources and be enriched by its treasures of grace. Thus, the Church, “in her doctrine, in her life and in her worship transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she herself believes” (ibid).

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that it is in the ecclesial community that personal faith grows and matures. It is interesting to observe how in the New Testament the word “saints” refers to Christians as a whole, and certainly not everyone would have had the qualities to be declared saints by the Church. What, then, is this term meant to indicate? The fact that those who had and lived faith in the risen Christ were called to become a point of reference for everyone else, putting them in contact with the Person and the Message of Jesus, who reveals the face of the living God. And this also holds true for us: a Christian who lets himself be guided and shaped gradually by the faith of the Church, despite his weaknesses, his limitations and his difficulties, becomes like a window open to the light of the living God, who receives this light and transmits it to the world. Blessed John Paul II in his Encyclical Redemptoris Missio affirmed that “Mission renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, gives new enthusiasm and new motivation. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others” (2).

The widespread tendency today to relegate faith to the private sphere therefore contradicts its very nature. We need the Church so as to have our faith confirmed and so as to experience the gifts of God: his Word, the Sacraments, the support of grace and the witness of love. Thus our “I” in the “we” of the Church is able to perceive itself, at the same time, as the recipient and protagonist of an event that surpasses it: the experience of communion with God, which founds the communion among men. In a world in which individualism seems to regulate relationships between people, rendering them ever more fragile, faith calls us to be People of God, to be Church, bearers of the love and communion of God for all mankind (cf Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 1). Thank you for your attention."

Greetings:

"Je salue cordialement les pèlerins francophones, en particulier ceux du diocèse de Créteil, accompagnés de leur évêque Mgr Michel Santier, ainsi que les diacres permanents de Gent et tous les jeunes ! Par sa nature, notre foi nous invite à être des membres actifs et joyeux de l’Église. Puissiez-vous être des porteurs de l’amour et de la communion de Dieu pour tous sans distinction de nation et de culture ! Bon pèlerinage à tous !

Conscious of the devastation caused by the hurricane which recently struck the East Coast of the United States of America, I offer my prayers for the victims and express my solidarity with all those engaged in the work of rebuilding. I now greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Malaysia, Canada and the United States. My greetings go in particular to the group of elders from Nigeria visiting Rome on pilgrimage, and to the members of the Vox Clara Committee. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Mit Freude begrüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Unsere Welt ist oft vom Individualismus bestimmt, der uns in uns selbst einhaust. Gerade so ist es um so wichtiger, daß der Glaube uns auftut für den anderen, füreinander, von Gott her uns zueinander bringt und öffnet. Bitten wir Gott, daß er uns hilft, immer mehr in und mit der Kirche zu glauben und so selbst Kirche lebendig zu gestalten. Wir haben am Anfang schon die Bläser gehört. Wenn sie uns noch ein kleines Stück geben wollen, freuen wir uns alle.

Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los miembros de la Asociación “Mensajeros de la Paz”, que están celebrando las bodas de oro de su fundación, invitándolos a que, arraigados cada vez más en Cristo, continúen siendo heraldos de la misericordia de Dios entre las personas más desprotegidas. Saludo también a los demás grupos provenientes de España, Argentina, México y otros países latinoamericanos. En un mundo aparentemente dominado por el individualismo, la fe nos llama a ser Iglesia, portadores del amor de Dios para todo el género humano. Muchas gracias.

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, especialmente os fiéis vindos de São Tomé e Príncipe e os grupos de brasileiros, de Imperatriz, Toledo e Guaxupé. Deixai-vos plasmar pela fé da Igreja, pois esta, apesar das dificuldades, fará de vós janelas abertas para a luz Deus, de modo que a recebendo, possais transmiti-la ao mundo. Obrigado pela vossa presença!

Pozdrawiam serdecznie pielgrzymów polskich. Bracia i siostry, w kontekście kończącego się miesiąca modlitwy różańcowej i jutrzejszej Uroczystości Wszystkich Świętych, dziękujmy Bogu za dar Roku Wiary, a także za Synod Biskupów i jego wskazania, co do nowej ewangelizacji. Niech wstawiennictwo Maryi, Królowej Różańca, orędownictwo świętych, jak również przykład życia naszych bliskich zmarłych, których groby odwiedzimy, pomogą nam stać się świadkami Bożej miłości wobec świata. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus.

البَابَا يُصْلِي مِنْ أَجَلِ جَمِيعِ النَّاطِقينَ بِاللُّغَةِ العَرَبِيَّةِ. لِيُبَارِك الرَّبّ جَمِيعَكُمْ.

Radosno pozdravljam sve hrvatske hodočasnike, a osobito vjernike iz Hrvatskih katoličkih zajednica Mittelbaden, Karlsruhe i Kirchheim. U vjeri i ljubavi proživite svoj život na ovoj zemlji čineći dobro kako bi se jednom pridružili Svima Svetima u nebeskoj slavi. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!

* * *

Un caloroso benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. E vi ringrazio per la pazienza nonostante il tempo brutto, ma poteva essere anche peggiore. Saluto i fedeli della Diocesi di Avezzano, con il loro Vescovo Mons. Pietro Santoro, venuti per commemorare i 100 anni di attività dell’Azione Cattolica Italiana in quella Chiesa particolare. Saluto i Rettori delle Università Cattoliche riuniti a Roma: la visita alle Tombe degli Apostoli accresca in tutti voi il senso di appartenenza alla Chiesa. Accolgo con gioia i membri della Scuola di Fede e di Preghiera “Figli in cielo” e quelli della Casa degli Italiani a Barcellona, incoraggiandoli ad intensificare il loro impegno in particolare verso le persone che maggiormente soffrono o sono bisognose di aiuto.

Un pensiero infine per i giovani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli. Domani celebreremo la Solennità di Tutti i Santi, che ci ricorda la chiamata universale alla santità: cari giovani, la vostra aspirazione alla felicità si realizzi nelle Beatitudini evangeliche; cari ammalati, portare la vostra croce con Cristo vi santifichi nell’amore; e voi, cari sposi novelli, sappiate dare il giusto spazio alla preghiera, perché la vostra vita coniugale sia un cammino di santità. Grazie a tutti voi."

 

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