|The Pope Begins a New Series of Reflections on
the Relationship Between Jesus and the Church in Light of the Apostles and
the Duty They Received
On Wednesday morning, 15 March, the Holy Father spoke to the
faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for the weekly General Audience.
The Pope announced that in the coming weeks, his Catecheses will focus on
the mystery of Christ and the Church. The following is a translation of
the Holy Father's Catechesis, given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and
Following the Catecheses on the Psalms and Canticles of Lauds and of
Vespers, I would like to dedicate the upcoming Wednesday Audiences to the
mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, reflecting upon
it from the experience of the Apostles, in light of the duty entrusted to
The Church was built on the foundation of the Apostles as a community
of faith, hope and charity. Through the Apostles, we come to Jesus
himself. The Church begins to establish herself when some fishermen of
Galilee meet Jesus, allowing themselves to be won over by his gaze, his
voice, his warm and strong invitation: "Follow me, and I will make you
become fishers of men" (Mk 1:17; Mt 4:19).
At the start of the third millennium, my beloved Predecessor John Paul
II invited the Church to contemplate the Face of Christ (cf. Novo
Millennio Ineunte, n. 16 ff.). Continuing in the same direction, I
would like to show, in the Catechesis that I begin today, how it is
precisely the light of that Face that is reflected on the face of the
Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1), notwithstanding the limits and
shadows of our fragile and sinful humanity.
Christ, the Apostles, the mission
After Mary, a pure reflection of the light of Christ, it is from the
Apostles, through their word and witness, that we receive the truth of
Christ. Their mission is not isolated, however, but is situated within a
mystery of communion that involves the entire People of God and is carried
out in stages from the Old to the New Covenant.
In this regard, it must be said that the message of Jesus is completely
misunderstood if it is separated from the context of the faith and hope of
the Chosen People: like John the Baptist, his direct Precursor, Jesus
above all addresses Israel (cf. Mt 15:24) in order to "gather" it together
in the eschatological time that arrived with him. And like that of John,
the preaching of Jesus is at the same time a call of grace and a sign of
contradiction and of justice for the entire People of God.
And so, from the first moment of his salvific activity, Jesus of
Nazareth strives to gather together the People of God. Even if his
preaching is always an appeal for personal conversion, in reality he
continually aims to build the People of God whom he came to bring
together, purify and save.
As a result, therefore, an individualistic interpretation of Christ's
proclamation of the Kingdom, specific to liberal theology, is unilateral
and without foundation, as a great liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack
summed it up in the year 1900 in his lessons on The essence of
Christianity: "The Kingdom of God, insofar as it comes in single
individuals, is able to enter their soul and is welcomed by them. The
Kingdom of God is the dominion of God, certainly, but it is the
dominion of the holy God in individual hearts" (cf. Third Lesson, 100
In reality, this individualism of liberal theology is a typically
modern accentuation: in the perspective of biblical tradition and on the
horizon of Judaism, where the work of Jesus is situated in all its
novelty, it is clear that the entire mission of the Son-made-flesh has a
communitarian finality. He truly came to unite dispersed humanity; he
truly came to unite the People of God.
Institution of the Twelve
An evident sign of the intention of the Nazarene to gather together the
community of the Covenant, to demonstrate in it the fulfilment of the
promises made to the Fathers who always speak of convocation, unification,
unity, is the institution of the Twelve. We heard about this
institution of the Twelve in the Gospel reading. I shall read the central
passage again: "And he went up into the hills and called to him those whom
he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve to be with him,
and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. The
names of the twelve Apostles are these..." (Mk 3:13-16; cf. Mt 10:1-4; Lk
On the site of the revelation, "the mount", taking initiative that
demonstrates absolute awareness and determination, Jesus establishes the
Twelve so that, together with him, they are witnesses and heralds of the
coming of the Kingdom of God.
There are no doubts about the historicity of this call, not only
because of the antiquity and multiplicity of witnesses, but also for the
simple reason that there is also the name of Judas, the Apostle who
betrayed him, notwithstanding the difficulties that this presence could
have caused the new community.
The number 12, which evidently refers to the 12 tribes of Israel,
already reveals the meaning of the prophetic-symbolic action implicit in
the new initiative to re-establish the holy people. As the system of the
12 tribes had long since faded out, the hope of Israel awaited their
restoration as a sign of the eschatological time (as referred to at the
end of the Book of Ezekiel: 37:15-19; 39:23-29; 40-48).
In choosing the Twelve, introducing them into a communion of life with
himself and involving them in his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom in
words and works (cf. Mk 6:7-13; Mt 10:5-8; Lk 9:1-6; 6:13), Jesus wants to
say that the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new
People of God, the people of the 12 tribes, which now becomes a universal
people, his Church.
Appeal for Israel
With their very own existence, the Twelve — called from different
backgrounds — become an appeal for all of Israel to convert and allow
herself to be gathered into the new covenant, complete and perfect
fulfilment of the ancient one. The fact that he entrusted to his Apostles,
during the Last Supper and before his Passion, the duty
to celebrate his Pasch, demonstrates how Jesus wished to transfer to the
entire community, in the person of its heads, the mandate to be a sign and
instrument in history of the eschatological gathering begun by him. In a
certain sense we can say that the Last Supper itself is the act of
foundation of the Church, because he gives himself and thus creates a new
community, a community united in communion with himself.
In this light, one understands how the Risen One confers upon them,
with the effusion of the Spirit, the power to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20:23).
Thus, the Twelve Apostles are the most evident sign of Jesus' will
regarding the existence and mission of his Church, the guarantee that between Christ and the Church there is no opposition:
despite the sins of the people who make up the Church, they are
'Jesus yes, Church yes'
Therefore, a slogan that was popular some years back: "Jesus yes,
Church no", is totally inconceivable with the intention of Christ. This
individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus. We cannot have
Jesus without the reality he created and in which he communicates himself.
Between the Son of God-made flesh and his Church there is a profound,
unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in
his people. He is always contemporary with us, he is always contemporary
with the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and alive in the
succession of the Apostles. And his very presence in the community, in
which he himself is always with us, is the reason for our joy. Yes, Christ
is with us, the Kingdom of God is coming.