By Sergio Centofanti
“I urge you to love the Church of the Lord.”
This was Pope Francis’ invitation at the conclusion of the General Audience on Wednesday, the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
“This feast highlights the meaning of the church, a sacred building where the faithful reunite. May it enkindle in us the awareness that each of us is called to be a living temple of God,” working together “with generosity and enthusiasm” to “build up the House of the Lord, the dwelling of the Most High among us.”
Family of God
Loving the Church is an important characteristic of the believer, who belongs to the family of God.
In a catechesis on 29 May 2013, Pope Francis recalled that God’s plan “is to make of us all a single family of his children, in which each person feels that God is close and feels loved by him”. The Church “is not an organization established by an agreement between a few people”, but “she is a work of God”, she is born “from the supreme act of love of the Cross, from the pierced side of Jesus from which flowed blood and water, a symbol of the sacrament of the Eucharist and of Baptism”. The Church “became manifest when the gift of the Holy Spirit filled the heart of the Apostles and spurred them to go out and begin their journey to proclaim the Gospel, spreading God’s love.”
Still today some say: “Christ yes, the Church no”. Like those who say “I believe in God but not in priests”. In response the Pope said, “But it is the Church herself which brings Christ to us and which brings us to God. The Church is the great family of God’s children. Of course, she also has human aspects. In those who make up the Church, pastors and faithful, there are shortcomings, imperfections and sins. The Pope has these too — and many of them; but what is beautiful is that when we realize we are sinners we encounter the mercy of God who always forgives. Never forget it: God always pardons.”
“In the end,” said the Pope, “the Church is our mother because she brings us to new life and leads us to Christ. So we must love her, even when we see her face marred by human frailty and sin, and we must help to make her ever more beautiful and radiant, so that she can bear witness to God’s love in the world” (Message of Pope Francis for the 2019 World Day of Prayer for Vocations).
Love Church like family
Pope Francis is inviting us to love and defend the Church, just as we love and defend our families, even when our parents, brothers, sisters, or children make mistakes or have problems.
As an example of love for the Church, the Pope once pointed to Padre Pio:
“He loved the Church, with the many problems the Church has, with so many adversities, with so many sinners. Because the Church is holy, she is the Bride of Christ, but we, the children of the Church, are all sinners – some big ones! – but he loved the Church as she was, he did not destroy her with the tongue, as it is the fashion to do now. No! He loved her. He who loves the Church knows how to forgive, because he knows that he himself is a sinner and is in need of God’s forgiveness. He knows how to arrange things, because the Lord wants to arrange things well but always with forgiveness: one cannot live an entire life accusing, accusing, accusing the Church. Whose is the office of the accuser! The devil! And those who spend their life accusing, accusing, accusing, are – I will not say children, because the devil does not have any – but friends, cousins, relatives of the devil. And no, this is not good, flaws must be indicated so they can be corrected, but at the moment that flaws are noted, flaws are denounced, one loves the Church. Without love, that is of the devil” (Greeting of Pope Francis to the Archdiocese of Benevento, 20 February 2019).
War fought with prayer, love
The devil works to destroy the unity of a family. Pope Francis has often pointed this out: Satan wants to divide brothers and sisters and divide the Church to drive people from God.
Many times the greatest danger comes not from outside but from within: “Self-destruction, ‘friendly fire’ from our fellow soldiers, is the most insidious danger. It is the evil which strikes from within” (Presentation of the Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2014).
The devil’s is a “dirty war” and “we who are unaware fall into his game” (Mass at Santa Marta, 12 September 2016).
And again, “the devil seeks to foment an internal war, a sort of civil and spiritual war. A war which is not fought with arms but with the tongue” (Homily for the Vatican Gendarmerie, 28 September 2013).
This war of accusations, hatred, and lies, affirms Pope Francis, can be fought only with prayer and love: Pray for the Church and love her, because “Jesus Christ and the Church are one and the same” (General Audience, 29 May 2013).