17. Communion, Unity, Diversity

Communion is the central theme of Vatican II. All the reaching out for community of the post-conciliar years has its roots in this great theme.

            A disunited community is a contradiction in terms. It is legitimate therefore and necessary to ask if the Catholic Church appears as a more united community than twenty-five or thirty years ago.

            Perhaps not - some people might reply, immediately adding - but we are more varied; and that also is a good thing desired by Vatican II with the clear conciliar emphasis not only on community but also on personal rights, on individuality, on local differences, as evidenced by the importance the Council gives to matters like particular churches, liturgical variations or inculturation.

            It may be true - they might add - that variety is being stressed today more than unity; but that is simply a necessary swing of the pendulum, to correct the excessive centralization of pre-conciliar times.

            This, it seems to me, is not a very satisfactory analysis. It rests on the supposition that Vatican II stressed seemingly opposed things; it allows, without resolving it, the apparent antinomy between unity and variety; and it just possibly rejoices in the "triumph" of variety over unity.

            A proper relationship between unity and diversity is essential to the life, dynamism and growth of the Church. How do these two values in fact relate? Can they be practically or honestly combined? Which of the two is more attractive? Which impresses the world most? Which is more important? Must one value triumph over the other? Must one necessarily be sacrificed to the other? Questions that are truly worth considering.

            Is it possible to harmonize these two values while giving full validity to each? Or is it inevitable either that unity suffocates variety, reducing its expressions to a merely fictional level, or else that variety results in fragmentation and the loss of communio? If one sees the two values as mutually opposed, the easy answer is No to the first question and Yes to the second.

            Which value is the more attractive? Which surprises people most? It depends.

            Diversity as such is not very surprising; unless precisely it is diversity within order. Diversity without order or without harmony is chaos. A garbage heap is diverse, but it is not interesting. It attracts no one except scavengers.

            Unity is more surprising; one meets it less often. Men have never found it difficult to be at variance, to disagree, to separate, to stand at a distance, each one defending his particular rights and claims and character. Men have aspired after unity; but it remains a difficult goal that always seems to elude them. The twentieth century history of international organisms like the League of Nations, the United Nations, or UNESCO points up these lessons.

            As against this, unity without diversity is not surprising. It is boring; or perhaps even terrifying. For it can be imposed; consider the relentless political unity of a totalitarian state. The surprise comes when in a voluntary body one finds non-imposed unity presiding over rich variety. That combination is both surprising and attractive.

            Pagans are not surprised to find that we Christians are different among ourselves; that is to be like them. They are surprised if they find that we are at the same time united. That is to be unlike them. That is the difference that attracts. Jesus said that men should be able to recognize his followers by the fact that they love one another (Jn 13:24); his special prayer was that they should be one (Jn 17:21). It was his first concern; it should be ours.

            So, if we ask which of these two values is more important, which is the more fragile and in need of more care, the answer should be unhesitating: unity. But we need immediately to add an important clarification.

            Does the priority of unity mean that diversity has to be sacrificed? Does strengthening and building up unity mean that we have to weaken and repress diversity? No. Here we meet the first of the great Catholic paradoxes in this matter: both must grow.

            Unity and variety are complementary and essential features of the beauty of the Bride of Christ. They are powerful characteristics of the Church that - both together - make us rejoice.

            We rejoice in Catholic variety. We do not want that variety to be lessened, we want it to grow. We rejoice at the same time in Catholic unity. We do not want that unity to be broken, we want it too to grow. In a Catholic vision both diversity and unity are seen growing together as expressions of the infinite vitality and dynamism of Christ living in his Church.

Unity, diversity, Trinity

            Oneness does not mean sameness. There is no greater Unity than that of the Godhead, of Divine Nature Itself. And yet that Divine Nature consists in Three Persons who are really distinct. Those Three Persons are One; but They are not the same. Each, within that indivisible unity of Truth and Love, maintains his own unique distinctiveness. The Trinity itself is the ultimate source and the greatest expression of the principle of unity in variety and variety in unity (cf. UR 2).

            It is tempting - but risky - to indulge in speculation here. Let us risk it, knowing that we are peering into depths that man's mind is hopelessly inadequate to plumb.

            How different are the Persons of the Blessed Trinity? The full answer to that is, please God, something reserved for us to see in Heaven. But am I mistaken if I suggest that our present inclination is to think that the differences between the Persons are only "marginal"? Do we not tend to feel that the Divine Persons are more alike than They are different? Probably the question itself is misleading (are men more alike than they are different?). However that may be, it seems to me that the Three Divine Persons, being consubstantial, are intensely different - beyond any possibility of ours of appreciating differences. Each has a most unique and distinct Personality: so much so that only the infinity of God's Life can comprehend their individual distinctiveness. And yet the unity between these Three Persons is such that They are not merely intimately united, but are One. Further they are not One "despite" their distinctiveness. The Divine Unity rests - if one can express it so - on the knowledge and love generated and inspired by the very distinctiveness of Personality.

            Thus, if there is no unity as great as that of the Godhead, so there is no diversity as striking as that of the Trinity of Persons.

            The trinitarian principle of unity in variety and variety within unity is to be seen in God's work of Creation, just as it characterizes the Redemption He worked and, concretely too, the Church He founded.

            God made a varied world. God rejoices in variety. The variety of creation is itself a revelation of the infinite richness of God's own life. The higher one rises in the order of creation, the more richly varied individuals within each species become. Man is the masterpiece of visible creation. There again, within a common human nature, God made men different. He rejoices in human variety. He does not want us all to be the same. Yet He wants us to be united. The Redemption of mankind is a great drawing together of men into one. "God desired that all men should form one family" (GS 24). "It pleased God to call men to share in his life and not merely singly, without any bond between them, but He formed them into a people, in which his children who had been scattered were gathered together" (AG 2). On Pentecost, says Ad gentes, "was foreshadowed the union of all peoples in the catholicity of the faith by means of the Church" (AG 4). And Lumen gentium teaches that God has established the Church so that it may be "the visible sacrament of this saving unity" (LG 9).

            Within the one Church of Christ the principle of variety operates. The very catholicity of the Church means that it is not just for one age or clime or class or nation. It is for all.

            The history of Christianity is the history of variety in unity. The Holy Spirit has continued over the centuries to incarnate the Gospel in different persons and movements and cultures. The acceptance of the Gospel, with its demands and challenges, has always led to many incarnations: diversifying and unifying. Diversifying mankind, without scattering. Uniting mankind, without uniforming. Growing variety, growing unity: that is God's plan.

            We have in fact been given a model of the unity-variety relationship that is more accessible to us than the Blessed Trinity. We find it in the Incarnation. It is not only that the extremes united in the Person of Jesus - divine nature and human nature - are totally diverse, but that in the infinitely rich Humanity of Jesus the individual humanity of each man can and should find its reference point both for personal growth and growth in relation to others.

            God became Man - for all men. Christ reaches out to everyone with his saving grace, to save each soul, to save each individual humanity; and to draw all together into a varied unity.

            In the measure in which each one responds to the call of Christ, in which he "puts on Christ" (Gal 3:27), his humanity is not only redeemed; it unfolds, develops, becomes more distinctive. He becomes more truly human, more truly himself He becomes more different from others, and at the same time more at one with them.

Unity, diversity, sanctity

            The saints are of course the great examples of this incarnational principle and process, this unifying and diversifying identification with Christ.

            Knowledge of the saints helps us understand the richness and operation of Christ. The saints are so varied, so different; and yet so united. Each of the saints incarnates the spirit of Christ in a different way. Each represents a distinct high-road leading to, and out from, the same centre.

            The closer they come to Christ, the more truly they become "themselves". The distinct personality of each one is deepened and intensified, and at the same time acquires an element of universality. They became more truly at one with others.

            In an earlier chapter we used the idea of three-dimensionality to illustrate how true theological pluralism is built up of harmonious contrasts; how it is the simple and natural result of viewing the living Truth of Christ from different angles. Here we can perhaps say that there is a "multi-dimensional" aspect to the Life of Christ, as He lives it in his saints. Each saint incarnates a special aspect or aspects of Christ's Spirit, and so helps to illustrate its overall richness.

            The life of Christ is recorded not only in the pages of the Gospels, but also in the lives of the holy men and women of the ages. The more we understand the particular way in which each saint imitates Christ, the better we will understand Christ. The more we love with the heart of each saint, the more we will love Christ.

            The variegated work of the diversifying Spirit is to be seen not only in the concrete and contrasting lives of the saints, but also in the foundations many of them undertook. In this way they opened up new spiritualities and apostolic movements destined to change and enrich the lives of countless souls. It would be an impoverishment if this broad variety of charisms were to be lost, or if they were merged into a vague, standardized spiritual or pastoral approach lacking in distinctive character. The danger of such a process taking place is not absent today.

            Christ came to save man and all that is human: also to save civilizations and cultures - because they too stand in need of redemption.

            In opening itself to the demands of incarnation, a culture unfolds and develops. It flourishes and becomes more truly distinct from other cultures.

            At the same time any culture that represents a true Christian incarnation acquires an element of universality, of communion, of inter-communicability with others. Its particularity is not impermeable to other cultures. On the contrary its distinctiveness always carries with it an element of universal appeal. Understanding comes easily between incarnated and truly Christian cultures. There is mutual appreciation, mutual attraction, mutual enrichment.

            Lumen gentium says, "In virtue of this catholicity each part contributes its own gifts to other parts and to the whole Church, so that the whole and each of the parts are strengthened by the common sharings of all things and by the common effort to attain to fullness in unity" (LG 13).

            So it is important already to note that diversity does not mean non-connection. It means inter-dependent variety. Non-connected diversity (diversity without communio) is what we must avoid.

The law of variety and unity

            Let us see to what extent we can formulate the Christian law of variety and unity, of personality and universality, looking first at the inner dynamics of this law, and then considering the external means through which it operates.

            The law of Jesus our Savior is contained in the whole of Revelation. In its saving application it always remains the law of the Cross. Close to its heart lies that paradoxical principle, "whoever seeks his life will lose it". Startling words which warn us that the process of self-realization can easily become a dead end. All one has to do is to take a wrong turning; and the wrong turn here is to seek one's self. In order to find oneself, one must forget oneself and seek Christ. It is not one's own identity one must seek. It is identification with Christ. The Gospel is absolutely explicit on this point. You will find - you will become - yourself when you forget yourself. There is no other way. Do not seek your own identity. Seek Me[1].

            Excessive concern for one's self, over-protectiveness of one's own identity or one's own independence, stand between the individual and full communion with Christ.

            The person who rejects the law of Christ or who subordinates it to the "law" of his personal circumstances or preferences, is seeking self (in the bad sense intended in the Gospel phrase), and will not find true self-fulfillment. All he will find is an ever-tightening self-centeredness, less and less fulfilled within itself, less and less open to the true grace of the Gospel and to the good values of others, less and less capable of being enriched from outside.

            The effect of excessive concern with self is to separate one from Christ and from others. It is to leave one's self in isolation, "incommunicado": in withering ''un-communion''; and, as a consequence, in apostolic fruitlessness. The man who does not maintain his vital links with Christ is doomed to ultimate sterility, however great his personal activity; "separated from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5).

            "Doing one's own thing" scarcely sounds like a Spirit-given norm for Catholic diversity. What should be said about the idea of "being Catholic in one's own way"? It is a formula with individualistic overtones, but it can pass provided it is intended to stress each one's right to be Catholic in a unique way, i.e. in the particular way that Christ wants for him or her. That way one has the right (and will find the power) to be Catholic. If one ends up as something else than Catholic, one has not followed the way Christ wanted.

            There are many ways of being Catholic. There are also many ways of not being Catholic. One has to remember that "being Catholic" has an objective content, as we saw in Chapter Six. Protestants are not Catholics in any way. Protestants and Catholics are Christians, but in differing ways. The difference of the Protestant way is so great that it denotes a fundamental rupture of the communion willed by Christ for his Church.

Particular churches

            Particular churches too find their identity - their principle of life and health and growth - by seeking Christ. They find Christ by maintaining full and active communion with him present in the life and faith of the universal Church. This point is emphasized strongly by Vatican II in describing a particular church as one "in which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active" (CD 11).

            If a local church were to become so "particular" as not to be vivified by the active presence of the universal Church, if the channels of life linking it with the faith and worship of the whole Church were to become blocked, then it would be in danger of ceasing to be "church" in the conciliar sense. It would cease to receive and communicate the full flow of the dynamism of Christ. That is why the Council insists that "the local Church must represent the universal Church as perfectly as possible" (AG 20). Excessive particularism means lack of universal vitality, receiving little, giving little; with the danger of the branch finally separating from the vine. History speaks all too clearly of this; and underlines how those who let individuality or diversity become their overriding concern have gradually come to regard unity as a major and eventually intolerable irritant.

            The current emphasis on diversity will avoid such dangers if it is a local emphasis on Christ, not if it is merely a local emphasis on "self". If it is a local emphasis on Christ, it will at the same time be a local seeking after communion, and all will be well. In words of Ad gentes, speaking of particular churches: "Bishops and priests must feel and live with the universal Church, becoming more and more imbued with a sense of Christ and the Church. The communion of the young churches with the whole Church must remain intimate, they must graft elements of its tradition on to their own culture and this, by a mutual outpouring of energy, increase the life of the mystical Body" (AG 19).

            De-centralization, in ecclesial thinking, is a legitimate and indeed a positive concept if it is understood in strictly administrative terms, if it is seen as an exercise of the principle of subsidiarity. But it gets unhinged from a true ecclesial framework once it is understood in terms of (or leads to) de-universalization. Universality or catholicity is an ecclesial note, not an administrative concept or a bureaucratic form that can be discarded. It is essential.

            So, localization does not mean de-universalization. After all, if a Catholic culture in a particular area were to be so "local" as to be completely unrecognizable to Catholics from other areas, where would be the experience of oneness? People are deprived of the sense of sharing in the richness of the universal faith if they do not feel one with the People of God in other countries, in other cultures, in other ages.

Inculturation through seeking Christ

            Self-seeking instead of "Christ-seeking" is a deadend for mankind. This can happen to individuals and communities. It can also happen to whole civilizations or cultures.

            As long as western society puts its hopes solely in pleasure and material comforts, it will remain closed to Christ; and, seeking such impoverished "self-realizations", it will lose its soul.

            The same holds good for communist societies, with their explicit materialism and formal rejection of God. To seek one's life in the service of material progress and the worship of a godless State is a sure way of losing it.

            The position of the Third World societies - richer in natural values than the developed countries - is not yet clearly defined. Their main danger would seem to be that their values and spiritual reserves be engulfed in "developed" materialism. In God's providence this may yet not happen; but they need to be alert to the danger.

            The Gospel, still recently planted, may let down firm roots into their native soil and inheritance, taking what is best there, redeeming and preserving it, purifying and uplifting it: the authentic process of inculturation as outlined in the Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (AG 9) and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (GS 58).

            Such inculturation is the natural and gradual result of true evangelization, of facing up to the full challenge of the Gospel, forgetting self in the service of Christ and therefore finding oneself

            Here the reference to sanctity continues to mark out the main guidelines. The saints became so rich in personality precisely because they were totally unconcerned about their own personality. Their goal was not "self-development". Their goal was Christ and bringing other to Christ.

            So with cultures. If Christ (and evangelization) is their centre and goal, they develop: in all richness. But there is the danger of putting culture - one's own patrimony, one's own personality - first. The Gospel comes first. The Gospel gives the key to culture, and to its deeper values. It is not the other way round.

            The deeper values of a native culture are going to be "fortified, completed and restored in Christ" (GS 58) only by persons who have steeped themselves in Gospel values and in the whole inheritance of the Church's tradition. Only those who are formed in a Catholic outlook and have assimilated a Catholic mind can carry out true inculturation according to the mind of Christ. Peering into one's local present and past will not of itself suffice for inculturation. One must also have the background and capacity to be able to look out to the Catholic cultures of other places and times. Only universal minds will particularize in a genuinely Catholic way.

            The saints, so different one from another, were so interlinked because they were all linked to Christ. Interlinked inculturation proves catholicity. Isolated inculturation can end, at best, in sterility; also from the apostolic viewpoint.

            An excessively self-concerned inculturation develops an inward-looking frame of mind. This could have serious consequences for the whole Church and its mission in the world. Ad gentes says that as indigenous churches grow through "the living of a full Christian life, they should contribute to the good of the whole Church" (AG 6). This has particular importance for the task of evangelization. The world today, above all the West, needs new evangelizers. The pointers are that they should come from the peoples of the Third World, especially Africa, because they have the natural resources of the spirit which, put at the service of the Gospel, can bring mankind back to Christ. But the evangelizing potential of the Third World countries could be frustrated if inculturation in these countries were to become too introspective. Self-concerned Christians do not convert their non-Christian neighbors or contemporaries. Inward-looking Christian communities do not evangelize the pagan societies they may meet.

Unity needs to be loved more

            Looking at the dynamics of the interplay between unity and diversity, two points stand out:

            a) It is easier to create diversity than unity. Men tend more easily to separate - into single individuals or into disconnected groups - than to come together in a rich and harmonious whole.

            History shows many more examples of variety destroying unity than of unity stifling variety. Only the Catholic Church has managed to overcome the opposition between unity and variety, to harmonize both, and to make them grow together.

            Both unity and diversity are to be loved. But unity, we repeat, needs to be loved more, because it is more fragile; more easily broken, more easily lost, and harder to restore. Christian unity, ecclesial unity, is moral and voluntary. It cannot be imposed. And it cannot and will not be maintained unless it is loved.

            Christ did not tell his apostles to be different. He knew that that would take care of itself. He told them to be united. He knew that this would have to be an over-riding concern among them and those that came after them.

            Diversity tends to come of itself (and if it comes without direction or control, it tends to turn into divergence and division). Unity does not come without an effort.

            If we are obliged to make a choice, then, we should put unity before diversity, just as we should put communio before pluralism. If we first seek the unity of our Father's kingdom, all other things - family variety included - will be given to us as well. Richness of personal identity, harmonious pluralism, strength of local culture, evangelizing force: all follow from the search for communion in Christ.

            The world is not impressed to see us different (we are; and they will see it). The world is impressed to see us united; that is the difference that can draw them. The Church, local and universal, is always called to be the sign and promise of unity for men: that great and hard goal that men seek and do not find and will not find except in Christ.

            b) Unity and variety are inestimable values, and also difficult values to combine. Without special graces and docility to grace, the dangers we mentioned at the start of the chapter can develop: unity stifling legitimate variety and imposing uniformity; variety becoming centrifugal and ending in fragmentation. Both extremes need to be guarded against. But the latter is clearly the more dangerous.

            The interplay between unity and diversity is bound at times to involve some tensions. But it would not be right to exaggerate these tensions or to regard them necessarily in a negative light. Some tensions are a sign of life and are life-giving. This applies to structures too. There are structural tensions that destroy; and there are structural tensions that maintain the structure.

            If love for Christ is paramount, unity in Christ and diversity in Christ are expressions of the same love, forces that pull in the same direction. To love unity without loving variety, or to love variety without loving unity, would be to love Christ defectively.

            The same applies (though more emphatically) to the views of those who see this whole theme in terms of a "power-struggle" between a centralized unity party and localized diversity parties. This is to divide and dismember Christ (and one's love for Christ). It is to see head and hands and heart struggling against one another. It is to fail to understand the divinely-given trinitarian-modelled constitution of the Church. The Catholic Church is not a federation of semi-autonomous churches. The Catholic Church is the unity of particular churches. Each particular church is the Catholic Church, always provided it maintain its vital and loving links of unity with the Head and the other members.

A charism at the service of both unity and variety

            Christ wanted his Church to be both richly diverse and at the same time fully united. What did He do to ensure that this would be so, and growingly so, through the ages? He gave his followers an evangelizing command - go teach all nations - that was to bring about the universal expansion of his message. This of itself favors diversity. The tongues of the day of Pentecost already expressed that catholic variety which is the work of the Spirit. What did Christ do to ensure unity?

            One guideline we have already mentioned: the law of seeking Him and forgetting self. This is a fundamental law meant to operate from within each individual, from within each local community. It cannot be imposed. It can be understood: with reflection. And it can, with an effort, be put into practice. The proper understanding and voluntary embracing of this law at the grassroots level is a first condition for the dynamic growth of variegated unity.

            What did He do on the institutional level? He gave us the hierarchy: the Pope and the Bishops. Their diakonia is a charismatic service to both unity and variety.

            Some people are suggesting today that a main role of the local bishops (and of national Episcopal Conferences) is to defend local or regional diversity as against the uniforming centralist tendency of Rome.

            This is not so; it is doubly misleading. It ignores the fact that while Rome must indeed be concerned with unity, it does not have to seek (and currently is clearly not seeking) uniformity. It also ignores the fact that the main responsibility of each local bishop is to defend and maintain the integrity of the faith and the bonds of universal ecclesial communion. This has been the essence of the bishop's role since apostolic times[2]. Vatican II teaches: "all the bishops have an obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of the faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church (and) of schooling the faithful in a love of the whole Mystical Body of Christ" (LG 23); "Let bishops so sanctify the churches entrusted to them that the mind of the universal Church of Christ may be fully reflected in them" (CD 15).

            Within each particular church there are already many factors at work stressing diversity. Some of these factors are good; some are not so good. It is the bishop's duty to defend his people's rights in this matter. This undoubtedly means he must respect the due freedom of those who seek legitimate variety; and, if the case were to arise, he should protect them (using proper ecclesiastical channels) against abuse from above. But it also means that he must defend the rights of the rest of the faithful entrusted to him against abuses of "lateral" authority (cf. Appendix Ill), and against the abusive activity of those who promote a diversity that damages or ruptures communio.

            The bishops then have a hierarchical mission to protect the catholic communion of the Faith. At the summit of the hierarchical level Christ gave another gift to foster and protect the united and varied growth of his Church: the See of Peter.

            The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism says that Christ "chose Peter ... (and) entrusted all his sheep to him to be confirmed in faith and shepherded in perfect unity" (UR 2). The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, speaking of the relationship of the Holy See to the whole episcopate, says: "In order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, Christ put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion" (LG 18). The same Dogmatic Constitution, speaking of the relationship of the Chair of Peter to particular churches, says that it "protects their legitimate variety while at the same time taking care that these differences do not hinder unity, but rather contribute to it" (LG 13).

            To think that the Holy See's only concern is unity and hence to regard it as a force opposed to variety, is to mistake its charism and function. Its role is to foster both Catholic unity and Catholic variety.

            It is certainly true that if a conflict situation arises between the two, it is clearly to unity - as to the more delicate value and the one most expressly willed by Christ - that the Apostolic See must give its first responsibility.

            In such a case a positive response to the directives of the Holy See will be facilitated by one's love for the Church, one's faith in Christ's gift to Peter, and one's awareness that any initiative, in order to be a true incarnation of the Gospel, must be Catholic as well as local or particular. The charism to make a sound judgment on this point has been entrusted to the Roman Pontiff.

Love for the Church

            The Church, one and varied, is composed of members who are in it because they choose to be. The Church of its nature remains a voluntary body. God gives us the grace to live together within that Body. But it is always the free choice of each member that keeps it united with the Head and the Heart. Each member needs to rejoice in the guidance it receives from the Head (unity guiding variety), as it rejoices in its own distinctive action contemplated both in itself and in the contribution it makes to the well-being and life of the whole Body (variety expressing unity).

            Unity marshalling the dynamism of variety; variety manifesting the dynamism of unity. These complementary facets of the Church's life bring out its power and beauty. They make it more unique, more truly a Church to be loved.

            This should be the summary and conclusion of all ecclesiology. The Church today badly needs to be loved. Or rather it is we who badly need to renew our love for the Church.

            Catholics who love the Church, who are passionately in love with the Church - there is one of the great needs of the present day, the absolutely necessary condition for true renewal.

            Love for the Church. Love for the institutional Church. The dominant thought running throughout the pages of this book has been that the institutional, visible, hierarchical Church is a gift of God through which the Truth and the Grace and the loving but demanding Will of Jesus Christ come to us in divine challenge and saving force.

            The Church, seen so, is seen to be truly lovable, despite the defects of us men who are its members. While we should not love those defects, we should love to trust in Christ present and working (with the logic of the Incarnation and the law of the Cross) also in and through those very defects.

            Love for the Church. Love for the Holy Church. Because the Church (again despite and over and above men's defects) is holy. The Church is holy not because we are holy but because Christ makes it holy. If we can become holy, it is because Christ through his Church sanctifies us.

            Love for the Church. Love for the Church our Mother. Christ wants us to become like children. Otherwise we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3). He wants us to learn to be children within the same family. He wants us to be saved in a family way, with family ties and loyalty and responsibility, and under family authority.

            For that we need a mother. In fact we have two: the Virgin Mary and the Church. Mary herself "model of that motherly love" that animates the Church's mission (LG 65), draws us to our Mother the Church. It is God's design that, within family warmth and family unity, our good and holy Mother the Church should teach us to be truly brothers and sisters to one another, truly children of our Father in Heaven; remembering what St Cyprian says: "No one can have God for his Father if he does not have the Church for his Mother". Not to love the Church would be a clear sign of loss of catholic identity. After all, only denaturalized children do not love their mother.

            Our holy Mother the Church is currently faced with the task of trying to bring up a brood of particularly turbulent and unruly children. We individual members of the faithful need to think less of doing our "own thing" and more of the family concerns. We need to live more in family communion, to renew our family sense: the joy of belonging to one home filled with mutual loyalty and service and affection. A home where there are many children and as a result there are bound to be many differences of mood and character and opinions. Yet these differences never become a threat to family unity; the children have come to love the family too much to allow that, and when necessary they go to their Mother to settle the matter.

            She has the knowledge, the experience, the love and the firmness - and in particular the divine guidance - to protect the family inheritance of warmth and wisdom for her children of today, as she did for those of yesterday and will do for those of tomorrow: for her children of the whole world, for Christ's purpose is that the whole world enter into this family.

            May our Mother Mary teach us to love our Mother the Church.


[1] "No one is freed from sin by himself or by his own efforts, no one is raised above himself or completely delivered from his own weakness, solitude or slavery; all have need of Christ who is the model, master, liberator, savior, and giver of life" (AG 8).

[2] In the ceremony of his ordination, when a bishop-elect receives the episcopal ring, the consecrating bishop says to him: "Take this ring, the seal of your fidelity. With faith and love protect the Bride of Christ, his holy Church". In the same ceremony he makes a public declaration before his people of his resolve "to maintain the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times"; and also "to build up the Church as the Body of Christ and to remain united to it within the order of bishops under the authority of the apostle Peter" (cf. The Rites of the Catholic Church, Vol II, pp 92ff).