The Church's Success "Is in the Saints"
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). These words of the risen Christ take on a particular significance in this city of Lisbon, from which generations upon generations of Christians – bishops, priests, consecrated and lay persons, men and women, young and not so young – have journeyed forth in great numbers in obedience to the Lord’s call, armed simply with the certainty that he had entrusted to them: “I am with you always”. Portugal has gained a glorious place among the nations for the service rendered to the spreading of the faith: in all five continents there are local churches that owe their origin to Portuguese missionary activity.PHOTO: Getty
In times past, your departure in search of other peoples neither impeded nor severed your bonds with what you were and what you believed. On the contrary, with Christian wisdom you succeeded in transplanting experiences and characteristic elements, opening yourselves up to the contribution of others so as to be yourselves, through an apparent weakness which is actually strength. Today, as you play your part in building up the European Community, you offer the contribution of your cultural and religious identity. Indeed, just as Jesus Christ joined the disciples on the road to Emmaus, so today he walks with us in accordance with his promise: “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” We too have a real and personal experience of the risen Lord, even if it differs from that of the Apostles. The distance of centuries is overcome and the risen Lord presents himself alive and at work, acting through us, in the Church and the world of today. This is our great joy. In the living river of ecclesial Tradition, Christ is not two thousand years distant from us, but is really present among us: he gives us the Truth and he gives us the light which is our life and helps us find the path towards the future....
In the reading that has just been proclaimed, taken from the First Letter of Saint Peter, we heard: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame”. And the Apostle explains: Draw near to the Lord, “that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious” (1 Pet 2:6,4). Brothers and sisters, those who believe in Jesus will not be put to shame: he is the Word of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and this Word is attested by a “great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues,” a multitude pictured by the author of the Apocalypse “clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9). This countless multitude... is formed of the “servants of our God” from all times and places, on whose forehead the sign of the cross has been inscribed with “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2), that is to say, with the Holy Spirit. I am referring to the initial rite administered to each one of us in the sacrament of Baptism, through which the Church gives birth to the “saints”.
We know that she also has quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters, but it is in the saints that the Church recognizes her most characteristic features, it is in them that she tastes her deepest joy. They all share the desire to incarnate the Gospel in their own lives, under the inspiration of the eternal animator of God’s People – the Holy Spirit. Focussing her attention upon her own saints, this local Church has rightly concluded that today’s pastoral priority is to make each Christian man and woman a radiant presence of the Gospel perspective in the midst of the world, in the family, in culture, in the economy, in politics. Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic. Perhaps we have placed an excessive trust in ecclesial structures and programmes, in the distribution of powers and functions; but what will happen if salt loses its flavour?
In order for this not to happen, it is necessary to proclaim anew with vigour and joy the event of the death and resurrection of Christ, the heart of Christianity, the fulcrum and mainstay of our faith, the firm lever of our certainties, the strong wind that sweeps away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation. The resurrection of Christ assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church. Therefore our faith is well-founded, but this faith needs to come alive in each one of us. A vast effort at every level is required if every Christian is to be transformed into a witness capable of rendering account to all and at all times of the hope that inspires him (cf. 1 Pet 3:15): only Christ can fully satisfy the profound longings of every human heart and give answers to its most pressing questions concerning suffering, injustice and evil, concerning death and the life hereafter.
Dear brothers and sisters, dear young friends, Christ is always with us and always walks with his Church, accompanies her and guards her, as he has told us: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Never doubt his presence! Always seek the Lord Jesus, grow in friendship with him, receive him in communion. Learn to listen to his word and also to recognize him in the poor. Live your lives with joy and enthusiasm, sure of his presence and of his unconditional, generous friendship, faithful even to death on the cross. Bear witness to all of the joy that his strong yet gentle presence evokes, starting with your contemporaries. Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following him. With your enthusiasm, demonstrate that, among all the different ways of life that the world today seems to offer us – apparently all on the same level – the only way in which we find the true meaning of life and hence true and lasting joy, is by following Jesus.