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The Church is a communio of love

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 15 January 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We begin this catechesis with a beautiful text from Ephesians, which says: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.... In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth" (Eph 1:3-10). With a bird's-eye view and a profound sense of the Church's mystery, St. Paul is lifted up in contemplating God's eternal plan of reuniting everything in Christ the head. Men and women, eternally chosen by the Father in his beloved Son, find in Christ the way to reach their goal as adopted children. They are united to him by becoming his body. Through him they return to the Father as one whole, with everything on earth and in heaven.

This divine plan was historically realized when Jesus instituted the Church, which he first announced (cf. Mt 16:18), and then established by the sacrifice of his blood and the mandate conferred on the apostles to shepherd his flock. It is a historical fact as well as a mystery of communion in Christ, which the Apostle is not satisfied merely to contemplate. In its presence he feels compelled to express in a song of blessing the truth he has contemplated: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

2. To accomplish this communion of human beings in Christ, which was eternally willed by God, the commandment which Jesus himself called "my commandment" has an essential importance (Jn 15:12). He called it "a new commandment." "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34). "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15:12).

The commandment to love God above all things and to love one's neighbor as one's self is rooted in the Old Testament. But Jesus summarized it, formulated it in clear-cut terms and gave it a new meaning as the sign that his followers belong to him. "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35). Christ himself is the living model and constitutes the measure of the love he speaks of in his commandment: "as I have loved you," he says. He even presented himself as the source of that love, as "the vine" which bears the fruit of this love in his disciples, who are his branches. "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). So he exhorted them: "Remain in my love" (Jn 15:9). The community of disciples, rooted in that love with which Christ himself loved them, is the Church, the body of Christ, the one vine of which we all are the branches. It is the Church as a communion, the Church as a community of love, the Church as a mystery of love.

3. The members of this community love Christ and in him they love one another. It is a love with which Jesus himself loves them, and it is linked to the source of the God-Man's love--the communion of the Trinity. Its whole nature and its supernatural character derive from this communion and tend toward it as its definitive fulfillment. This mystery of trinitarian, Christological and ecclesial communion is revealed in John's text, which tells of the Redeemer's priestly prayer at the Last Supper. That evening Jesus said to the Father: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (Jn 17:20-21). "I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me" (Jn 17:23).

4. In his final prayer Jesus drew the complete picture of the interpersonal ecclesial relations which originate in him and in the Trinity. He proposed to his disciples, and to us all, the supreme model of that communio which the Church is called to be by reason of her divine origin: it is he himself in his intimate communion with the Father in the life of the Trinity. In his love for us Jesus showed the extent of that commandment which he left his disciples, as he said on another occasion: "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5:48). He said it during the Sermon on the Mount, when he urged them to love their enemies: "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:44-45). Many other times, especially during his passion, Jesus confirmed that this perfect love of the Father was also his love, the love with which he himself loved his own until the end.

5. This love which Jesus taught his followers, as a likeness of the same love he has, is clearly related in the priestly prayer to the model of the Trinity. "That they also may be one in us," Jesus said, "that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (Jn 17:26). He emphasized that this is the love with which "You [O Father] loved me before the foundation of the world" (Jn 17:24).

It is precisely this love, on which the Church is founded and built up as a communio of believers in Christ, which is the condition of his saving mission. Jesus prayed, "May they be one as we are one, so that the world may know that you sent me" (Jn 17:23). This is the essence of the Church's apostolate: to spread and to make acceptable and believable the truth of Christ's and God's love, which is witnessed to, made visible and practiced by the Church. The Eucharist is the sacramental expression of this love. In a certain sense, in the Eucharist the Church is continually reborn and renewed as that communio which Christ brought to the world by fulfilling the Father's eternal plan (cf. Eph 1:3-10). Especially in the Eucharist and through the Eucharist, the Church contains in herself the seed of a truly universal and eternal communion, the definitive union in Christ of everything in heaven and on earth, as Paul told us (cf. Eph 1:10)."

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