What does it mean to be the People of God?

Continuing the new series of his weekly general audience catechesis, based on the documents of Vatican II, Pope Francis spoke today about what it means to call the Church the ‘People of God.’  Below is Vatican Radio’s English translation:

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today I would like to touch briefly on another of the terms with which the Second Vatican Council defined the Church, that of “People of God” (cf. Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, 9; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 782). I shall do so with a few questions upon which we can all reflect.

1. What does it mean to be “People of God”? First of all, it means that God does not really belong to any people; for it is He who calls us, who summons us, who invites us to be part of his people, and this invitation is open to all, without distinction, because God’s mercy “desires all people to be saved”(1 Tim 2:4). Jesus does not tell the Apostles and us to form an exclusive group, an elite group. Jesus says: Go and make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). St Paul says that within the people of God, in the Church, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile … for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). I would like to say to those who feel far from God and the Church, to those who are fearful or indifferent, to those who think they can no longer change: the Lord is calling you too to be part of his people and he does it with great respect and love! He invites us to be a part of this people, the people of God

2. How do you become a member of this people? It is not through physical birth, but through a new birth. In the Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born from above, of water and of spirit to enter the Kingdom of God (cf. John 3:3-5). It is through Baptism that we are introduced to this people, through faith in Christ, the gift of God which must be nurtured and tended to throughout our whole life. Let us ask ourselves: how can I grow in the faith that I received in my Baptism? How do tend to this faith that I have received and that the people of God has? How do I make it grow? And another question.

3. What is the law of the People of God? It is the law of love, love for God and love for our neighbor according to the new commandment that the Lord left us (cf. Jn 13:34). It is a love, however, that is not sterile sentimentality or something vague, it is recognizing God as the only Lord of life and, at the same time, accepting the other as a true brother, overcoming divisions, rivalry, misunderstandings, selfishness; the two things go together. We have still so far to go to be able to live concretely according to this new law, the law of the Holy Spirit working within us, the law of charity, of love! When we see in the many wars between Christians in the newspapers or on TV, how can the people of God understand this? Within the people of God there are so many wars! And in neighborhoods, in workplaces, so many wars due to envy, jealousy. Even within the same family, there are so many internal wars. We must ask the Lord to help us understand this law of love. How good, how nice it is to love each other as true brothers. How nice that is! Let’s do something today: perhaps we all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps many of us are angry with others. But at least let’s say to the Lord: “Lord, I am angry with him or with her. I pray for him and for her. I pray to you”. To pray for those with whom we are angry. It’s a big step in this law of love. Let’s do it today!

4. What mission does this people have? To bring to the world the hope and the salvation of God: to be a sign of the love of God who calls all to be friends of His; to be the yeast that ferments the dough, the salt that gives flavour and preserves from decay, the light that brightens. Just as I said, it is enough to open a newspaper, and we see that around us there is the presence of evil, the Devil is at work. But I would like to say in a loud voice: God is stronger! Do you believe this? That God is stronger? Let’s say it in a loud voice: God is stronger! Do you believe this? That God is stronger? Let’s say it all together. God is stronger! All of us! And you know why He is stronger? Because He is the Lord, the only Lord. God is stronger! Good! And I would like to add that reality which is sometimes dark and marked by evil can change, if we are the first to bring the light of the Gospel especially with our lives. If in a stadium, let’s think of the Olympic Stadium in Rome, or that of San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, if on a dark night one person lights up a lamp, you can barely see it, but if each of over seventy thousand spectators switches on his own light, the whole Stadium lights up. Let’s make our lives a light of Christ; and together we will bring the light of the Gospel to the whole world.

5. What is the goal of this people? Its end is the kingdom of God, which has been begun by God Himself on earth, and which is to be further extended until it is brought to perfection by Him at the end of time, when Christ, our life, shall appear (cf. Lumen Gentium, 9). The goal then is full communion with the Lord; it’s to enter into his divine life where we will live the joy of his love without measure. That full joy.

Dear brothers and sisters, to be Church, is to be God’s people, according to the Father’s great plan of love, it means to be the yeast of God in this humanity of ours, it means to proclaim and to bring God’s salvation into this world, which is often lost, in need of encouraging answers, answers that give hope, that give new vigour in the journey. May the Church be a place of mercy and of hope in God, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. And to feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, encouraged, the Church’s doors must be open, so that all may come and that we can go out of those doors and proclaim the Gospel. Thank you so much.

Saint Joseph, our model

Today is the wonderful Solemnity of St. Joseph.  Joseph, that man chosen by God, to protect those things dearest to His heart:  Our Lady, Jesus, and His Church. No small task!

As our Holy Father spoke today of St. Joseph he especially points out some of the most important attributes of this great saint, and how we can emulate him.  As Joseph was faithful to God’s will, we look to his example to see how we can be faithful, and fulfill, by God’s grace, His will for us.

Pope Francis says this:

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own…“protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

As Christians we are all, like Joseph, called to be protectors. We must protect the vulnerabilities of those not only weaker than ourselves, but all, even those whom we find difficult to love.

In today’s dog-eat-dog culture, which views people in a utilitarian light, where love is defined by “what I’m getting” rather than by what one is giving, strength and power are seen as tools to raise oneself up at the expense of others.  Pope Francis wants us to turn our eyes to St. Joseph, an authentic model of strength, the strength that is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), the strength that makes us willing to expose ourselves, become vulnerable, in order to protect others.  This is the strength that makes us like Joseph, and ultimately, makes us like the Son he was chosen to shelter and protect.