Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "We are not isolated and we are not Christians individually, each on his or her own". Instead, we are all part of the Church, "a large family, where one is welcomed," where "one learns to live as believers and disciples of the Lord Jesus," Pope Francis said.
Speaking in the last general audience before the July break, the Holy Father devoted his catechesis to the Church before a crowd of 35,000 in St Peter's Square. Despite a few drops of rain, he walked extensively among the assembled faithful.
In his address, he warned against those who "think they can have a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion and the mediation of the Church."
In the Church, he noted, there is no "do it yourself", no "free agents." For him, "Our Christian identity is belonging! We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It is like a surname. If the name is 'I am a Christian', the surname is 'I belong to the Church'." Such sense of belonging was born from the alliance between God and Abraham, to whom he donated a great people for his loyalty.
"God's relationship to his people comes before all of us, it comes from that time," and thus, "in this sense, our thoughts go first, with gratitude, to those who have gone before us and who welcomed us into the Church. No one becomes a Christian by himself! Is this clear? Nobody becomes a Christian by himself. Christians are not made in a lab. Christians are part of a people that has come a long way. Christians belong to a people called the Church and the Church makes us Christians on the day of our Baptism. Of course, then comes the catechesis and so many [other] things. But no one, no one becomes a Christian by himself. "
"If we believe, if we know how to pray, if we know the Lord and can listen to his Word, if we feel him close to us and recognise him in our brothers, that is because others before us lived the faith and then passed it onto us: the faith we received from our fathers, our ancestors, who taught it to us. If we think about it, who knows how many loved ones are passing before our eyes at this very moment: Maybe the face of our parents who asked the Baptism for us, that of our grandparents or another relative who taught us how to make the sign of the cross or recite our first prayers."
"I will always remember the face of the nun who taught me catechism. I can always see her face - She is certainly in Heaven because she was a saintly woman. I always remember her and thank God for this nun - or that of the parish priest, and that of another priest or a nun, a catechist, who passed on the content of the faith and made us grow as Christians. "
"There is no 'do it yourself' in the Church, no 'free agents'. How many times did Pope Benedict describe the Church as an ecclesial 'us'! Sometimes one can hear people say, 'I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I do not care for the Church . . . 'How many times have we heard that? And that is no good. "
Some "think they can have a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion and the mediation of the Church. Such temptations are dangerous and harmful. They are, in the words of the great Pope Paul VI, absurd dichotomies."
Indeed, "walking together is challenging, and can sometimes be laborious. Some brother or sister might cause a problem, or a scandal . . . But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to humans, to all of us, to witnesses. It is through our brothers and our sisters, with their gifts and their limits, that he comes to us and makes himself known. This is what it means to belong to the Church. "
"Let us ask for," the pope said in concluding, "the grace of never falling into the temptation of thinking we can do without others, without the Church, and save ourselves on our own."
"We cannot love God without loving our brothers and sisters; we cannot love God outside of the Church; we cannot be in communion with God without being in the Church; and we cannot be good Christians if we are not with all those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus, as one people, one body. And this is the Church."