During the June pilgrimage to Rome, I was aware of many graces, not the least of which is the unity that we share as one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This truth was represented in a small way by the group that travelled with me from the various places of my life and ministry — Indiana, Wyoming and Alaska; and in its fullness as the new archbishops from around the world celebrated Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.
The universality of the church is a beautiful mystery and reality, one that calls us to live in ‘communion’ with one another.
To reflect upon the church is to recognize that it is Christ who makes us one; who makes us whole. Thus, the Eucharist is at the center of our life as Catholics. As Saint Pope John Paul II taught in his last encyclical, “On The Eucharist,” in 2003: “The church draws her life from the Eucharist.” In the Eucharist, Christ unites us with himself as he shares with us his very body and blood — his own life. United to Christ, we are united with each other.
In this same encyclical, Pope John Paul II goes on to say something very important: “Furthermore, given the very nature of ecclesial communion and its relation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it must be recalled that “the Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that it is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”
Pope John Paul II continues: “From this it follows that a truly eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community.”
He adds: “The ecclesial communion of the eucharistic assembly is a communion with its own bishop and with the Roman Pontiff,” Pope John Paul II taught. The bishop, he noted, in effect, is the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular church.”
In a world that is fractured by so many divisions, it is good for us to turn again to the Lord who makes us one. It is important for us to rediscover the role the church plays in our life of faith and in the life of the human family in bringing us together, as the one Body of Christ. It is critical for us to rediscover the grace and beauty of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, so we can find our personal wholeness in Christ, and through and with him, to be strengthened in our relationships with the other members of our parish family, and our parish with other parishes, with the archdiocese, and with the universal Catholic Church.
We rely upon each other. We need each other.
As the church, we find our strength and unity in Christ. But after Christ strengthens and unites us, once he fills us with his light, he sends us into the world, to continue his mission. Thus, we cannot be content to spend all our energies on the internal structures of the parish or the church (self-reference). We must also focus beyond our self, for the mission of the church is to the world.
As the cardinals of the church gathered prior to the conclave that elected Pope Francis, they listened to each other’s reflections upon the current needs of the church. Notes from Cardinal Bergolio’s talk surfaced after he was elected as Pope Francis. Here is what he said:
“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the church to come out of herself. The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
He adds: “When the church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick … In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out.”
As I am still in the first year as your new archbishop, I ask you to join me in addressing these simple challenges. Let us work together to live our unity with Christ, and through Christ strengthen the bounds of unity that make us a local portion of God’s family as the Archdiocese of Anchorage. We need each other.
Join with me in living as members of Christ’s body in the world. Let us together rediscover the fire of Pentecost that sends us into the world, to serve Christ in those around us.