Church Communion and Evangelisation
The Church is Mission because it is Communion
Pope John Paul II
In an informal address to the clergy of the diocese of Rome in March 1990, the Pope made comments that provide a preview of the 2001 letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium (Novo Millennio Ineunte). He pointed out that in a secularised world only a Church that lives communion at all levels can really fulfil her mission. The following text has been translated from the Italian original. It reflects the spoken, informal style of the Pope’s words on that occasion.
During this meeting the bishop of Rome above all listens…with great attention and, I profited from listening to all that you wanted to say here in this assembly…
More or less everyone is convinced that the ecclesiology of Vatican II can be summarised with this word “communion”. Not only with this word “communion”, but above all with this word. For instance, in the final document of the Extraordinary Synod organised in 1985 on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the conclusion of the Council, the members of the Synod noted this.
But if we take this word “communion” we can see that, although the Second Vatican Council was above all an ecclesiological Council, it was also a deeply theological council. It showed us the indispensable way that leads the Church to God, to divine reality, to the mystery of God, because God is communion. It is communion because it is love, and being love it cannot but be communion. This is her mystery, but this is her very deep revealed reality. Without revelation it would not be possible to conceive this truth – that God is communion…
This God who is “communion” is also “mission”. The ecclesiological doctrine of Vatican II taught us that God is “mission” because he is “communion”, he is “creator” because he is “Trinitarian mission”. This God does not leave the world to itself. He doesn’t allow this world to become a reality separated from him. Though respecting its autonomy, above all human autonomy, and while also respecting the autonomy that comes from human freedom, from free will, this autonomy that comes from him, God Love; God-Communion sets out in mission. The Church is the fruit of this mission. She is the sacrament of this mission.
We bear in our roots this reality of God who is “communion” and “mission”. This is how the Church is born. This is how the Church is born in her universality and also in each of her particular dimensions. This is how the Church is born in each parish. The Church in each parish has in itself this mystery of God who is “communion” and “mission”, “mission” because “communion”, because God is Love.
We must draw nearer and nearer to this ecclesiology of Vatican II, and always measure our way of thinking and acting (in this light). This is the prophetic role of the Second Vatican Council for our generation and for many future generations. We must live with this ecclesiology because, living with this ecclesiology, we live with revealed, Trinitarian theology…
Naturally, in knowing this and in living all of this, we also encounter a contrary process in human reality. This process can be called in different ways, but perhaps the word “secularisation” is what corresponds most to a “anti-communional” and “anti-mission” tendency. (But) we want to live in this world. We are children of this world and we no longer want to live as if God were outside the world, as if God did not exist.
This (secularisation) tendency is not always explicit. It is not a programmatic atheism. Often it’s agnostic. It is often a comfortable position, because, certainly, this God-communion, this God revealed through the passion and resurrection of God, is a demanding God. He desires humanity. He wants humanity’s salvation and perfection. He wants us to share in his divinity. But the secular programme wants to free humanity from this.
It affirms that the world is enough for you, the world is enough for you. We respond: that’s not true. That’s not true because at the end the world leaves humankind like a corpse. So it is not true, even though this proposal is suggestive, it’s easy… This is our situation and it’s not an easy situation. We have a responsible, demanding task, and sometimes this demanding task seems to exceed our strength…
All of this tells us two things. We must be in a very deep communion with God in order to bring ahead his communional mission, his divine, Trinitarian mission. We must be more and more in communion among ourselves, united among ourselves, because this is the consequence of our likeness – we are in the image and likeness of God – of our Christian vocation. This is also an imperative of the Gospel. It is missionary and pastoral strategy.
It is the unity of the presbyterate. And we know well that strength is found in unity. We must increasingly promote this unity of the people of God, this unity of priests, of the presbyterate, unity with our consecrated brothers and sisters. (We must promote) this unity with all committed lay people and with our catechists, health workers, charity workers and many others…
Perhaps the number of those who practice on Sundays is declining. Perhaps this is declining. But, on the other hand, the number of people who are committed is increasing. So we need an even deeper unity, an even deeper communion with all those who make up the Church, the living Church.
Home - Archive - Church Communion and Evangelisation April 2002