The holiness of the Church was the theme chosen by Francis for his catechesis during today’s general audience, which took place in St. Peter’s Square and was attended by more than 50,000 people.
In the Creed, after professing that the Church is “one”, the Pope said, “we also confess that she is ‘holy’; we thus affirm the holiness of the Church, and this is a characteristic that has been present ever since the beginning in the conscience of the first Christians, who called themselves simply ‘the holy’, as they were certain of the action of God, of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the Church”.
“But”, he asked, “How can we say that the Church is holy, if we see that the Church throughout history, during her long journey through the centuries, has experienced many moments of darkness? How can a Church be holy if she is made up of human beings, of sinners? Of men who are sinners, women who are sinners, priests who are sinners, nuns who are sinners, bishops who are sinners, cardinals who are sinners, popes who are sinners? Everyone. How can a Church like this be holy?”
The Church is holy because “she comes from God Who is holy, Who is faithful to her and never abandons her to the power of death and evil. She is holy because Jesus Christ, Saint of God, is indissolubly united to her; she is holy because she is guided by the Holy Spirit which purifies, transforms, and renews. She is not holy by our merits, but because God makes her holy”.
“You could say to me: but the Church is made up of sinners, we see this every day. And this is true: we are a Church of sinners, and we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed … by God. Throughout history there has been the temptation to say: the Church is just the Church of the pure, of those who are entirely coherent, and the rest are to be cast aside. No! It’s true! This is heresy… The Church is holy, she does not refuse sinners; on the contrary, she welcomes them, she is open even to those who are most distant, she calls to all to allow themselves to be surrounded by the mercy, tenderness, and forgiveness of the Father, Who offers to all the opportunity to encounter Him and to walk the path to holiness. … Is there anyone here who brings no sin with them? No, we all carry our sins with us.”
In the Church, the God we encounter “is not a ruthless judge, but is like the Father in the Gospel parable. … The Lord wants us to be part of a Church who knows how to extend her arms to welcome all, who is not the house of few, but the home of all, where everyone can be renewed, transformed and sanctified by His love; the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, the discouraged and the lost. The Church offers to all the possibility of embarking on the road of holiness, which is the road of the Christian”.
“Do not be afraid of holiness”, concluded Francis, “of letting yourself be loved and purified by God. … Let us allow God’s holiness be transmitted to us. Every Christian is called to holiness; and holiness does not consist, first and foremost, in doing extraordinary things, but rather in letting God act. It is the encounter between our weakness and the strength of His grace”.