Pope Francis affirmed in his Wednesday General Audience today that to be a Christian, to follow Christ, is to be a part of the Church, and that a person cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ without being a part of the Church. “God wanted to form a people that takes his blessing to all the nations of the Earth,” the Holy Father said, saying that the Church is an entity that God “sets it as a sign and instrument of union of all men with God and each other through Jesus Christ” as “a great family” to which we are all called to belong. “We are not Christians as an individual, each one on his own,” Francis said. “None of us become Christians on our own” he affirmed, but rather “we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life.”
The Pope then said that people should give thanks in prayer for the parents, grandparents, teachers, religious, and priests who have guided and formed them in the faith of Christ over the years. “We are Christians not only because of others, but together with others,” the Pope said, observing that together, the Church is “a large family that welcomes us and teaches us to live as believers and disciples of the Lord.” The Holy Father further reflected that the nature of the relationship between God and a Christian is “personal but not private…born of and enriched by the communion of the Church.” Pope Francis then hit on a repeated theme of his catechesis in recent months, the idea that a person can somehow have a direct relationship with God outside of the Church. “Whoever says they believe in God but not in the Church, has a direct relation with Christ outside of her, falls into an absurd dichotomy,” he said, “God has confided his saving message to human persons, to witnesses, and it is known to us through our brothers and sisters.”
Being a part of the Church and making one’s Christian walk within her bosom is not always an easy thing to do, the Pope admits, since “at times we encounter human weakness, limitations and even scandal in the life of the Church,” but despite this “God has called us to know him and to love him precisely by loving our brothers and sisters, by persevering in the fellowship of the Church and by seeking in all things to grow in faith and holiness as members of the one body of Christ.” The Holy Father reminded pilgrims that “as Christians, we cannot disregard the other, the Church; we cannot save ourselves on our own.” Today’s teaching was the final regular Papal Wednesday Audience until the Holy Father returns from a summer break.