The mystery of the Church
There are people who mistakenly suppose that Christ can be separated from the Church, that one can devote one's entire life to Christ without reference to the Church. In so doing, they forget the truth proclaimed by St Paul in the words: 'A man never hates his own body, but he feeds and looks after it; and this is the way Christ treats the Church, because we are parts of his Body' (Ephesians 5:29-30).
As I stated in my recent Apostolic Letter on St Augustine: 'Since he is the only mediator and redeemer of mankind, Christ is the head of the Church; Christ and the Church are one sole mystic person, the total Christ' (Augustinum Hipponensem II, 3).
So, loving Christ means loving the Church. The Church exists for Christ, so as to continue his presence and witness in the world. Christ is the Spouse and Saviour of the Church. He is her Founder and her Head. The more we come to know and love the Church, the nearer we shall be to Christ. The Church is truly a mystery, a reality both human and divine, deserving to be studied and contemplated, yet nonetheless going far beyond the grasp of the human mind. St Paul, for instance, speaks of the Church as 'a field' which is tilled and made fertile by God (1 Corinthians 3:9). He calls the faithful 'the temple' of God in which the Holy Spirit dwells (Ephesians 5:21-23).
In point of fact, St. Paul often identifies the Church with Christ himseif, by calling her the Body of Christ (cf. Romans 12:12ff.), He also calls her 'our mother' (cf. Galatians 4:26), since, thanks to Christ's love and the waters of Baptism, she gives life to many children in the course of history, By means of these and many other symbols, we come to see, in a limited yet real way, the great richness of the mystery of the Church.
The Church is essentially a mystery of fellowship. The fellowship we share in the Church is both vertical and horizontal: fellowship with the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and fellowship with one another in the Body of Christ. To be in communion therefore implies a deep personal bond of knowledge and love.'
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