Rorate Caeli

Francis: You cannot follow Jesus Christ without the Church

From today's homily by the Bishop of Rome, Francis, during Mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord -- when, just like last year, Francis continued Benedict XVI's practice of celebrating this feast's Mass "ad apsidem":

Teach your children that you can not be a Christian outside the Church, you can not follow Jesus Christ without the Church, because the Church is a Mother, and makes us grow in love for Jesus Christ.

This echoes what Francis had said at much greater length during his homily for the Mass of January 1, Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God in the Novus Ordo calendar: 

Likewise inseparable are Christ and the Church – because the Church and Mary are always together and this is precisely the mystery of womanhood in the ecclesial community – and the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church. To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an "absurd dichotomy", as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible "to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church" (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: "Behold the Lamb of God"; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.

This, the Church’s activity and mission, is an expression of her motherhood. For she is like a mother who tenderly holds Jesus and gives him to everyone with joy and generosity. No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ. Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods. 

Dear brothers and sisters! Jesus Christ is the blessing for every man and woman, and for all of humanity. The Church, in giving us Jesus, offers us the fullness of the Lord’s blessing. This is precisely the mission of the people of God: to spread to all peoples God’s blessing made flesh in Jesus Christ. And Mary, the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the first and most perfect believer, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood and constantly sustains her maternal mission to all mankind. Mary’s tactful maternal witness has accompanied the Church from the beginning. She, the Mother of God, is also the Mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women, and of every people.

We are aware that some will note that what Francis means by "the Church" is a matter of greater complexity than it should be. But for now, we let his words for today stand and we take them at face value.