Continuing with the address of the Holy Father to his brother bishops of Latin America. When we speak of the modern movement to discipleship, we are expanding on older, less complete understandings of the Church.
The Church is the community of Jesus’ disciples. The Church is a Mystery (cf. Lumen Gentium, 5) and a People (cf. ibid., 9). Better yet, in the Church the Mystery becomes present through God’s People.
Missionary discipleship is as old as Christianity, but the Holy Father recognizes the new opportunity to fill an emerging need. We read a typically Jesuit sensibility, our close accompaniment of the Master:
Hence my insistence that missionary discipleship is a call from God for today’s busy and complicated world, a constant setting out with Jesus, in order to know how and where the Master lives. When we set out with him, we come to know the will of the Father who is always waiting for us. Only a Church which is Bride, Mother and Servant, one that has renounced the claim to control what is not her own work but God’s, can remain with Jesus, even when the only place he can lay his head is the cross.
Human beings are communal creatures: it is how we are made. It makes sense that God will use this appeal to draw closer to us:
Closeness and encounter are the means used by God, who in Christ has drawn near to us to continually meet us. The mystery of the Church is to be the sacrament of this divine intimacy and the perennial place of this encounter. Hence, the need for the bishop to be close to God, for in God he finds the source of his freedom, his steadfastness as a pastor and the closeness of the holy people entrusted to his care. In this closeness, the soul of the apostle learns how to make tangible God’s passion for his children.
When I read of “sacrament” in descriptions like this, I’m drawn to the subtitle of my theology course in sacramental theology, “as Christ-encounters.” Pope Francis describes “encounter” here as well. Bishops and pastors, as imitators of Christ, embody this closeness, this encounter. Indeed, any minister optimally seeks this closeness to those in her or his charge.