Diocese of Rome Synod Address, Part 16, One Great People

We should feel ourselves part of one great people which has received God’s promises. Those promises speak of a future in which all are invited to partake of the banquet God has prepared for every people (cf. Isaiah 25:6).

The Holy Father’s interpretation of this is wider than the definition of some. The universality of God’s call was evident to many of the Old Testament prophets. The Isaiah tradition certainly envisioned God’s very wide embrace of the human race. That passage frequently cited in Christian funerals is not just some vain hope. It is repeated often and by many figures in the later works of the Old Testament.

Here I would note that even the notion “People of God” can be interpreted in a rigid and divisive way, in terms of ​​exclusivity and privilege; that was the case with the notion of divine “election”, which the prophets had to correct, showing how it should rightly be understood.

We need to take care to step away from notions of Christianity as a country club, or something earned in a neopelagian way. Pope Francis touches on something I think is often lost when we Catholic talk about vocation. The foundational sacrament of vocation is Baptism. I think people misspeak when they speak of a “vocation to the single life.” As if non-married, non-ordained, non-vowed persons need some special treatment. What they are called to do is live out their life as a baptized Christian. That may develop further with some sacramental or other gift. But grace and faith through Baptism is a gift. And a responsibility:

Being God’s people is not a privilege but a gift that we receive, not for ourselves but for everyone. The gift we receive is meant to be given in turn. That is what vocation is: a gift we receive for others, for everyone. A gift that is also a responsibility. The responsibility of witnessing by our deeds, not just our words, to God’s wonderful works, which, once known, help people to acknowledge his existence and to receive his salvation. Election is a gift.

Something to say to ourselves:

The question is this: if I am a Christian, if I believe in Christ, how do I give that gift to others? God’s universal saving will is offered to history, to all humanity, through the incarnation of his Son, so that all men and women can become his children, brothers and sisters among themselves, thanks to the mediation of the Church. That is how universal reconciliation is accomplished between God and humanity, that unity of the whole human family, of which the Church is a sign and instrument (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1).

Aren’t we touching on this point in our discussion and examination of Pope John Paul II’s notion of a Reconciled Church? We Christians have received that gift. It is not ours to hoard or dole out to those judged to be worthy. Our responsibility is to share it with every grain of wheat, every weed in the field.

In the period prior to the Second Vatican Council, thanks to the study of the Fathers of the Church, there was a renewed realization that the people of God is directed towards the coming of the Kingdom, towards the unity of the human family created and loved by God. The Church, as we know and experience her in the apostolic succession, should be conscious of her relationship to this universal divine election and carry out her mission in its light. In that same spirit, I wrote my encyclical Fratelli Tutti. As Saint Paul VI said, the Church is a teacher of humanity, and today she aims at becoming a school of fraternity.

I believe this is a very significant distinction. If we are the school of communion (my term, but PF’s meaning, I trust) then we are more the locus for formation than always those doing the forming, teaching, educating. The Church offers the setting, the context, the structure. The best formators may well be the ones least expected to show the way. But we need to be open to God’s surprises.

This speech is copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in 2021 Pope Francis Synod Address, synodality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Diocese of Rome Synod Address, Part 16, One Great People

  1. James says:

    Talk of “vocation to the single life” is a return to the early church practice. Since the Roman Church merged with the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the “single life” was removed as an option. You were either to be in the hierarchy, married, or in a monastery. For the first 300 years, wandering single monastics & celibate single Christians were largely the norm (see: St. Thecla or the Didache), but this didn’t work for an imperial religion who wanted babies, soldiers, workers, obedience, and a sedentary lifestyle. The West didn’t require marriage by a priest until modern times. Scholarship has shown that early Christianity was mostly against marriage & was hostile to family life. The attempts to refute this are not convincing, since at best marriage was tolerated for the weak only. Real progress will be made if the church admits that family life & large monasteries were nothing but a product of the imperial religion.

    Your post here is mostly buzz words and vague phrases (e.g. “foundational sacrament of vocation” and “school of fraternity”) that have no meaning. It’s the usual endless rambling out of the Vatican.

    • Thanks for the comment James.

      As a point of fact, the Church never merged with the Empire. I think we can say the Church adopted certain mannerisms of secular politics, but the bishops were quite careful about associating too closely with secular government. The early monastic movement represented an even deeper skepticism about Christianity becoming too much a part of the mainstream.

      While there were fringe orthodox groups as well as Gnostics within Christianity who were opposed to marriage and sex, it was far from the only viewpoint. Clement of Alexandria, late 2nd century, affirmed marriage as established by God. Maybe some of the loudest voices in early Christianity opposed sex and marriage, but they were not deemed in the end to be part of the orthodox mainstream.

      Marriage as a sacrament was settled long before modern times–the 12th century in the West.

      My assertion is that sacraments of vocation must be a positive development in a believer’s life. Ordination and marriage, bring certain new duties and responsibilities if they are properly understood. Baptism is the first, though. As a person matures spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically (in the case of infant or child baptism) they shoulder more of the responsibility inherent in a baptized believer. That is a significant calling for every Christian, one that requires no further waiting or eligibility. The single life is also often a stage before a final commitment. I don’t think it has any particular quality that “disappears” when a person marries, enters religious life, or gets ordained.

      “School of fraternity” is Pope Francis’ term, and I perceive it differently than you.

      I’m aware that particular Christian groups through the centuries have set marriage and family aside. Some of them have produced a sparkling witness to the Gospel. But I don’t think that calling is for everyone.

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