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