VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The church is driven by the Holy Spirit and God’s love, not by bureaucrats or militants, Pope Francis said in his morning homily.
He also warned against letting the church’s mission get lost in a tangle of bureaucracy, saying the church administration is necessary only so long as it supports the wider mission of love.
The pope celebrated Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, April 24 with employees from the Vatican bank.
He reflected on the day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles in which “the word of God continued to spread and grow,” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Barnabas and Saul sending them on to a new evangelizing mission.
“What is the church? Our church? Because it seems that it is not a human enterprise,” the pope said in his homily.
The church “is something else,” he said; it’s not the disciples who make the church because they are the messengers, sent by Jesus who, in turn, was sent by God.
“And so, one sees that the church begins there, in the heart of the Father” who loved the world enough to send his only son.
“He began this story of love, this love story that has gone on over time for so long and is still not over,” the pope said.
“We, women and men of the church, are in the midst of a love story (where) each one of us is a link in this chain of love,” he said. “If we don’t understand this, we won’t understand anything about what the church is.”
He recalled the famous story of a head of state asking how big the pope’s army is. The church, however, doesn’t grow “with soldiers, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.
The church doesn’t grow because of “human strength,” and Christians in the past who created armies and waged religious wars took the wrong path; “some Christians made mistakes for historical reasons,” he said.
“We, too, learn from our mistakes about how this love story goes,” he said, since it grows silently, quietly, like the mustard seed, like yeast in the dough.
The church grows the same way, “slowly from the bottom,” Pope Francis said.
“When the church wants to flaunt its size, build organizations, make departments and become a bit bureaucratic, the church loses its main essence and runs into danger of turning itself into an NGO,” he said.
He then spoke directly to his audience — employees of the Vatican bank — saying “excuse me, everything is necessary, offices are necessary … but they’re necessary up to a certain point: as an aid to this story of love.”
“But when the organization takes precedence, love drops away and the church, poor thing, becomes an NGO; this is not the way,” he said.
The church is a mother, he said, and no real mother would let herself be called a “domestic administrator” but would insist on being called a mother.
The church and its story of love are propelled “by the strength of the Holy Spirit, and all of us together, we are a family in the church who is our mother.”