VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Following Jesus means belonging to the church, the community that gives Christians their identity, Pope Francis said.
“It is not possible to find Jesus outside the church,” he said in his Mass homily April 23. “The great Paul VI said it is ‘an absurd dichotomy’ to want to live with Jesus without the church, to follow Jesus outside the church, to love Jesus without the church.”
Dozens of cardinals living in Rome or visiting the Vatican joined the pope in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace for the Mass on the feast of St. George, the martyr. The feast is the pope’s name day; he was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, told the pope the cardinals had wanted to join him for the Mass “to thank our Father in heaven for the gifts he has given you thus far and to request abundant graces upon your Petrine ministry.”
The cardinal asked God to give them and the pope “the strength with which the Holy Spirit infused St. George and the martyrs of every age” to face difficulties, serve the poor and spread the Gospel.
Adding to the festivities, after the Mass, in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the Swiss Guard band played for the pope and the cardinals.
In his homily, Pope Francis spoke about the persecution of the first Christian communities and how opposition did not stop them from sharing their faith in Christ, but went hand in hand with even greater missionary activity.
“Precisely at the moment persecution erupted, the missionary activity of the church erupted as well,” the pope said.
When the first Christians began sharing the Gospel with “the Greeks,” and not just other Jews, it was something completely new and made some of the Apostles “a bit nervous,” the pope said. They sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on the situation, a kind of “apostolic visitation,” he said. “With a bit of a sense of humor, we can say this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Barnabas saw that the church was growing, he said. The church was becoming “the mother of more and more children,” a mother that not only generates sons and daughters, but gives them faith and an identity.
Christian identity is not a bureaucratic status, it is “belonging to the church … the mother church, because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the church,” Pope Francis said. “It is the mother church who gives us Jesus, gives us identity.”
Pope Francis said that when Barnabas witnessed the crowds of new believers he rejoiced with “the joy of an evangelizer.”
The growth of the church, the pope said, “begins with persecution — a great sadness — and ends with joy. This is how the church moves forward — as I saint, I don’t recall which right now, said — between the persecution of the world and the consolation of the Lord. The life of the church is this way.”
“If we want to take the path of the mundane, negotiating with the world,” the pope said, “we will never have the consolation of the Lord. If we seek only consolation, it will be superficial.”
The life of the church is a path that always alternates between “persecution and consolation, between the Cross and the Resurrection,” he said.
Pope Francis asked the cardinals to join him in praying that they, too, would have the “fervor to move forward — as brothers, all of us — forward, forward, carrying the name of Jesus in the heart of holy mother church, which is — as St. Ignatius said — hierarchical and catholic.”