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Pope Benedict and Church tradition: Communion of believers enhances all times and all generations



May 19, 2006:
Pope Benedict and Church tradition: Communion

of believers enhances all times and all generations

            Pope Benedict XVI has been drawing exceptionally large crowds at his weekly general audiences. People from all over the world are anxious to hear what he has to say to them about faith and science and culture. His wisdom and holiness, offered in a humble and pastoral way, are obvious to his listeners.

            His April 26th address in St. Peter's Square about tradition in the Church is being touted as a masterful presentation of an important pillar of Catholicism.

            The pope began by reminding his listeners that they need to understand the original design of the Church given to humanity by Jesus so that they can better understand their present participation in the great communion of the Church. All of us have to recognize that our individual faith lives and our ecclesial communion with believers around the world is sustained by the Holy Spirit "“ we cannot come to faith by ourselves and we cannot live as Catholics by ourselves.

            The communion we have with those who have preceded us in death, and with our brothers and sisters presently living, is guided and promoted by the apostolic ministry given to the Church by Christ. It is the College of Bishops, as successors of the apostles, under the leadership of the popes, the successors of St. Peter, who guarantee the continuity of the Church and her unity throughout the world.

Universality of the Church

            Pope Benedict's address on April 26th highlighted the double universality that affects our lives as Catholics: 'The communion, which we call Church, does not extend only to believers of a certain historical moment, but embraces also all times and all generations. Therefore we find ourselves involved in a double universality: synchronic universality (we are united with believers in all parts of the world at the present time) and diachronic universality (all times belong to us "“ believers of the past and of the future form with us living now only one great communion of believers)."

            This means that our communion, our present Church, is linked with Jesus and the first apostles and it is linked with Jesus and all future apostles and disciples until the end of time.

            The pope identifies the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church as the glue that holds us together in communion with Jesus and all who have been Church through the centuries. He reminds us that, 'thanks to the Paraclete, the experience of the Risen One, made by the apostolic community in the origins of the Church, will always be able to be lived by successive generations, in the measure that it is transmitted and actualized in faith, in worship and in the communion of the People of God." This is the reason, this past Easter, that we were able to celebrate an encounter with the Risen One not only as recalling something of the past, but as a present communion of faith, a present reality.

Church's apostolic tradition

            Pope Benedict points out to us living today that the Church's apostolic tradition is a living reality that links our present faith community with the original faith community that was formed at Pentecost. The Church's apostolic tradition consists in the transmission through the centuries of the way to salvation for the disciples of Jesus. This means that the present Church in the world continues to actualize, through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in our midst, everything that was present in the first community of believers.

            The present Church continues a communion with Jesus because she was formed from the testimony of the first apostles and from the community of the first disciples. The Church continues this tradition under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the writings of the New Testament, and in her sacramental life given her by Jesus, in her life of faith. Our living tradition makes present to us today the gifts that Jesus has given his Church. These gifts of Jesus, which he continues to share with his disciples, has as their foundation and norm the uninterrupted succession of those called to apostolic ministry "“ the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the world in communion with Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

Continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit

            Pope Benedict stresses the importance of the Holy Spirit in guaranteeing the continuity of the one Church: 'Thanks to the action of the Paraclete, the apostles and their successors can realize in time the mission received through the Risen One: "˜You are witnesses of these things. And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you' (Luke 24:48). "˜But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samara, and to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8). And this promise, initially incredible, was already realized in the time of the apostles: "˜We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit that God has given to those who obey him' (Acts 5:32). Therefore, it is the same Spirit who, through the imposition of hands and the prayer of the apostles, consecrates and sends new missionaries of the Gospel."

            The pope defines apostolic tradition in the Church in the theological sense as 'the permanent actualization of the active presence of the Lord Jesus in his people, realized by the Holy Spirit and expressed in the Church through apostolic ministry and fraternal communion." It is more than the mere material transmission of what was given at the beginning of the Church to the apostles; it is the efficacious presence of the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen, that guides the community presently gathered in his name by the action of the Holy Spirit.

            In other words, tradition provides the organic unity of the Church throughout the world at any point in history, beginning with the ministry of Jesus in the Holy Land and continuing to this very day in the church of northeastern Nebraska. We are united with the past and the future and with the universal Church in the world today, through the apostolic succession of the College of Bishops under the leadership of our pope.

Benedict XVI is a gift to the Church

            Pope Benedict gives every indication, by his writing and witness, of being a blessed leader for the Church for the 21st century. The secular media are beginning to pay attention to his teaching. I hope that, in time, people all over the world will be able to benefit from his teaching.

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