Francis: When Christians become a source of scandal, people choose atheism

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Today’s General Audience was dedicated to the Church as a “visible reality”: We are all sinners and it is right that this should provoke displeasure in us, especially when we set a bad example. But the Church can represent Jesus. The Pope also sent out an appeal against the Ebola virus.

iacopo scaramuzzi
Vatican City

We are all sinners and “we experience our fragility and our limitations, which rightly provoke profound displeasure, especially when we give bad example and become a source of scandal.” Francis concluded today’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square appealing to the international community to increase efforts to combat the Ebola virus and talked about the visible dimension of the Church, which is different from its “spiritual reality”. If Christians become a source of scandal, some may say: ‘If this is a Christian, I prefer to be an atheist! Because people go by our witness.”

“When we refer to the Church, however, our thoughts turn immediately to our communities, our parishes, our diocese, to the structures in which we usually gather together and, of course, of the component and institutional figures which guide and govern it,” Francis pointed out. “This is the visible reality of the Church. We must ask, then: Are they two different things or the One Church? And, if it is the One Church, how can we understand the relationship between its visible and spiritual reality?” the Pope began today’s reflection by acking.

First, when we speak of the visible reality of the Church we said there are two - the visible reality which we see and the spiritual one - we must not think only of the Pope, Bishops, priests and consecrated persons. The visible reality of the Church is made ​​up of the many baptized brothers and sisters around the world who believe, hope and love. [Moving from the prepared text] “Often, we hear people say: the Church doesn’t do this …the Church doesn’t do that!’ ‘Tell me who is the Church? – ‘Well the Church is the priests, the bishops, the Pope …’ We are all the Church! All of us all of us Baptized! We are the Church, the Church of Jesus’.” “Of all those who follow the Lord Jesus and, in His name, are close to the poor and the suffering, trying to offer some relief, comfort and peace.” Francis then set his prepared text aside and spoke off the cuff: “All of those who do these things, which the Lord sent us to do are the Church”. Thus we understand that the visible reality of the Church cannot be measured, it cannot be known in all its fullness: how can one know of all the good that is done?”

Then, “we must ask ourselves: How can the visible reality can be at the service of the spiritual?” the Pope continued, underlining that the Church is called to follow Jesus’ example and through “its visible reality – everything we see -, the Sacraments and testimony – of all of us Christians - it is called every day to draw closer to every person, starting with the poor, those who suffer and those who are marginalized, in order to continue to help all feel the compassionate and merciful gaze of Jesus. Dear brothers and sisters, often as a Church we experience our fragility and our limitations, all of us, we all have them. We are all sinners, no one can say I am not a sinner. And this fragility, these limitations, these our sins, it is right that these should provoke in us a profound displeasure, especially when we give bad example and we realize we are becoming a source of scandal. How often have we heard, in our neighborhoods: “That person there is always in Church but gossips about everyone, denigrates others – what a bad example! This is not Christian! This is a bad example. So people say: ‘If this is a Christian, I prefer to be an atheist! Because people go by our witness. Then, let us ask for the gift of faith, so that we can understand how, despite our smallness and our poverty, the Lord has ​​ really made us means of grace and a visible sign of His love for all mankind. Yes, we can become a source of scandal but we can also be a source of hope through our lives our witness, just as Jesus wants!”

The Pope ended the general Audience with an appeal about the worsening of the Ebola epidemic: “I am deeply concerned about this relentless epidemic that is spreading, especially on theAfrican continent and particularly among the more disadvantaged populations. I am close in affection and prayer to those who have been affected, as well as to the doctors, nurses, volunteers, religious institutes and associations that are working heroically to help our brothers and sisters who are ill. I renew my appeal that the International Community make every effort needed to eradicate this virus, effectively alleviating the hardships and sufferings of those who are so sorely tried. I invite you to pray for them and for those who have lost their lives!”

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