In a culture that idolizes the individual and reflexively mistrusts authority, Catholics often hear the challenge: "I have a personal relationship with God; why do I need the Church?"
“In a series of reflections on the relationship between Christ and the Church made during his Wednesday general audiences in St. Peter's Square in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI addressed that challenge.”
The Pope noted a slogan that was once popular in some religious circles: "Jesus, yes; Church, no." But such an approach, He declared, given the express intention of Christ, is "totally inconceivable" (reflection presented March 15, 2006).
"This individualistically chosen Jesus is an imaginary Jesus," the Pope insisted. "We cannot have Jesus without the reality He created and in which He communicates himself. Between the Son of God made flesh and His Church there is a profound, unbreakable and mysterious continuity by which Christ is present today in His people."
What in particular are the aspects of "the reality [Christ] created" -- that is, the Church -- that makes Christ in His fullness inseparable from it? How, specifically, does He "communicate himself" through it? According to the Pope, it all begins with the foundation for the Church established by Christ himself: the Twelve Apostles.
"Through the apostles," says Pope Benedict, "we come to Jesus himself." Their mediation takes place in several ways.
First, "it is from the apostles, through their word and witness, that we receive the truth of Christ." They were eyewitnesses to His life and message, given the commission to preach the kingdom of God, and they appointed successors so that "the mission entrusted to them would be continued after their death" (March 29, 2006).
"The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given by Christ" (April 5, 2006).
To know Jesus, then, we need the Church, because it is the Church that authoritatively and reliably preserves and proclaims the truth about who Jesus is.
Second, Christ gave His authority and power to the apostles and their successors to offer the sacraments, which we need to be fully joined to Christ. The Pope notes in particular holy orders, through which the apostolic succession is continued; the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which reconciles us to God; and the Eucharist, in which "Jesus nourishes us, He unites us with himself, with His Father, with the Holy Spirit and with one an-other" (March 29, 2006).
Communion With Christ
Third, through the apostles Christ gathered a community that, despite the failings of its members, is a communion with himself, filled with love by the power of the Spirit: "The Holy Spirit builds the Church and gives her the truth; He pours out love, as St. Paul says, into the hearts of believers (see Rom 5:5)."
This "Communion is born from faith inspired by apostolic preaching, it is nourished by the Breaking of Bread and prayer, and is expressed in brotherly love and service" (April 5, 2006).
In all these ways, then, "through apostolic succession it is Christ who reaches us: in the words of the apostles and of their successors, it is He who speaks to us; through their hands it is He who acts in the sacraments; in their gaze it is His gaze that embraces us and makes us feel loved and welcomed into the Heart of God" (May 10, 2006).
To know Jesus Christ in His fullness, we need the Church.