In his sermon on the feast of St. George, Pope Francis made a wonderfully bold claim: It is not possible to follow or even find Jesus outside of his Church. Now, this is not a popular claim at all. It is currently in vogue to possess a personal religion, a “me and Jesus” faith that is completely indifferent or even antagonistic to any visible entity known as the Church. For all practical purposes, the individual is the entire Church. This ecclesiological understanding is perfectly suited to the relativistic age in which we live. We can have our cake and eat it too—we can have Jesus on our own terms without submitting to the inconvenient authority of a visible Church.
But the Catholic Church has always taught that the Church is the body of Christ, and if you reject the Church, you reject Christ. You cannot have Jesus without his Body. That is unthinkable.
What is interesting to note is that Pope Francis’ sermon was about evangelization. Pope Francis seems to be addressing the deadly cancer of religious indifferentism, which is without question the greatest threat to apostolic zeal in our evangelization.
If, after all, salvation is not a matter of embracing the truth revealed by Jesus Christ and preserved in his Church, but is rather merely a matter of believing anything, so long as the belief is sincere, then evangelization does not matter.
But if, on the other hand, what Pope Francis says is true, and Jesus cannot be found outside of his Church (he is echoing many popes before him), we must be fervent in our evangelization.
If we are to be effective in this new evangelization, we must once again realize that bringing people to Jesus means bringing them to his Church—the Church that is, despite its flaws and its frailty, both His body and His bride.
Here are a few quotes from Pope Francis’ sermon.
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
The Church’s journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken.
Let us ask the Lord for this apostolic fervor that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, “hierarchical and Catholic.” So be it.