The General Audience of Aug. 21 was held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
Continuing with the series of catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: Among them, “everything was in common”. Life in the Christian Community (from Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greeting to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
Here is a ZENIT working-translation of the Pope’s full General Audience:
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Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The Christian community is born from the overabundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit and grows thanks to the ‘leaven’ of sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a dynamism of solidarity that builds the Church as family of God, where the experience of koinonia is central. What does this mean, this strange word? It is a Greek word that means “to put together”, “to put in common” to be a community, not isolated. This is the experience of the first Christian community, that is, “sharing,” “communicating,” “participating,”not isolating oneself. In the Church, at its origins, this koinonia, this community, refers above all to participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. We enter into communion with Jesus and from this communion with Jesus, we arrive at communion with our brothers and sisters. And this communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, at Holy Mass, translates into fraternal union, and therefore also to what is most difficult for us: to pool goods and collect money for the collection in favor of the Mother Church of Jerusalem (Rom 12:13 ; 2 Cor 8–9) and of the other Churches. If you want to know if you are good Christians, you must pray, try to approach communion, and the sacrament of reconciliation. But that signal that your heart has converted, is when the conversion arrives at ones pockets, touching one’s own interest: this is where we see if someone is generous with others, if they help the weakest, the poorest: When the conversion arrives there, you are sure it is a true conversion. If it remains only in words, it is not a good conversion.
The Eucharistic life, prayers, the preaching of the Apostles and the experience of communion (Acts 2:42), make believers a multitude of people who have – says the Book of the Acts of the Apostles – “one heart and one soul alone” and “they do not consider what they possess, their property, but keep everything in common (Acts 4:32). It is such a strong model of life that helps us be generous and not tire out. For this reason, “There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”(Acts 4:34-35). The Church has always had this gesture of the Christians who stripped themselves of the things they had, and in addition, of things that were not necessary, to give them to those in need. And not just money: even time.
How many Christians – you, for example, here in Italy – how many Christians are volunteers! This is beautiful! It is communion, sharing my time with others, to help those in need. The voluntary service, the works of charity, the visits to the sick. One must always share with others, and not just look out for one’s own interests.
The community, or koinonia , thus becomes the new relationship between the disciples of the Lord. Christians experience a new way of being among themselves, of behaving. And it is the Christian way, to the point that the pagans looked at Christians and said: “Look how they love each other!” Love was the way. But not love of words, not fake love: love of works, of helping one another, concrete love, the concreteness of love. The bond with Christ establishes a bond between brothers that flows together and expresses itself also in the gathering of material goods. Yes, this way of being together, this way of loving, reaches the pockets, no longer being impeded from giving money to others, and now looking beyond one’s own interest. Being members of the Body of Christ makes believers co-responsible for each other. Being believers in Jesus makes us all co-responsible for each other. “But look at that one, he has this problem: I don’t care…” No, among Christians, we cannot say that, we cannot just say: “Poor person, he has a problem at home, he is going through this family difficulty.” I must pray, I take it with me, I cannot be indifferent.” This is being a Christian.
This is why the strong support the weak (Rom 15:1) and no one experiences the indifference which humiliates and disfigures human dignity, because they live this sense of community: to have the heart in common. They love each other. This is the signal: concrete love. James, Peter and John, who are the three Apostles as the “columns” of the Church of Jerusalem, establish in a communal manner that Paul and Barnabas evangelize pagans while they evangelize the Jews, and only ask, Paul and Barnabas, which is the condition: do not forget the poor, remember the poor (Gal 2:9- 10). Not only the poor, materially, but spiritually, the people who have problems and need our closeness. A Christian always starts from himself, from his heart, and approaches others, as Jesus approached us. This is the first Christian community. A concrete example of sharing and communion of goods comes to us from the testimony of Barnabas: he owns a field and sells it to deliver the proceeds to the Apostles (Acts 4:36-37). But next to his positive example another negative one, sadly, appears: Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, having sold a piece of land, decide to hand over only a part to the Apostles and to hold on to the other for themselves (Acts 5:1-2). This cheating interrupts the chain of free sharing, the serene, disinterested sharing. And the consequences are tragic, are fatal (Acts 5:5,10). The Apostle Peter exposes the impropriety of Ananias and his wife, and tells him: “Why did Satan fill your heart, so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and held back a portion of the proceeds from the camp? […] You have not lied to men, but to God “(Acts 5:3-4). We could say that Ananias lied to God because of an isolated conscience, of a hypocritical conscience, that is because of a “negotiated,” partial and opportunist ecclesial belonging. Hypocrisy is the worst enemy of this Christian community, of this Christian love: that pretending to love each other, but only looking out for one’s own interest. To fail in the sincerity of sharing, in fact, or to fail in the sincerity of love, means to cultivate hypocrisy, to distance oneself from the truth, to become selfish, to extinguish the fire of communion and to turn oneself to the coldness of inner death.
Those who behave in this way pass through the Church as tourists. There are so many tourists in the Church who are always passing by, but never enter the Church: it is spiritual tourism that makes them believe they are Christians, while they are only tourists from the catacombs. No, we must not be tourists in the Church, but brothers of each other. A life set only on profiting and taking advantage of situations at the expense of others, inevitably causes inner death. And how many people say they are close to the Church, friends of priests, bishops, while they are only looking for their own interest. These are the hypocrisies that destroy the Church!
May the Lord – I ask for all of us – pour over us His Spirit of tenderness, which overcomes all hypocrisy and puts into circulation that truth which nourishes Christian solidarity, which, far from being a social assistance activity, is an inalienable expression of the nature of the Church, the tender mother of all, especially the poorest.[Working English translation by ZENIT Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov)
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