Last June Pope Francis shared that it is dangerous to think that one can only have a personal relationship with Jesus “without communion with and the medication of the church”. We need to unpack and understand what the Pope is really saying here in this context. Obviously, we do encounter Jesus in personal prayer and we should make time for God in silent prayer. As Catholics however, I think the Pope wanted to remind us that our faith is communal. The Church community is important in our life of faith. St. Paul emphasized that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. Jesus is “the head of the body; the church” (Col 1:18). In his earthly life Jesus never wrote a book or gave us a bible to resolve our challenges and issues going forward. Our Lord did establish a church, which means an assembly and community of believers.
In Matthew’s gospel we read “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the Hades shall not prevail against it, I give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:18-19). Jesus chose Peter as the First Pope, with the responsibility of leading the other apostles(Bishops) in mission. He promised to always be with the Church and guide her until He comes again. Although we have had a rocky ride in our history as the Catholic Church, we are still around. As a community of faith we have a two-thousand-year history and we should be proud and confident that this is the Church that Jesus established. He also noted, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone…but if he refuses to listen…then tell it to the Church” (Mt 18:15-17). Again we see Jesus highlighting the Church as a mediator in earthly affairs. Christ gave the Church authority to make decisions on matters of faith and morals and to teach His followers in all truth. He likewise gave the Church the sacramental authority to forgive sins, telling them “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18).
Again Pope Francis and indeed all of us should know that we can call upon Jesus at anytime. We are encouraged to pray not just when we go to church, but also in our homes, rooms, cars, meals, etc.… However, we would be mistaken to think we can only value a personal and private relationship with Jesus. It is not biblical. Jesus gave us a church to be in communion with its members, to gather and become nourished in Word and Sacrament.