Giussani with Pope John Paul II. Wikimedia Commons

The Church Herself is a Movement

Pope John Paul II outlines the importance of ecclesial movmenets for the life of the church and reminds us to “...not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything and hold fast what is good”
John Paul II

I am very glad for this meeting and I greet you from the heart, dear participants in the International Convention “Movements in the Church.”

As you know, the Church herself is “a movement.” Above all, it is a mystery: the mystery of the eternal Love of the Father, of his fatherly heart, from which originate the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit. The Church, born of this mission, finds herself “in statu misionis.” She is a “movement” that penetrates into hearts and consciences. She is a “movement” inscribed in the history of man’s person and of human communities.

The “movements” in the Church must reflect in themselves the mystery of that “love” from which she was born and continually is born.

The “movements” in the bosom of the Church–the People of God–express that multiple movement which is man’s answer to Revelation, to the Gospel: the movement toward the living God Himself, who came so close to man, the movement toward His intimate self, to His own consciousness, and toward His own heart, which, in the encounter with God, unveils the depth which is proper to him; the movement toward men, our brothers and sisters, whom Christ puts on the road of our life; the movement toward the world, which incessantly awaits in itself “the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19).
September 27, 1981. Homily at the Mass for the participants in the Convention “Movements in the Church” at Castel Gandolfo (La Traccia, 1981, pp. 547-548)

We can find reference to ecclesial movements in the documents of the Vatican Council.
The Council says that Christ “fulfills His prophetic office … not only through the hierarchy, which teaches in His name and with His power, but also by means of the laity, who therefore constitute His witnesses and form the sensus fidei and are in the grace of the Word, so that the power of the Gospel may shine out in daily, family, and social life.”

The ecclesial movements have in the Church a precise function and, we can say, quite irreplaceable. “The apostolic movements,” says the final report of the last Synod of Bishops, “and the new movements of spirituality, if they remain rightly in the ecclesial communion, are bearers of great hope.” If they are realized authentically, they are founded on those “charismatic gifts,” which, along with the “hierarchical gifts”–in other words, ordained ministers–make up part of those gifts of the Holy Spirit which adorn the Church, Spouse of Christ.

Charismatic gifts and hierarchical gifts are distinct, but mutually complementary.

In the Church, both the institutional aspect and the charismatic aspect, both the hierarchy and the associations and movements of the faithful, are coessential and work together for life, for renewal, and for sanctification, in different ways so that there is an exchange, a mutual communion.

March 2, 1987. Message to the 2nd International Convention of the Movements at Rocca di Papa (La Traccia, 1987, pp. 190-191)

The Holy Spirit, while bestowing diverse ministries in Church communion, enriches it still further with particular gifts or promptings of grace, called charisms. These can take a great variety of forms, both as a manifestation of the absolute freedom of the Spirit who abundantly supplies them, and as a response to the varied needs of the Church in history.

Whether they be exceptional and great or simple and ordinary, the charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit that have, directly or indirectly, a usefulness for the ecclesial community, ordered as they are to the building up of the Church, to the well-being of humanity, and to the needs of the world.

Even in our own times there is no lack of a fruitful manifestation of various charisms among the faithful, women and men. These charisms are given to individual persons, and can even be shared by others in such ways as to continue in time a precious and effective heritage, serving as a source of a particular spiritual affinity among persons. In referring to the apostolate of the lay faithful, the Second Vatican Council writes: “For the exercise of the apostolate, the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts as well (cf., 1 Cor 12:7), ‘allotting them to each one as He wills’ (cf., 1 Cor 12:11), so that each might place ‘at the service of others the grace received’ and become ‘good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Ps 4:10), and build up thereby the whole body in charity (cf., Eph 4:16)” (79).

By a logic which looks to the divine source of this giving, as the Council recalls(80), the gifts of the Spirit demand that those who have received them exercise them for the growth of the whole Church.

The charisms are received in gratitude both on the part of the one who receives them and also on the part of the entire Church. They are in fact a singularly rich source of grace for the vitality of the apostolate and for the holiness of the whole Body of Christ.
December 30, 1988.
Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici

The movements will not be able to respond to the expectation the Church has for them if they are not first and foremost a place which favors the encounter between today’s man and the salvific word of Christ who questions every single person so as to make them instruments of dialogue and evangelization for today’s world.

This is the first need of our time, and it cannot be reduced to the discovery of new methodologies or techniques of communication, but must become really and truly a mission.

This mission means above all communicating to the other the reasons for the experience of one’s own conversion. In this sense, we can speak of a coessentiality of the movements to the life of the Church, along with the hierarchy.

After the clamorous decline of ideological hopes and the waning of the regimes that expressed them, European man seems bewildered and unable to find a clear way to lead him to the way of authentic and constructive happiness. He clings to the countless short-lived proposals; he feels the longing for a religious dimension, but is not always able to recognize in Christ and in the Church that road and that realization that have made Europe great.

It seems that the fundamental task of the ecclesial movements is to focus, with authenticity and realism, upon what really matters for man and for peoples.

March 24, 1991. Message to the 3rd International
Convention of the Movements at Bratislava
(Litterae Communionis, May 1991, pp. 19-20)

In our day, too, many signs and great witness have been given by individuals, groups, and movements generously dedicated to the apostolate. They show that the marvels of Pentecost have not ceased, but are renewed abundantly in the Church today. It is obvious that in addition to a considerable development in the doctrine of the charisms, there has also been a new flowering of active lay people in the Church. It is not by chance that the two facts have occurred at the same time. It is all the work of the Holy Spirit, the effective and vital source of everything in the Christian life that is really and authentically evangelical.
There is a trend to appreciate Baptism better as the source of the whole Christian life.

In the laity, the face of God’s people is revealed in all its splendor, a people on the way to their own salvation. Precisely for this reason, they are committed to spreading the light of the Gospel and bringing Christ to life in the minds and hearts of their brothers.
September 21, 1994. General Audience

I am thinking at this moment of the International Conferences organized in Rome in 1981, in Rocca di Papa in 1987 and in Bratislava in 1991. I followed their work attentively, accompanying them with prayer and constant encouragement. From the beginning of my Pontificate, I have given special importance to the progress of ecclesial movements, and I have had the opportunity to appreciate the results of their widespread and growing presence during my pastoral visits to parishes and my apostolic journeys. I have noticed with pleasure their willingness to devote their energies to the service of the See of Peter and the local churches. I have been able to point to them as something new that is still waiting to be properly accepted and appreciated. Today I notice, with great joy, that they have a more mature self-knowledge. They represent one of the most significant fruits of that springtime in the Church which was foretold by the Second Vatican Council, but unfortunately has often been hampered by the spread of secularization. These movements are marked by a common awareness of the “newness” which baptismal grace brings to life, through a remarkable longing to reflect on the mystery of communion with Christ and with their brethren, through sound fidelity to the patrimony of the faith passed on by the living stream of Tradition.

The charism’s own originality, which gives life to a movement, neither claims nor could claim to add anything to the richness of the depositum fidei, safeguarded by the Church with passionate fidelity. Nonetheless, it represents a powerful support, a moving and convincing reminder to live the Christian experience fully, with intelligence and creativity. Therein lies the basis for finding adequate responses to the challenges and needs of ever-changing times and historical circumstances.

In this light, the charisms recognized by the Church are ways to deepen one’s knowledge of Christ and to give oneself more generously to Him, while rooting oneself more and more deeply in communion with the entire Christian people. For this reason, they deserve attention from every member of the ecclesial community, beginning with the pastors to whom the care of the particular churches is entrusted in communion with the Vicar of Christ. Movements can thus make a valuable contribution to the vital dynamics of the one Church founded on Peter in the various local situations.

I have often had occasion to stress that there is no conflict or opposition in the Church between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which movements are a significant expression. Both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the Church founded by Jesus, because they both help to make the mystery of Christ and His saving work present in the world. Together they aim at renewing in their own ways the self-awareness of the Church, which in a certain sense can be called a “movement” herself, since she is the realization in time and space of the Father’s sending of His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

May 27, 1998. Message of Pope John Paul II
for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements
and New Communities

Today, a new stage is unfolding before you: that of ecclesial maturity. This does not mean that all problems have been solved. Rather, it is a challenge. A road to take. The Church expects from you the “mature” fruits of communion and commitment.

In our world, often dominated by a secularized culture which encourages and promotes models of life without God, the faith of many is sorely tested, and is frequently stifled and dies. Thus, we see an urgent need for powerful proclamation and solid, in-depth Christian formation. And here are the movements and the new ecclesial communities: they are the response, given by the Holy Spirit, to this critical challenge at the end of the millennium. You are this providential response.

May 30, 1998. Meeting with Ecclesial Movements
and New Communities

It is in this perspective that we see the value of all other vocations, rooted as they are in the new life received in the Sacrament of Baptism. In a special way it will be necessary to discover ever more fully the specific vocation of the laity, called “to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God;” they “have their own role to play in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world ... by their work for the evangelization and the sanctification of people.”

Along these same lines, another important aspect of communion is the promotion of forms of association, whether of the more traditional kind or the newer ecclesial movements, which continue to give the Church a vitality that is God’s gift and a true “springtime of the Spirit.” Obviously, associations and movements need to work in full harmony within both the universal Church and the particular churches, and in obedience to the authoritative directives of the pastors. But the Apostle’s exacting and decisive warning applies to all: “Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything and hold fast what is good” (1 Thes 5:19-21).