Pope Paul VI set out his grand vision of the church 50 years ago

The Editor: Fifty years ago, on Aug. 6, Pope Paul VI issued his first encyclical, Ecclesiarn Suam, more than a year after his election to the See of Rome. He set out his vision of the church under three headings: self-awareness, internal renewal, and dialogue within and without.

Pope Paul’s first concern was that the church as bride of Christ must be well aware of who she is in the eyes of her spouse, the Lord Jesus; next, the church as the Body of Christ must constantly renew herself (aggiornarnento: re-birthing) to adequately meet the challenges of the mission her Saviour has entrusted to her; lastly, the third concern was that the church, the bearer of good tidings, must initiate a dialogue with the world, with other Christians and, all the more, with her own faithful.

As one reads this encyclical, one somehow senses that it is a love letter to the church “so that she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or any thing like that, but holy and faultless” (Eph 5:27). Pope Paul, the friend of the bridegroom and shepherd of the flock, would so love to see the Bride of Christ as Christ sees her! And especially, he wanted the world to see and love the church as Christ does.

It is puzzling why Ecclesiarn Suam remains largely unread and, needless to add, put into practice. Propitiously, Pope Francis seems to have grasped the spirit of Ecclesiarn Suam, as he quotes it twice in Evangelii Gaudium (#26 and 31). Moreover, Pope Francis also quotes Pope Paul’s pioneering encyclical on evangelization, Evangelium Annunciandi, over a dozen times.

The best homage that the chruch can render Pope Paul VI is to transform his vision of the church into a living reality in their own lives. Pope Francis says as much in Evangelii Gaudium (#262 - 274). — Rev. Douglas Daniel, Sherbrooke, Que.

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