THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNION

BY FR. CECIL MG GARRY S.J.

Communion is the being, the nature of the Church. The Church is in order to do; so communion is for to do. There is a connection between what the Church is and what it is for.

COMMUNION: what do we mean by communion?

God made us in communion with:

A) SELF. God made us in harmony accepting to be ourselves, to be in peace with ourselves, in communion with ourselves.

THE SIGN, the symbol in the Bible of this communion: they were naked but they were not ashamed; they were in perfect peace in themselves.

  1. B)GOD. They were His friends and He was their friend.

THE SIGN: God was walking with them in the cool evening in the garden. They were in harmony with Him, in communion with Him.

  1. C)ONE ANOTHER. Friends together.

THE SIGN: A) it is not good for man to be alone

                     B) Eve is created from the side of Adam. They are part of one another, in perfect communion with one another.

  1. D)NATURE: Nature was submitted to them, at their service.

THE SIGN: Adam named all things; he gave them a name. All things were living in harmony among themselves and with Adam and Eve, they were in peace.

WHY GOD MADE THE FIRST PAIR IN COMMUNION?

REASON: God himself is communion in Himself (Father-Son-Holy Spirit), perfect communion; receiving and giving from and to one another. DIFFERENT but totally EQUAL, in perfect love and friendship. To be human means to be in communion and to exist means to be in communion.

       We are all children of God and so equal even if different. Everyone is equal in his Being; this is a basic teaching of the Church. COMMUNION requires EQUALITY.

No communion, no equality; different but equal. God shares his Being with us so that we too are in communion. It means to have relationship, to love, to give in communion because He is Communion.

       COMMUNION is a basic quality of Being.

What happened in the Garden? They went out of communion with   THEMSELVES:

       SIGN: They wanted to know the good and the bad; only God has this Knowledge. Only He knows what is good or bad for us. They didn’t accept this limitation, they were not satisfied to be themselves (only creatures and not God), and so they wanted to be like God. They became jealous of God; they went out of communion with themselves. That was the beginning of the disintegration in themselves and in ourselves. This is what happens to us when we do not accept to be what and how God has created us to be. Acceptance of self, of what we are, is the root of communion.

What was the result?

  1. a)They wanted to do what they could not do and they went out of communion with themselves.

SIGN: they found themselves naked and felt ashamed.

  1. b)Out of communion with God.

SIGN: they went to hide themselves in the bush because they were afraid of God; there was no more communion with Him.

When we do wrong we try to make self-defense: the mechanism of self-defense; it means there is no more communion.

  1. c)Out of communion with others.

SIGN: Eve gave it to me to eat; the serpent told me. See later the story of Cain and Abel.

  1. d)Out of communion with nature.

   SIGN: Adam has to work for his food; flood, famine, etc. Women have to give birth in pain, labor.

The KEY of a broken communion is to brake with ONESELF. When we are out of communion everything is possible. Communion is acceptance of ourselves, of the gifts we have received, not to be envious of other’s gift, to be content of ourselves. Anger, resentment, isolation, unforgiveness: all signs of a broken communion with oneself.

The whole history of salvation is the history of God trying to restore communion.

       The Church is the greatest instrument of communion.

How does God brigs us back to communion? The whole Bible is the story of the work of God trying to bring us back to communion.

What we have said above are the basic things regarding communion.

God restores communion through the different COVENANTS:

  1. a)Creation.
  2. b)Noah: the rainbow becomes the sign of the restored communion as before the flood was the sign of the broken communion with God and nature.
  3. c)Abraham: circumcision becomes the sign of the restored communion, that they were brought back to communion and so accepted as the PEOPLE OFI am your God, you are my people.

d)    Moses: slavery sign of broken communion.

       The covenant on Mount Sinai; the Tora is the sign of the restored communionwith God and with one another. The purpose of the Law, of the Constitutions, General Statutes is to bring communion.

Jesus communion between God and man, man and God

The central Key of communion was: in order to restore communion GOD BECAME MAN, ONE LIKE US SO THAT WE COULD BE LIKE HIM.

He gave us His own life through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life of God and so God in giving Him to us has given His own life to us and in Jesus we became sons and daughters of God.

Communion needs to live the very life of God. We will never die because of this life; we will live forever, eternally. Jesus gave us His life because He lived and He is alive (Resurrection), so in Him we too will live eternally. God has united Himself in communion with us in Jesus.

Jesus taught us what God the Father has done and now we start a new history where we live this life forever.

The early community took it very seriously.

Act 2:42-46.

  1. a)Teaching of the Apostles: their teaching was the Word of God (Jesus). (The teaching of Peter in the day of Pentecost). What is gathering us together is that we all have accepted the Word of God, the message of Jesus. If we do not digest, absorb and live the message of Jesus we are baptized but not Christians.

People gave to them the name Christian because they were living like Jesus.

The KEY of communion was the WORD OF GOD. To be Christian, to live like Jesus is difficult, that is why we try to do it and to live like Him. We must grow step by step. We try to be the always and always better Christians. We hope so. We have to be Christians first and than religious. We can do it through the WORD OF GOD, the MESSAGE OF JESUS.

There is no better title than to be recognized as TRUE CHRISTIAN.

b) Fellowship: they became a group together. They were a COMMUNION   (KOINONIA) – brothers and sisters.

       To follow Jesus means to come together in communion. To be a Christian means to LOVE one another. Communion comes always from and through the practice of the Word of God.

c)   Breaking of bread

  1. d)And Prayer

             WORD OF GOD                                               BREAKING OF BREAD

            

             COMMUNION                                                           PRAYER

       The celebration of the Eucharist is a lie if we do it without love.

       The celebration of the Eucharist is the expression of our communion with Jesus and one another.

       When Jesus taught these things many left Him; that is why He asked his disciples: “you too do you want to go?” “You have words of eternal life”.

       If we are not in communion there is no Eucharist; what we need to do first is to go and be reconciled with one another, with God and with ourselves.

       In the Eucharist we give the sign of PEACE, sign of communion. We are called to reconciliation. This is what means to make the Church credible: to have communion. So our prayer will be heard only when we are in communion. Prayer is contemplation of Jesus in the Gospel and to ask Him to be able to try to be like Him.

WHAT IS COMMUNION?  (Act 4:32-35)

  • Everything in common: sharing all. Jesus shares his life with us. Communion is sharing. To be a Christian means to SHARE. Acts 5: they sold everything and they put the money at the foot of the disciples. To be in communion with God and with others means to share as God shares with us.

       “See how they love each other”: this is the sign of being a true Christian. Sharing, giving, without expecting back any reward.

       In order to be in communion with God and others there is a necessary condition:

To be in communion with oneself, happy of what we are and have, of how we are. I am as I am because God loves me and he has given to me only the best He could give. In communion there is no place for envy, jealousy.

Great part of the work during the novitiate is to come to know and accept ourselves, Jesus Christ and the Institute we ask to enter.

We can know the Church but if we do not know ourselves and we are not in communion with ourselves we cannot be in communion with the Church and will not be Church in communion. No communion is possible unless we have communion with ourselves.

BRIEF HISTORY OF AUTHORITY AND COMMUNION IN THE CHHURCH

After the year 325 with the conversion of the emperor Constantine the quality of the Christian life lost in quality because a lot of people entered the Church without being prepared. The quantity was more important then the quality.

In the East the Christian continued to live in small groups and in communion: they continued to live the real Christian life.

In Rome instead, the Church was too wide, the Christians too many and so little by little they lost their sense of belonging, of communion. There was too much organization. In the West, the Church started to have a pyramidal picture:

  

             CHRIST———POPE (Authority)

Bishops

Priest

Religious -Laity

The Church lost the sense of communion.

Even now, because of that mentality and structure, people still think the Church is the Pope, Bishops, Priests, and Religious.

God the Father sent Jesus and gave Him Authority; Jesus gave it to the Apostles and from them to the Bishops. So where are the Religious and lay people? Jesus instead gave a commandment: “Love one another”.

In the East, on the contrary, the concept of communion is still strong.

Vat. I: they stressed too much the concept of authority and not that of communion.

Vat. II: The center of life in the Church is the Holy Spirit; he is the source of communion. St. Cyprian said that the Church is a people united in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Communion).

According to the theology of Vat. II on communion, it is said:

“ Pastors and faithful are brothers and sisters, equal in dignity, having different gifts but sharing in solidarity, responsibility for the life and the mission of the Church”.

Everybody is a SERVANT, and there is no servant without a dignity. This word has been corrupted by the world and even by the Church when it has stressed too much the authority till the point of corrupting this word: a servant is one without dignity.

Equal: we all are equal as human beings and as Christians.

Gifts: gifts do not make people better than others but only different according to the different gifts. That is why there are different missions, different roles.

These concepts are coming from the life of God himself: different and equal (One God in three persons).

This is the description of the Church as communion.

REFERENCES:

VAT.II; on Laity: LG 30-32 (Lumen Gentium)

            On equal dignity: LG 4, 10, 12, 30, 32, 33. (Lumen Gentium)

               On Lay people: AA 2-3 (Apostolicam Actuositatem)

               Missionary Activity of the Church: A.G.D 4 (ad gentes divinitus)

Different gifts that enrich each other, so there should not be place for jealousy.

Sharing of gifts: gifts are from God for the building up of the community (communion). We should be happy to see the good in others and the good they do.

“BUT SHARING IN SOLIDARITY, RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE LIFE AND THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH”

So what can we do as mission for the life of the Church?

What should the laity do for the life of the Church?

In the Church there are many gifts; some are gifts given for the institution: (Pope, bishops, priests, deacons)

There are also other gifts which are accepted as part of the institution and have been institutionalized: Word of God, Sacraments, doctrine, Laws (Canon Law).

But religious and lay people are not direct part of the institutionalized Church, and so how do they take part in the mission of the Church?

For religious Institutes:

Every Institute has received a particular gift (Charisma) from the Holy Spirit for the life and mission of the Church. The Holy Spirit gives gifts through the Church discerned by the Church and approved (institutionalized) by the Church: the gift of each Institute according to each one particular Charisma.

When we do not live that gift (Charisma) well, we are unfaithful to the Holy Spirit.

Because of this gift Religious know what they are called to do for the life and the mission of the Church. And more: because of this gift and the gifts of each particular individual, every religious is in a certain sense a new founder of his congregation.

The gift given by the Holy Spirit brings to communion, to unity among the members of the same Institute.

The Pope is the center of unity, communion of and in the Church; each bishop in his own Diocese, priests in their own parish. Sacraments unite with Christ and to one another.

Vatican II says that the Spirit gives a multitude of colored gifts. All gifts are from God and are given not for the personal benefits but for the community (Church, Institute, local community). When all put all the gifts they have received together everything will go well in the community.

St. Paul says that all gifts are from the Holy Spirit, and he speaks of this in:

1Cor: chapter 12-14 (gifts and charisma)

Rom. 12:3-8

Eph. 4:1-16

Gal. 5:13-26 (how to discern the gift of the Spirit from the sinful self).

Document on the laity after Vatican II: 2:18-30; 8:24.

Let us go and see now Rom 12:3-8

                   “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

Each body has several parts, every part a different function. We belong to each other: communion. I belong to you so my gifts belong to you; you belong to me, so your gifts are mine. A communion is a communion of gifts. We altogether have the same gift (charisma) of the Institute, but each one has also his own gifts.

Some gifts are natural, they are the core of ourselves; some other are only peripheral. All the gifts must be discovered and acquired through practice.

And the lay people? What gifts do they have?

Each one of them has his own gifts for the building of the Church.

The problem is that very often we do not know what kind of gifts we have because we do not search for and we are not interested in them. Very often we have to reaffirm, to reflect to others their gifts and to support them in their finding and development of their gifts. The more we will be active and responsible, the more the communion will be strong. It is by doing things that we grow and discover more gifts. Our tendency is to pull down others and their gifts: in this way we destroy communion- unity- communities. We have to learn to overcome any kind of jealousy and rejoice in the gifts of others.

Each one should ask himself: “What gifts do I have? Where are they coming from? How do I use them? What for and for whom? For the Church, the community?”

We can use our gifts to destroy ourselves and, of course, others.

Do I hide or do I share my gifts? We are meant to be SERVANTS in the community and use our gifts for others.

Another gift is to be able to tell others what gifts they have. That is why I should ask myself in prayer: “What gifts do they have? How do I react to these gifts? Am I happy with them or do I try to put them down?”

Very important is also to find out if certain gifts are the core of myself or just peripheral to me.

  • To recognize that a gift is a gift of God is already a Charisma.
  • To use the gifts for others is also a Charisma.

We need to be able to discern if a Charisma is from the Spirit or from the sinful self.

VAT. II: AA 2-3 (Lay people have the right and the obligation to use their gifts and Charisma for the Church, the community.)

Leaders should help the laity to discover and use them for the Church. But till now, not too much responsibility is given to them in the Church.

PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH

If we want to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church let us look at the gifts given to her. The Holy Spirit is present in the Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and superiors, through the gift of the Authority besides their personal gifts.

Anyone can either refuse or accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the need to receive, to accept, to be open, to use and to share these gifts. It is through the gifts that the Holy Spirit is present in the Church. The example of the Church of Jerusalem: everybody was sharing one another but two retained part of the sum of money they got in selling their property and they died because they lied to the Holy Spirit. We should always be open to the presence of the Spirit in the gifts. We can have very few gifts but they must be put totally at the service of the Church. (Parable of the talents). No one is without gifts and the Holy Spirit works in us through these gifts. For instance: How do I, in authority, react when people come to give me their ideas? It can be that it is the voice of the Spirit. I have to accept them and to discern them.

In the Church there are many gifts not aloud to be used, and not used (particularly of lay people).

We need courage for using our gifts, we need to take risks and this is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit blows where He will”; we cannot control the Spirit.

Every gift, even the smallest one is a call to serve. We all have one Mission but many services. Every gift in each person is a call to put it at the service of the community.

Do I use all my gifts at the service of the community now, in this moment?

Gifts are given for common use, so if we use all our gifts for the common use we build up community, communion, service, love. It is a duty, an obligation coming from the call, vocation. We need to change our mind about the Church as community. Every lay person has gifts to put at the service of the Church and of the community. Gifts are given for communion, unity and for making it stronger.

On the contrary we can even use (misuse) our gifts for DISCUSSIONS, for building up disunity, disharmony. (I am of Paul, I of Timothy, I of Titus, etc.).

How do we know we are using our gifts for disharmony, disunity?

NEGATIVE SIGNS:

Gal. 5:19-21

       “Now the work of the flesh are obvious: idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and thing like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

No community can survive if in that community there are gossips, criticism, etc. These people once they have been admonished with charity and they do not correct themselves they should be rooted out of the community and sent home.

How do we know that we are using our gifts for communion, unity?

POSITIVE SIGNS:

Gal. 5:22-26

       “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another”.

AUTHORITY (Leadership)

It is a particular gift of the Holy Spirit. Everybody in order to be united needs somebody in charge. Without it, there will be no unity but anarchy.

Direction, guidance, authority are the center of communion and union.

This is a gift of the Spirit for building up communities and to those to whom He gives these gifts He gives also another gifts: WISDOM, a gift that must also be discovered. The task of authority is to guide, to preside, and to lead.

If there is no cooperation with the leaders, there will no unity in the community. Therefore we should understand the need for cooperation with the leaders, to be open to them, to dialogue with them, to be in communion with them otherwise the Spirit cannot work both in the authority and in subjects.

The ROLE of the leader: to know the subjects, to know their call, to know the gifts they have. The Spirit wants to make us to grow, therefore the need of communication. If we want to know how much the Spirit is aloud to work in a community let us look of how much communication is there in the community. There is no growth unless there is communication.

The Superior is the one who encourages, supports us to accept ourselves. Nobody is able to accept oneself unless there is somebody else to help us (superior, spiritual director, friend, etc.).

The Superior has to know how to know others, to evaluate, to discern.

Other gifts of the Holy Spirit to the authority are to bring people together, to dialogue, to listen, to unite and to help people to listen one another.

When we discuss or argue with one another there is no place for the Spirit; only in true dialogue there is present the Holy Spirit. No one has the whole truth, the whole experience, therefore the need of listening and dialogue with respect for each other.

In this way the Holy Spirit will guide us for all the truth in that particular situation and moment.

Leaders must be very PATIENT: it is a gift of the Spirit.

When we reject a leader we are not with the Spirit, we break with the Spirit.

Even when we close ourselves to the Superior, we hide something, it is to close oneself to the Spirit, to hide from the Spirit. Leaders need to pray to the spirit to give them light to understand the signs of when the Holy Spirit is coming, is present or not in the community.

The Spirit works through our imperfections and mistakes. His ways are not our ways; his thoughts are not our thoughts.

We are all equal, the leader is not greater than us, but he has a role to fulfill in the Church, and the subject has the role to help him (to cooperate) to fulfill his mission.

It is the power of the Spirit that makes a strong community if we cooperate.

To be able to SIGNIFY what God has called us to do is also a gift.

Gifts can be temporally, for a period of time, for a particular, temporary mission.

The document: CONSECRATED LIFE in chapter III speaks of: “LIFE AS A SIGN OF COMMUNION IN THE CHURCH”.

Our communities are meant to be a sign that the Church is communion. We must be witnesses of communion in our own community. So if even exteriorly I do not live in the community I betray my vocation. If we are all one they will recognize the true Jesus. Communion is built up and restored through RECONCILIATION and CONCRETE WAYS of service. Communion is unconditional LOVE.

Communion does not admit JUDGMENT, in judging we build up an invisible wall between us. What we need is FORGIVNESS.

Let us look just little more on the “CONSECRATED LIFE” IN Chapter III.

The Church is a communion and we are people who want to serve the Church in a special way, therefore we are called to give a strong example of communion to the lay people so that they too will do the same.

In No. 51 it tells us that it is not so easy because of different ages, languages, cultures, nationalities, races etc.

If God calls us to religious life He gives us also the gift of being able to live together and the strength to do it. God wants the Church to be one, to form one people united in the Trinity as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are united. God wants, through us, to show that it is possible. He wants us to live a strong spirituality of communion. If there are discriminations, difficulties unresolved in the community we fail to show that we are Church (we show that Jesus is wrong and the Trinity is wrong). This is what is most needed here in Kenya (tribal rivalries); in India (cast problems).

DIALOGUE is always possible, no need to resort to violence in order to live together. We must witness to dialogue. The only real failure is to say that it is impossible because in saying it is like to say that the grace of God is useless.

We must witness that all man and women are brothers and sisters because all are sons and daughters of God. If we do not feel this call from God it is better not to remain in religious life. The call is to overcome the cases of tribalism, even among the different congregations. We must witness that religious are united and we work as one, as a Church and not as different Churches ignoring each other.

Dialogue is always possible even if difficult.

Many lay people are looking for a way of being more near to God, to live their life dedicated to God as lay people, therefore they need to have religious who are willing to share their spirituality with them (Camillian family). The charisma of each institute can enrich them and it can be lived in their daily life.

God has given the Charisma to our founders for the Church and not only for the Institute, that is why there is the call to share it with lay people.

And what about the persons who work with us? Do we share with them our charisma? They are not only workers, but also Christians who want to live closer to Jesus Christ.

What makes COMMUNION in the Church? What brings us together as Christians?

Acts Chapter 2-4.

  1. A)FAITH in JESUS CHRIST

This is the basic thing that unites us.

  1. B)SACRAMENTS: we break bread together only if we are baptized in the Church together. Let us ask ourselves: What bonds us in our tribe?

                                                           What bonds us in our family?

                                                          What bonds us in our Congregation?

       First Christians felt strongly what was biding them together.

C)   MINISTRY AND LEADERSHIP.

       Leadership is involved in all the above bonding.

       We should feel a strong sense of belonging as Christians.

D)   HOLY SPIRIT (The life of Christ). (The One who makes us brothers and sisters).   A-B-C are ways through which we receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the life of Christ and makes us to feel that we are sons and daughters of God.

The Symbol (in the day of Pentecost): each one heard in his own language.

In Baptism we all are bond in Jesus Christ. And what about other Christians denominations? They are in communion with us but not fully because they do not share fully all the bonds that unite us. We should remain more close to our brothers Protestants, because there is only one Church of Christ. We must show communion with them even if they reject us. (Anyone who is not against me is with me). This is the meaning of communion and nothing else is communion.

Mt Chapter 6: To be a true and real Christian is not so easy.

In the Church how do we live this communion?

The African Synod says that it should be expressed in SMALL CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES. What is the purpose?

To deep their faith: To see how they live their Christian life and faith and how they care for the needs of their neighbors.

Basic Christian communities are the bases where communion can be built up.

Communion is expressed in very small things and in small communities. It is in sharing the problems, even the smallest one that little by little we make communion. We need to listen to the problems and see together what to do. We must rediscover what these Christian communities are and what for.

AFRICAN SYNOD: in order to explain the Church as communion it takes the example from the family; the Church as family in dialogue, as brothers and sisters. What does the African family bring to the Church?

  • The family gives the IDENTITY. The Church itself is a family, a bond of relationship, of communion. The Church gives the identity as Christians. So even the African family has something to bring and share with the whole Church. In the African family the members are very united, no problems remain unsolved in the family but they solve together through RECONCILIATION. This is what religious should bring to their communities and practice it.
  • SOLIDARITY: do they have problems, even only personal problems? They solve them together and everybody knows that a member of the family will be always there to give a hand in case of need. Nobody will be left alone in case of need. Do we do the same in our Congregation and in the Church?

Solidarity means SHARING what we have and what we are. We can be Africans and show our solidarity in two ways: as Africans and as Christians. These two ways or two world must come together and become communion. What should we do in order to live the Christians values in an African way? We should know even the traditions of our people very well and be able to live the values that are behind in an African way.

  • CORRESPONSABILITY: For the good name of our family we never share with others the problems or the bad things of our family, but we do with our Congregation through gossips and criticism in front of others.
  • SOLIDARITY, LOYALTY, CORRESPONSABILITY are all African values.
  • PARTICIPATION: No one is passive in the family, every one contributes in its own way to the good of the family. But in our religious life and in the Church do we do the same?
  • TRUST: it is very strong in the African family, all the members they trust each other. Is their something wrong in the family or with somebody? Somebody in the family comes to their help. And in the religious life do we trust each other? We should never forget that if there is no trust among the members there will be impossible to have communion; no communion no community.
  • AUTHORITY: also this value is very strong in the African family. Respect for the authority. Do we in our communities and in the Church respect the authority? It is not the person but the gifts of God in the person in authority that we should respect and in this way we will respect not only God in the person in authority but also the person in authority. Authority on the other hand must be exercised in Love and not in a domineering way.
  • RESPECT FOR TRADITIONS: do we know what are the traditions of our congregation and do we respect them? Do we know what VALUES are there beyond the traditions that must be shown and respected and practiced? What is important are the values and not the traditions in themselves. Some values, which are behind the traditions, are very challenging to us; traditions instead must be purified. These values must be lived in the African way, they must be incarnated.
  • HOSPITALITY: another very strong tradition. But how to reconcile hospitality between lay people and the religious way of life? We have to dialogue about these things, how to live our religious life and hospitality? Can we stop religious life for hospitality? Even discussing these challenges is a way of building up communion and communities.

Related posts: