Communion and Community
Fr. Jordi Rivero
A Longing of the Heart
The deepest longing of our hearts is for communion: to be known, understood and loved and to know, understand and love others. We long communion because God, who IS communion of persons, created us in His image, to be one with Him and with our brothers and sisters.
Christ the Beloved
Our primary desire is for communion with someone who can fulfill our deepest longing; someone who, knowing our brokenness and ugliness, still loves us and treasures us; a person with whom we can be who we are and who helps us to heal and to develop to our full potential; a person who can quench our thirst for love, truth and understanding. This person is Christ. Any other relationship, if not rooted in Christ, will prove to be insufficient. Our wounds and sinfulness, as well as those of others, blocks communion from going deep. Our soul longs for the perfect love that is God.
Let Go of Our Control
Having heard that Christ loves us is not enough. We need to respond and enter the experience. It is true that He loves us even before we respond, but unless we do, He cannot take possession of our lives. Then communion with Him is impossible. A man cannot marry a woman, no matter how much he loves her, unless she responds. Jesus the Groom is waiting and thirsting for our love.
We could think that responding to the perfect Lover is easy. We may even think that we are responding when we are only giving him a token. The problem is that we are afraid of surrendering our control even to Him. We are afraid of a lover so radical that He dies on the Cross. We fear that He may take us there. Like Peter, we believe we love Him with all our hearts but, when we are tested, we distance ourselves from Him.
Christ is Head and Body
Communion with Christ cannot exist without communion with His Body. "If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). When Christ is our life we see Him in each person and in the community. It is in only in communion with others that we can go deep and discover the truth about ourselves, be forgiven and healed.
Family and Church
The first community where God places us is our family. St. John Paul II called it the "domestic church". It is primarily in our family that we are known, understood and loved, thus finding communion and developing into mature persons. However we also need a bigger spiritual family to grow to fullness in Christ. That community is the Church, the Body of Christ, the source of life for all families. Without the Church the family is impoverished and succumbs to the world.
Covenant Communities are part of the "ecclesial movements" of the Catholic Church which, according to Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), have a history dating back to the IV Century. The movements seek to live "an integral form of Christianity, a Church that is obedient to the Gospel and that lives by it" -Cardinal Ratzinger, Ratz, EMTR
What is the difference between covenant community and a group that gathers to pray or to do ministry? Members of these communities not only do something together, they enter a covenant, that is, they commit themselves to God and to each other to walk with Christ as a family, according to the charism of the community.
In community we find communion by opening our hearts to each other to know and be known, to understand and be understood, to love and be loved. This means that we pass from theory to practice and that we can persevere together through trials, joys and sufferings.
The Lord gives each community its a particular spirituality and mission within the Church. For example, the spirituality of the Love Crucified Community is a path to union with Jesus Crucified, to become victims with the Victim and to be the bride united to the Bridegroom in His Passion.
Why do we need movements and communities if we already have the Church and parishes? Cardinal Ratzinger writes:
The movement to follow Christ in an uncompromising fashion cannot be totally merged with the local Church. ...The monastic community that Basil founded is likened by Gribomont to a kind of leaven: a “small group for the vitalization of the whole”; he does not hesitate to call Basil “the founding father not only of the teaching and hospital orders, but also of the new communities without vows”. Ratz.
There is the enduring basic structure of the Church’s life, which is expressed in the continuity of her institutional structure throughout history. And there are the ever new irruptions of the Holy Spirit, which continually revitalize and renew that structure. Ratz, EMTR>>>
The Franciscan awakening in the thirteenth century probably provides the clearest instance of what a movement is: movements generally derive their origin from a charismatic leader and take shape in concrete communities, inspired by the life of their founder; they attempt to live the Gospel anew, in its totality, and recognize the Church without hesitation as the ground of their life without which they could not exist. Ratz.
Pope Benedict XVI told members of the ecclesial movements and new communities:
Down the ages Christianity has been communicated and disseminated thanks to the newness of life of persons and communities capable of bearing an incisive witness of love, unity and joy. This force itself has set a vast number of people in "motion", from generation to generation. ...Today, the Ecclesial Movements and New Communities are a luminous sign of the beauty of Christ and of the Church, his Bride. You belong to the living structure of the Church. Ratz, EM.
Cardinal Ratzinger saw the movements as a work of the Spirit that needs to be received with gratitude and discernment:
The apostolic movements appear in ever new forms in history—necessarily so, because they are the Holy Spirit’s answer to the ever changing situations in which the Church lives. And just as vocations to the priesthood cannot be artificially produced, cannot be established by administrative diktat, still less can movements be established and systematically promoted by ecclesiastical authority. They need to be given as a gift, and they are given as a gift. We must only be attentive to them. Using the gift of discernment, we must only learn to accept what is good in them, and discard what is bad. ...the Church has always succeeded in finding room for all the great new awakenings of the spirit that emerge in her midst. Nor can we overlook the succession of movements that failed or that led to painful schisms. Ratz, EMTR
According to St. John Paul II, "‘Ecclesial movements’ ...represent a true gift of God both for new evangelization and for missionary activity”. (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, no. 72).
The Personal Dimension
The light and the love that we recieve from our brothers and sisters that are rooted in the faith and committed to tell us the truth about ourselves, enables us to make our own decisions,
Becoming a community, and the building up of the community, does not exclude the personal dimension, indeed it demands it. Only when the person is struck and penetrated by Christ to the depths of his or her being, can others too be touched in their innermost being; only then can there be reconciliation in the Holy Spirit; only then can true community grow. -Cardinal Ratzinger
We want communion with Jesus but we are afraid of community, yet one cannot be without the other. Community is the body where communion can be realized. But we have all been hurt in relationships and we are afraid that we may be hurt again. We see community as a risk that may end up proving that the love we long for is not really possible. When community relationships make us suffer, as they inevitably will, we are tempted to run away from it. Them we try to justify ourselves by saying that community is not necessary.
Communities need to foster a strong Catholic identity and be attentive to what the Spirit is doing in Church. Members of covenant communities, like all Catholics, belong to parishes and serve in ministries as their vocation permits.
Likewise communities need to be at the service of families so that they have the support of a body that is living deeply the life of Christ. Family life and events take precedence over those of the community.
Jesus is calling us to follow Him to the Cross. He teaches us that love means to be willing to suffer for others. Yes, community is difficult and yes, we can be hurt, but it is also in community, often through suffering, that we find healing and hope. If we allow fear to keep us away from community, we fall for the lie that tells us that we can have communion without real community. The meaning of community is then diluted to the point that any grouping of persons is called "community."
As the tide of secularism and outright hate for Christ increases, it should become more evident that we need Christian communities where the Lord gathers His faithful remnant, to form and protect us and to make us His witnesses. Pope Francis wrote:
If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. -Evangelii Gaudium, n. 49