Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The Mystery Of Church Communion

Reflections on CFL: Paragraphs 18 through 20

We move into chapter 2 of CFL, which focuses on the laity's participation in "the life of the Church as Communion". In some previous posts, we have touched on the hints of this discussion of communion that earlier paragraphs of CFL raised. Now we will explore it in detail.

JPII begins by drawing us to the mystery of the Church's communion:

"Again we turn to the words of Jesus: "I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.... Abide in me and I in you".
The Church shines forth as 'a people made one with the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'"
If you read this paragraph of CFL and found yourself very confused, you are not alone. The pope's explanations of communion always leave me saying, "yes ... I think ... huh?". If only mysteries weren't so mysterious.

We can all take away from this paragraph a need to ponder more the mystery of the Trinity. There seems to be two elements in action. We learn from the Trinity what communion of persons is all about and have an image for the communion of Christians. But, more than that, through Christ, we are called to participate in "the intimate life of love in God as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed by the Lord Jesus." God as both model and source. Still confused? Me too. But I don't think the answers will be found in any way other than intimacy and union with God.

I should have kept reading. The pope does offer us more concrete words about communion:
"What, then, does this complex word 'communion' mean? Its fundamental meaning speaks of the union with God brought about by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. The opportunity for such communion is present in the Word of God and in the Sacraments. Baptism is the door and the foundation of communion in the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life. The Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist sacramentalizes this communion, that is, it is a sign and actually brings about the intimate bonds of communion among all the faithful in the Body of Christ which is the Church."
It is through our union with Christ (the vine) that Christians (the branches) are united in the Church. As the pope rightly emphasizes, this is more than a "sociological or a psychological reality". "The Church as Communion is the "new" People, the "messianic" People, the People that "has for its head, Christ." Although I think most faithful Catholics would recognize the truth in these words, most of us have to admit we live life with more of a sociological emphasis to our identity as Christians. Maybe this is why we find it easy to accept the idea of "one body, many parts" (such as when we are talking about gifts of the Spirit and other positive things), but find it difficult to recognize the full reality of the idea of "many parts, one body" (such as when we are talking about the current scandal and other negative things). "Consequently, if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer it too, and if one member is honored, all members together rejoice."

Within the Church's communion, JPII tells us, we find a "diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities."
"Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body."
This is a great point. There is a difference between our dignity as Christians and the gifts we may have been given for the benefit of building up the Church. Often, we are tempted to confuse the two, looking at our gifts as some sign of our special status in God's eyes as compared to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Here, we are shown that these different gifts are given so as to compliment each other and benefit us all. I think this temptation is part of why the Church emphasizes that we place our gifts at the service of the Church and that we are called to:
"live in a continual interaction with others, with a lively sense of fellowship, rejoicing in an equal dignity and common commitment to bring to fruition the immense treasure that each has inherited."

Coming Soon: Reflections on Paragraphs 21 through 23 of CFL


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