Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Community as a Civilization of Love, a Large Mosaic

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, said that "communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a 'civilization of love.'" Encouraged and endorsed by the church, communities are called to evangelization, renewal, fellowship, ecumenism, encouragement, and exercising the Gifts of the Spirit. But nothing is easy and always comfortable about community. It is composed of imperfect people joined together by a calling, yet whose constant interaction with one another poses conflicts and challenges inherent to man’s nature. As any lay community requires a certain structure and discipline, friction arising from struggles within this structure can never be avoided. Interaction with the common lay brethren, with the leadership structures within, and even with relationships with its pastoral leaders, the clergy – all these pose opportunities where inherent human weaknesses can easily manifest itself. Jesus did not promise to fill his Church with indefectible people, yet he promised a Helper who will always be with us, and we take joy and comfort in that. Clergy - Laity relations present unique considerations, as friction can not be discounted with difficulties arising from clergy relations. To this end the lay faithful must bear in mind the "anatomy of a godly response to Church authorities", which is deftly articulated in this article "Laity on the Line" by Leon Suprenant.

An authentic “civilization of love” becomes a school in which all learn to love God, to love the brothers and sisters with whom they live, and to love humanity. This love accords compassion to one another, to suffer in place of the other, to assist the weak, and carry each others burdens. No one is too significant or unsignificant in uplifting each other in the spirit of the community. Each one, taken individually, seems insignificant. According to Henri Nouwen (Can you drink the Cup?), community is like a large mosaic. "Each little gem has its own unique characteristics. As individual stones you can do very little with them except compare them and judge their individual value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? If one of them, even the least spectacular one is missing, the face is incomplete. Each little stone is indispensable. Each little stone makes its unique contribution to the glory of God. That’s community, a fellowship of little people, who together make God visible in the world."

The "civilization of love" makes God visible in the world. You see it when people in the community uplift each other, when they provide a godly response to every trial within, as they continually trust upon the Helper that God promised.

Pope John Paul II concludes Redemptoris Missio by saying “Like the apostles after Christ's Ascension, the Church must gather in the Upper Room "together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus" (Acts 1:14), in order to pray for the Spirit and to gain strength and courage to carry out the missionary mandate. We too, like the apostles, need to be transformed and guided by the Spirit.”

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