Recollection for November: COMMUNION WITH THE CHURCH
Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
2 Cor. 9:6-15
Communion is not a mere theory. It must be manifested through gestures and concrete actions every day. St. Paul, conscious of being a member of the Body of Christ and living in communion with him, made a gesture of communion with the Church of Jerusalem. It is a gesture that shows how to live the communion, from mutual interest, from the profound bond in Christ, with joy and generosity, and with this gesture, allow that the communion may create a chain of blessings and graces, because when communion is given, a fruit of love, then God is present.
I prepare my heart.
We have come as brothers and sons of Mother Church to participate actively in this monthly recollection. We dispose ourselves to live with receptive attitude this encounter with God. We do some minutes of conscious breathing, being conscious of how the air enters our nose into our lungs as we inhale and how the air goes out of our nasal cavities while exhaling. As we inhale we tell the Holy Spirit: “Come Spirit of life,” and while we exhale we tell him: “dispose my heart to listen attentively.” Upon finishing the exercise of conscious respiration, we become conscious of the brothers who are with us to live this day of recollection and we thank God for the presence of each one of them and we pray that we learn to open our hearts to encounter him. We also thank God for the gift of being members of the Church, Mother and Teacher. We say to the Holy Spirit:
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is
sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy
Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame,
enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128,4).
I open my heart.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
6 Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written:
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
10 The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God, 12 for the administration of this public service is not only supplying the needs of the holy ones but is also overflowing in many acts of thanksgiving to God. 13 Through the evidence of this service, you are glorifying God for your obedient confession of the Gospel of Christ and the generosity of your contribution to them and to all others, 14 while in prayer on your behalf they long for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I return to my heart.
In the time of the Emperor Claudius, about 57 A.D., there was a great economic crisis in Judea and Paul appealed to the communities of Galatia and Macedonia that in their generosity they may help the community of Jerusalem organizing a big collection (1 Cor. 16:1-13; Acts 11:29-30).
In the 2 Cor., chapters 8& 9 seem to transmit to us two distinct moments in which Paul treat of this theme. Without any redactional connection, the scholars think that actually there are two different occasions that have been joined together in the same letter by the final redactor.
The text that we now read correspond to the second note concerning the collection with some new elements in its argumentation. It begins in v.6 with and expression that bridges what was said before and the motivation that follows. “Consider:” (9:7).
The Apostle uses a comparison taken from the farmer’s world to motivate the generosity of the addressees of the letter, i.e., the members of the Christian community in Corinth. He speaks of a spiritual sowing that will be reflected in the final harvest. The sower sows seed of good quality and abundant to obtain a good harvest. This will happen to the one who participates cheerfully in the collection (v.10).
On the other hand, Paul appeals to the conscience of each one and respects what his heart decides, whoever may make donation, so that he may do it freely and with the assurance that it gives glory to God through solidarity and generosity. In their turn, the needy brothers in Jerusalem will repay with their prayer and affection (v.14).
Over and above the situation of need of the community in Jerusalem and the generosity of many communities in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-3), one must see how in chapter 9 Paul exhorts that to help those in need is a service (2 Cor. 9:1.13) by which glory is given to God.
Communion in the Church does not refer only to professing the same faith or sharing the same norms of conduct. Communion is also sharing the material goods with those in need; thus, the Word invites us to it with the concrete example of the first Christian communities.
St. Augustine could be considered the great apostle of the communion. His ecclesial thought and his theology are marked by the spirituality of communion, since we all form the Body of Christ, we are his members, and, therefore, we are intimately united with each other.
Confronting regionalism and social classification, St. Augustine always advocated universalism and communion in all levels. Face to face with Donatism which is a local, national reductionism, and with a marked pride that contradicts sanctity, St. Augustine reminds us that the Church is Catholic, is universal, precisely because it is in communion with all churches of the world, not only with the churches of north Africa that spoke the local language of that region. Thus he ironically and sarcastically presented the pretensions of the Donatists by comparing them to frogs in a well, and they believed that that well was the whole Church, not acknowledging that there are rivers, lakes and an extensive ocean, that represent the whole universal Church:
Tremble in his presence all the earth; tell all the peoples: The Lord has reigned from the timber. He founded the orb of the earth, that will not be moved. What such relevant testimonies over the construction of the house of God! The clouds in the sky thunder to the four corners that have to build the house of the Lord through the whole world, and the frogs croak from the marshes, saying: “We alone are Christians” (en. Ps. 95:11).
(Translator’s note: The way I understand this quote is that it is sarcastic statement against the Donatist.)
On the other hand, the Donatists refused to live in communion with the whole Church because of a wrong reading of history. They believe that they are the only saints, those who did not give up the sacred books during the persecutions of Diocletian. St. Augustine will also make them see that they are wrong on this matter. The Church is a mystery of communion, but it is also a mystery of the mixture of the good and the bad until the end of time. Not because there bad Christians in a determined community should one cut off the bond of communion and charity. One must maintain unity for charity, despite the presence of the darnel within the Church and within our communities, with the hope that the darnel can be converted by the patience and the charity of those who want to be the wheat of God. Basic is to love the unity in order not to destroy the community, which is the Temple of God and the Body of Christ:
If you belong to the members of Christ, enter inside, unite yourself to the Head. If you are wheat, be patient with the darnel; if you are wheat, tolerate the chaff; if you are good, tolerate the bad fishes that are inside the net (en. Ps.40:8).
The Augustinian spirituality of communion should make us think of the new donatism, those who believe that communion has very concrete boundaries, because it is circumscribed in a people, in one ethnic group, in one language, a country or a determined religious province. The neodonatisms are as dangerous and anti-evangelical as the donatists against whom St. Augustine fought. Communion cannot be only a local phenomenon, of a group or a tribe. The communion if it is not Catholic, i.e., universal, is not Communion at all:
Not all heretics are found in the whole world, but there are heretics in the whole earth (…) one mother begot all of them: pride, just as in the same way one only Mother, the Catholic, has begotten the faithful Christians scattered throughout the world (s. 46,18).
Thus the example and the spirituality of St. Augustine invites us to overcome human barriers that we may have created, to truly live the mystery of universal communion; in the first place, with the whole Church, because she is the Spouse of Christ, she is the Body of Christ.
It is true that the Body of Christ that is the Church, is also my community, while on pilgrim way, is not totally holy; she is like the spouse in the Song of Songs, to which St. Augustine refers, because she is black but beautiful (Sg. 1:5); black by our sins who form her; beautiful by the grace of God and the action of the Holy Spirit:
I am black but beautiful like the houses of Cedar, like the tapestry of Solomon (Sg 1:5; LXX). She does not say, “I was” like the houses of Cedar, and “I am” beautiful like the tapestry of Solomon; but simultaneously the one and the other, because of the unity that in the time they constitute the good and the bad fishes inside the one same net (doctr. chr. 3, 45).
To live the communion with the whole Church means to come to feel as one’s own the needs and sufferings, the anxieties and labors of the Universal Church. To say it in three words: sentire cum ecclesia. Not only this, but also to live a functioning communion, i.e., to do something to express my communion with the whole Church, as St. Paul did in the text we are meditating on in this recollection day (2 Cor. 9:6-15).
But there is another danger. St. Augustine also went out to face Pelagianism. Independently of the theological statements it departs from, Pelagianism was a movement that sought to form an “aristocracy of the spirit,” fundamentally for the social level where it flourished –the highest classes of the society of that epoch-, as well as being a movement with marked monastic touches, or with followers within the monasteries, principally of the Gauls.
What is the danger? It is that the communion with the whole Church becomes impeded by pride, because we, the religious, can come to believe that we have the monopoly of sanctity, that we alone can do well the things within the Church, and thus we close the door to the rest of the people of God, not only in the apostolic work, but also in the mission, where more than ever before in certain fields, should be a mission shared with the laity.
To live the communion means to acknowledge that we are all members of the Body of Christ; that from baptism we have all received the same mission of proclaiming the Gospel and giving witness to Christ; certainly each one according to the gift received from God, and according to the position he occupies in the Body of Christ. But the communion includes knowing to recognize the dignity, the mission and the capabilities of the laity, and learn to create with them bonds of communion and fraternity, conscious that today in the Church we are called to build the communion in all levels.
St. Augustine was fully conscious of this more than a thousand years ago. He knew what was his function as episcopus, but he also knew that there were many places and many functions that he could not perform, and for that he relied on the laity. An eloquent and admirable example, among others, is that St. Augustine formed lay people to confront one of the terrible social disgrace of his time: the trafficking of slaves. In this way, when he was absent and the traffickers of slaves came to Hippo, the lay people did not have to wait for the orders nor the instructions of St. Augustine. They were formed and they knew what to do, and what an admirable thing they did:
The action followed: when I was absent, our lay people freed almost a hundred twenty men (slaves), one part taking them out of the ships where they had been embarked and another part … from the place where they had been hidden (by the slave traffickers) to later ship them out (ep. 10*, 7).
Today we live the great challenge of communion in a world that emphasizes accidental elements, because it has forgotten the essential ones. Today we are invited to be capable of overcoming the neo-donatisms (national, cultural, linguistic, provincial), as well as the neo-pelagian sentiment of being an “aristocracy of the spirit,” that can depreciate those who have not received the priestly ministry nor the vocation to the religious life. We are called to be creators of communion in a Church that is in itself mystery of communion.
Questions for communitarian dialogue.
- The mystery of communion demands that we live a communion in all levels and without frontiers. How can you live the full communion in your own community?
- The communion demands “sentire cum ecclesia.” How is this reality lived in your community? Does a specific gesture or action exist to manifest the communion with the whole Order-Church?
- We the religious are part of the Church, and of the Body of Christ, we are not an “aristocracy of the spirit.” In your community, how is the mission shared with the laity being lived? What can be done to live it better?
I lift up my heart.
We give thanks to God for the gifts, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us on this day of recollection. For this the following words of St. Augustine can serve us:
Walk on the road of all nations, walk on the road of all peoples, oh sons of peace, oh sons of an only Catholic Church; walk on the road; sing while walking. Travelers do this as relief from work. Sing on this road, I beg of you for the same road; sing on this road. Sing a new song; no one here sings ancient songs. The road is new, traveler is new; therefore, sing a new song (en. Ps. 66:6).
“There were thousands of souls, they loved each other, and though many they were one. They loved God with the fire of charity, and from the multitude they arrived at the beauty of unity” (symb. Cat. 2,4).+