Sunday, April 01, 2007

Where Holiness and Community Meet


One question Father Charlie Lachowitzer had proposed to me for my retreat:

Why is it that so often the call to community and the call to personal holiness seem to be mutally exclusive?

In parish life it often seems that parishes filled with holy people are often "zero" in the category of community life; their worship and common life seems like parallel play. On the other hand, parishes with a vibrant community life often seem to have a spiritual life that's a mile wide but an inch deep.

That dichotomy extends to our own personal lives. I had been finding it so in my own life for at least the last 3 months. This weekend one bridge for that chasm came to me, oddly enough while I was washing dishes in the Abbey kitchen, helping a very excellent chef in my own small way with the preparation for the common Sunday meal.

All I could hear was the phrase from Paul's letter to the Colossians, (1:24) :
"for I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the affliction of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church."

The remainder of the chapter is filled with sollioquy and song about the cosmic Christ, his sufferings and resurrection. But in this verse is where the contact point comes.... it is exactly in the every day arena of the community where Christ's sufferings become real and effectual... in the rubbing and grinding as we find our way day by day to be together in the presence of the Crucified and Risen Christ. Wherever we offer ourselves in service to others we continue to fill up our world with the Presence of the Crucified.

What a gift to be given, and to be received.

I am reminded of Frederick Buechner's saying, which is plastered on the wall of the Shared Ministry Room in my parish:

"to find your vocation you must find where your greatest joy meets the world’s great need."

1 comment:

Samuel said...

An excellent question and one I too have been rolling through my mind. Here are the thoughts that are evoked.

First, what is meant by "community" in the challenging question proposed by Fr. Charlie Lachowitzer. My answer for this challenge is as follows:

What are the two great commandments spoken of by Christ? First, to love the Lord with your whole person: body, soul and spirit. Second is to love your neighbor as yourself. I will use this as my starting point for defining "community." A community is a group of believers centered on these two greatest commandments, that is, a group of believers grounded in striving for the full realization of charity. Their goal (or purpose) is the full realization of charity. Their action is to strive towards this goal.

Since this is a comment, I will leave the definition of "what is meant by charity" to the interested reader. What it means is well established in the doctrines of the Church. To begin to discuss the fullness of charity it would result in a dissertation. Just keep in mind, that that is our purpose.

We reach towards our purpose, the realization of charity, by each individual doing their part: cultivating personal holiness. As the individuals cultivate personal holiness helping one another in this task is a requirement (love your neighbor as yourself). We should begin to see a concept of community beginning to form. We have a group of people, each working on their personal holiness, and in so doing helping their neighbor in this same task.

The question then arises, how do we cultivate personal holiness and how do we help our neighbor in their own task of cultivation. We begin with the most obvious communal elements our our life in the Church, that is, our acts of worship. Our sacraments and sacramentals. As individuals, we must strive to approach the sacraments with the fullness of our person, to love God through the sacrament with the fullness of our body, soul and spirit. In doing this, we reach out to our neighbors to lift them up in their weakness as they lift us up in our weakness. This is only possible if the sacrament is communal and not subject to the whims of individuality, that we each bend to God through the sacrament and in bending touch our neighbor. To stand rigid in our individual desires and preferences is to attempt to bend the sacrament to our will. What results is a bent and broken group of people that never becomes a community.

We begin by bending towards God and neighbor through the sacrament. This is the first sacrifice of personal will to something greater, for the love of God and neighbor. This begins the development of personal holiness and fertilizes the growth of a community; a rose begins to grow in the emptiness that once existed. If we have a group of people doing the same, bending through the sacrament, there grows a field of roses and the beginning of a community.

Why do we see the evolution of parishes that have the trappings of community, but no depth of holiness? Why do other parishes seem to have individuals who are holy but no trappings of community?

In the first case, perhaps we have a group of people who have not dedicated themselves to a sacramental life. They are perhaps entranced by the idea of love of neighbor, but love of God is too costly. In the second case we may have the opposite condition. That the people are intent on the love of God but have been distracted from the love of neighbor that is required.

To discern the truth of the situation one must looks at the "inner life" of the parish. For example, the parish with holy individuals but little evidence of community may have a fully developed communal nature, but it is not in the expected form. Perhaps this parish is dedicated to form of community realized through the communal action of the sacraments. They may not be interested in the trappings of community such as potlucks, carnivals, meeting groups and such. Instead they rest in the model of Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha is hurrying getting "real work" done.