In the third grade, my English teacher asked us to write a paper defining love in 500 words. I put all of my third grade wisdom and discipline into the task. I dug down deep to find profound truths and carefully crafted them into intricate yet elementary sentences. When I at last I presented my Pulitzer deserving work to my professor she giggled. Evidently my paper is very cute.
Luckily, now we are the adults. These simple tasks should be easy for us. Clear definitions – no more giggles. Ok class, define community in 500 words.
Back in early October I started to write about community. What I meant to be an introduction became Grace Made Man. I did my best to explain through my own experience why community is vital in life and the Catholic Faith. But that just begs the question, what is this ‘community’? How do we Catholics build community.
But that’s just another trick question. Because weather it’s 500 or 5000 words, some concepts like, love, God and community we will never completely wrap our minds around. They are too big for us. That is why Jesus had to come. Do you think you know how to community? Oh reader you make Jesus giggle. Let us consider some of the ways Jesus tried to help us understand this word ‘community’.
Someone told him [Jesus], “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
The most frequently used image of Community by Catholics is probably the image of the holy Family. In these few simple verses Jesus lays the foundation of true Marian spirituality. We are so loved, Jesus gives his presence with us equal priority to his presence beside his Mother most blessed.
In turn we are called to have this reverence for all of Mary’s family. So connected are we, that our presence in the lives of our brothers and sisters should have equal importance to the presence of the blessed mother in our own lives and as will know if we are doing it right when we (the church) become the embodiment of Mary to the world. Jesus doesn’t stop with saying we are his brothers we are to be his mother (mother Church) as well.
It is often said that being Mary means giving a total yes to Gods will. And these verses affirm this. But what is God’s will? Mary’s great vocation from the Father was to form Jesus within her body, and spend the rest of her life protecting, caring for and raising him. What should we do then once we (the Church) have taken Jesus as the Eucharist into our bodies? What better way to spend our lives than protecting, caring for and instructing our brothers and sisters.
So there we have a simple definition of the christian community. In order to build true community all we have to do is love each other as much as Mary loved Jesus. Can we done this?
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.
Jesus also likes to call the church his flock. Maybe its sounds easier to be sheep than to be Mary. But hidden in these few verses is a definition of community that conflicts with everything the world has taught us. This flock is not a club you earn entrance into, it is a protector that finds you in distress. In all our worldly institutions we are told we can freely come and go. Let’s be honest. In the Church today there is more going than coming, and if we are really honest, we know that often we are happy to watch other people leave.
Anytime someone doesn’t quite ‘fit in’ with our little click of the Church. We are tempted to just let them find more fitting pastures. Why should they disturb our comfort zones? Surely we reason this is correct if they are a sinner. Clearly we reason this is correct if their needs conflict with the needs of to the many.
But Jesus teaches this is not so. It is in fact the duty of the his flock to concern itself with those who wandered outside the gates of our little Catholic pastures. Jesus sought those who had wandered off. Jesus broke bread with those who wandered off. Jesus preferred to inconvenience 100 of his flock to make sure that no 1 sheep would wander away.
When people place the needs of the “in group” to welcome the stranger, it truly is community. Can we do this?
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others
In our modern world, we have a word for two people who believe they belong to each other, codependency. Modern psychology teaches us to set boundaries. They claims we can not have safe mature relationships without building walls to protect ourselves But the body of Christ calls for pure compromised emotional intimacy. When one member of the body is in pain we are all in pain. When one member of the body is in joy we are all in joy. This goes beyond emotional intimacy its emotional union.
And this unadulterated codependent union isn’t even reserved to one person. We are being asked to form this intimate bond with the entire church. How is this even possible? In our simple understanding it is not. Because all our understanding is based in a world corrupted by sin. And in a world where our brothers and sisters have had their hearts corrupted by sin we really do need to set up barriers from this sin to protect ourselves. If we remove these boundaries we will be hurt, manipulated and taken advantage of. Most of us have already been hurt in this manner. How can we do this??
Grace! Grace calls us to look beyond what is and what has always been. Grace tells us what should and in the kingdom of heaven will be. Through grace we can begin to see our brothers and sisters with the same eyes that marry saw Jesus. Through grace we can begin to stop judging and dividing and start finding and serving our brothers on the outside.
And yes through grace we can heal the wounds of sin that have divided us. We can learn to break down the walls of distrust we have erected. Through Christ we can have the courage to expand our boundaries to include the needs of others. And through Christ we can at last make true loving contact of our spirits. Until we have built this intimate connection to every living person we should admit that we have not yet discovered community as Christ has intended. And maybe that is the point.
When Richard Rohr OFM talks about the gift of marriage he will sometimes say that God uses our spouses to remind us we still do not know how to love. No matter where we are in a spiritual development we *still* need this reminder because we *still* do not know how to love.
Our longing for Community teaches us the same thing. We do not yet know how to build the intimacy Christ intended us all to share. We do not yet know how to forsake our chosen flock to bring back our lost brethren. We do not yet know how to care for the world like Mary cared for Jesus. We still do not know how to love.
So here is my definition you can count the words. A community is the people who long to love you more than they know how. Your community is the one you seek to love back more than you know how. So my challenge to this post is to try loving just a little more than you know how. Your community will help you discover the question. Grace alone can help you find the answer.