Thursday, February 21, 2013

Christianity: Communal or Private?

It's been another one of those seasons when I don't feel like saying much. At least not much about the things I have been writing about on some level for the last several months. All I know is that things placed in the hands of God are wrapped in the deepest possible security and liable to the most unpredictable turns. Just when I think things can only get better....

But I'm writing now to kick around the thoughts that came to me during Mass today. The basic gist of the homily I heard was this: God tells us to ask, seek and knock, so we need to ask for the things we need to be closer to God, not just our wants. That's a rather basic and generic truth. The presumed context was that we would each spend our Mass privately praying for our own needs. What suddenly stood out to me like a red flag was the lack of any sense of "our needs" as a community.

The only way we can have any sense of communal need is if we have a real sense of community. That latter phrase there is vague enough to irritate me. Let's say instead that we lack a living awareness of joint mission as the Church. What are we here for -- on earth, or at Mass? Do we all come to just get a separate, personal spiritual boost? Does that even happen if we have no sense of belonging to Christ, which makes us all belong to each other? I was struck by the sterility of seeing Christian faith as a private entity, even one that we all come together to "celebrate."

(I must add that this was the sense being communicated today, by this homilist who is not our pastor, and this is not how I see our parish, nor do I believe it is the vision desired by many. And yet, I think many could easily absorb this message and even approve of how it seemed to be pointing to a need for a "personal relationship with Christ." It seems, though, that if this sort of thing resonates with us, it points to unmet spiritual needs for community, and possibly even a lack of understanding based on a complete absence of the reality of Christian community in one's experience. In other words, the engine ain't firing on all its cylinders.)

And then while receiving communion, I thought of the Scripture in 1 Corinthians which I have been meaning to look up all day, but haven't until now. "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and many among you are dying." (11:29-30)

Now, I will let those more trained in Scripture than myself hold forth on the depth of this passage. But it struck me that we cannot separate the sense of discerning the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist from the sense of our belonging to Him in his Body, the Church. If you get rid of either element (a symbolic cracker, or a "private" relationship with the Lord which allows us to live as if we have the  mantra "Let the World Go to Hell!" emblazoned into our souls), you are following a made-up religious system, despite the probable fact of a valid baptism and some actual faith. Both persons stand in need of significant course correction.

Let's face it -- entire communities are in need of significant course correction.

Lord, why is it so hard for us to live together in your kingdom on earth? Come, Lord Jesus. In your mercy, teach us how to live together again like you intend for us.

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