Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Men of communion

One of my friends (who's a diocesan seminarian in Texas) wrote the following reflection on the call to holiness in the lives of seminarians.

Men of Communion
One God, One Heaven, One Mind, One Faith, One Baptism
(Romans, Philippians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, Gospel of John)

One of the most hopeful articles of Catholic faith is the appeal by each of Jesus, Paul and Peter to be of one mind and one faith. But how did Paul embrace this task to bear a Church that is One? It’s easy to say that while he leapt with enthusiasm to the new and challenging task, he quickly recognized the primacy of Christ’s own dear friends and made sure that his same heart would assent to the one whom Christ had set apart for the role of leading this Church. But I think he said it best when he declared, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Truly this is a real, tangible, and practical instruction, and it is very necessary to follow in order to be one. Perhaps, then, it is important to look not only at what Paul was writing, but also what Paul was doing, so that we can see in him how it is possible to imitate Christ for the sake of Christ and have hope that in this, we can all become “men of communion”.

It is an imperative that before we can be reconciled to one another, we must first be reconciled to Christ. Before we can bring Jesus to one another, we must go to Jesus. If this methodology has any fruit, then it should be said that if we are to bring anyone at all to Christ, to make that real communion possible for them, then it must be real for us first.

In every letter Paul is not only an evangelist, or a man of wisdom and action, or a man of suffering. Before he is any of those, Paul is a man of prayer. Prayer is the central and driving force of all his success. His encouragement to us is “pray always”. This is my second year in seminary and I cannot count the times I have heard that a priest who is suffering in his ministry is probably a priest who is suffering in his prayer life. Now, these are not the majority of the sufferings of Paul. The great apostle’s sufferings came at the hands of other people, ours come from within. We must dedicate ourselves to the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hour per day and fulfill our obligation to the Liturgy of the Hours. This is not easy at all, but it is proven and it works, and anyone in my seminary can tell you that I struggle with this too. It is easy to note when I am faithful to the daily Holy Hour and when I am not for everything else I do either finds success or frenzied behavior because of it.

In our Holy Hour, we must empty ourselves to Christ in his body. The Gospel of John says “I must become less and he must become more.” I’ve often said that whatever we empty ourselves to is what will fill us. When we empty ourselves to Christ, we are filled with Christ. If, however, we empty ourselves to the world, we will be filled with the world. But we must not be confused in thinking that if we empty ourselves to the world that we will be filled with Christ, nor that if we empty ourselves to Christ, then the world will lavish us with praises and blessings. No, Christ’s own self is our unfailing reward when we empty ourselves to Him. This is our lot.

What about orientation? Now, if we have re-oriented ourselves to Jesus Christ; if we have turned our attention from the world and to Christ and emptied ourselves to Him, then truly Christ will flow through us and burst like light into the world. When we reach Christ in communion, in unity with him, Christ becomes us. This is the key which Paul recognized in everything that he did. So, it follows that to be productive in ‘bridging ideological differences’ among us, we must carry the light, which is Christ, to this dialogue. But this is not dialogue for the sake of dialogue for there is no use in that.

Now, having this light, our problem solving must always answer “what is and what ought to be”. For this, Scripture is our point of departure. Tradition has identified that our Canon of Scripture is our best source of revelation and instruction, a model of ‘what ought to be’ lies hidden in its mystery. It is necessary to recognize that the unmitigated essence of our salvation is to follow Tradition through the Scriptures so that our faith will be properly formed and informed, and we can begin this great dialogue. Hence we will come to know ‘what ought to be’.

The final question of ‘what is’ warrants a real enquiry, an examination of ‘Church’ conscience. Do we want to be what ought to be? Are we living up to the expectations, not only our own, but also those of the waiting world? When we say love thy enemy, the world expects us to love our enemies, but are we doing that? Are we hypocrites? Do we say that we profess this faith, that we believe in the Word of God and not follow it? Do we forsake Him, the Living Word, for aesthetics or psychology? Will we put aside personal gain for the sake of the Gospel?

Let’s return now to Paul. Paul, like any human being, was following his conscience and what he considered to be truthful when he went about trying to destroy ‘the Way’. It was the same Christ who came to us in the Gospels that spoke to Paul that day. And for any one who learns to pray first, keep informed of Scripture, and speak later, then like Paul we too will be guided by Christ’s own self. It will be blinding at first, maybe even a little painful, but if we participate and allow Jesus Christ to lead us, we will get clear sight.

As to being led by Christ, it is necessary as individuals and sects to put aside all personal gain. Not a little, not some, but all. We again learn this from Paul. Not only by his words, by also by his doing, Paul’s life echoed in the hearts of those who, in the first ecumenical Council of Nicea, were inspired to finally use clear, meaningful words that we could all assent to. These are the final two steps (and they are very tangible): clear, meaningful vocabulary and then assent. We need to put away our wasted breathes talking about “Progressives” and “Orthodoxy” when it is so easy to recognize that we are not meeting the expectations put forth by those very words. They’re not enlightening, they have a polarizing effect, they are cold, distant, and usurping, and they each have their own agendas and a terrible psychologizing effect that is causing the Church to appear schizophrenic. If we want to transcend this categorical obtrusiveness we’ll have to put down our egos and altar egos working not for our own fiefdom, but rather, we must do it for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

The last call is for an appropriate disposition toward death. If you’re not ready to sacrifice your life, as Paul did, for the Gospel and the beliefs ‘handed to us’ by Tradition then you’re not ready for “this all”. If I cannot give myself over to Jesus, allow myself to be in His care, and accept the fruit of this all for the sake of One Kingdom, then I am not ready Ah, but isn’t it harder to live than to die in America? In sacrificing my life, doesn’t that mean living a life of holiness? Here, in this place, our commitment to the Gospel will be measured by how closely we live according to the Gospel. So do not shrink from the Gospel, do not shrink from Scripture, and do not shrink from Christ! Rather, shrink from the world, and you will inherit Christ, and Christ who loves the world will bring his chosen ones to you, and there will be oneness, a living and holy communion, when you usher them forth to our Heavenly Father.

This is our end: eternal happiness. There is only one source for it: Jesus Christ. Eternal happiness is brought about through communion, which is never personal, with the Body of Christ, his people. It requires prayer, knowledge of the Living Word, an emptying of the self to Jesus Christ, an examination of conscience, a clear and distinct working vocabulary, assent, and living for the Gospel. This is how we will know peace: It will be the fruit of our deliberations and the gift of Christ’s own self to us. It will be accomplished when we put down our own egos for His glory.

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