Community and Evangelization, part 1
My New Little Series on Evangelization and Community.
I've been thinking lately about two things: evangelization and community, and how they are inter-related. Here's some posts that will toss out these thoughts as I have them. As always, any series that I do are sporadic and incomplete. They are suggestions towards answers, not the answers themselves.
An Introduction to The Idea of Community
Most of my ministry is devoted to the cause of the new evangelization. I am trying to get a sense of where the Spirit is moving the Church today, of how He is transforming things like parish ministries, outreach, the marginalized and forgotten, the active and the devout. The new evangelization seems to suit me because I enjoy the idea of reaching out to Catholics who aren't really all that Catholic. The Mission Ad Gentes is too remote and I'll leave it to better, smarter, holier people to do authentic mystogogy.
Community is more difficult for me because I am a nerd and a bit of a loner when it comes to ministry stuff. Heck, this whole website is somewhat of a testament to that - it's just me typing away in my makeshift office all alone. But community is important, and so I need to focus my energy on developing a sane and helpful approach towards "fostering the Christian community", whatever that means.
The crazy thing was, all this time I guess I just never realized how fostering the Christian community and the task of evangelization cooperate and are inter-related. In fact, I dare say that community and evangelization are interdependent.
PART ONE: THE GENESIS OF COMMUNITY
Before we go any further, we need to stop and think about community for a second. The theological importance of community cannot be overstated, so let me simply say that without the notion of community there is no Christianity. Thus, that whole Me-And-Jesus mentality that is still insanely popular among our Evangelical friends (ironic) is absolutely unchristian. Here's why (in a not-so-simple post).
Communion of Divine Persons
At the center of Christianity is the core doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, of God Who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The dogma that God is not a solitary monad, but a communion of Divine Persons, is utterly unique in Christianity. So at the heart of God we find community, from which all human communities participate insofar as they are true communities.
The Father is united to the Son through the Holy Spirit, the bond of reciprocal love in the heart of the Trinity. Lover, Beloved, and the Love that unites them forms the essential communion of existence. Without this understanding of the Trinity as the co-eternal communion of Persons, there is no way that we can say, "God is love". A Muslim cannot say that. A Jew cannot say that. A Zoroastrian cannot say that, nor can a deist hippie say that. Only a Christian believes, apart from Creation, that there is, in the inner life of God, Persons in relation to One Another, and that the unity of those relations is Love. Any religion with the deity as a solitary monad cannot say "God is love" because, apart from Creation, He has nothing co-eternal to love. He cannot be what He does not have. Without an object to love, the subject cannot be a lover. This goes for God as much as for human beings.
(Personal Side Note: This is why I did not become a Muslim in high school. I saw love as a virtue, and virtue as a moral perfection, a good. All goods must be present in the divine nature in their fullness, simplicity, and infinite perfection. But if God is conceived of as a solitary monad, than there cannot be any perfection of goodness that deals with the relations between subject and object. How can love exist at all, let alone infinitely perfect, in the divine nature if God has no beloved object? It only gets worse if we say, "God is love" in relation to Creation, that Creation is His beloved object(s). The problem with this implies still that God has no perfection of love in Himself, but only extrinsically in relation to Creation, which means that God is not perfect because He lacks the perfection of love until He creates some object in which to love. Allah, then, could not be God, nor could Aristotle's God be God because none of them have co-eternal, consubstantial Persons capable of loving and being loved. I also did not become a Muslim in high school because I was rationally convinced that the resurrection of Jesus was historical truth, not fable, thus nullifying contrary claims about His divinity. Whew!)
Communion of Human Persons
Then you have the creation of Man, male and female, expressed in both Genesis 1 and 2 as this existential need of one another's community in order to be complete; or to put it in better terms, in order to completely image God Who is community. In making us persons, God made us for each other. Community is writ large in human nature. We are just as much social animals as we are rational animals.
"It is not good for Man to be alone."
These are powerful and terrifying words in Genesis because the previous 7 or so times God threw out a value-statement, they were all "it was good... it was good... it was good...". The first time something is described as "not good" is when a human person found to be alone, without one like himself to be with in community.
Following Creation, the reader of Sacred Scripture constantly finds God gathering men and women together to form a people, His People. His Family. He may elevate a leader, revealing Himself to an individual person, but never is it meant for that person alone, but to save his people. Just think of the drama surrounding Abraham or Moses, God rescued this one person in order to be the leader, the father, the priest of His People. God saves the one in order to save the many. That is how He works because that is Who He is, it is His essence. Action follows being, never forget that wisdom of the Medievals.
This pattern continues throughout salvation history, including the rise of the Davidic monarchy, the Prophets, and all the rest.
Communion of Saints
Finally, we have Jesus who came that we might have life. He taught us human children how to be children of the Father again, and then did the work of redemption so that we actually could be children of the Father. Since the Trinity has broken into the world in a new way, that divine Community is poured onto the human race, creating the union of the divine family with the human family, forming something that never existed before and will never be surpassed.
Jesus came to gather a People unto Himself, like a mother hen gathers her chicks. He taught us to say Our Father, not My Father. He obliterated sin, the obstacle to our oneness with the Trinity, in order to redeem us for eternal life, which is union with the Trinity. And just as the Father is united to the Son through the bond of Love called the Holy Spirit, so too does the Spirit of Jesus fall upon all those who have faith in His name and receive the initiation into His Body through Baptism.
"One Lord, one faith, one baptism."
He gave us the Spirit, the Catholic Church, the union of believers, the communion of saints. It is little wonder, then, why the highest act of worship that Jesus gave to us to give back to the Father is the gift of Himself in the Sacrament we often call "Communion".
Conclusion To This Part on Community
If you still do not think that community is essential to Christianity, there is no hope left for you. Your Me-And-Jesus disease has consumed you completely.