“Christian community is like the Christian's sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God […] The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
As a member of the Brothers & Sisters of Charity, the call to community is central to our way of life. Our constitution clearly states, “The Brothers and Sisters of Charity is a Catholic community of singles, celibates, and families called as a monastic and domestic spiritual family into deep love relationships with and in Jesus Christ.” (emphasis mine)
For most of us, most of the time Christian community is a great source of joy. Every now & then something or someone comes along to challenge that joy. These times are just as important as all the warm & fuzzy times. In some respect they may even be more important for us and for our community. As Proverbs 17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It’s in the hard times and with difficult people that we truly learn to love, and love like Jesus.
Two temptations we face when trouble surfaces in community is to: (a) give in to gossip or take sides; or (b) think that the community/group is a failure & give up on it
We need to be aware of these temptations and realize the best way to defeat them is by humility and understanding what real community is all about. To do that I want to share just little of the insight from Life Together.
Humility as the Antidote to Gossip or Taking Sides
“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. ... How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?” – Life Together
Got that? In other words, don’t focus on the spec in someone else’s eye while you have a 2x4 in yours. The Orthodox monk Ambrose of Optina has some great advice on this subject, “If we have not committed the sins that others have, perhaps this is only because we did not have the opportunity.” Definitely something to keep in mind the next time someone offends you.
“God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction. God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image. I can never know beforehand how God's image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God's free and sovereign creation.” – Life Together
Have you ever met someone that just rubs you the wrong way? How easy is it to just ignore them or write them off? Yet, every person is a unique reflection of the image of God and if we don’t take the time to get over ourselves and get to know that person we miss out on a new way of encountering Christ.
Deeper Understanding of Community to Counter the Temptation to Walk Away
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”- Life Together
We can’t love our idea of community more than the actual people that make up that community. It’s so easy to have that utopian dream of Christian community where everything is rainbows and unicorns. That community cannot exist here on earth. As much as we may desire to be “of one heart and mind” as scripture says, our fallen natures guarantee that conflict will come. Even the early church, often held up as an example of the ideal community, had issues and conflict. However, if we remember that we are not called to love an abstract concept of community, but actual people in it then we can press through conflict and come out stronger on the other side. Getting that whole humility thing down really helps the process.
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” - Life Together
What a profound statement. How can I possibly hold a grudge against someone if I am holding them in intercessory prayer? A community of believers that does not pray with and for each other is almost certainly doomed to fail. Prayer changes us, it exchanges our heart and will with that of the Christ’s. That is the glue that holds authentic community together.
As a final thought I want to share two passages from the scriptures:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! […] For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. “ (Psalm 133:1-3)
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11)