If ever there was a moment in our lifetime for a call to communion in the Church it is now. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread worldwide and unrest, violence, and division sweep across the United States, it is essential for all of us to seek to grow in deeper love of God and one another like never before. During these dark days, it is easy to forget who we are actually fighting and the mission Christ has given to His Church.
We primarily fight against “powers and principalities” and it is easy to see the handiwork of the evil one in everything that is taking place right now. We can understand his tactics by his titles. He is the seducer, the liar, the accuser, and the scatterer/divider. All of these methods are being employed at a high intensity level at present, but the temptation to division has reached a dangerous level not only in the culture, but in the Church. We have lost sight of the destruction wrought by ruptured communion.
The divisions and tensions between Catholics have grown even more bitter in recent decades. Social media has become a cacophonous din of disagreements and outright fights. The issue is not that we cannot disagree with one another—there will be times we will have very strong disagreements—it is in how we treat others in times of disagreement. Any disagreement with another should never lead us to dehumanize the other, to resort to name calling or ad hominem attacks, to vilify the other, or to commit calumny. When we go down this path, we have fallen into the temptations of the evil one who is always ‘prowling about seeking the ruin of souls.’
Unfortunately, it is all too common for Catholics to allow great divisions to arise within the Church. It has been this way since the early Church and it always impedes our evangelical mission. In today’s 24/7 information cycle, many of these fights are available for public consumption, so countless non-Catholics see the brutal battles taking place within the Church and want no part of it. This is understandable and it is in direct contradiction to what we are called to as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our Lord at the Last Supper commands us:
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34-35
Christ gives us this command at the Last Supper because it is through the institution of the Holy Eucharist that the true essence of communion in the Church is established. Our communion is in and with the Eucharistic Lord, who draws us to Himself united to one another in love. We are no longer simply individuals seeking to live our own way. We now belong to Christ and are called to surrender everything to Him in love and for love of others. We now also belong to one another in the fraternal bonds of charity.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today beautifully illustrates what takes place in the Christian community through the establishment of the Eucharist, which is the central mystery of the communion we share with the Most Holy Trinity and one another on this side of eternity:
Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my “I” is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely, has taken us all into himself and has put himself totally into our hands. Hence, Communion means the fusion of existences; just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself, and is thereby enabled to live, in the same way my “I” is “assimilated” to that of Jesus, it is made similar to him in an exchange that increasingly breaks through the lines of division. The same event takes place in the case of all who communicate; they are all assimilated to this “bread” and thus are made one among themselves—one body.
This call to the assimilation of our own subjectivity means that we enter into a new way of existing. Christ calls us to move beyond this subjectivity out towards others in love and to be transfigured through the union we share with Him as Our Glorified Head.
The bond we share with one another in Christ takes place at the ontological level. It is this deep spiritual reality, which surpasses the material understanding of communion, that should shape our interactions with one another and the love we have for one another. It should break down the walls our own subjective experience can put in place if we are not careful. Often it is our own subjectivity that results in great divisions, but Christ calls us to a communion that moves beyond dependence on subjectivity. Pope Emeritus again:
In this way Communion makes the Church by breaching an opening in the walls of subjectivity and gathering us into a deep communion of existence. It is the event of “gathering”, in which the Lord joins us to one another.Pope Benedict XVI, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, pg 37.
In the fervor of our disagreements and the heat of anger that overtakes us so easily, we forget that we have been gathered together by Christ. We are all His, which means we must treat others with the dignity, respect, and love each individual made imago Dei deserves. In the Church, we have been called to the union with one another, which means we are brothers and sisters at the deepest levels of reality and we must love one another in a manner that is fitting of this bond we share in Baptism. We are called to love one other as He loves, even to the point of crucifixion and death.
This fraternal charity is in short supply in an age when divisions are mounting to the point of violence on our streets. How can we be a part of the solution and re-evangelize our culture if we are caught up in constant warring within the Church? We allow the smallest of disagreements to explode resulting in constantly widening chasms, which not only ruptures communion, it greatly hinders our ability to evangelize the culture. We are meant to be witnesses to the communion all human beings ultimately long for: Communion with the Most Holy Trinity and one another. Our constant warring and bickering tells the world we are no different from the prevailing philosophies of the age.
As we watch our streets spiral into chaos and as fear and panic grip our neighbors in this pandemic, we must consider whether or not the world can tell that we are Christian disciples by our love for one another. If the answer is no—which often is the case in this technological age ruled by social media—then we must seek greater conversion of heart in prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must be on guard against the evil one’s tactics in our own lives and the divisions that dwell within our own hearts.
In these months of exile from the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, we must beg Him to fill us with love so we we can live more deeply in communion with Him and one another. Only then will the world know we are His disciples and be filled with the desire to enter into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and His Church.