How do we build up community? How do we build up this body of Christ that we form? The body of Christ: this body of love, this body of forgiveness, this body of mercy…is this not what Jesus incarnated and now expects us to do the same? How do we build up this community? I ask this of myself and I ask it of each of you. The ‘body of Christ’ that we are proclaims our oneness in living and embodying the gospel way. And it means in the words of Bernard Lee, SM: that “we are already and always interrelated and interdependent individuals whose only choice is to redeem our relatedness by our love” (The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, p.104).
I have a sense (and I have had this for some time) that we need to look at the quality of our relationships with one another. Every community needs to do this from time to time and every community needs on-going renewal in its relationships. Conflicts that we experience are a normal part of what it is to be human and a normal part of any community life. And so within this context I pose some questions: What has been or is at present a difficult experience with another sister? How have I moved with it? Have I gotten sufficient distance that I have received the grace to let it go? Or, have I grown in enough trust to take the step to go my sister and to reconcile with her? Have I done the self-knowledge work that has helped me be less defensive, more open to come to some new understanding and healing in the relationship? Have I sufficiently prayed about it?
How do we build up community? How do we truly become and be this body of Christ that we form? I excerpt the following from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4, The Tools of Good Works: “First of all to love the Lord God with one’s whole heart, whole soul, whole strength. Then to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” And here are concrete ways of living this love:“…to honor all and not do to another what one does not want done to oneself.”“…to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” The context of this love of Christ: “Not to carry out anger: not to store up wrath, awaiting a time of revenge, not to cling to deceit within the heart, not to give a false greeting of peace, not to turn away from love. Not to swear, lest you swear falsely: to bring forth truth from heart and mouth.”“Not to return evil for evil. Not to cause injury, but rather to bear it patiently.”“…Always to clearly acknowledge and take personal responsibility for the evil one does.”“To keep custody at every hour over the actions of one’s life.”“To instantly hurl the evil thoughts of one’s heart against Christ and to lay them open to one’s spiritual father, to keep custody of one’s mouth against depraved speech…”“To prostrate frequently in prayer, to daily confess one’s past faults to God in prayer with tears and sighs, to amend these faults for the future.”“To hate no one; not to have jealousy, not to act out of envy, not to love contention, to flee from conceit.”“In the love of Christ to pray for enemies; to make peace with opponents before the setting of the sun.”“And never to despair of the mercy of God.”
How am I, how are you living these tools? Do not these tools give us a concrete way of building up community, a community that is called to be a witness of God’s love and mercy, a community that is to witness to the active presence of God and God’s peace? Wherever there is this quality of relationships there is Christ, there is his peace. Every one of these tools that I read is about breaking open the heart from its hardened, stony ways…however, nothing will happen if we are not ready to take responsibility, responsibility for our own life and responsibility for the life of this community. At Noon Prayer yesterday we heard these words from Edith Stein: “Only the person who…no longer struggles to defend or assert herself, can be large enough for God’s boundless action” (source?). Jesus, with outstretched arms on the cross, totally giving of his whole Self so that the life and love of God will continue to spread everywhere. We are part of his body: what stops us from putting down our defenses and to go to our sister and to make peace before the setting of the sun?
Our world is armed with guns and violence. And what of our hearts? What would happen if we prayed like Dom Christian of Atlas who after the visit of the ‘terrorists’ on Christmas Eve in 1993 said: “After the visit I said to myself, those people, that person with whom I had such a terribly tense conversation, what prayer can I offer for him? I can’t ask God to kill him. But I can ask God to disarm him. Later on, I said to myself, do I have a right to ask God to disarm him if I don’t first ask God to disarm me and disarm us in community? This (now) is my daily prayer…” (A Heritage Too Big, vol. #2, p.27). And what if this would be our daily prayer: ‘Disarm me, disarm my heart O God, disarm us in community’. If we prayed this daily and put our attention on living from this disarmed posture, how would it change the quality of our relationships? A disarmed heart, the disarmed heart of a community radiates the face of Christ and is a living body of Christ’s love and forgiveness.