by Fr. Michel Santier
A GraceA community does not come into being in the same way as an association, through the will of men and women who have chosen each other according to inclination or a common goal. A community is born from the call of the Holy Spirit, by grace.
It is not we who choose one another, it is the Lord himself who calls and brings together people who are very different in age, background and occupation. We wee this in the Gospel, where Jesus called men as different as Simon the fisherman, Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector.
At the beginning of the Church, in the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian community of Jerusalem is described as being born of the grace of Pentecost and of the gift of the Spirit. Acts 2:44 says that all those who had become believers owned everything in common, and shared their possessions according to each ones need. It does not say that they shared everything in order to live communally, but it says that their common faith in the living, risen Jesus, led them to live as brothers and sisters, and share each other's joys and sorrows, and even their possessions.
Faith can never be lived on one's own cut off from others. Faith in the risen Christ leads to living with others in the Church, and in communities which are open and welcoming to the world – a world in which the Father's loving and creating power never ceases to operate.
A Grace of Pentecost
It is not surprising that the Charismatic Renewal, whose profound vocation is to be a reminder of the importance of the grace of Pentecost at the heart of the church, is a strongly community-based Church stream. This grace of community does not reflect fear of the world, neither is it a refuge. Those who say that do not know what community life is – beautiful but hard; beautiful because it is the Lord who makes us one and gathers us together, who gives us the grace of communion; but also hard because it is a place which demands conversion. Living under the gaze of our brothers and sisters leads us to living in truth, without masks or striving to be noticed.
The grace of community, which is a fruit of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, is necessary for the life of the Church, because it is an integral part of the grace of evangelization which is the very mission of the Church and the mission of the whole Church. "The Church is made to evangelize."
The Word of God insists on this: "See how they love each other" and "By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples."
There is no evangelization without brotherly love, love which is incarnated in ecclesial life, in fraternal life, in community life. A community is born and grows when brothers and sisters commit themselves together to the Lord and to one another.
In Prayer Groups
Such fellowship is not mean solely for those who live in community, it should be desired by all Christians, particularly those in prayer groups.
Fellowship in prayer groups comes from the fact that we recognize Jesus – the Jesus who gathers us together, who makes us one – as living and present among us.
There is so much that makes us different from each other: age, background, different vocations and commitments. We did not choose each other, and yet between all those who pray together the Lord creates a bond of love and charity which remains despite our limits, our weakness, our sins.
The bonds of ideal communion or ideal love do not exist. A perfect prayer group or a perfect community does not exist. The most significant obstacle to growth and to the evangelistic effectiveness of groups comes from my having an ideal and perfect image of the prayer group which I want to impose on others (here is the difference between the grace and the model). As long as I see things in this way I am never happy, I will never be satisfied with the group or the prayer. I will not be going for the Lord and for the other people, but for myself, to reinforce an image of perfection. As a result I become impossible, always complaining and criticizing.
Accepting that I am limited and a sinner, just as the tax-collector did in the Gospel, will help to set me on the right path, leading me towards a true encounter with Christ and with people; I will no longer go to prayer meetings for myself, but for Christ and for the people.
The main mission of leaders, core groups and other people in charge is to build unity and build up the group's community life. Their task is not organizing the group as a well-structured association, but rather helping their brothers and sisters to receive the gift of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who creates these bonds of unity.
The most important thing is that everyone should feel loved and recognized as an individual, and that each person should feel they have a place in the prayer group. Even when people feel weak, they should still feel they have a place there. The prayer group is not about efficiency or profitability. It is rather a place where people can just be loved and can discover that they have a heart which can still love others.
If the prayer group – in its prayer session as well as in the faith sharing meetings – is this place, people will leave with new energy and be renewed. Each person will be enabled to go and give as they are able where they live, in their families, on their jobs or in their parishes.
In the Church
This community love is carried into the communion with the Church. The focus here is not on doing things in the Church, but on being at its heart through love. (Remember St. Thrérése de Lisieux's explanation of her vocation: In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be in love.) If we have understood that, if we have prayed about and intimately appropriated this notion, we will be less tempted as part of the Church to seek the recognition of our bishop or the diocesan Church, and instead just love this Church, serve it and take part in its life.
The prayer groups in the various dioceses are not individual chapels, they are an integral part of the diocesan Church. "A diocese is a section of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy so that, loyal to its pastor and formed by him into one community in the Holy Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist, it constitutes one particular church in which one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is present and active." (Christus Dominus no. 11)
Everything belongs together: bishops, priests, the Gospel – in the Holy Spirit – and the Eucharist. Belonging to the diocesan Church is not belonging to a structure, it is living by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The universal Church is not the juxtaposition of the sum of all the individual Churches. Each particular Church, through the bishop's ministry of communion, is in communion with the whole Church, and the principal agent of this communion is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of communion.
The Renewal for its part participates in the renewing of the grace of Pentecost and of the grace of community which is and has been at work all over the Church since Vatican II. Community life is a powerful grace which is lived out in the midst of the personal brokenness of the communities members. Let us no be afraid of things like criticism and limits; let us remember that the Lord can show the full force of His power through our weaknesses and poverty.
Taken from the September-October, 1996, issue of the (ICCRS) Newsletter, Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00120 Vatican City, Europe. With Permission.