Theological and Ecclesiological Bases of the Notions and Practices of Communio in the Building Up of the Church
Msgr. Manuel “Manny” Gabriel, PC, STD
1. JOHN PAUL II’S THEOLOGY OF COMMUNION-IN-MISSION
An excellent source of materials to discern the Church’s mission in our contemporary society in this new millennium comes from Pope John Paul II’s “Ecclesia in Asia”. It is his Apostolic Exhortation in Jesus Christ, the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia. The document has taken four (4) years in the making. John Paul II has called on the Universal and Local Churches to prepare for the 3rd Millennium by declaring 1997 – The Year of the Father; 1998 – The Year of the Son; 1999 – The Year of the Holy Spirit; and 2000 – The Year of the Trinity. The Holy Father conducted consultations per continent and at the end of the Millennium put into writing his Exhortation on the mission of the Churches, in this case, the Church of Asia. This Exhortation, therefore, capsulizes the Church’s mission, specifically, in the context of Asian realities, cultures, and varying ecclesial life. It provides the theological framework in the realization of the Church’s mission in Asia.
The Theology of Communion
God’s eternal plan for the Church
- The Church was foreshadowed from the world’s beginning (creation);
- Prepared for in the Old Covenant;
- Instituted by Christ;
- Made present to the world by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost
- Now she progresses on her pilgrimage amidst the world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.
- Focus on the pilgrim character of being Church.
God desires that the whole human race may:
- become one People of God
- form one body in Christ
- be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit
- gathered as one flock with one Shepherd
The Church is in the world, the “visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” “the sacrament of salvation.”
“At the heart of the mystery of the Church is the bond of communion which unites Jesus Christ to all the baptized. Through this living and life-giving communion, “Christians no longer belong to themselves but are the Lord’s very own.
“The Church’s first purpose then is to be the sacrament of the inner union of the human person with God and because people’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the human race.”
“Communion with Jesus, which gives rise to the communion of Christians among themselves, is indispensable condition for bearing fruit; and communion with others is the fruit that the branches can give. In this sense, communion and mission are inseparably connected… so that “communion represents both the source and fruit of mission, and mission is accomplished in communion.”
Using the theology of communion, Vatican II describes the Church as pilgrim people of God to whom all peoples are in some way related.
- In effect, the Church’s service of unity has specific relevance to Asia’s interreligious contexts; the same service of unity relates to other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities and families.
2. COMMUNION WITHIN THE CHURCH
Universal Authority of the Successor of Peter
It is in fact within the perspective of ecclesial communion that the universal authority of the Successor of Peter shines forth more clearly, not primarily as juridical power over the local Churches, but above all as a pastoral primacy at the service of the unity of faith and life of the whole People of God.
The Diocese as a communion-in-mission of communities
“Each particular Church must be grounded in the witness of ecclesial communion which constitutes its very nature as Church. The Synod Fathers chose to describe the Diocese as a communion of communities gathered around the Shepherd, where clergy, consecrated persons and the laity are engaged in a “dialogue of life and heart” sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
It is primarily in the Diocese that the vision of a communion of communities can be actualized in the midst of the complex social, political, religious, cultural and economic realities of Asia.
Ecclesial communion implies that each local Church should become what the Synod Fathers called a “participatory Church”, a Church, that is, in which all live their proper vocation and perform their proper role. In order to build up the “communion for mission” and the “mission of communion”, every member’s unique charism needs to be acknowledged, developed and effectively utilized. – Ecclesia in Asia #25
The Parish – a communion-in-mission of Basic Ecclesial Communities and other ecclesial communities
“In every Diocese, the parish remains the ordinary place where the faithful gather to grow in faith, to live the mystery of ecclesial communion and to take part in the Church’s mission…
Therefore, the Synod Fathers urged Pastors to devise new and effective ways of shepherding the faithful, so that everyone, especially the poor, will feel truly a part of the parish and of God’s People as a whole. Pastoral planning with the lay faithful should be a normal feature of all parishes.” – Ecclesia in Asia #25
The Basic Ecclesial Communities as communion-in-mission of families
“In this context, and drawing on their pastoral experience, the Synod Fathers underlined the value of basic ecclesial communities as an effective way of promoting communion and participation in parishes and Dioceses, and as a genuine force for evangelization…
These small groups help the faithful to live as believing, praying and loving communities like the early Christians (cf. Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-35). They aim to help their members to live the Gospel in a spirit of fraternal love and service, and are therefore a solid starting point for building a new society, the expression of a civilization of love.” – Ecclesia in Asia #25
The families as domestic Church, a communion-in-mission of persons
The very experience of communion and sharing that should characterize the family’s daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society.
The relationships between the members of the family community are inspired and guided by the law of “free giving.” By respecting and fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity. -Familiaris Consortio, 43
Critical situations within the family
- difficulty in relationships and communication due to lack of trust and intimacy or intergenerational conflict
- the break up and breakdown of families due to the couple’s divorce and separation (break up) and the prevalence of the culture of death (breakdown)
- violence and abuse
- addiction, the media and social network
External issues on the family
- the impact of work on the family (time demands, salary and benefits, lifestyle)
- migration and the family
- poverty and the struggle for subsistence
- consumerism and individualism
- counter-witness in the Church (sexual abuses of the clergy)
For the family to survive and be a communion of persons, it has to re-root itself in the light and context of communion with the love of the Father and his plan for his people (Amoris Laetitia #53)
What basic theological framework on Communion can the Church offer families and ecclesial communities in their avowed mission?
The role of renewal movements
“The Synod also recognized the role of renewal movements in building communion, in providing opportunities for a more intimate experience of God through faith and the sacraments, and in fostering conversion of life. It is the responsibility of Pastors to guide, accompany and encourage these groups so that they may be well integrated into the life and mission of the parish and Diocese.
Those involved in associations and movements should offer their support to the local Church and not present themselves as alternatives to Diocesan structures and parish life.
Communion grows stronger when the local leaders of these movements work together with the Pastors in a spirit of charity for the good of all (cf. 1 Cor 1:13).” – Ecclesia in Asia #25
3. The call of Pope Francis to a total conversion in the pursuit of the Church as communion-in-mission of communities
Personal and communal conversion from a pastoral strategy of maintenance to a pastoral position that is truly missionary.
NO – to staying in the “center of power”: “I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught in the web of possessions and procedures.”
– to “exclusivism” and “exclusion”
– to complacency or attitude that says: “We have done it this way.”
– to an “obsession” with the disjointed transmission of doctrines to be insistently imposed
– to being “plain administrators”
Yes – to reaching out to the excluded and marginalized
– to welcoming “everyone without exemption”
– to being “bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, styles, and methods of evangelization in their respective community” (Pope Francis preferred images of the Church: a Battlefield Hospital after a battle, a Shepherdess, a Home)
– This is the openness and commitment to “constant self-renewal”
– This is achieved by having the “missionary impulse” that can transform “Church customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures.”
– “All renewal in the Church must have a mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey into “ecclesial introversion”
Priority of the New Evangelization
– Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium raises the question: “to whom should we (the Church) go first?”
– Not so much our “friends and wealthy neighbors” but all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you”
– The key strategy: Go to the streets and offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. “I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security…”- Pope Francis
– Discern the new forms of poverty and vulnerability in which we are called to recognize the sufferings of Christ: the homeless, the addicted, the refugees, the indigenous people, migrants and victims of human trafficking, unborn children and elderly. N.B. For Pope Francis, “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer from is the lack of spiritual care.”