Called to Community: Beckoned by the Trinity

Before the beginning is the Trinitarian life of community of the eternal Persons of God.  The life of the Trinity is an infinite explosion of giving and receiving love.   The spiration of the Spirit is the expression of the Father and Son’s profound love for each other.  Each Person of the Trinity pours forth love toward the Others and dances in the love of the Others. Each lives and dwells in the Others and, by sharing life, the Three constitute a community characterized by unity in diversity.  The interrelationship of the Persons of the Trinity is so complete that the Three are one God, that is, three loves in the same love.

The Trinity lives from, with, through, and for each Other.   From all eternity, this community of shared life has existed in a dynamic, mutually interdependent, and reciprocal relationship of self-giving love.  Historically, the eternal Three expressed the dynamus of their love in the outward movements of Creation, Incarnation/Redemption, Pentecost, and continue to do so in the ongoing life of the earth community and, in a special way, the Christian community.

The Triune God, a Mystery of intense inclusion, invites human beings to share in its communion of life and love, and, through this experience, to enter into community with others.  Just as the community of the Trinity exists in relationships of self-donation and self-differentiation, so, too, the Christian community entails each member’s giving of self in love to others and the flourishing of  members’ personal development.  True community embraces the individuation of its members and inspires them to contribute to the common good.    

Through His teaching and example, Jesus stressed the importance and value of community.  He taught His small band of followers to be together in love. Jesus responded lovingly to others’ needs and encouraged His disciples to do likewise. Today, Jesus’ call is to continue His self-donating way of being.  Love of Christ and the commitment to contribute to the growth of God’s Kingdom of love on earth through gospel living is what binds together contemporary Christians.

The following are some of this author’s reflections concerning the  meaning and value of Christian Community:

  • Community is a grace that involves collaboration with God and others.  
  • Community is about experiencing a sense of belonging.  In Christ we are, indeed, members of each other.
  • Relationships that nurture, encourage, and challenge us shape and enrich our shared life in community.  
  • Community involves carrying each other’s burdens, i.e., being there for each other in good times and hard times.  
  • Community means praying for and with each other.
  • Community and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.  This entails seeking reconciliation when we inflict pain on another and offering forgiveness to those who have caused us to suffer.  
  • Community is a discipleship of friends who together steward the talents and resources God has bestowed on them.  
  • In community, with courage and constantly renewed vigor, we quest together to serve the needs of God’s people by attuning ourselves to the signs of our times.
  • Hospitality is essential to Community. The spirit of welcoming includes honoring each other and creating ample space for differences among us.  

The Trinity constantly beckons Christians to community, which entails an ongoing commitment to walk the long journey in love together.  As Mercy foundress, Venerable Catherine McAuley, poignantly reminds us:  “Our mutual respect and charity is to be cordial; now ‘cordial’ signifies something that revives, invigorates, and warms; such should be the effect of our love for each other.”  Just as the cordiality of the Persons of the Trinity for each Other moves outward, so, too, Christian cordiality expresses itself in the mission of mercy to our world, which roots itself in the desire to respond lovingly and wholeheartedly to the needs of our time.  

In his text, Why We Live in Community, Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof, stresses that the “witness to voluntary community of goods and work, to a life of peace and love, will have meaning only when we throw our entire life and livelihood into it.” 1 Additionally, in an essay on community, Thomas Merton notes that community is God’s work.  He insists: “It isn’t just a question of whether you are building community with people that you naturally like; it is also a question of building community with people that God has brought together.”2

The story of  Christian community is ever unfolding.  Beckoned by the Trinity, as we continue into the future in the 21st century and beyond, let us encourage and inspire one another to dream dreams, share hopes, and seek and find creative ways to live mercifully by serving persons in need in our broken world.

 

1 Eberhard Arnold, Why We Live in Community (Farmington, Pa.: Plough Phing Co., 1996), p. 28.

2 Thomas Merton, “Building Community on God’s Love” reprinted in Why We Live in Community, p. 51.  

 

Dr. Marilyn Sunderman, RSM is Professor of Theology and Chair of the on-campus Theology Program at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine.

Superstitions

Every once in a while, I worry that I might be wearing out my Al Martino records, and so I temporarily switch to a different singer. Recently I listened to the great Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” a song whose melody I really like but whose lyrics have always annoyed me.

 

When you believe in things that you don’t understand

Then you suffer

Superstition …

I would not want to suggest that there is no such thing as superstition, nor that superstition is harmless. The behavior of investors in the Stock Market frequently reveal how silly and superstitious we can be. But the idea that the essence of superstition, as Stevie puts it, is believing “in things that you don’t understand,” well, that is also quite silly.

Belief is pervasive in human life, and we often do not understand what we believe. A quick inventory of one’s knowledge reveals, in the words of Bernard Lonergan, that one’s understanding rests largely

on the experience of others, and its development owes little indeed to his personal originality, much to his repeating to himself the acts of understanding first made by others, and most of all to presuppositions that he has taken for granted because they commonly are assumed and, in any case, he has neither the time nor the inclination nor, perhaps, the ability to investigate for himself (Method in Theology, 41-42).

The issue is part of the traditional question of how faith and reason are related. Believing things we don’t understand is not superstition. There are too many things in life that we need to believe but cannot discover for ourselves.

Still, there is a desire to understand, and that desire is not put on hold in religious experience. A recent study by one of our own professors has shown that the gospels of Mark and John reveal the importance of faith, but a faith that is quite reasonable within the contexts and concerns that the characters who encounter Jesus find themselves. Dr. Pamela Hedrick concludes that:

[i]t is easy to get the relationship between faith and reason wrong. There is a tendency to unbalance the relationship by either reducing faith to a conclusion of reason or of giving no place to reason within the act of faith. The reality is subtler and more important. A fresh reading of the gospels, with attention given to the questions and answers that emerge in the interactions among the characters, and especially their encounters with Jesus, reveals that an accurate account of the relationship between thinking and believing presents faith as an act of reason while reason is understood as needing faith in order to be liberated from narrow horizons. When faith operates within the context of faith, self-transcendence is possible. (Do You Now Believe? Reasonable Faith in Mark and John (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock, 2017, 76).

The rationalist temptation is to reduce human self-transcendence to reason without faith, while the pious but mistaken reaction might tend to dismiss the desire to understand. As Dr. Hedrick puts it, “an uncritical faith —a credulity or an unthinking belief that clings to certitude at the expense of understanding—can undermine faith itself and at least slow down the response to the grace of ongoing conversion” (77). And to that I say “Amen.”

Now, back to Al Martino …

David Hammond teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.