Last week, in view of the first Parish Congress, I wrote about the importance of the community in the lives of individual persons whether he finds himself in the society or in the Church. We all need to belong because there can be no real development and growth in the person if this is not directed towards the building up of the community, of him belonging to a community and of him taking part actively in the work of the community. Person, as Fr. Donovan has said, “is a Christian word, the very meaning of which is defined in relation to a community, beginning with the Trinitarian community outwards.”
However, especially now in the Church, we have with us this prevalent attitude of individualism - the desire to set ourselves apart from the community and to act individually whether it is in our relationship with God, in our struggle to imbibe a deeper spirituality and even in determining our own individual morality.
Another extreme is our penchant for religious organizations - forming ourselves into elite enclaves of individuals which in a way excludes all others, with their own particular culture, mind sets and with activities which sometimes compete, does not coordinate and even conflict with other organizations. Worst these groupings have the tendency to make themselves supra structures in the parish believing that theirs is better than all others. And still worst they even at times come to the assumption that theirs is the only way to be Church.
In both these extremes the Church today presents the middle way and the more effective way of being church - the parish as community. It is composed of several small Ecclesial Communities (BEC), churches in miniature, where membership is not exclusive and whose structures connect with that of the larger community, whether it is the parish, the diocese or the universal church. It is through these small groups or cells that the true expression of communion is expressed, a communion that does not exclude but rather projects itself into the wider community. It is only through these that the Community of Disciples could be formed by becoming the Church of the Poor, as envisioned by PCP II.
Last week I cited an experience I had with one of our bible sharing in the barangays (of course this is still so far from what BEC is conceived to be, but it is a good enough start.). A member of one of the elite religious organizations joined her squatter neighbors for the sharing of the word of God. Her reaction to the sharing of the group is one of surprise and excitement having known for the first time the people living in her neighborhood - their life, their struggle, their dreams, their pains and troubles. It was suggested that the sharing should be rotated to the houses of the participants so that persons such as this woman will not just hear their stories but feel, see and smell them in their surroundings. For me there is no way of forming the Community of Disciples, envisioned by PCP II unless one is willing to get immersed in the lives of the people around him, getting affected by their pains, sharing their concerns and dreaming their dreams with them. “Getting out from our cathedrals” is not just a challenge addressed to priests to get involved in the lives of their flock, but it is also a challenge to all our parishioners. It also means that the members of our religious organizations especially in Jaro should be more willing to get out from the hallowed sanctuary of their elite groups and pray more intimately with their neighborhood as they experience each others lives and share each others concerns.
All these goes back to personal conversion which I conceived as the first and most basic call of the congress. There should be a “turning with God away from our individualism and elite groupings (regionalism in miniature?),” and form in us a willingness to live as a community, to think as a community, to struggle as a community, to serve the community by our individual charisms and to bring all our concerns in prayer as one community. As a demand of love, it will be very hard at first for loving always entails sacrifice and could very well create disorder in ourselves and in our parish structures, and in the ways and the means of the past. In this regard we come to second most basic ingredient in renewing our Parish in order to make it a community of communities - commitment, the conviction which drives us to live and serve each other in the community despite the difficulties.
Commitment - a loving response to Love
Commitment is defined by the Webster dictionary as “the state of being obligated or emotionally impelled.” The definition has, so to say, the effects of commitment, that of being obligated or impelled. However the definition is wanting in pinpointing the source of commitment. It is not just emotions or feelings that predominate us to take a particular course of action. It is not merely making an explicit choice borne out of feelings that change from one turn to the other. More than this commitment is a choice that is solidly based on conviction, on faith. It comes from the Latin words cum and miteo, to be sent with, and to be sent with presupposes a person sending us and in Christianity the person who is the root of our commitment is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Commitment is the end result of the experience of being touched by the person of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love challenges us, urges us to freely choose to work for him and his Kingdom. Our commitment is nothing else but our loving response to this love. Love for Jesus is the source of every commitment. And love here is not just a feeling but a conviction, a belief, a deep faith in the person of Jesus. Without this response in love there can be no commitment.
Sacrifice is Crucial in Loving
We have only to recall the story of the rich young man in the gospel who dreamt of following Jesus more intimately in his life. However, he failed to follow him because “his possessions were many.” He has so many priorities which he could not deny, so many loves he could not sacrifice. Why? Because his response in love was weak even though he was given that singular privilege of having seen firsthand and physically so the “look of love” in Jesus’ eyes.
Peter however is a contrast. He doesn’t have the spiritual foundation of the rich young man and he might have created so many mistakes in his life and in his understanding of Jesus. But he has love - an abundance of love which he affirmed three times in tears. And because of this he was entrusted the leadership of the Church for which he committed his life even unto martyrdom.
Loving always entails a lot of sacrifice. When we prioritize things we agonize over our decisions. When we choose to chart a certain course of action by denying another which we have been accustomed to, “an unsettling pain”, a painful disengagement is created within us. We suffer. This is the reality of loving and of every commitment for that matter, and I would like to emphasize this aspect because today sacrifice is no longer popular. Everything is made so easy and taken so easily. But without this readiness to sacrifice there will be no true love and there will be no true commitment. This is true in marriage, in religious vocations, in parenting, and in building up our community in the parish.
In this regard based on these reflections on Commitment which is founded in a loving response to the love and person of Jesus, a response which demands sacrifice, I would like to make recommendations for us to reflect.
First, I would like to recall here the dictum which guided Christianity in its work of evangelization in the first centuries. Lex orandi, lex credendi - the rule of prayer precedes the rule of faith.
Oftentimes in our work in the parish we callously demand that people respond in faith. They have to do this, they have to do that. That this is wrong and this is right. We get angry because people do not grow or if they grow they immediately fall back because of the lack of commitment and conviction. But how can a person respond in faith if there is no faith in his heart. When all he does in his practice of Christianity is to go to mass not out of conviction but because he felt obliged to do so. There is little faith because there is little love. And how can they love abundantly without first experiencing the great love of Jesus for each one of us. And how can one experience this love, which is an experience of grace, when we could not humbly beg for it on our knees. The rule of prayer precedes the rule of faith. There could be no faith response without prayer. There could be no commitment in the church without the experience of prayer. There is no finding without the searching in prayer.
For so many years we have treated our people the way we treat orchids and grafted plants in our orchards. We force them to grow and to flower by means other than the natural process of growth. We have made ourselves like gods appropriating to ourselves the power that belongs to God alone. But isn’t this the tragedy of our first parents? Yes, with this process, we may have our intended results but it will not last long. And so it is with commitment. And so it is with faith.
Secondly, based on the above reflections it is not enough that we get good planners and good executive officers for our parish councils. It is not enough that we have more men than women leaders, more intellectually equip rather than intellectually unequipped. We should choose people who are imbued by his or her love for Jesus. Prayerful men and women who are open to the power of grace, earthen vessels who could empty themselves so that it may be filled up by grace. After all the work of the church is the work of God. We are just human instruments and our capacity to respond to his love, to commitment, could only be measured by our self-emptying and openness so that God could fill us up to the brim and use us for His service.