Recollection for October: COMMUNION IN THE MISSION
Communion is one of the great mysteries that every Christian lives and at the same time is a challenge: to be capable of building communion in our own community and be channels of collaboration in building up communion within the Body of Christ that is the Church. Every community that lives the intra-communitarian communion discovers itself to be in mission. Jesus sends his apostles, the community is sent by Christ himself, to bear witness of communion and to be builders of communion in the world, always trusting in the power of God.
I prepare my heart.
I have come to this Recollection conscious of the need that I have to put aside my daily activities during some hours one day every month. To become a competent and enthusiastic evangelizer, I need the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially of fortitude and of charity. It is also important that I present to God my tiredness, my pettiness, and my frustrations. Thus I seek the physical and mental conditions that may dispose me for the encounter with God. I enter into the coordinates of silence and quietude. I take on a posture that is favorable to my encounter with God: seated with the back straight up, the feet flat on the floor, my legs at 45 degrees a palm apart from each other, the hands rested on my thighs with palms up or down, my eyes closed or half open, with mild look and like 180 degrees without fixing on any concrete point. I seek a convenient mental state: I empty my mind of thoughts, of phantasies, of memories and feelings that are with me at this moment. I pay attention to my rhythmic breathing and I say lovingly “Come” as I inhale, and “Lord Jesus” as I exhale. And in harmony with God who loves me, I ask the Holy Spirit the gift of prayer.
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8). Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128, 4).
I open my heart.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.
5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household. 6 If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves the payment. Do not move about from one house to another. 8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, 9 cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ 10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, 11 The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I return to my heart.
In the Gospel of Luke two sending of disciple are narrated: the sending of the twelve (Lk. 9:1-6) remembering Israel and the sending of the seventy or seventy-two (Lk. 10:1-14) which is related to the number of pagan nations.
The content of this discourse revolves around three phases in which the mission is developed: on the road, in the house, and in the city. The development of the mission on the road is centered in two prohibitions.
The first refers to not carrying money bag, nor knapsack, nor sandals, things that any traveler would usually carry along. It manifests the spirit of poverty and absolute trust in God and in the community. The second prohibition consists in not greeting anyone along the way. The greeting in that epoch required time and caused putting aside the journey’s objective. The traveler is dispersed and incapable to fulfill the mission and it was urgent to proclaim the message because time was pressing.
The development of the mission in the house focuses on three precepts. The first consists in desiring peace for the house where you arrive. It is the peace that the world does not give, it is the desire for spiritual goods.
The second is the precept to remain in the same house, that the people be able to find the disciple, find a place that can give a reason for the message to be proclaimed. The third precept refers to eating and drinking what is there found, to share in the life of that house and not demanding anything more.
The development of the mission in the city involves three precepts. The first is to eat whatever is offered. There are no more impure foods (Acts 10:25; 1 Cor.0-27). The second precept refers to the healing of the sick. Healing the sick is an attack against the kingdom of the devil (Lk. 4:33-37; 5:18-26). Sin is also a sickness and produces other infirmities. The last precept is shake off the dust from the sandals if they do not receive them; not to carry anything from the town that refuses to listen to the word of God (Acts 13:51).
The communion in the mission is manifested in the absence of aspirations for ephemeral goods, in the sharing of family life where one arrives, and the acceptance of good customs of the city where the disciple is sent.
The power of communion in charity.
The communion inside the community not only is a gift of God, but is also a power that makes the brothers who live in that community to feel the imperious need of charity to share the wealth lived in the community with all those who surround them. Thus, the pastoral work becomes no mere entertainment, but a modus vivendi (a way of life), much less is it a platform for leading actors to take the role of super apostles, who want to “bring the sheep not to Christ but to themselves” (Io. Eu. Tr. 123, 5). The pastoral mission is a necessary consequence of the communion that sprouts from love. Thus St. Augustine is amazed at those, who have known the love of Christ and live in communion with him, do not enthusiastically proclaim the message of salvation, and on the contrary who live in the world and intend to let everyone love like them their own worldly affairs and entertainments:
Corrupt men love the charioteer, and everyone who loves the charioteer or the hunter, wants that the whole town love it with him; … he proclaims in the center of town so that they may love indecency with him; but the Christian does not shout in Church that with him the truth of God be loved! Awaken love in yourselves, brothers, and shout to everyone in your community and tell them: Proclaim with me the marvels of the Lord! Let this flame keep burning in you (en. Ps 33:2,6).
On the other hand, the community that shares its communion in the mission knows that above all else it must trust in the Lord. The fruit does not depend on the shrewdness of the religious, nor on the sophisticated means that can be used in pastoral work, but on God, because neither the one who plants, nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). This does not mean that we do not use all the means that are at our reach to fulfill in the best way possible the mission we have received, but that these means remain as simple instruments, and the fruit belongs only to God.
St. Augustine reminds us that the Lord’s command in the Gospel according to St. Luke implies not to wear sandals. The Bishop of Hippo interprets sandals as conversion, like having renounced the works of death, because the sandal is made of the skin of dead animals:
What is the sandal that we use?… We cover the feet with the leather of dead animals. What then are we commanded? Renounce the works of death. The Lord exhorts this on Moses in figurative form when, as he was approaching the glory, God says: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground (Ex.3:5). Is there ground more holy than the Church of God? (s. 101,7).
Furthermore, St. Augustine calls attention that the Gospel invites us not to take along bag nor knapsack, even though he acknowledges that when one travels one always takes along a bag, and he points out that what the Gospel wants to tell us that it is necessary not to be rich only for ourselves, but that we are to enrich our brothers and those around us with the gifts that we have received from God.
What does the bag mean? The money put into it is a hidden wisdom. What does do not bring a bag mean? Do not be wise only for yourselves. Receive the Holy Spirit: in you there must be a spring, never a deposit; something from which to give, not something to put into (s. 101,6).
A simple mission, without lead actors nor opportunists.
The command of Jesus not to greet anyone on the road, is once again not literally interpreted by St. Augustine, since he rightly points out that if he would not greet anyone on the road, he would be taken as unfriendly or proud. Thus he says that this command means the opportunism, since when one greets someone along the road, it is not that he went out to seek that person, but that he takes advantage of having met him on the road to greet him. Therefore, there can be some who announce the Gospel not for holy motives, but opportunism, seeking themselves.
What, therefore, is to greet occasionally? To announce salvation for opportunism. But what else is to announce salvation if not to preach the Gospel? Therefore, it you preach it, do it for love, not for opportunism. Actually there are men who proclaim the Gospel seeking something else. Of these the Apostle lamentably says: Everyone seeks his own interest, not that of Christ (Phil. 2, 21) (s. 101, 9).
To proclaim the Gospel implies to bring peace. Thus St. Augustine points out that he who proclaims the Gospel should not only announce with the mouth the Gospel and the message of peace, but must also live in peace and be the bearer of peace. Our communities must be spaces of communion, of joy and of peace, in such a way that the apostolate of the same be an apostolate in which peace is effectively proclaimed and desired, from the very living out of communitarian peace:
(…) Such apostles of Christ, such preachers of the Gospel, those who greet no one on the road, that is, those who seek nothing else (Phil 2:21), but who proclaim the Gospel moved by twofold love, let them come to the house and let them say: Peace to this house (Lk 10:5). These do not say it only with the lips; they pour out what they are filled with. They preach and possess the peace. They are not those who said: Peace, peace, but there is no peace (Jr. 8:11) (s. 101, 11).
A community in mission.
And finally the pastoral work is fulfilled from the community and in the name of the community. The communion within the community should make us recognize the importance and the challenge of having only one soul and one heart. Thus, no one should assume pastoral works in one’s own personal name nor make one’s own those that have been entrusted to the whole community:
Whoever, for the eagerness to boast or dominate or enrich oneself, and not for love to obey and help and please God, pasture the flock of Christ with this motive, that they be his own not of Christ, become convicted of loving oneself and not Christ (Io. eu. Tr. 123, 5).
We are called to be a community in mission from the communion that must reign in it. And the pastoral work is a labor of love (Io. eu. Tr. 123, 5), since “he will always have from which to give, who has the heart full of love” (en. Ps. 36:2, 13).
Questions for communitarian dialogue.
The pastoral work done from the community is not mere work, but is a mission and a vocation. What danger can exist in reality of becoming mere functionaries and be little coherent with what we proclaim?
The Augustinian ideal invites us to have only one soul and one heart directed towards God. How do we manifest the communion in the pastoral responsibilities of the community? What is the difference between the pastoral work of a diocesan priest and that of our community?
Every apostolate is done from the community and in the name of the community. What dangers do you actually see in your own community in this sense? How will you be able to solve them?
I lift up my heart.
We thank God for the gifts, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us on this day of recollection. For this purpose the following words of St. Augustine may serve us:
In us, whom the Lord placed us in this position of which we have to give account with great danger, two aspects must be distinguished: one, that we are Christians; the other, that we are before you, to care for you. In the fact that we are Christians, we look to our own good; in the fact that we are before you, we look to your good. (…) We, (…) putting aside the fact that of being Christians, for which reason we have to give account to God for our life, we are also before you, for which reason we are to give account to God for our service. If I present this uncomfortable situation to you, it is so that you may have pity of me, that you pray for me, because a day is coming in which everything will be submitted to judgment (s. 46, 2).
“Every minister of God, fervent in spirit, is a blazing fire” (en. Ps. 103:16).