Recollection for December: COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
Hebr. 12:12-15, 18-19, 22-23.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Communion of Saints refers to the communion of the goods of the Church, because if we form only one body, the consequence is that the possession of one is shared with the others. It is communion of holy goods among holy persons. Since the most important member of the Church is Christ the Head, his possession is shared with the whole Church through the sacraments. And since the Church is governed by one and the same Spirit, all the goods that she has received necessarily form the common fund (CCE 947-948). We share the same faith, the sacraments, the charisms, the charity, the intercessory praters … There is communion among those we meet on the pilgrim way and those who have already finished their pilgrimage.
I prepare my heart.
Whoever accepts to be a disciple is one who desires to learn, because he has the heart open to listen and receive what the Master says or does. The basic attitude of the disciple is to listen, and to listen requires silence and serene and tranquil reception. The words of the Master are lost amidst the noise and the distractions, proper to a multitude and tumult. The words of the Master are also seeds that seek good soil to send out roots, grow and be fruitful. There is need to ask God that every morning he awakens our hearts and give us disciple’s ears to welcome his word and let it germinate in the warmth of our own life. This was the attitude of Mary seated at the feet of Jesus; a woman formed to listen, icon of the disciple who contemplates, welcomes and communicates.
On this day of recollection, we ask God to dispose our heart to listen and welcome the Word. We silence our body and mind to listen to the message God has for us today. Since prayer is a grace of God, we invoke the help and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit:
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 the heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
“12 So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. 13 Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled… 18 You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm 19 and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. … 22 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering,… 23 and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, 24 and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.”
I return to my heart.
Hikers and athletes always carry light luggage. They carry only what is essential for the trip and the weight must be minimum so that no unnecessary energy be spent. Chapter 12, which is the last part of the letter to the Hebrews, clearly has a flavor of exhortation to make pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem (12:12.22) and right from the beginning invites the reader-hearer “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us” and persevere in running the race that lies before us (12:1).
The image of the athlete and the hiker is common in the Greco-Roman world, that is why the author uses them to exhort that they make the journey towards the goal proposed: Mount Sion, the City of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (…) and to the assembly of the first fruits inscribed in the heavens and to God the universal Judge (…) and to Jesus, mediator of the New Covenant (12:22-25).
The Biblical verses that guide our reflection invite us to leave behind every impediment that does not allow us to make the proposed journey. The vacillating knees and the twisted feet are not conditions fit for a tortuous road; it is necessary that these defects be healed (12:12-13).
The proposed goal is described in an almost apocalyptic image of the Heavenly Jerusalem (Ap. 21), where God is the Universal Judge, and Jesus is Mediator of the New Covenant and the souls of the just who reached perfection eagerly await our arrival. In the meantime while we make the journey it is necessary to achieve peace with everyone and sanctity. Thus no one will be found deprived of the grace of God(12:14).
This journey can have difficulties when there arise in the community divisions, mistakes, that are represented by bitter roots that sprout (12:15a) within the community.
In this Reading, the Word invites us not to lose sight of the pilgrims journeying towards the goal, that is the City of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, in order to live the Communion of Saints, the promise that the Father made us in the New Covenant, sealed with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, his Son Jesus Christ.
It is necessary that the means to make the journey: the hands, the knees and the feet, be healthy and free from sin, in order to arrive at the promised destination.
The communion is a reality that we live not only with those who surround us in this world, but which we also live with God and the multitude of our brothers who have already arrived at the end of their pilgrimage in the kingdom of heaven. The fundamental communion is with Christ, and as members of his Body, in life and in death we are intimately united with him.
The Church continually invites us to see and to remember the communion we have with God and with all the saints, the friends of God, those who lived their life in such a way that they merited to arrive and to share in the eternity with the Lord.
The communion with the saints offers us various elements for consideration. In the first place, it reminds us that we do not have a permanent dwelling in this earth, because we are pilgrims to the city of God. For St. Augustine, the concept of peregrinatio is essential, the pilgrimage, since every human being has been created for the encounter with God and must live oriented towards eternal realities, knowing that he is only passing through this world, and not allow that his heart fall much in love with the things of this world, since he must follow his road to achieve his goal in God:
Sing with affection of the piety and the charity the voice of one who goes up to the heavenly Jerusalem, for which we yearn as pilgrims, and in which we shall rejoice after the return from the pilgrimage (en. Ps. 126:1).
Furthermore, St. Augustine, calls attention that in the title of Psalm 77 there appears a personality named Jeduthun and he exegetically interprets the name as he who transcends things”, “he who goes beyond”. As pilgrims towards the City of God we must be like Jeduthun, always to go beyond things, to learn “to go deeper” (“Duc in altum”: Lk. 5:4), in our life, in our spirituality, in our pilgrimage:
We must effectively go passing over everything that obstructs us, seduces us, deceives us, with its weight makes difficult our flight until we arrive at what fulfills us, and beyond which there is nothing, and underneath it are all things, and from which proceed all things (en. Ps. 77:1).
During the pilgrimage in the arduous road of this world, we avail of the valuable help of God, who not only observes us from eternity, but who grants us every day and at every moment his grace to enable us to overcome the obstacles that arise on the road. Thus, the pilgrim of faith traverses the road of this world with joy, walking and singing:
He sings as the harvesters use to sing; he sings but he walks; lighten your work with a song, love not sloth: sing and walk (s. 256,3).
But the pilgrim also counts on the help and intercession of the saints, of those who have already arrived at the finish line of the pilgrimage, of those who are already dwellers in the City of God. They are the ones who intercede for us before God. They are the Triumphant Church that intercedes for us, also members of the Body of Christ, but we still live in the time of history, and we travel towards them “between the consolations of God and the persecutions of this world” (ciu. 18, 59, 2).
We belong to the Body of Christ in this earth in order to belong to the glorious Body of Christ in eternity in the City of God. The body of the glorified Christ that ascended into heaven is the model and example of the Triumphant Church that lives forever in God:
(…) let us ascend with him and let us have our heart lifted up. Let us ascend,
but let us not be caught up in pride. Let us lift up our hearts, but to the Lord.
To lift up one’s heart, but not to the Lord, is called pride; to raise up one’s
heart to the Lord is called refuge, because he to whom he has ascended is
someone to whom we say: Lord, you have become our refuge (s.261,1).
Thus, to live the mystery of the Communion of Saints should give us great hope and joy, upon knowing that the Church is the Mother par excellence who always prays for her children, and the sap of prayer and of grace circulates through the whole body of the Church, benefiting everyone and filling everyone with the blessing of God.
The Mother Church prays and intercedes for her children. St. Augustine sees in his mother St. Monica a figure of the Church, because both pray and implore God for their children that they may leave behind their erroneous paths and may live in the communion of peace and of the Church.
(…) Where I narrate my conversion, a work of God, to this faith that I fought with miserable and furious loquacity, don’t you remember that in narrating it I manifested quite clearly that what prevented my damnation were the fervent prayers and the faithful and daily tears of my good mother? That is why before the world I preached and exposed that God by his gratuitous grace not only converts the wills of men separated from the true faith, but even those contradicting and rebelling against it (perseu. 53).
Thus, the importance of strengthening the communion with the whole Church through personal prayer and the collaboration with grace in the process of sanctification, or rather of “deification” as St. Augustine would put it, that the Holy Spirit wants to realize in us. The more I collaborate with the Spirit in the process of deification, greater is the benefit to the Body Of Christ which is the Church.
Therefore, to live the Communion of Saints implies the consciousness of pertaining right now to the City of God, to which we find ourselves bound together by the prayers of the saints and of the whole Church.
On the other hand, it means to profit and to enjoy the benefits of the holiness and the grace that circulate through the Body of Christ, elements that strengthen and enrich us to live in communion with the whole Body of Christ that is the Church.
It also implies a compromise of sanctity, knowing that, to live in communion with the whole Church, it is necessary to possess the root of charity and allow that grace to bear fruit in us, until the day when we arrive at the City of God.
There we will rest and contemplate, we will contemplate and we will love, we will love and we will praise. Here is what we will possess in the end, but which is without end. For, what else can be our end but to arrive at the kingdom that has no end?(ciu. 22,30,6).
Questions for communitarian dialogue.
- We are pilgrims towards the City of God. For you, what does it mean to be pilgrim to the City of God? With what spirit do you run the road that you have to run every day?
- The example and the intercession of the saints comfort and help us. What importance does the mystery of the Communion of Saints have in your life? What experience of holiness do you have in the life of the community? What have you learnt from some religious whom you may consider holy?
I lift up my heart.
Let us give thanks to God for the gifts, the strength and the enlightenment he has granted us on this day of recollection. For this the following words of St. Augustine can serve us:
May the holy martyrs pray for us, not that we may limit the celebration of their solemn feasts, but that we may also imitate their customs. Let us love their confessions of faith, let us praise their crowns and let us not lose hope. We also are men like them and he created us who also created them. We have the same font, one same granary from which we feed and drink and, definitely, live. Let no one say: “He could, but I cannot.” How could that one do? Who could have done so if it were not granted to him by the One who said to his own: “Without me you can do nothing?” That is why the Apostle said: “Who will separate us from the love of God? Tribulation? Sorrow? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? The sword? Thus it is written: “For you we are led to death day after day.” What a good cause! For you we are led to death day after day. Fruitfully and joyfully, precisely because it is for you. Because the cause is good, therefore, there is a crown (s. 299F, 4).
“Grace is what makes the saints” (s. 145, 3). +