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04. The Witness of Life in Community

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Br. Nicholas Bartoli

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God has called us into being as a community and our life as a community, though fraught with struggles and failures, is a powerful act of revelation, testimony and service.

In community we bear witness to the social nature of human life as willed by our Creator. Human beings bear the image of the triune God and are not meant to be separate and isolated.  All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met. Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid; through the vitality of our life as a community we are meant to help people remember their own calling to form community.  In an era of fragmentation and the breakdown of family and community, our Society, though small, can be a beacon drawing people to live in communion.

One of the ways in which we promote community is by being the nucleus for a wider fellowship.  This is formed through the relationships we establish in our varied ministries, especially the hospitality of our houses; through the Fellowship of Saint John, whose members keep a rule of life in harmony with ours; by the participation of our personal friends and families and by our neigh­bors regularly joining us in worship.  Our proclamation of the good news is also an invitation to be in communion with us.  “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.”  This wider family is a true expression of community sustained by many energies of mutual service.  We not only serve our brothers and sisters by acting as a spiritual center and home and ministering to them; they support us in innumerable ways in prayer, through their gifts and voluntary labors, by teaching and inspiring us and by working together with us in Christ.  Some who find themselves relegated by neglect and prejudice to the margins of society will find a special grace in participating in this wider fellowship around our community.

Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness.  The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love.  The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience.  Through our common life we can begin to grasp that there is a transcendent unity that allows mutual affirmation of our distinctness as persons. Through prayer we can see that this flows from the triune life of God.  If we are true to our calling as a community, our Society will be a revelation of God.

Our life as a community should also be a sign to the Church to rise up to its true calling as a communion of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ and the company of Christ’s friends.  We are not called to be a separate elite, but to exemplify the life of the Body of Christ in which every member has a particular gift of the Spirit for ministry and shares an equal dignity.  Fr. Benson taught that “there are special gifts of God indeed to the Society, but only as it is a society within the Church.  The small body is to realize and intensify the gifts, to realize the energies, belonging to the whole Church.”  Our witness and ministry is not merely to separate individuals; it is for strengthening the common life in the Body of Christ.

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3 Comments

  1. mark on April 14, 2009 at 19:21

    If you have to do it, you might as well do it right

  2. Pat Tyler on March 1, 2009 at 13:32

    Greetings, How can we reach into the isolated world of individuals with disabilities? When I look at our services and the services of many churches, these special individuals are often absent. Peace, Pat

  3. Polly Henninger on March 1, 2009 at 01:00

    How good it is to be reminded that we are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence, not simply for our own pleasure but because community is the manifestation of our social nature and reflects the triune nature of God. I attended a Croatian concert tonight followed by Croatian folk dancing. The singers are of Croatian heritage, however small, and their group gives them a means of sharing their community with others. The concert was livelier than most and that came from the sense of community. Tonight’s reading by Bishop Shaw, in the context of that concert, made me grateful for the sense of community I derive from being in the Fellowship of St. John and also the empowerment and nurturance that it gives me to feel community with these singers. It is because I know community that I can enter in and feel a part of, not isolated, despite the fact that I don’t know Croatian, or this music, or these people. I went alone, only knowing one singer and recognizing one friend in the audience at the concert, but I could feel that this concert was about being part of community. I resonated with that feeling. I know it. All of us who attend, be it the concert or a service at the monastery, or some other activity that manifests and is permeated by an underlying, abiding sense of community are offered the opportunity to experience and participate in the triune image of God. I am grateful for the intensifying that the Brothers intentionally bring to the experience of community.

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