Before being a human construction, religious community is a gift of the Spirit. It is the love of God, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, from which religious community takes its origin and is built as a true family gathered together in the Lord’s name. It is therefore impossible to understand religious community unless we start from its being a gift from on high, from its being a mystery, from its being rooted in the very heart of the blessed and sanctifying Trinity, who wills it as part of the mystery of the Church, for the life of the world.
In creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God created them for communion. God the Creator, who revealed himself as Love, as Trinity, as communion, called them to enter into intimate relationship with himself and into interpersonal communion, in the universal fraternity of all men and women. This is our highest vocation: to enter into communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.
God’s plan was compromised through sin, which sundered every kind of relationship: between the human race and God, between man and woman, among brothers and sisters, between peoples, between humanity and the rest of creation. In his great love, the Father sent his Son, the new Adam, to reconstitute all creation and bring it to full unity. When he came among us, he established the beginning of the new People of God, calling to himself apostles and disciples, men and women—a living parable of the human family gathered together in unity. He announced to them universal fraternity in the Father, who made us his intimates, his children, and brothers and sisters among ourselves. … During the Last Supper, he entrusted to them the new commandment of mutual love: “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13:34; cf. 15:12); he instituted the Eucharist, which, making us share in the one bread and one cup, nourishes mutual love. Then he turned to the Father asking, as a synthesis of his desires, for the unity of all, modeled on the Trinitarian unity: “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us” (cf. Jn 17:21).
Entrusting himself then to the Father’s will, he achieved in the paschal mystery that unity which he had taught his disciples to live and which he had asked of the Father. By his death on the cross, he destroyed the barrier that separated peoples, reconciling us all in unity (cf. Eph 2:14-16). By this, he taught us that communion and unity are the fruit of sharing in the mystery of his death. (Fraternal Life in Community, n. 8-9)
In the call for a new evangelization and the contemporary emphasis on mission, there is an even greater need to sink our roots deep into this primary reality of intimate personal communion, which today is in danger of being forgotten or at least relegated to the sidelines. In the call to boldly go to the fringes of society, there is a pressing invitation, even more necessary, to immerse ourselves in the magnetism of the Trinity’s Love that draws all to itself.
Each one of us has been created for communion, for deep and abiding intimacy with God and with one another. This is the deepest desire of every human heart, and in this alone can we find true and abiding rest—as well as the profound meaning of our own choices and activity. Indeed, in the last analysis intimacy, communion, the abiding embrace of love—this is the only thing that gives true meaning to human existence. It envelops and irradiates everything else, bestowing the light in which everything shows forth its authentic place in human life and its authentic meaning in the plan of God.
If, however, this intimacy is not given the first place, if it is not fostered, unceasingly deepened, and pursued by a life of contemplation and prayer and by the fraternal love that allows communion to mature, then the missionary efforts of the Church will not only lose their effectiveness, but they will lose their very impetus and motivation. Communion, with God and with our brethren: this is the deepest and ultimate meaning of our existence, our highest vocation, and, indeed, the very essence of the Church as the Bride and Body of Christ.
Our most fundamental human experience is that of communion: that of being given to ourselves by the love of another, of being enfolded in the love of another, and within this love being awakened to spontaneously give ourselves in response. Nonetheless, because of original sin and the brokenness of the world in which we live, this original experience of love and intimacy is threatened in so many ways, and becomes fractured in the lives of so many. Further, our contemporary culture has become deeply individualistic, and men and women now experience a deep “homelessness,” a painful loneliness and separation from the sheltering embrace of authentic community, both on the fraternal and familial level as well as on the wider level of Church and culture.
What is most needed in our world, therefore, is the rediscovery of the face of Love, which lies at the origin of our existence—a Love that gives us to ourselves through the love of our parents, through the community that envelops us, and which in turns entrusts us all to one another as brothers and sisters. When we yield ourselves up to this Love—to the God who is Love, the Communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have created us for themselves—then we can begin to journey together toward our definitive Home, the one that awaits us in the new creation, in the bosom of the Trinity. It is communion, and communion alone, which can bestow this inestimable and absolutely necessary gift.
In the experience of communion we are enabled to recognize that our existence is a gift flowing from the love of God, enveloped within his cradling arms at every moment, and therefore to abandon ourselves to him in trust, gratitude, and simplicity as his children. In the certainty of knowing ourselves to be infinitely, tenderly, and uniquely loved by God, and called to share in his intimate life, we can live our lives in an attitude of playfulness, joy, and abiding restfulness. In a word, we can live our lives in childlike receptivity to the unceasing gift of God’s love and in the peace of being enfolded in his fatherly care. Then, we can let our lives unfold—yes, we can give our lives totally and wholeheartedly back to God and to our brethren—in the simplicity of a little child who is the Father’s “delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing over the whole of his earth, and delighting in the children of men” (cf. Proverbs 8:30-31).
Further, this mystery of intimacy is in no way opposed to the cares and responsibilities of life, nor to the mission to “go out” to those who are separated from God; rather it is what informs all of this and gives it meaning. Yes, communion is the very wellspring of all authentic mission, and the place from which mission flows and to which it returns. For in the last analysis, mission is nothing but a service of communion. It is the expression of our reception of the gift of God’s Love and of the experience of intimacy with him and with others in his Church—this experience that flows out to love, touch, embrace, and accompany others, in order to open the way for them to enter into the communion that has given meaning and happiness to our own lives. It is to reach out to those who are lost, who are homeless, who are thirsting for a God they do not know and a family they have not found, in order to walk with them, hand in hand, to the place for which they long.
We can say even more. Not only is communion the wellspring and the goal of all mission, but it is also itself inherently fruitful, the very core of the Church’s life, from which rivers of grace and salvation flow. Therefore, to the degree that we plunge ourselves into the embrace of the Lord in prayer and self-surrender, to the degree that we live as a true family united in love, to that degree our lives become transparent for the outpouring of God’s love in the world. In other words, the more deeply we allow ourselves to be gathered back to the center, to the wellspring of gift, the more that love can flow out through the Church, in order to draw those far away into the welcoming embrace of God, the God who is already present to each one of us.
At the heart of our human and Christian vocation is therefore immersion in the intimacy of God’s embrace, the filial abandonment of our hearts into the arms of our heavenly Father and into the embrace of Christ, and the mutual love and intimate human community that blossom in this place. And we are invited to do this, believing that this is the greatest gift that we can offer to our world—because intimacy with God and with our brethren is inherently fruitful, like a plant rooted deep in the soil and drinking of the water of life, whose fragrance, beauty, and fruit therefore spontaneously blossom.