Today, in the gospel reading, Jesus prays that the world know that his Father loves them even as he loved him. Today, I wish to thank each of you for the various ministries you are engaged in – both in your parishes and in the diocese and beyond. Through your ministry, you tell people that the Father loves them.
What you do is an important witness to our understanding of the Church as communion. In the documents of Vatican II, this is precisely how the Council Fathers wish to present the Church’s understanding of herself – as a Koinomia, a New Testament Greek word, that we translate as “communion”. Our Protestant brethren sometimes render this word as ‘fellowship’, but because it evokes the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of our Communion in Christ and with one another, I think “Communion” is a much richer word – and a more accurate translation of Koinomia.
The pastoral ministries represented in this room are truly ministries of communion. And communion is God’s plan for humanity. We were made for communion – with the Father, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, through Christ’ saving passion, death and resurrection. This is God’s plan for the world. We are baptized to receive Holy Communion – and that sacrament along with the others brings us into communion with the Father through Jesus Christ.
Because it is God’s plan, the Church believes in communion. And, of course, ordinary people sense it, yearn for it, and desire it. Ordinary citizens want to live in peace and love unity. Parents long for it in their homes; so, too, does every person who experiences the pain of a separation or the tension of a conflict and yearns to rediscover the harmony that has been lost. We love and seek it in our church communities as well as our personal lives.
We all like to feel taken into account, included and loved, and we suffer greatly when we feel ourselves distanced, segregated or excluded. The Church feels acutely Jesus’ great desire: “that they all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you; that they may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
For communion, a good in itself, is also a condition for the credibility of the Gospel that we preach: “… see how they love one another …”
The Church therefore works to build up this communion of love – through its various ministries. And in doing so, she appears as “sacrament”, as the ‘sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race” (cf. Lumen Gentium). And while we might be busy about many things – in our ministries we call easily become like St. Martha – and certainly many things are necessary as we journey on our pilgrimage to the Heavenly Kingdom, without love, without charity, all will be in vain. That is the “one thing necessary” as Mary, Martha’s sister knew. As St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, said: “I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was aflame with love. I understood that love alone stirred the members of the Church to act…. I understood that Love encompassed all vocations, that Love was everything.”
For this reason, through your pastoral ministries, you must represent the Church, and the Church does not believe in “confrontation” but in “understanding”. You serve a Church who does not wish to bless ruptures but their rebinding, a Church that while not betraying the integrity of the gospel and its call to for conversion seeks to include everyone and exclude no one, a Church that helps to reconcile a world broken by belligerence and cries out for peace.
In Novo Milenio Ineunte, John Paul II challenges us to make the Church the home and school of communion. And that is our challenge if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and to the world’s deepest yearnings.
And you do that in these various pastoral ministries that make our parishes so vibrant here in the Church of Orlando . But, as we continue to respond to this challenge, we all must strive to grow in what John Paul II calls a spirituality of communion, which he says should be the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed.
He offers some points for our consideration in Novo Milenio Ineunte, which I continue to repeat is the vision underlying my call for our diocesan synod. (If you want to know where I want to lead this diocese as your shepherd, if what to understand my agenda, read this apostolic letter.)
- A spirituality of communion indicates our hearts contemplation of the mystery of Trinity dwelling in us – whose light we must also see shining on the face of our brothers and sisters. We can have no unity if we don’t recognize others as “part of me”.
- A spirituality of communion implies ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God – not only for them, but for me.
- A spirituality of communion means to know how to “make room” for our brothers and sisters, bearing “each other’s burdens”, resisting selfish temptations that beset us and provoke competition, distrust, jealousy. Without such spirituality, our ministries would become simply “masks” of communion rather than its means of expression and growth. We must remember that community is based on trust, which implies faith in God and in others. The source of all lack of unity is a lack of trust, which distances us and makes us look at God and others through a lens of suspicion – and so we enter into world of sin.
To avoid that, remember that we must avoid temptation to think that results depend on our ability to act and plan. Grace, God’s free gift to us, is primary. To forget that would be a fatal mistake for as St. Paul reminds us: “without Christ we can do nothing” And thus everything, we do, all our pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. In your ministries, you do “holy things”, but in doing these “holy things”, you must also strive to become holy – as Jesus prayed to the Father in today’s gospel: “that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”