View all Posts | September 1, 2014
The Complete Christian: Second Meditation
Fellowship — Amare
- The Importance of Fellowship
- The Role of the Sacraments￼
- The Role of Family
- The Role of Faith-Based Friendship
- Conclusion: Embracing the Call to Fellowship
It’s easy to miss the second core element of Christian living in this passage from Mark’s Gospel. The first and third elements are clear and obvious:
Jesus summoned his Apostles to “be his companions” — that’s our personal relationship with Jesus, nourished primarily through prayer. And he also summoned them “to be sent out to proclaim the message” — that’s
our apostolic action, which we will talk about in the conference. But he didn’t summon them or send them out all alone; he called them into a group, a community, a fellowship.
Although each one of us has a personal relationship with God, that relationship takes root and grows within a larger network of relationships, within the Church.
In other words, there are no Lone Rangers in Christianity — in fact, even the Lone Ranger had a companion in Tonto; we too are called to live the Christian journey together with others.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, and when we are baptized, we are inserted into his mystical body, we are made members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,” as St. Peter reminds us in his First Letter (1 Peter 2:9).
This fact — that we are called to be Christ’s companions, in the plural, to walk with him in loving fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Church — is so important to Jesus that he made it the main identification badge of all Christians.
During the Last Supper, he told his Apostles that to be his disciples meant following his commandments, and he reduced those commandments to one: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
And he went on to say that the world will recognize
us as his followers precisely through our fellowship, through our living in love and faith-filled union with each other: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
This loving fellowship is the second core element of our Christian living, the second word in our motto: amare.
The Importance of Fellowship
Why is this such an essential element in our Christian living? There are theological reasons, and there are practical reasons.
The key theological reason goes back to the very beginning, when God created us. He created the human family “in his image… in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
And God’s core identity is a Trinity: one divine nature and three divine persons. He is a community, a family — a unique one, because he is only one God, not three gods. We can’t completely understand this mystery, but we can accept it and contemplate it.
If God is by his very nature a communion of persons, and we are created in his image, then we too are meant to live in a communion of persons, in loving fellowship characterized by multiplicity of persons and harmony of relationships.
This fellowship is so essential to our identity as human beings, that it was the very first thing to be damaged by original sin.
After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, in disobedience to God’s command, the first thing they did was cover themselves with clothing — hiding themselves from each other. They no longer trusted each other,
as they had before they sinned. The fellowship, the communion of persons that they were called to live,
in the image of the Triune God, was damaged, broken, divided.
The work of salvation and redemption that God took
up after that is in large part the work of reuniting this divided human family, of bringing them back into the loving fellowship that is proper to them because they are created in God’s own image.
That’s an important theological reason why Jesus doesn’t call us just to be his companion, but to be
his companions; not to be Lone Rangers, but to be members of his spiritual family and mystical body, the Church.
Here’s how the Catechism expresses this theological reason for the importance of loving fellowship:
[God] calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior.
– CCC 1
But there is a practical reason too. And it’s simply that we need each other. We can’t finish our Christian pilgrimage alone; we need the strength, the light, the guidance, the encouragement, and the help that comes from traveling with other pilgrims.
Just as a newborn baby can’t reach human maturity without the care and help of other people, so none of us can reach spiritual maturity without the care and help that comes from Christian fellowship.
This loving fellowship, this “amare”, this second essential element in our Christian living is so important, then, because it reflects who we are and helps us become who we are meant to be. But what does it look like in day-to-day life?
The Role of the Sacraments
The first and fundamental manifestation of Christian fellowship comes in the worship of the Christian community, and this is expressed most intensely and fully in the celebration of the sacraments.
Christian fellowship is only Christian because its core is Christ himself. This is why Jesus summoned his first Apostles to “be his companions.”
He is the Savior; he is the Redeemer; it was through his passion, death, and resurrection that the Church — the renewed communion of mankind with God and in God with each other — was born. The celebration of the sacraments, and the whole liturgical life of the new People of God, is like the heartbeat of that Church.
Here’s how the Catechism puts it: The word “liturgy” originally meant a “public work” or a “service in the name of/on behalf of the people.”
In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in the work of God. Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church. – CCC 1069
This is the objective dimension of Christian Fellowship. We come together to worship and to receive God’s grace through celebrating the sacraments of the Church, in which Christ himself continues to build up his Kingdom.
We are called to be Christ’s companions, and that involves walking with him and with his other followers along the objective path of grace, which is paved with the sacraments.
The Sunday Eucharist is the center of all the Church’s liturgical life. But the other sacraments are also opportunities to live and grow and benefit from this fellowship.
We go to confession for God’s forgiveness and also for reconciliation with the community that we damage by our sins.
We comfort the sick and dying by bringing them Christ’s holy anointing.
We gather with our fellow Christian pilgrims for baptisms and confirmations, for marriages and ordinations, supporting and being supported by one another even as we open up the floodgates of God’s grace into every corner of human experience.
And the primary place for this sacramental fellowship is the parish — the local incarnation, in a sense, of the universal Church.
Staying plugged in to our parishes or our religious communities is the bread-and-butter of Christian Fellowship.
More than once Pope Francis quoted a famous phrase from Pope Paul VI that illustrates how being Christ’s companions — being Christians — necessarily involves entering into companionship with the whole Christian family.
Pope Paul VI wrote that it is an absurd dichotomy to claim “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16).
To be Christ’s companions involves living where he lives, and that’s first and foremost in the Church, in the sacraments.
The Role of Family
The Christian family is another place where this loving fellowship is meant to be lived out. In fact, ever since ancient times, Christians have called the family the “Domestic Church.”
The natural bonds and affection that flow from familial relations are bridges, so to speak, over which God’s grace can flow in wonderful abundance, if we consciously build our families around their true center: Jesus, and
his truth, his love, his mission. It has never been easy to do this, because the effects of original sin are still with us, and our selfishness and woundedness make healthy family life a demanding work in progress.
But in a post-Christian culture, where family life is under attack legally, economically, educationally, and culturally, building the Domestic Church is even harder than normal; it takes heroic effort. But it’s worth every sacrifice.
Pope John Paul II wrote a Letter to Families, in which he called on every Christian family to take up the challenge of living the love of Christ in the home. And he pointed out that only through vibrant Domestic Churches will the Church of Christ be able to fulfill its mission of creating a civilization of love. He wrote:
The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family. In these pages I have tried to show how the family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man. Every family unit needs to make these forces their own so that… the family will be “strong with the strength of God”.
– Letter to Families, 23
￼￼￼￼￼￼Our families, as imperfect as they may be, are a primary arena in which we are called to live the loving fellowship at the heart of our Christian identity.
The Role of Family
We can be pro-active and courageous in how we live the sacraments and family life, but they are both arenas of fellowship that are given to us — we don’t really create them; we receive them. There is a third area of fellowship, though, which we can choose more directly: faith-based friendships.
Friendship is one of the most beautiful of human experiences, and Jesus himself praised and prized it: “I no longer call you slaves,” he told his Apostles at the Last Supper, “because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).
Friendship has been valued and praised in every period and place of human history, even long before the time of Christ. It is another manifestation of our being created in the image of God, created to live in communion of life with other persons. It gives us joy, comfort, inspiration, and even meaning. But with the coming of Christ,
even this beautiful human reality was changed, altered, elevated.
A faith-based friendship, a Christ-centered friendship, is a deeper, stronger, and longer-lasting friendship than any of the ancient philosophers could have imagined, for one simple reason: Christ himself is part of it.
In fact, he promised that he would be, in one of the most beautiful verses of the New Testament: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
– Matthew 18:20, NABR
When we invest in friendships with people who share our faith, living that friendship under the banner of Christ, the Lord himself joins us.
This is why C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist from the twentieth century, could pose the question: “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”
Faith-based friendships are an important aspect of Christian Fellowship: they help keep us accountable, they help support us in times of temptation, they spur us on to growth in virtue, they delight and comfort us at the deeper levels of our soul, and they help keep Jesus close to us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to have non-Christian friends — not at all! Pope John Paul II cultivated life-long friendships with non-Christians, even with atheists. But we need to make a point of investing in some friendships that are built with natural and supernatural ties.
If our faith is our highest priority, we will feel the need for friends who share that priority. And if we don’t look for them and invest in them, we may gradually find our priorities getting confused.
St. Paul gave a warning in this regard to the Christians in Corinth: “Do not be led astray,” he wrote to them, “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Conclusion: Embracing the Call to Fellowship
Jesus summons us “to be his companions.” This involves living in intimate friendship with him, through a vibrant life of prayer. And it also involves giving up the temptation to be a Christian Lone Ranger and choosing to embrace the call to loving fellowship.
We do that through being active members of his spiritual family, the Church, most especially by embracing the sacraments, through joyfully building our natural families into Domestic Churches, and through investing in faith-based friendships. It may seem like a lot to do — but it really isn’t.
We are all already members of a parish and a family, and we already have friends. Embracing the call to fellowship just means living those realities more consciously, more lovingly, more faithfully, more wisely — always starting with the unfailing help of God’s grace.
Those are the first two core elements of Christian living, the ones contained in the phrase, “Jesus appointed them… to be his companions.” But he also appointed them “to be sent out to proclaim the message,” and that’s what we will talk about in the conference.
But for now, let’s take some time to thank God, in the quiet of our hearts, for this call to loving Christian fellowship, and to ask him how we can answer it better and better.
The following questions and Bible verses may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1. What characteristics of my daily life make it hard for me to have meaningful fellowship? What one thing could I do to improve this aspect of my Christian living?
2. What have been my most meaningful family experiences? What can I do to contribute more to building up my family as a Domestic Church?
3. Reflect on the friendships that have been most meaningful in my life. Thank God for them. What friendships am I really investing in these days? What does God think about them?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say,“Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.
– 1 Corinthians 12:12-18, NABR
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6, NABR
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.
– 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NABR
But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is
not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.