YOU ARE MY PEOPLE. You will be my witnesses

Created: Sunday, 10 June 2012 Last Updated: Friday, 07 June 2013
You will be my witnesses

comunidad1.     The experience of faith is a communitarian one. The experience of faith creates community, and the community is the appropriated space where the experience of faith grows. The Church is the mystery of communion lived in community. God wants a people who can be his witness among nations: “You will be my witness” (Acts 1, 8). From the beginning, he has a project: “You will be my people” (Ex 19, 5). But, now, what does Church mean? What do we understand as community? Which are its most important features?
2. Of its own, Church means “assembly”. And Synagogue means “meeting”. They are, really, similar terms. In Greek language, “ekklesía” comes from “ekkalein” that means “to convoke” and designates the “holy assembly” of God´s people (Ex 12, 16; 1 Co 11, 18). Everything is deeply related: assembly, meeting, community. Of course, Church also means “the congregation of the faithful Christian whose head is the Pope”, “every one of the Christian communities who are defined as Church”, “the ecclesiastic state that include everyone ordained”, “the Christian temple”.
3. The holy assembly by excellence is Easter. The Jewish Easter takes place in a familiar environment, in the homes, in the frame of a dinner. Jewish Easter is a dinner with readings and psalms. The unleavened bread, like the bitter herbs, is a symbol of the past difficulties. It is the bread of the oppressed, the bread of misery and rush, the bread that was necessary to take and cook before fermented. In the Jewish frame of Easter, everyone relates his story and they altogether celebrate Israel´s common history. The believer raises the coup of the salvation (Ps 116). It is necessary to recover the deep sense of Easter.
4. At the end, the Church is community. But, how many are able to live their faith in community?  Regrettably, few. There are many who stumble against this global fact: alarming absence of alive communities. Overcrowding, individualism and anonymity are vices against ecclesial communion. In many cases, what we see is like nothing, depressive enough: a field of “dry bones” (Ez 37), Babel’s “confusion” (Gn 11), “a heap of ruins” (Mi 3, 12)
5. Not every thing is valid. Amidst conventional Judaism John’s call outstands: “Produce fruit that proves your repentance, and don’t begin to say to yourselves: We have Abraham as our father” (Lk 3, 8). Faith is not received by “biological inheritance”. A personal answer is required. That is the line in which Jesus places himself when he carries out his mission. In a similar way, amidst conventional christianism the call of the Gospel bursts. It is not valid to say: “We are all life Catholics”.  Another thing is necessary. What we find produces a deep dissatisfaction. Ecclesial renovation is truly necessary: “new wine” of the Gospel must be dipped into “new wineskins”.
6. Amidst a Christianity that is falling down, it is necessary to go back to the Gospel. Whenever he evangelizes, Jesus is not alone. There are the twelve (Mt 10, 1), the seventy two (Lk 10, 1), the women who accompany Jesus (8, 1 – 3). The community is the new family of the disciples. Like Jesus says: “My mother and my brethren are those who listen God´s word and accomplish it” (Lk 8, 21). Amidst the devastated vineyard, Jesus plants a grapevine, the community of the disciples (Jn 15).
7. The best that could happen to anyone who is looking the light or looking for God, is to find a community that is a Gospel’s signal too: “he will lift a signal for the nations” (Is 11, 12), “light of people” (Is 49,6), “you are the light of the world” (Mt 5, 14). The Church is neither an army (obedience relationship: superior-inferior) nor a school (master-disciple) but a community (fraternity relationship: brother- brother). The Church is not either a State: “My kingdom does not belong to this world”, says Jesus (Jn 18, 36).
8. The Gospel is announced like good news: “¡Blessed, fortunate, happy! says Jesus. And so, nine times (Mt 5, 3 – 11). The Gospel accomplishes the law and the prophets (5, 17), it overcomes scribes and Pharisee’s justice (5, 20), it keeps this tension: “You have heard that it was said, then I tell you” (5, 21 – 48). It is not for a few going away from the world, but for many who could transform it. In a special way, it is for the community of disciples who find in the Gospel their own identity. And it is for a world that, with that salt, needs to be preserved from corruption and, with that light, need to be liberated from darkness (5, 13 – 16)
9. To carry out his mission, Jesus does not identify himself with any of the social and religious groups of his time: Sadducee, zealots, Pharisees, Essenians, scribes. Jesus announces the Gospel to the poor, the crowd submitted by the powerful. Jesus´ teaching is not abstract: where there is oppression, there is word of liberation. Like that day in Nazaret ´s synagogue (Lc 4, 18 – 19)
10. Jesus´ mission had began in the surroundings of the Jewish world, in Galilee, but his destiny was Judea, Jerusalem; and in Jerusalem, the temple. A compromised and dangerous destiny. It was already said by Jeremiah: “You slaughtered your prophets like a voracious lion” (Jr 2, 30). The hike to Jerusalem end at the temple. The temple is dirty: it should be the house of prayer for every body, but it has become a cave of bandits (Mc 11, 17; see Jr 7, 11). The temple must be purified; even more, the temple should be substituted (Jn 2, 13.22). The new temple will be built in spirit and in truth (Jn 4, 24), with living stones (1 P 2, 5)
11- Babel is an idolatry, confusion, dispersion mystery. Due to its infidelity, Jerusalem takes part in Babel’s destiny: “I will call my people, to the one who is not my people” (Rm 9, 25 – 26). Pentecost is the counterpoint to Babel; a faith, communication, communion mystery. The spirit is like the wind: “It blows where it likes and you hear its voice, but you don’t know from where it comes or where it goes” (Jn 3, 8), It is like the fire that burns in the predication of the prophets: “Prophet Elijah came out like fire, his word burns like a torch” (Eclo 48, 1). It is like a strange language, unknown: “A language unknown is heard: I removed the burden from his shoulder, and his hands were released from holding the basket” (Ps 81, 6). “About three thousand souls joined them that day” (Acts 2, 41). In this manner is born, is reborn, in this manner the Church is renovated: coming back to the cenacle (Acts 1, 13 – 14. 21), to the Pentecost, to the sources of the communitarian experience of the Acts of the Apostles.
12. The first Christian communities are groups of men and women who customarily meet “the day of the Lord” (Rev 1, 7). Among all of them a fraternity relationship is established. In this way, the communion mystery building the Church (LG 1) is visible even to the eyes of the non believers, who say: “Look how they love each other”, they are like a large family: “All of you are brothers” (Mt 23, 8).
13 The foundation of this communion, what really draws together the new family of the disciples, is the word of God. That, who takes in the word, links himself to the community. In the first communities, God´s word becomes experience of Christ (Acts 2, 36) and experience of conversion (2, 38).
14. The first Christian community is home of teaching, communion, celebration and prayer. “They were devoted themselves to the apostles´ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2, 42). Signals are evident in the community (2, 45), confirming the announced word (Mk 16, 20). Hearts´ communion becomes an effective wealth sharing: “All who believed were together and held everything in common” (Acts 2, 44), “not one said that any of his possessions was his own” (4, 32). The welcome is a dimension of the community that is opened to the incorporation of new members: “And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved” (2, 47).
15. First communities are a minority in the society, but they are like “a city raised in the peak of a mountain” (Mt 5, 14), “like yeast in the dough” (Lk 13, 21). Inside them, an adults evangelization process takes place, and of children too. The oldest catechesis is carried out by immersion in the life of the community. They meet where they may; generally, in the homes. So, for instance, they meet in the home of John Mark’s mother, in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 12); in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, in Ephesus and in Rome (1 Co 16, 19); in Filemón ´s house, in Colosas (Flm 2); in the house of Ninfas, in Laodicea (Col 4, 15). In its origin, the word parish (para-oikía) makes reference to the first communities which meet in the houses (Acts 2, 46). Some times, a house in adapted to the new dedication. That happens in Dura Europos´ house, in a city beside Euphrates River, about the year 232. In the meeting room fit about 60 people. Pudens´ house, which received to Peter in Rome, could serve the same purpose. In Saint Pudenciana (derivation from Pudens) bricks with the Q. Servius Pudens stamp have been found.
16. In the middle of the second century, the author of the letter to Diogneto writes: “The Christians do no distinguish from the rest of men neither by their language nor by their habits… They live their own homeland, but like foreigners; they take part in everything as citizens, but they do not live according to the flesh. They spend the time in the earth, but they have their citizenship in heavens. They obey the established laws, but with their lives they overcome the laws”
17. The first communities find themselves in an adverse political and religious situation. The Jews call “sect” to the new born Church (Acts 24, 5.14). Saint Paul says: “Trials of all sort come to us, but we are not discouraged” (2 Co 4, 8 – 9). In the Letter to Diogneto is also written about those Christians: “They love to everybody and they are prosecuted by everybody. They are ignored and they are condemned. They are killed, and in that goes his life. They are poor and they make many rich. They lack everything and have everything. They are dishonored and in the dishonor itself they are glorified. They are cursed and they are declared just. They are vituperated and they bless. They are insulted and they give honors. They do good deeds and they are punished like criminals; punished to death and, nevertheless, same people who detest them can’t say why they hate them” (V, 11 – 17)
18. The community is the most sensible means that we have for listening God´s word, to acknowledge Christ’s presence, to take in the action of the Spirit. It is the pool of Siloé, where the born blind is cured of his original blindness (Jn 9, 7). It is the place where Paul, blinded by the light of the Lord in the way to Damascus, he recovers the sight and the strength (Acts 9, 3 – 19). It is the mother’s womb, where the brand new man is gestated “by means of the Word of God living and permanent” (1 P 1, 23) It is the body of Christ (1 Co 12, 27), encouraged by the spirit of God (12, 13)
19. Since the Council was convened, “a big signal appeared in the sky” (Rev 12, 1),the communitarian experience of the origins as an inspiring guide of the renovation of the Church: “The task of the Ecumenical Council has been to return to the face of Christ’s Church all its splendor, revealing the most simple and pure features of its origin”. This signal, perceived and proclaimed by John XXIII, constitutes the model and the key of the council renovation
20. Vatican Council II sees in the communitarian experience of the origins (Acts 2, 42 – 47) the model not only of the religious life (PC 15, 1), of that of the missionaries (AG 25, 1) and of the priests (PO 17, 4 and 21, 1), but of all God´s saint people (LG 13, 1; DV 10, 1). The Church is “signal and instrument of the intimate union with God and of the unity of all the human gender” (LG 1), “God wanted to save the men, not individually and isolated between them, but assemble in a people” (LG 9)
21. Being a community, the Church is light of the people (LG 1), sign raised amidst nations (SC 2), salvation universal sacrament (GS 45). It is not the individual, but the community the one who can evangelize. It is not the individual, but the community the one who deeply renews the Church. It is not the individual, but the community the one who can carry out an effective reply to the society, such as it is configured. It is not the individual, but the community, the one who can live today the signal of the Gospel.
22. In our times, it is necessary to rebuild the Church’s communitarian weave. In the first communities there was from 20 to 60 people; in the Middle Age, many parishes had no more than 300 members; by then the large cities had between 10.000 and 50.000 inhabitants. To day, many parishes are real medieval cities. Is it possible to talk about a true Christian community? The following proposition was approved almost by unanimity in the Synod of the Catechesis (1977): “In fact, not few parishes, due to diverse motives, are far from constituting a true Christian community. Nevertheless, the ideal way to renew this parish’s communitarian dimension could be to convert it in a community of communities”. This is hardly remembered to day. It is a scaring solution.
23. Church’s unity is catholic, universal, to gather all the human diversities (Acts 10, 10 – 16), to adapt herself to everybody (1 Co 9, 22), to span the whole universe (Mt 28, 19). In today’s Church more respect is require for the legitimate diversity and more unity in what constitute the fundamentals of the faith. In the last dinner Jesus prays for the disciples´ unity: “May they be all one” (Jn 17, 21). United in God´s mystery, that is the mystery of the Church, a mystery that is at anybody’s reach, since “where two or three meet in my name, says Jesus, there I am between them” (Mt 18, 20)
24. Attention, a rest is being left: “I will leave within you a poor and meek people who seek refuge in God, the remnant of Israel” (So 3, 12 – 13): Don’t forget. The old Christianity, with its centuries-old ruins, is collapsing. It does not support the earthquake tremor, the deep and accelerated changes of the contemporary world. John Paul I said it to his theological counsellor Mr Germane: “You are witness. The Council did not break the restrain barriers, as it was said and still is being said by unfortunate minds. It was not the cause of the ideas and values collapse, of rules, traditions and habits valid and untouchables until then. The Council arrives following God´s will to a world in quick cultural, social and religious transformation” (Bassoto, 132). In that situation, the Council arrived and referred us to the sources of the communitarian experience. We sing it many times, since long time ago: “It is not, no, the inert Church, / which sees with discouragement / in collapse the old Christianity, / it is the one that converts herself / and goes back to the sources / of the new born Church, / being community”
* Dialogue: What does Church mean? What do we understand as community? Which are its most important features? The first Christian community, is it an ecclesial renovation model? Which difficulties do we find? What experience do we have?