50. YOU ARE MY PEOPLE. You will be my witnesses

You will be my witnesses

1 The experience of faith is a communitarian experience. The experience of faith creates community and the community is the appropriate means where the experience of faith develops. The Church is a mystery of communion lived in community. From the beginning, she is in God´s heart: “You are my people” (Ex 19, 5). God wants a people being his witness among nations: “You shall be my witnesses” (Acts 1, 8). Now well, what does the Church mean?, what do we understand like community?, which are its most important features?

2. In itself, Church means “assembly”. And Synagogue means “meeting”. Really, they are similar terms. In greek, “ekklesia”  comes from “ekkalein” that means “to convene” and designates the “saint 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 Christian faithful whose head is the Pope”, Eeach one of the Christian communities that are defined like Church”, the ecclesiastic state that encompasses to all the ordained”, “the Christian temple”.

3. The saint assembly by excellence is the Pasch. The Jewish Pasch is celebrated in a familiar environment, in the homes, in the frame of a dinner. The Jewish Pasch is a dinner with readings and psalms. The unleavened bread, like the bitter herbs, s a symbol of the past difficulties. It is the bread of the oppressed, the bread of the misery and of the rush, the bread that had to be carried and cooked before its fermentation. In the Jewish frame of the Pasch, each one narrates his story and altogether celebrate  Israel’s common history. The believer raises the coup of salvation (Ps 116). It is necessary to recover the deep sense of the Pasch.

4. At the end, the Church is a community. But, how many reach to live the faith in community? Lamentably, few. There are many who stumble with this global fact: the alarming absence of living communities. The extension, the individualism and the anonymity are vices contrary to the ecclesial community. In many cases, what we contemplate is like nothing, quite depressing: a field of “dry bones” (Ez 37), the “confusion” of Babel (Gn 11),  “a heap of ruins” (Mi 3, 12)

5. Not everything is valid. Amidst the conventional Judaism resounds John´s call: “Produce now the fruits of a true change of heart, and do not deceive yourselves by saying: ‘Abraham is our ancestor!” (Lk 3, 8). The faith is not received by “biological heritage”. A personal answer is required. In that line is Jesus place when he carries out his mission. In a similar way, amidst the conventional Christianism the call of the Gospel breaks in. It is not valid to say: “We have been catholic through our whole life”. Another thing is necessary. What we find makes up a deep dissatisfaction. Ecclesial renovation is deeply necessary: The “new wine” of the Gospel must be placed into “new skins” (Mk 2, 22)

6. Amidst the Christianity that is collapsing, it is necessary to go back to the Gospel. When he evangelizes, Jesus is not alone, he shares his mission. There are the twelve (Mt 10, 1, there are the seventy two (Lk 10, 1), there are the women who accompany Jesus (8, 1 – 3). The community is the new family of the disciples. As Jesus says: “My mother and my brethren are those who listen the word of God and accomplish it” (Lk 8, 21). Amidst the devastated vineyard, Jesus plants a vineyard, the community of disciples (Jn 15).

7. To the one who is looking the light or is looking God, the best that can happen is to find a signal or to find a community that is also a signal of the Gospel: “signal raised among the nations” (Is 11, 12), “light of the people” (Is 49, 6), “you are the light of the world” (Mt 5, 14). The Church is neither an army (superior-inferior obedience relationship) nor a school either (master-disciple teaching relationship), but community (brother-brother fraternity relationship). The Church is an State either: “My kingdom does not belong to this world”, says Jesus (Jn 18, 36).

8. The Gospel is announced like good news: “Blessed, lucky, happy!, says Jesus. So, up to nine times (Mt 5, 3 -11). The Gospel accomplishes the law and the prophets (5, 17), it overcomes the justice of scribes and Pharisees (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 that go away from the world, but for many that could transform it. In a special way, it is for the community of disciples that in the Gospel finds its own identity. And it is for the world that, with that salt, needs to be preserved from corruption and, with that light, needs to be liberated from the 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: Sadducees, Zealots, Pharisees, Esenians, scribes. Jesus announces the Gospel to the poor, the cres submitted to the powerful. Jesus´ teaching is not abstract: where there is oppression, there is word of liberation. Like that day, in the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4, 18 – 19)

10. Jesus´ mission had began in the periphery of the Jewish world, in Galilee, but its destination was Judea; and inside Judea, Jerusalem; and inside Jerusalem, the temple. A compromised and dangerous destination. Jeremiah had told it: “And your sword, like a destroying lion, devoured your prophets! (Jr 2, 30). The march on Jerusalem ends in the temple. The temple is stained: it should be a house of prayer for everybody, but it has become a cave of bandits (Mk 11, 17; see Jr 7, 11), The temple must be purified; even more, the temple must 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 mystery of idolatry, confusion, dispersion. Due to its infidelity, Jerusalem takes part is Babel’s destiny: “ I will call my people to that who is not my people” (Rm 9, 25 – 26). Pentecost is the  Babel’s counterpoint: mystery of faith, of communication, of communion, The spirit is like the wind “it blows where it pleases and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going” (Jn 3, 8). It is as the fire that burns in the predication of the prophets: “Then came the prophet Elijah like a fire, his words a burning torch.” (Sir 48, 1). It is like strange, unknown tongue: “Un unknown tongue is heard: I relieved your shoulder from burden; I freed your hands.” (Ps 81). “That day about three thousand souls joined them” (Acts 2, 41). Thus it is born, it revives, in this way the Church revives: going back to the cenacle (Acts 1, 13-14 and 21), to 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 regularly meet “the day of the Lord” (Ap 1, 7). A fraternity relationship is established between all of them. In this manner, the communion mystery that the Church constitutes (LG 1) is made visible even to the eyes of those 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 that communion, what really brings together the new family of the disciples, is God´s word. The one who embraces the word, becomes linked to the community. In the first communities, God´s word is made experience of Christ (Acts 2, 36) and experience of conversion (2, 38).

14. The first Christian community is a place of teaching, communion, celebration and prayer: “They were faithful to the teaching of the apostles, the common life of sharing, the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2, 42), Signals are present in the community (2, 45), that confirm the announced word (Mk 16, 20), The communion of hearts is translated into an effective goods sharing: “all the believers lived together and shared all their belongings” (Acts 2, 44). “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions” (4, 32). The welcome is a community’s  dimension, that is open to the incorporation of new members: “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (2, 47)

15. The first communities are a minority inside the society, but they are like “a city raised in the peak of a mountain” (Mt 5, 14), like “yeast in the mass” (Lk 13, 21). In them a process of adults and children evangelization takes place. The oldest catechesis is made by immersion in the life of the community. They meet where they may; generally in the homes. Thus, for instance, in John Mark´s mother’s home, in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 12), in Aquila and Priscilla’s home, in Ephesus and in Rome (1Co 16, 19); in Philemon’s home, in Colosas (Phil 2); in Ninfas´ home, in Laodicea (Col 4, 15). In its origin, the word parish  (para-oikía) makes reference to the first communities who meet in the homes (Acts 2, 46). Sometimes, the house is adapted for the new use. Thus happens in the home of Dura Europos, a city at the banks of the Euphrates, about the year 232. In the meeting room about 60 people fit. Pudens´ home, who received Peter in Rome, could serve the same purpose. In Saint Pudenciana (derivation from Pudens) bricks with the stamp of Q. Servius Pudens have been found.

16. At the middle of the century II, the author of the Letter to Diogneto writes: “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law” (V, 1 – 10).

17. The first communities find themselves in an adverse political and religious situation. The Jews call “sect” to the new born Church (Acts 23, 5. 14). Saint Paul says: “Knocked down but not crushed” (2 Co 4, 8 – 9). In the letter to Diogneto it is also said about those Christians: “Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.” (V, 11 – 17)

18. The community is the most sensible we have to listen the word of God, to acknowledge Christ´s presence, to embrace Spirit’s action. It is the Siloe´s pool, where the born blind heals his original blindness (Jn 9, 7). It is the place where Paul, blinded by the Lord’s light in the way to Damascus, recuperates his sight and his strength (Acts 9, 3 – 19). It is the mother’s womb, where the brand new man is grown “by means of the living and permanent God´s Word” (1 P 1, 23). It is the body of Christ (1 Co 12, 27), animated by the spirit of God (12, 13)

19. Since the Council was convened, “a large signal appeared is the sky” (Rev 12, 1), the  communitarian experience of the origins like a Church’s renovation inspiring guide : “The commitment of the Ecumenical Council has been conceived to give back to Christ´s Church all its splendour, revealing the most simple an pure features of its origin”. This signal, perceived and proclaimed by John XXIII, constitutes the model and the key of the council  renovation.

20. Council Vatican 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 the missionaries (AG 25, 1) and of the priests (PO 17, 4 and 21, 1), but of all the saint people of God (LG 13, 1; DV 10, 1) The Church is “signal and instrument of the intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human gender” (LG 1), “God wanted to save the men not individually and isolated between them, but making up a people” (LG 9).

21. Being community, the Church is light of the people (LG 1), sign raised between the nations (SC2), universal sacrament of salvation (GS 45). It is not the individual, but the community the one who may evangelize itself. It is not the individual, but the community the one that deeply renews the Church. It is not the individual, but the community the one that can carry out an effective opposition of the society, such as it is configured. It is not the individual, but the community, the one that may live today the signals of the Gospel.

22. In our times, it is necessary to rebuild the Church’s communitarian weave. In the first communities there was about 20 to 60 people; in the Middle Age, many parishes did not surpass the 300 members; then, the large cities had between 10.000 and 50.000 inhabitants. Today, many parishes are true medieval cities. Is it possible to talk about a true Christian community? In the Synod of the Catechesis (1977) the following proposition was approved: “In fact, not few parishes, due to different motives, are far from constituting a true Christian community. Nevertheless, the ideal means to renew this communitarian dimension could be to turn them into community of communities” Today this is hardly remembered. We are afraid of the solution.

23. The unity of the Church is catholic, universal, to gather all the human diversities (Acts 10, 10-16), to adapt itself to everybody (1 Co 9, 22), to embrace the whole universe (Mt 28, 19). In today’s Church more respect to the legitimate diversity and more unity in what is the fundamental of the faith is required. In the last supper Jesus prays for the unity of the disciples: “May all be one” (Jn 17, 21) United in God´s mystery, we have there the mystery of the Church, a mystery that may be reached by anyone, since “where two or three meet in my name, says Jesus, I am in the middle of them” (Mt 18, 20).

24. Attention, a rest is left: “I will leave within you a poor and meek people who seek refuge in God.” (Zep 3, 12 -13): Don’t forget. The old Christianity, with its secular ruins, is collapsing. It does not support the shaking of the earthquake, the deep an accelerated changes of the contemporary world. It was said by John Paul I to his theological counsellor Mr Germano: “You are witness. The Council did not break the contention barriers, as it was said and it is still said by unfortunate minds. It was not the cause of the collapse of ideas and values, of rules, traditions and habits up to then valid and untouchable. The Council arrived by God´s will to a world in quick cultural, social and religious transformation.” (Bassotto, 132). In this situation, arrived the Council and it sent us to the sources of the communitarian experience. We sing it many times, since a long time ago: “It is not, no, the inert Church, / that sees with discouragement / collapsing the old Christianity, / it is the one that converts itself / and goes back to the sources / of the newborn Church / being community”

*Dialogue: What does Church mean?, what do we understand like 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?

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