Saturday, March 28, 2015

Interpersonal Community: How is it Possible?

Humans are both individual and social by nature. And according to the plan of God in Christ we are called to live a great and mysterious reality, to discover the fullness of life in an interpersonal community.

But building genuine interpersonal community is a seemingly impossible task. We seem always to be caught in a violent tension that pits personal freedom against collective security and affirmation.

Though some persons of unusual quality attempt to affirm an absolute individualism, most of us are too vulnerable and too drawn to one another to be tempted directly by radical autonomy.

We recognize our value as persons, and also our orientation as persons toward relationship, to be-with-one-another, to live in community.

We are born into families that are woven together through larger groups devoted to various purposes, and we also build up social groups through our own commitments.

Yet "groups" have their own cumulative momentum, their own gravitational pull, their powerful tendency to generate uniformity. People can surrender their own creativity and sense of identity to the "group mentality," and become increasingly determined in thought and action by those who possess the most power. Or they may become afraid of "losing themselves" to the perceived power of the group, and draw back from sharing life, distance themselves in some measure, and fall into a passive (and lonely) indifference.

The only energy that can transcend this dialectic is love. And we are confident that love can prevail, because we know that we are sustained in being and called as persons-in-relationship, in community, by the One who is Love. The One who is Love and Communion is the source and fulfillment of everything.

Therefore, any "group" that is truly human is made up of persons who, in the original and radical sense, have been given to us by the mysterious design of Eternal Love, and to whom we have been given in turn, to love and be loved. And a group can only be truly human if it lives as a communion of persons, which means that it must respect and cherish every person within its sphere of vitality, because every person is made in the image of the One who is Love.

Each and every person in a group has a unique and unrepeatable value, and this must never be reduced to their productive contribution to building up the group and furthering its ends. This is true even (especially!) when a group is united in the pursuit of social, moral, or religious concerns. We must never forget this!

Each person is worthy of love for their own sake, above and beyond what they may or may not "do" for the group.

Even when a group is so large that we cannot know every individual person, we must always remember the dignity of every person. We can at least hold that love for every person in our hearts. We must cultivate the readiness of solidarity, the openness that welcomes the stranger and that lives human existence as a great companionship.

I remember Saint John Paul II. I met him personally, but I also heard him address enormous crowds and there too I felt that he spoke to me and loved me personally. Many others who remember him would testify to the same kind of experience. The charism of Saint John Paul II enabled him to speak directly to the heart of each person, to communicate the love of God for the person.

And now Pope Francis, through his words and gestures, exercises a similar kind of gift to touch our hearts personally, to exhort us, to challenge us and awaken us to new dimensions of God's love and new possibilities for courageously sharing that love.

These special charisms illustrate for us the kind of attention to the person that we seek within our own communities, in whatever collaborative efforts we take up, and whatever groups we belong to in society and in the Church.

We all must pray for the grace to be able to encounter the person with this kind of attention, to communicate and also to be aware, to revere, to attend, to listen to, to serve each person. This is the grace we need to be "leaders" according to the love of Jesus.