Wednesday, March 15, 2023

We Are Called to Live as Persons-in-Communion

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 strength and pride 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 — the love that corresponds to the dignity of the human person, the mystery of the person, the gift of the person.

“Group dynamics” in and of themselves inevitably end in factionalism and exclusion. Moreover, recent history should have taught us by now that true community can never be generated by violence, whether it be the external violence of barbed wire and iron bars or the internal violence of imposed ideology, “re-education,” propaganda, or psychological manipulation. These kinds of violence can make a “group” with a common surface mentality of ideological conformity, but they violate the freedom of persons and alienate them from themselves and one another. Often, the subconscious frustration that slowly burns beneath the surface of ideological conformism breeds resentment, which eventually breaks out into counter-violence against self and others.

In today’s world—with the immense capacities of multimedia for shaping personal perceptions and “environments” of social presuppositions—we should be especially attentive to the use (and the potential misuse) of “soft power.”  The cumulative impact of the manipulative configuration of perceptions under the pretext of providing “information” breeds a depersonalized conformism. It disconnects persons, leading them to interior withdrawal, passivity, and boredom. Or it engenders suppressed frustration and anger that become tinder for the irrational and counter-violent flames of reactionary upheavals. The sudden rise of factions bonded together by common grievances and resentment should not surprise us. The cycle of violence can take many forms. It is always the enemy of community.

Genuine community is the fruit of freedom and 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.