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The hard truth about needing other Christians

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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 07/02/21

A difficult virtue has to come first, or our attempts at community won't succeed.

How would you reply to this statement: Christian community is founded upon humility.

If we sift through those words correctly, we can find some real gold there. Humility is not a false modesty; if Tiger Woods said, “I’m a lousy golfer,” he wouldn’t be humble, he would just be an ineffective liar. To the contrary, humility is rooted in telling the truth.

We start with the wonderful truth about God—God is perfectly good, wise, and loving. There’s the transcendent truth about man—we are called to be good, wise, and loving so that we may see the face of God and live. There’s the awful truth about man—we rejected goodness, wisdom, and love and chose sin instead. Here’s the amazing truth about God—he chose to save us sinners at a very terrible cost to himself. Now, here’s an awkward truth about man—we are made social, we need each other, we are made for community. And finally, here’s an overlooked truth—our social nature is but one more example of how man is made in the image and likeness of God, because God is Trinity, that is, a community of Divine Persons. In other words, it’s good for us to need each other.

This is the fifth time I have written in this forum in this series about community (Find here installments ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR). Since I have started writing this series, I have found that people are both eager and reluctant for Christian community. There is a natural desire for a sense of belonging, of fellowship and of common cause. There is also a natural fear of failure, of disappointment, and of frustration. We need to open ourselves to God’s grace so that we can move beyond our natural desires and fears and so grow towards a supernatural experience of the need for Christian community. Alas, that necessary opening to grace as a prerequisite to Christian community requires an unpopular virtue, namely, humility.

Recall that we noted above the humility is rooted in telling the truth. The truth is that we need each other in order to do the work that God has given each of us and all of us to do. We are to contribute to the Kingdom as unique individuals, and we are to contribute together as members of one body. It is hard for fallen human nature to admit our incompleteness, our vulnerability, and our propensity towards selfishness. We need each other, we need God’s grace, and we need each other to be instruments of God’s grace for one another. St. Paul put it this way:

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of 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 arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

1 Corinthians 12:15-20

In God’s providence, we need to learn how to work together even when we don’t want to, we need to learn how to love each other even when we don’t like each other, and we must learn how to forgive and beg forgiveness even when we don’t feel like it. Contrary to the advice of the world, the flesh, and the devil, when we turn from self-seeking and self-absorption to self-forgetfulness and self-donation, then we can with God’s grace do together what we could never do alone.

When I write next, I will continue my series of reflections on Christian community. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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