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20 March 2020

When mission rhymes with communion

In recent decades, ecclesial documents have given significant space to the reality of communion. They invite us not only to live in communion with God and our neighbour, but with all of creation as well. In the deployment of this ecclesiology of communion, particular mention is made of a “missionary communion” or even of an “evangelizing communion,” thus highlighting the intimate bond that exists between communion and mission (Evangelii Gaudium 23, 31 and 130).

Without being a new reality, the amalgam of these terms is particularly revealing! While it spontaneously evokes the missionary impact of communion (Jn 13:35), it also challenges us to rediscover the mission from the angle of communion. In that perspective, it is interesting to hear again the words of the first letter of John: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship [communion]1 with us; and our fellowship [communion] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3).

Through these lines, the author of John’s first letter suggests that missionary activity is a process that seeks to bring about communion. To put it another way, the call of our baptism to be a disciple-missionary is basically an invitation to put our lives at the service of communion.

People who are “experts in communion”

A few years ago, Pope John Paul II proposed an expression about communion that was astonishing to say the least. In his apostolic exhortation Vita consecrata (VC), he wrote: “Consecrated persons are asked to be true experts of communion and to practise the spirituality of communion …” (VC 46). The qualifier “experts” used by the pope has something to make the principal interested persons smile! Indeed, one does not need to have a long experience of consecrated life to know that communion requires constant updating! In this case, then, would this be a rhetorical exaggeration?

The gift of communion

Beyond the—evolving—quality of our individual persons and our congregations, it is useful to remember that communion is first and foremost a gift. It is, more precisely, a Trinitarian gift. Indeed, in addition to the grace of having “been created in the image of that divine communion” (Evangelii Gaudium 178), it was given us, by baptism, to be introduced into this life of communion which is that of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is what Saint Paul reminds us of, in the form of a wish, at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship [communion] of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Co 13:13).

In this passage, Paul gives pride of place to the Holy Spirit with regard to communion [fellowship]. He presents it, so to speak, as the main artisan. Is this not an inquiry to address a renewed prayer to the Spirit, to welcome with ever-increasing awareness the heritage received at our baptism and to be living witnesses to it? Because what we have to offer is precisely what has been given to us. Moreover, the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty that we have pronounced are part of this logic of making fruitful the gift of communion, in its triple dimension: with God, our neighbour and all creation.

Communion as a lifestyle

To speak of “missionary communion” is not only to aspire to work in a team! It’s essentially a lifestyle, a spirituality. As Pope Francis recalls, “the human person grows … matures … and is sanctified to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created” (Laudato Si’ 240).

Making communion the paradigm of our daily lives therefore leads to the manifestation, in the present day of this world, of the beauty of the mystery of the Trinity. According to this perspective, the mission concerns all of life’s realities. More than that, it lasts a lifetime! Because communion is not simply an end goal to be achieved. It is a road to be travelled, a process that puts us into action in our daily lives.

In short, would not living a “missionary communion” be an invitation to consider holiness less in a mode of perfection than in a mode of communion? Is it not particularly in this sense that the pope speaks of a “turning point” or a “missionary conversion” (Evangelii Gaudium 25, 30)? As Benedict XVI affirms, “This life of fellowship with God and with one another is the proper goal of Gospel proclamation, the goal of conversion to Christianity.”2

During the May 2019 meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Sr. Teresa Maya stressed that “Hope is the gift of communion.” It is this great hope that the Christ made known at the Last Supper and that he comes to renew in us at each Eucharist. Armed with the active presence of the Risen One, we dare to build bridges, according to our charisms and the inspirations of the Spirit. Let us ask for the grace not to shy away from the challenge of being missionaries of communion.

1 In the original Greek text, the word koinonia is used. It is most often translated in English-language Bibles as “fellowship”, however French translations use the term “communion” which is closer to the theological meaning of this passage from 1 John. The term used in this article pertains to the social and relational meaning of communion, not the rite at Mass. You will notice the same phenomenon below in the Vatican’s record of the 2006 general audience of Pope Benedict XVI regarding the gift of “communion”. Both terms are included in the text for clarity.

2 Benedict XVI, “The gift of ‘communion’”, General Audience, March 29, 2006.

Nathalie Roberge, OP

This text is taken from the Winter 2020 issue of the ad vitam webzine “A Communion that Generates Mission”.