PRESERVING THE UNITY OF THE COMMUNITY IN TRUTH AND LOVE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 15: 22-31; JN 15:12-17 ]
In the gospel, we read that Jesus’ will was that His disciples be a community of love. Jesus told the disciples, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” Indeed, St Teresa of Avila says the heart of the Church is love.
Love, of course, is more than a word or a feeling. Love calls for self-sacrifice. As Jesus said, “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus did not simply teach this truth but demonstrated it.
But how can this love be concretely applied in daily life, especially in the various communities we move among, such as our families, church and social communities? It is easy for us to say that we are ready to give up our lives for others. However, if we cannot lay down our lives for fellow members of our community, our proximate neighbors, how can we ever lay down our lives genuinely for people we do not know?
The biggest challenge in community life is trying to preserve the unity of the community when members come from diverse and pluralistic backgrounds. Quite often, the unity of the community is threatened by differences in opinions and approaches. This is true in every community, even in religious communities. Often, each group believes strongly and sincerely that they are simply being faithful to the truth, and so refuse to compromise. Indeed, the greatest difficulty is surrendering our wishes to the community, or to authority.
How then can we live out the commandment of love in such a situation? Should we compromise the truth in order to accommodate the other party? Would that be love without fidelity to the truth? Or should we be faithful to the truth, even unto death, without any compromise whatsoever? Yet we know that there can be no love if there is no truth, and that truth is always love. How, then, do we reconcile truth and love?
Today, we learn from the primitive Christians how they preserved unity in the community in the face of dilemma. There was the need on one hand to maintain the truth of what Paul was preaching; that salvation is through faith in Christ alone and not through the laws. On the other hand, the Jewish Christians were brought up in the Laws, and for them to abandon the laws would be to betray the thousand years of tradition and customs they had inherited.
Hence, a compromise was reached, but not at all costs. It is good to take note that only the essentials were retained, and the rest were optional. They said, “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.'”
In other words, they applied the principle of St Augustine which says “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity and in all things charity.” So we must distinguish whether the values or principles we are trying to promote in the community are essentials or peripherals. We must allow diversity in community and not expect everyone to be in the same mold, so long as core values and principles are respected.
Of course, the most important principle is charity, which underpins the other two previously mentioned. Indeed, the early Christians were able to come to a compromise only because charity took precedence above everything else. The Gentile Christians were willing to compromise by observing certain Jewish dietary rules even though these were not necessary for salvation. Out of respect and deference to the sensitivity of the Jews, they obeyed the rules accordingly. So too, the Jewish Christians were willing to accommodate them by not insisting that others observed their long cherished mosaic laws.
We too, in community life must live accordingly. We must place charity above everything else. That is to say, we must do everything out of love for the other person. We must not put our likes or preferences before others. Rather, we must see how we can accommodate and compromise with each other. Of course, we are not speaking of matters pertaining to conscience and faith or of vital importance. In this way, we can truly say that we are willing to love in the truth, faithful to the truth and ready to compromise and accommodate out of compassion and love for matters that are not rooted in truths but in customs and preferences. This is concrete dying for others in community living.
But this charity of putting the good of the community and its unity before one’s preferences, customs and convictions can only come from the Holy Spirit through prayer. Indeed the early Christians always lived in the consciousness of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so they were able to discern clearly that their decision was made in union with Him, He being the principle, soul and cause of the unity in the Church. We too must always pray to the Holy Spirit for this unity, lest in our community deliberations we make false compromises resulting in a pseudo-unity that is superficial, or take up hardened positions that result in splitting the members of the community. Our decisions cannot be mere human consensus or dictated by strong individuals but rather guided by the Holy Spirit. Charity must come from Christ who sends us His Spirit so that we can love one another as He has loved us.
In this way, we will bear the fruits of the Spirit in community life. There will be joy, peace and harmony, which will also bear fruits in our life, and result in the growth of the community as well in membership and in faith. Indeed, we read, “the party left and went down to Antioch, where they summoned the whole community and delivered the letter. The community read it and was delighted with the encouragement it gave them.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.