SPIRITUAL LIFE AND COMMUNITY
“Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is… One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation… It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God.”
― Pope Benedict XVI
Rev. Fr. John-Mary Benedict Ntol Atep
Before the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic, we were talking about how to rediscover our relational strengths through the family, friendship, and community. Today’s Sunday readings expose to us the value of community in our spiritual life. The first reading for example (Acts 6:1-7) reveals so much about the conflict that ensues due to the Hellenists that reported how their widows were marginalized in the daily distribution of food. So, relational problems that affect community life and living are not new. Unfortunately, relational problems when not properly identified, acknowledged and handled could affect connectedness, one of the essential elements of a sound spiritual life/spirituality.
The truth is that we are spiritual persons but we must live as spiritual persons or live out our spirituality within a community. What is the meaning of being spiritual if not to go beyond? Hence, the saying “No man is an island.” However, the widespread negligence and nonchalant attitude towards community life and living can be described as nothing short of abysmal. A lot of our people are no longer connected either to their families, friends and communities like the Church, their places of work, business partners, their ethnic group and even villages. Sometimes, I have seen and heard people say “I have no business with that hopeless family” or “I don’t have friends, Jesus is my only Friend.” The foregoing is very dangerous especially for somebody who claims to be aware of his spiritual identity. We can easily appreciate the fact that we are persons, when we try to understand what the term “person” means. A person is a rational and a relational being. Meaning, he cannot exist on his own. He needs others. The trouble with our world today is materialism and it has blindfolded us from reaching out to others. Instead of living inside-out, we live outside-in and it is not helping us.
One of the test of a genuine spiritual life is the awareness of the necessity of being one with others and God. God Himself teaches us by His Trinitarian identity. He is three Divine Persons of One Substance (CCC. 255). He is a community of Persons as His Son confirms, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). Again, proper growth in the spiritual life says the Poet Rumi is the fact that “the terms I, you, me, he, she, and they are distractions that cannot be made in the garden of mystics. In spiritual consciousness you view yourself as a flower in this garden and everyone else in the garden connected to you in an invisible way.” Furthermore, prayer unveils the importance and strength of community. Here we know that community prayer like the Holy Mass and Divine Office are more powerful and sophisticated than individual and group prayers. Mind you, you are not to be discouraged from praying as a person and joining your family and other groups to pray. Jesus the Master of Prayer, prayed according to the three levels of prayer.
Our world is what it is today because many of us have misplaced the value of the essence of community. Thus, we segregate, marginalize, discriminate and favour people according to our whims and caprices, religion, political affiliations and other social organisations. Sometimes we think we are smart by doing so, but we end up fragmenting ourselves and distorting our flow of love, joy and peace.
Now, here is a great awareness to practise in the spiritual life: “We are not alone. We are not what we have, what we do, what others think of us. We are divinely connected to God and to all of God’s creations, and consequently each of us has an unlimited inventory of resources available for the purpose of helping us to a state of peace and problem resolution” (Dyer, 2001).
We have to be mindful of the importance of community life and living especially as we are confronted by the scourge of coronavirus. Otherwise the effects may be more devastating after our full recovery from the pandemic. The pandemic has revealed the fact that isolationism is unproductive and draining but community life and living is empowering and it gives room for us to share our spiritual aspirations, and divine consciousness.
- Living together for God is the secret of love, joy and peace. Thus, to treasure community in the spiritual life leads us to a point of becoming a compatriot rather than a competitor. Please practise the above awareness
- Here are some spiritual assets and gospel values that we need to cultivate in order to strengthen our sense of belonging in a community and for our spiritual health: Being charitable toward others, being compassionate, forgiveness and reconciliation, appreciation and gratitude, spreading hope, sharing hospitality, practising humility, advocating for justice, patience: (enduring trials) and showing tolerance and acceptance.
Happy Sunday! You are always in my prayer and please pray for me. You are equally free to share the hints to your friends. Thank you very much!