Last weekend, I was on a retreat with my Carmelite community and the theme was community life. Our retreat master talked about the basis of community life for the early Christians as well as for the Carmelites in particular, including us Seculars. One of the things that struck me was that the basis for community, both in our respective religious communities and with other people, is our relationship with Christ. Everything starts with a solid foundation in Him so that we can then bring Him to others. This is really nothing new, but I suppose I just never really thought very much about relationships that way. However, it is true. In order to be truly just, charitable, and friendly with others, we must first have a strong relationship with the One Who is truly just, truly charitable, and Who desires a relationship with each one of us.
Many of us who are raised in the Catholic faith learn from the time that we are little that our purpose on earth is to “know, love, and serve God in this life, and be happy with Him in the next” (Baltimore Catechism). When we look at our life through this lens, we realize that everything in our lives needs to be governed by our relationship with God, including our relationships and communion with others. Loving and serving God requires knowing Him and being able to impart that knowledge to those around us in order to build up the body of Christ in the world, which is what we were made for. Thus, when we engage with others, we should be grounded in our relationship with Christ and it should radiate out to them and be evident in the way we conduct ourselves. Having this foundation teaches us the principles of charity and justice that help in our day-to-day interactions, particularly if we must resolve conflict. Without these moral principles and this relationship with God, we can interact with others, but only based on societal norms and principles, and these can fluctuate based on mere feelings and trends. This leads us to build our relationships and friendships on things other than what we were truly made for, creating a false sense of community. Jesus Christ and His teachings are eternal and will always be the truth, and when we base our communities on this truth, we fulfill the purpose of community.
The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us the perfect model of relationships and community with others in the account of Her Visitation to Her cousin Elizabeth. First of all, what She is bringing to Elizabeth in the flesh, namely, Jesus Christ in Her womb, is what we should all bring to others in spirit when we interact with them. And when She speaks, She speaks to Elizabeth about God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” She points Elizabeth to God both in Her body and Her speech. This is true charity, and that is why we pray for this virtue when we recall the Visitation in the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. When we are tempted to gossip or talk about unholy things, we should remember Mary’s example and what we were made for, the building up of God’s Kingdom.
Building up the Kingdom of God through our own personal relationships and communities is not easy, especially when we are meant with resistance and disbelief. However, as long as we remain faithful to our calling to be God’s witnesses in the world and couple our messages with prayer, we are sure to find others with the same goal and we may even move others to conversion. Little by little, we will create true communities based on Christ and advance His Kingdom in the world.