Identity and Communion (Fr Frank Devoy)

A Focus on the Hyphenated Life of -Communion-

(Paper prepared for the National Pastoral Associates Convention 2009)


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Thank you for your invitation to speak today about Identity and Community. I have observed and enjoyed the wonderful energy here this week: so much excitement about sharing a common vision and purpose. It is to your eternal credit that this body of Pastoral Associates has grown into such a communion--communio is visibly manifested here in this room.

About Community

You have asked me to speak on "Identity and Community." For us, these two words are circumscribed by the word Christian, whereby the genius of the Holy Spirit works in and though a community transforming it into a 'higher' reality called communion. The word community derives from two Latin words, cum + unitas: cum meaning 'together with' and unitas meaning 'unity' - thus, a community refers to people coming together and sharing a unified purpose. Community, however, is not communion: a Lyons Club is a community, the German SS was a community, the Bulldogs Football Club is a community. We Christians are about more.

For us community is divinized into communion by the Spirit. Nonetheless, it is not possible to have communion without a community; a community needs to exist first before communion can be created. A community transformed by the Good News of the love of God for every person leads to communion, and ultimately carries within its heart the full multi-faceted expression of communio in all its splendour. Here ecclesiology (communion) and sociology (community) intersect, as demonstrated for example in Avery Dulles Models of the Church with his use of the word models.

This address, then, is about communion. And how vast is that! It reminds me of what Chesterton (was it?) once said of Catholicism, Here comes everything!

About Communion

Communion is a many-splendid thing. It's an attitude of mind, a way of life, a special grace, a grand disposition -- a call, as it were, to develop ecclesial cardiomegaly, that is, a dangerously enlarged heart about all God's people, rather than shutting life down with dangerously narrowed arteries! As we grow in maturity our world should get larger, not narrower!

Communion is, too, a visible reality, a Eucharistic presence; it is the essence of the Church and is generously inclusive. It is the heart of the Trinity and a profound mystery. It is such a multi-faceted reality that every stated vision - yours or mine -- is simply a version, since one can only focus on one or two dimensions at a time.

Spirituality first

Pope John Paul II tells us of the critical need to develop a spirituality of communion before making any plans to express it.

I am reminded of the Martha and Mary story in St Luke 10:38-42. Martha was doing all the work, complaining while Mary sat and listened to Jesus. Jesus told Martha to stop worrying and that Mary "had the better part." In explaining why Mary had the better part in a homily in Grafton, I pointed out that she won the day because she was prepared to listen to the Good News of Jesus first before putting anything into action. The following day I met a lady parishioner at the Post Office. She said with some passion: I listened to you sermon yesterday ... that's the problem with the ... Church, there are too many Marys sitting on their backsides doing nothing!

These days we are mostly in a hurry to get things done. However, achieving genuine communion should defy the Nike slogan, just do it! We should, rather, develop a spirituality of communion first. That also ensures that prayer always precedes our actions.

Shorthand Exhaustive View of Communion

A good simple starting point on the nature of communion comes from French Dominican theologian of Vatican II, Yves Congar. At its roots there is a communion with the persons of the Trinity; we arrive at this though our communion with the life, death and resurrection of Christ, which in turn leads to communion with one another. Congar's sentence is a 'still-shot' of communion's profound nature.

The sheer breadth of communion is identified by Congar's Jesuit friend and fellow countryman, Henri de Lubac (whose vision is not unlike Congar's), also a Vatican II genius. It embraces:

  • Paradox and Mystery - a vision of a Church where many of its aspects coexist in relational tension, where ambiguity and mess sit with ideals and hopes;
  • Generous inclusivity - where the mystery of God and the mystery of human frailty coexist in tension in the one Church; where truth is acknowledged wherever it may be found; where a created and redeemed world are the accomplishments of the same God;
  • Multi-dimensionality - a Divine dimension: found in the Trinitarian nature of communion; a Mystical dimension: found in the Mystical Body and the Communion of Saints - both the vertical and horizontal perspective; a Sacramental dimension: with its visible presence through the sacraments and in the world-where grace is encountered also outside the seven sacraments; an Historical dimension: with continuity from Jesus to the present day; and a Social dimension: where a liberating theology brings together both the human and divine realms; again, where there is a genuine social inclusivity, embracing poverty, social justice, an open (but not 'relative') membership of the Church;
  • Christian revelation's special beauty, allowing a Church to be expressed with a wide range of images, the Mystical Body being special.

The scope is breath-taking and is presented in Dennis M. Doyle's book Communion Ecclesiology where he critiques some seventeen of its great scholars. All these aspects together form one complex reality-communion--which coalesces from a divine and human element.

By its nature the Church--which is communion--is first and foremost as an ecclesial entity. It understands itself, describes itself, and initiates discussion about its self-identity from an ecclesial starting point. And yet, it faces the world, lives in the world, is always conscious of it, and deeply aware of its origin in the Trinity. These pages present a version of the vision of communion insofar as it relates to relevant contemporary issues.

Communio: Incarnated in All without Exception

While restlessly trawling through Foxtel's many TV channels, I tripped over the tail-end of a movie in which there were eight wishful final year College candidates hoping to get into Oxford. They attended a country grammar school in England. To help the students handle their immanent interviews, three teachers conducted mock interviews with them. During the process, history teacher, Dorothy, said to the boys:

I hesitate to mention this lest it occasion a sophisticated groan. But it may not have crossed your minds that one of the dons who interviews you may be a woman! I am reluctant at this stage of the game to expose you to new ideas, but having taught you all history on a strictly non-gender orientated basis, I just wonder whether it occurs to any of you how dispiriting this can be. ... Am I embarrassing you?"

Student Timms replies: A bit Miss, it's not our fault, it's just the way it is. While Student Lockwood, adds: "The world is everything that is the case," Miss. Wittgenstein, Miss!"

Dorothy replies: Yes, I know it is Wittgenstein, thank you.

Dorothy continues: Can you for a moment imagine how depressing it is to teach five centuries of masculine ineptitude? Why do you think there are no women historians on Television? ... I'll tell you why. Because history is not such a frolic for women as it is for men! Why should it be, they never get around the conference table. In 1919, for instance, they just arranged the flowers, then gracefully retired. ... History, she deplores, is a commentary on the various incapacities of men! ... What is history? she demands. History, she lamented, is women following behind [men] with a bucket!

The story speaks for itself. It's not our fault, Miss, says Timms, it's just the way it is that women are left out. Timms' view is the inevitable commentary, no doubt, about women's role in the world and the Church.

The Church's history has often been characterised by mistaken attitudes and action in this as in other areas, say John Paul. In his Letter to Women, he spoke of the "genius of women" hoping that their genius would be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole as well as in the life of the Church. It is natural to ask ourselves, he said, how much of this message has been heard and acted upon? The Australian Report, Woman and Man: One is Christ Jesus, celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year, indeed last week in Canberra. How much of this message has been heard and acted upon?

Communio makes little sense if it is not fully incarnated in a practical and real world. It is not some ethereal notion out there. Nor is it an abstraction. An incarnated communion embraces the people of God in the real world, inclusive of women, who are called do more than just "arrange the flowers!" or "help Father". When François-Xavier Durrwell spoke of examining the role of women in Church ministries, he insisted "we must be careful not to do harm to [their] privileged relationship with true power, that of the Spirit, who, at the same time is humility as well as the glory of God."

The same is true, inclusively, of our necessary mission to the poor, needy, to outsiders, to aborigines, to homosexuals, to our foreign-born, to anyone who happens to be different.

Women and Men: Co-responsibility

All are called to ministry and mission: both women and men; baptised and ordained. But there remains, at times, a certain diffidence - 'Father does that'! Pope Benedict remarked recently that there is still a tendency unilaterally to identify the Church with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission [of all the baptized]. He insisted that their needs to be a "change of mentality" which shifts laypeople from considering themselves collaborators of the clergy to recognizing themselves truly as 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church.

One asks, are they mostly men in parishes who get to sit around tables of any consequence? And yet, communio is hardly a masculine reality! As Latin would have it, the word is feminine. But communio itself makes no claim on gender--as it the case with God: neither male nor female, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, just God (no. 370) - and so, just communio. The very nature of communion demands more than just accepting that "that's the way it is", or "arranging the flowers and gracefully retiring", or "following behind with a bucket"!

2. The Hyphenated Reality: Mystery-Communion-Mission

I have given this paper the sub-title, A Focus on the Hyphenated Life of Communion because communion (or communio) is embedded in a much larger reality, the Trinity, its very source of splendour. And while the word communion appears 80 times in the Conciliar documents, it always presumes a much larger 'hyphenated' context. Communion realises its full life when linked with two other words. The hyphenated prefix is mystery; the hyphenated suffix is mission.

Communion makes little sense unless embedded in the great mystery of our faith. Nor does it make sense without mission, its witness and proclamation. Its true genius is that when mystery and communion come together, they drive mission-you can't keep the Good News down! And when that happens, they each drive each other: mystery ? communion ? mission.

In the last analysis, it is as Congar described at the beginning of this paper. The energy for mission arises when we are embroiled in communion with dying and rising Christ, as found in the faces and lives of those around us, which has the power deeply to immerse us in the multifaceted mystery of our God and faith. And then, as a direct result, we will be compelled to celebrate life fully with one another in Christ and all he stood for. Mission is clearly a by-product of both mystery and communion. And the power of mission-in-action, in turn, feeds back into communion, allowing an even deeper appreciation of mystery.

Understanding the Nature of Mystery: In brief ...

As mentioned, communion makes little sense if located outside the mystery of faith. The Church as Communion is the integrating aspect, the central context of the 'mystery' of our salvation. Through the power of the risen Lord, says Lumen Gentium, we are given the strength to accept the mystery faithfully, "though darkly". So, how do we comprehend the 'darkly' of mystery?

We can treat mystery as a problem, says Mark Hederman, which has to be solved and [we] can pursue it relentlessly until we have explained it adequately. Or we can abdicate all responsibility for making it accessible in any way, preferring that it remain totally incomprehensible and thereby even more mysterious. Mysteries of the first category, like a mystery thriller, a detective story, keep you guessing until eventually the secret is revealed, after which you lose interest and go on to the next chapter.

But between these extremes there is a middle way. The mystery was intended for me, has no function, reality or significance without me. Therefore, unless I do everything in my power to prepare myself adequately and examine it thoroughly, it could pass me by without any impression or impingement."

Mystery: Being drawn into His story-without-an-end

Mystery is God's story. It has no ending-at least, not in this life. If the story has an ending, it is not a mystery, it's simply a problem that has been solved! Mystery, rather, has an infinite number of pages and plots, with an infinite set of scenarios by which one can approach this God-story-without-an-end. The loveliness of our faith is that we, with the right disposition, can be drawn into mystery-we can be sucked right into it. The information never stops coming if we keep looking.

But there comes a point where one can only go so far with mystery. St Irenaeus intimates a "threshold of transcendence," a point beyond which one cannot go. At that point the challenge of faith takes over and we are, as it were, under the spell of the great mystery of faith. In short, we can have a clear understanding of many aspects of a mystery, and at the same time be under its spell, as the German language illustrates with a play on words.

It has two verbs for the word to understand: unterstehen and verstehen. Unter (under) stehen (to stand) literally means 'to stand under' or 'to be under the control of', or 'to be under the spell of' something, such as the mystery of God, the mysteries of love. On the other hand, the word verstehen means that one has a clear grasp of the meaning of something, an empirical understanding. Aspects of both words comprise mystery-a true paradox.

Understanding the Nature of Mission: In brief ...

Christifideles laici confirms that communion and mission are profoundly connected with each other, they interpenetrate each other -- communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion. Mystery and communion positively conspire to effect mission. Without them the energy for effective evangelizing will not be there. Indeed, without a deep engagement in mystery there would be little or no motivation for mission - there might be for humanitarian purposes, but we are about something else.

Mission has a church: Mission has ministers

Mission has its origin from the Holy Spirit. The Church picks up the Spirit's missionary vision and acts on it. Hence, mission is, as it were, prior to Church. Stephen Bevans explains:

the church does not so much have a mission as that the mission has a church. The church is not about itself; it is about the Reign of God that it preaches, serves and witnesses to, and this makes all the difference.

any structure of leadership in the church serves the church by helping it be faithful to God's mission. Ministry in the church ... is relative to mission. It does not so much direct but is directed by mission.

First 'ordering' to Ministry is from Baptism

While it is true that all ministries derive from the Sacrament of Orders, the first 'ordering' to ministry comes from Baptism (whether lay or priest). Hence, Baptism is the starting point and heart of ministry, meaning that all the lay faithful are called to realise the Church's mission.

Because of their Baptismal state and their specific vocation, says John Paul, "in the measure proper to each person, the lay faithful participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. Pastors, therefore, ought to acknowledge and foster the ministries, the offices and roles of the lay faithful that find their foundation in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, for a good many of them, in the Sacrament of Matrimony."

In essence, without mystery and communion, the mission one attempts will look more like, and be more like, humanitarian activity rather than ecclesial love--more community than commun-ion. Our special task-whether baptised or in orders-is to translate the loveliness of mission in to the real world of parish life. Ultimately that's what the thrust of this conference is all about.

3. Communion: Heart of Trinity, HEART OF CHURCH

Communion Ecclesiology and Vatican II

The Extraordinary Synod of 1985 established that communion is the central and fundamental idea of the Council's documents, hence of the Church's self-understanding. Vatican II and communion ecclesiology cannot be understood or comprehended fully apart from each other. Dennis Doyle, in his study of Communion Ecclesiology, lists no less than seventeen great theological minds of communio of today and yesteryear who have contributed to its richness and diversity during the past eight or so decades, either in shaping Vatican II or theologically examining communion in the light of Vatican II. While differences - often rather in emphasis -- are evident among these scholars, four elements remain constant in an understanding communio:

  • first, a retrieval of the vision of the Church presupposed by Christians of the first millennium, prior to the East-West Church division;
  • second, a focus on spiritual fellowship / communion between human beings and God in contrast to juridical structures and processes;
  • third, an emphasis on the need for visible unity, symbolically expressed through participation in the Eucharist; and
  • fourth, the promotion of a dynamic and healthy interplay between unity and diversity in the Church, between the Church universal and local.

Among the many scholars there is a rich and valid diversity in approach, as Cardinal Ratzinger explains, "which certainly can be approached and worked out in different ways, depending on which of the various aspects are stressed or highlighted. Nevertheless, every exposition must always take into account the harmony of the various essential elements of an ecclesiology which intends to be Catholic." Ultimately, the focus of communion is harmoniously one.

Mystery of the Trinity and Vatican II

Perhaps the richest of all the unfolding wonders of Vatican II is its unlocking of the mystery of the Trinity from which emanates communion and mission. Cardinal Kasper, in a recent speech, pointed out that the Trinity brings forth an aspect of discourse about God which has been neglected for a long time:

After a period resembling the sleep of Sleeping Beauty, the doctrine of the Trinity in Catholic and Protestant theology as well has regained actuality once more in regard to historical research and systematic analysis alike. Furthermore, on this point Catholic and Protestant theology are very much indebted to the dialogue with Orthodox theology and its rich tradition.

The richness of the Trinity as communion stretches back to patristic times, viewed naturally through the prism of sacred scripture, notably Saint John. The genius of the second Vatican Council was its desire to look two ways: to shape a fresh future for the church (aggiornamento) by deliberately and consciously looking back to its earliest sources, namely sacred scripture and its patristic wisdom (ressourcement), ultimately with a view to drawing together a neo-patristic synthesis for the contemporary church.

Trinity & Divinization: Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas.

When Walter Kasper acknowledged the generous dialogue with Orthodox theologians and their rich Orthodox Trinitarian traditions, he surely had in mind the likes of Vladimir Lossky who died unexpectedly in 1958 just prior to the Council. A Russian Orthodox, Lossky was an émigré to Paris in search of a neo-patristic synthesis for the modern church, in the manner of Georges Florovsky of whom he was a disciple.

Trinity and Relationships

The great scholars like Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and Jean Daniélou met with Lossky often, sharing his friendship and desire to develop such a neo-patristic synthesis. It was a synthesis based in part on the great contribution of the Cappadocian Fathers (the likes of St Gregory of Nyssa, his brother St Basil the Great, and Basil's friend St Gregory of Nazianzus and others), whose 'personable' concept of the Trinity unlocked, as it were, for those of the Latin Church a vision of the Trinity in terms of 'relationships'.

For not a few, the Latin Church of the West had become rationalistic in its approach to the Trinity (though, in patristic terms, this claim is rightly questioned). Self-evidently the doctrine of the Trinity is not a matter, says Walter Kasper, of a numerical problem or a kind of higher mathematics attempting to show how one and the same reality can be one and three at the same time. He continued quite beautifully:

The Trinity can only be made comprehensible ... on the basis of the nature of love. Love wants to be one with the other, without dissolving into the other. Love does not absorb the other; it means being one while maintaining its own identity and finding its ultimate fulfillment. ... love that means being one while acknowledging the otherness of the other. God is not a solitary God, he is in himself communion (koinonia, communio), and only thus can he bring us into his communion. In a Trinitarian perspective, freedom and communion are inseparably in linked. Freedom exists in communion, and communion is the realm of freedom."

Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate

Towards the end of his new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict draws out the same rich perspective on personal maturity as it relates to the nature of the Trinity, and relates people to one another in the Trinity:

As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that one establishes one's worth, but by placing oneself in relation with others and with God. ... Just as a family does not submerge the identities of individual members, just as the Church rejoices in each "new creation" (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17) incorporated by Baptism into her living Body, so too the unity of the human family does not submerge the identities of individuals, peoples and cultures but makes them more transparent to each other and links them more closely in their legitimate diversity.

... This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Persons is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity. God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: "that they may be one even as we are one" (Jn 17:22). Relationships between human beings throughout history cannot but be enriched by reference to this divine model. In particular, in the light of the revealed mystery of the Trinity, we understand that true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration ...."

Communion and Otherness

Again, similar practical insights are expressed by John Zizioulas, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Pergamon. In his recent book Communion & Otherness Zizioulas explains (among other things) how we in the West instinctively see difference in other people as 'otherness'. It is almost as if we are forced or encouraged to consider the other as our enemy before we can treat him or her as our friend. Instinctively we build fences around ourselves as a protection from the dangers implicit in the other's presence. We accept the other, says Zizioulas, only in so far as he or she does not threaten our privacy or in so far as he or she is useful for our individual happiness. And if we accept certain others, we do so on the condition that they are somehow like us. For us communion with the other is hardly a spontaneous matter!

For Zizioulas that fear is pathologically inherent in our existence. When fear of the other leads to the fear of all otherness, difference becomes distance and distance often means division. We create, as it were, the myth of the 'enemy at the gates'. Fear of the other--its distance and division, says Zizioulas, is the essence of sin.

The Trinity, however, is our model. The genius of the Trinity is that each Person--while Other and different from Each Other--lives in perfect communion, perfect freedom. There, communion and otherness coincide. In our world, the opposite is most often true; they don't coincide. This is why reconciliation is so critical: it will overcome the instinctive fear which sinfully distances us from the other--whether cultural, religious, or what have you.

Divinization: "Becoming God"

For Lossky and Zizioulas the Trinity is everything. They identify as the heart and centre of all theological discourse the realism of divine-human communication, which is often understood in terms of the familiar Orthodox concept of theosis, or divinization. For them (and, of course, for us in the Latin Church), the Incarnation is the event of a real divine-human communication-communio--which is made accessible to all; God has become human so that all may participate fully in the divine life." As Michael Casey says so beautifully when reflecting on Eastern spirituality and life, "Christian life consists not so much in being good as in becoming God." Such is the wonderful nature and embrace of communio.

Pope John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte

John Paul II 'unpacks' communio in Novo Millennio Ineunte starting with the Trinity, then the Mystical Body, but then deeply incarnates them into the real world of the poor and the dis-possessed, and then moves on to structures capable of effecting it:

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as "those who are part of me".

This makes us able to share their joys and suffering, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.

A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me".

A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "makes room" for our brothers and sisters, "bearing each other's burdens" (Gal 6:2) ...

Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks" of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.


External Structures: "Let's have no illusions ..."

Relationships, Teamwork, Openness and Trust

For us, the spirit of communion shapes totally the process of collaboration, elevating it beyond a simple organisational reality--so essential to the life the Church, so that its social structure serves, says Lumen Gentium, the Spirit of Christ who vivifies it, or, as John Paul, says gives it "soul". It demands character and heart - again, the genius of the Holy Spirit. Collaboration simply won't work in a parish organisation without real and genuine relationships, teamwork, trust and openness.

The glue that binds the collaborative processes together is a dynamic interplay of virtue, which inspires relationships, teamwork, trust and openness. In Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II refers to the personal qualities that characterise such interplay as the "spirituality of communion." It is a spirituality that brings soul to what he calls the "structures of participation":

... the spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity of and the responsibility of every member of the people of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul. (italics mine)

... Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of the church's life. ... To this end, the structures of participation ... must be ever more highly valued. ... The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and the faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion.

Structures of Participation, Pondered Agreement, Canonical Provisions

The above paragraph contains a powerful message about the process of reaching communion, gained through "fruitful dialogue". The Pope's insights identify three organisational dynamics:

a) "the structures of participation," refer to a collaborative spirit within the parish -- working with others to achieve an harmonious outcome;

b) "pondered agreement," - that is, thinking with others, refers to a deeply reflective posture which leads to a well thought through consensus by all individuals involved in the process; and,

c) "matters open to discussion," alludes to the limitations and opportunities that are products of the canonical nature of the Church as institution.

Of the two processes--collaboration (participation) and consensus (pondered agreement), consensus always comes first. A prior step, however, in reaching consensus is taken when a common vision-the source of clarity--is created among the individuals who comprise the parish itself or one of its pastoral works. Then that common vision must be accompanied with a common purpose-the source of one's commitment to the task.

Finally, an understanding of the parish's canonical nature is essential if collaborative harmony is to be achieved. One needs to know: what limitations and opportunities Canon law determines for a parish as institution; what matters, as a consequence, are open to discussion by the individuals who comprise it (e.g., one cannot debate whether children are baptized with water or rose petals); and, to what extent a parish, which church-wise is a participative-consultative-authoritative organisational model, may contain elements of a democratic process.

Spirit of Democracy

We say correctly, for example, that the church is not a democracy. But Cardinal Walter Kasper points out that one cannot be quite so absolute:

Naturally, the church is not a democracy -- but nor is it characterised exclusively by its hierarchical structure! In the past, the church adopted a number of feudal and monarchical elements in order to provide a concrete articulation for its own constitution. In the same way, it can and must take up some democratic structural elements and procedures today, in a manner both critical and creative, in order to express in the forms appropriate to human law its own constitution ... since it belongs to the sphere of divine law and hence is inviolable. I do not have the impression that the implications of Vatican II have been fully realized as yet; these questions are still to be discussed in depth.

Communion: Co-responsibility, Consensus, and Collaboration

By way of clarity and summary, each of the above four words has a clear purpose and a particular context. Co-responsibility, which arises from Baptism, is a matter of status, not process. By it, one is called to participate actively in the life of the Church-via communion, which is a way of life. Presuming the power of grace, this is achieved through consensus and collaboration, which are processes. The starting point for these processes is seeking a common vision among all those involved (providing clarity) and a common purpose (providing commitment).

By sequence: Common Vision + Common Purpose ? Consensus ? Collaboration ? Collaboration + Grace ? Communio.

Communion: Personal Virtues Needed

Paul John Paul II's Apostolic Letter has identified certain personal characteristics needed for collaboration, if co-responsibility is to occur. Among the core characteristics, as identified above, are trust and openness. These qualities are required both of priest and laity. There is, however, a weightier responsibility on the part of the priest particularly to ensure the empowerment of others. According to the Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, the Pope says that the priest (but also applicable for all the baptised):

should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgments. .... Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry.

Pastores dabo vobis calls for the priest to be: "credible", "acceptable", "a bridge for others", in order to allow "dialogue", "cooperation", and "trust". The call is not just to 'ordinary' trust. The Apostolic Exhortation compels: mutual trust, complete trust, total trust, unflagging and unshakable trust and hope, to use the document's very own words! Of special importance, it continues, is the capacity to relate to others. Such is fundamental to "the man of communion".

The virtues of faith--and its 'double' trust, have the same Latin origin - fiducia (fides) and both presuppose an openness to others and the world. To have faith in someone is to trust that person and be open. And both scripture and psychology connect them to the virtue of hope. These three virtues, faith, trust, and hope, will always be the basis upon which people work fruitfully together. If we don't have faith, trust, and hope we will not be open, we will not share, we will not relate, we will not have the courage to seek consensus, nor the ability to exercise co-responsibility and engage collaboratively.

Destroying Communion: Distrust, Jealousy, Competition, Careerism

Pope John Paul II identified the qualities that destroy communion in Novo Millennio Ineunte (no 43) as distrust, jealousy, careerism, and competition. In accepting that critique we need to value, rather than dismiss (often the case these days), the contribution of the human sciences. Both Popes John Paul II and Paul VI are clear about this. Avery Dulles also reminds us that modern empirical psychology, like other sciences, can be serviceable for the theology of faith.

While one cannot claim an automatic correlation between faith and psychological maturity, and clearly acknowledging that grace has a healing influence, that same grace, says Dulles, rarely overcomes all personality defects.

Capacity for Communion

Insights from Erik Erikson's research help identify one's capacity for communion. He identi-fied in 1950 that basic trust is the basic building block of psycho-social development. Its absence, as mentioned by John Paul II, is destructive of communion. And when the development of trust is arrested in early childhood, the consequences in each stage of development will most often be equally arrested. Failure to develop a robust trust serially leads to shame and doubt, guilt, inferiority, identity diffusion in place of a healthy identity, isolation rather than intimacy, and despondency and despair rather than integrity of life.

Later in life, in 1977, Erikson wrote a further book, Toys and Reasons, in which he identified "ritualizations" that accompany those arrested stages of development. When the basic building block of development is distorted, mistrust is accompanied by a blind hero worship -a flaky and immature identification with a personal hero of sorts.

Instead of developing a healthy sense of autonomy, legalism prevails. And when the develop-mental stage involving the growth of initiative suffers, one finds a form of impersonation - not being true to oneself, pretending to be who one isn't. Industry is replaced by meaningless formalities and empty rituals. And a positive identity is replaced with dogmatism (totalism), that is, the fanatic preoccupation with being unquestionably right or ideal. Intimacy is replaced with elitism, generativity with authoritarianism, and finally, integrity with the unwise pretense of being wise. All these come together in one's everyday life as a constellation within one's personality.

Need one say any more! Each of these qualities of life is divisive of communion. They feed John Paul's list of destructive personal qualities: distrust, jealousy, competition, and careerism.

It's not easy to achieve full maturity in Christ, particularly when one's personal history and one's proclivity to personal protection and control block growth and no effective effort is made to overcome these. There remains an enormous challenge to the baptised and to the ordained to embrace the full reality of the Vatican Council's ambitions today.

Priests need communio's grand disposition in order to cooperate seriously in empowering the laity. Pastors know, claims John Paul II, that they themselves were not established by Christ to undertake alone the entire saving mission of the Church. The laity, too, are asked to 'step up to the plate' in a co-responsible manner by virtue of their Baptism.

6. Communion: Obstacles in General

The concern that aggiornamento had outstripped ressourcement led to a great deal of literature being generated on communio. But the label "communion ecclesiology" may at times be misused to serve truly narrow views. Ecclesiologist, Joseph Komonchak, challenges writers of communion ecclesiology to avoid two real temptations: a) making communio so inclusive that it has nothing substantial to say; or b) using communio to serve an ideology.

Further, to the extent that communion is understood as that model--mystical communion--to which Avery Dulles refers in his book Models of the Church, he identifies four possible problems. However one needs to keep in mind that the broad accurate scope of communio would answer Dulles' list of concerns. But they are worth noting nonetheless.

  • A free and spontaneous communion as a gift of the Spirit may make the organizational and hierarchical appear superfluous - poorly, if at all, incarnated.
  • It tends to exalt and divinize the Church beyond its due.
  • It may not give Christians a very clear sense of their identity and mission.
  • The church as a network of friendly interpersonal relationships and the church as a mystical communion of grace may be ambiguous. It is not evident that the two necessarily go together. Many Christian theologians try to combine both concepts as to dimensions of a single reality.


1. Be People of Hope. Pope Benedict urges this in his Encyclical on Hope, Spe Salvi. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, insists in his book The Politics of Hope that hope is the source of courage. He continues:

Hope--not optimism--is what empowers us to take risks, to offer commitment, to give love, to bring new life into the world, to comfort the afflicted, to lift the fallen, to begin great undertakings, to live by our ideals.

Genuine hope may not protect us against calamity, he says, but if it strikes we will not be alone.

2. Take seriously our various Roles. Pope Paul VI's identifies an essential list of roles for priests: to proclaim with authority the Word; to assemble the scattered People of God; to dispense the sacraments; to set these people on the road to salvation; to be signs of unity; and, finally, to keep this people faithful to their mission. Everything else belongs to someone else, whether laity or deacons or bishops.

3. Face the Laity 'Outward'. Take seriously the fact that everything else belongs to someone else. Focus the mission of the laity outward. As Pope Paul VI outlined in Evangelii Nuntiandi--in what seems to be a paragraph lost to most, the laity's

own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human life, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering.

4. Hold a Parish Assembly. Invite a successful facilitator to conduct the Assembly, drawing out in a spiritually discerning way four issues: a) Identify aspects of the parish that are positive, successful, to be retained, and strengthened; b) Examine those that are weak and in need of attention; c) Identify those that ought to be scrapped and scrap them; and d) Identify desirable new initiatives for mission, facing the community outward, as it were. Aim to have 500 people doing one thing each, rather than 5 people doing 500 things.

Under the guidance of a Parish Pastoral Council ensure the ongoing education, formation and transformation of all parish personnel.

5. Forge Places of Hospitality. Make parishes places of energetic community life, places of welcome, meeting places for all comers--places of communion, particularly where the pressures of amalgamation, clustering, or reorganisation of the parish take place. Is it not true that hospitality dies when the parish office / presbytery are 'distant', cold, closed, or isolated, rare as that may be.

6. Focus on System Care. Think seriously about shifting pastoral care from an 'individual one-to-one care' to 'caring for the parish as a whole' system-wise, drawing on competently formed the laity to do the former. Priests alone (and Pastoral Associates in ministry) cannot survive doing every little thing that this vast world demands of them, nor do they need to. Priests will have more time to prepare for preaching, presiding, and surviving--primary ways of caring for the parish as a whole and for themselves; they will also affirm the laity's baptismal call, demonstrate practical evidence of their discipleship, and attest to the full communion of the baptised.

7. Be Decisive. Each of us must exercise initiative in deciding priorities and in making essential choices. That, of course, is not easy. Interestingly, Dumbledor, in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, offers wise advice to Harry Potter. "It's not our abilities that show what we truly are, Harry, it is our choices." Our abilities are useful, but our choices show our true character.


The achievement of communion in parish life is big call, but it is our call and a sine qua non-an absolute necessity. Daniel O'Leary, writing in The Tablet, challenges us boldly to dare what Jesus did:

There was a wildness in Jesus, as there was in John the Baptist before him: a relentless courage that was of the essence of his divine humanity. He was forever testing the boundaries, pushing the limits of his own potential, weighing up the wishes of his Father. He was driven to take to the Jerusalem Road, to confront the people who wanted to destroy him--but only so that soon he would transcend all limitations and, in doing so, empower us with the divine potential to walk the path of our own destiny.

... while Jesus achieved the final breakthrough once for all, we are still only on the way. The journey ahead is littered with choices--to keep taking the risks of change, to keep climbing the mountain of grace, to keep leaving what is not nourishing us. On days when we are not afraid, we follow our bliss; we take the high road .... But too often the price is too high. The French novelist Andre Gide wrote, "one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." Most of us are not famous for this kind of 'launching out into the deep'--urged on the whole Church by John Paul II.

But, may I suggest, that with God's grace and with magnificence of what I have observed here this week, we are well and truly launched!

Communion is a many-splendid grace. Of its nature it is incarnated life and energy in the world. And it finds its origin in the Divine. This is captured well with a play on words: when St John Damascene (675-749) used the word perichoresis in writing of the Trinity, it carried the meaning, to encompass. And yet, that word is so much like (but different from) perichoreno which captures something of the vitality of the divine dance that is the Trinity. We are called to that divine dance, communion, by the Lord of the dance.

Fr Frank Devoy
4 September 2009

Avery Dulles SJ, Models of the Church: A Critical Assessment of the Church in all its Aspects (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan Ltd, 1976) 13-30, particularly p. 7: The church is, of its nature, a mystery, Dulles says. And mysteries are realities of which we cannot speak directly. Hence if one wishes to talk about them, one must draw on analogies afforded by our experience in the world. And these analogies generate models, thus helping us indirectly to grow in our understanding of the church.

Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte - At the Beginning of the New Millennium (Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2001) no 43.

See Gustavo Gutiérres OP, "Koinonia in the Church," Doctrine and Life 57 (2007) 24.

Dennis M. Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000) 56-71, 169.

Dennis M. Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000).

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium - Light of the World, gen. ed. Austin Flannery (London: Costello Publishing Company, 1996 (1965)) no 8.

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, The History Boys, 2006.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus. Report on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia (Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999) 17.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Woman and Man, 395.

François-Xavier Durrwell, Holy Spirit of God: An Essay in Biblical Theology, Gen. Ed, Scott Hahn (Cincinnati: Ohio: St Anthony Messenger Press, 2006 [1986]) 225. "People forget that the Church and Mary are linked symbolically with the Spirit who also 'is Lord and gives life'; that Christ is head through the Spirit and through immolation for the Church; that there is therefore a manner of being modelled on Christ other than that of visible ministry of government (direction) ...", from Durrwell, op. cit., footnote 36.

Pope Benedict XVI, "Church needs Change of Mentality: Calls on Laity to Recognize Pastoral Responsibility," (Permalink:|=english, 28 May 2009). The words urging the baptised to be "active and coresponsible" will be found in Pope John Paul II's Christifideles laici, no. 21.

Pope Benedict's use of this word co-responsibility recently has rightly drawn attention to the role of the baptised, but it has been in circulation for quite a while. See the call for the laity to be "active and coresponsible" in Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, on the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World - an Apostolic Exhortation (Homebush, Sydney: St Paul Publications, 1989) no. 21.

A. Denaux, "L'Énglise comme communion," Nouv. Revue Théo. 110, no. 1 (January/February 1988) 16-37 and no. 2 (March/April 1988) 161-180. Cited in G. Gutierrez, "Koinonia in the Church," Doctrine and Life 57 (2007) 23.

Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis - Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (Boston, MA: St Paul Books & Media, 1992) no 12.

Pope John Paul II, Christifideles laici (Homebush, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 1989) no. 18.

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, no 8.

Mark Patrick Hederman, Symbolism: The Glory of Escutcheoned Doors (Dublin, Ireland: Veritas Publications, 2007) 167.

See Monsignor Philippe Delhaye, "Pope John Paul on the Contemporary Importance of St Irenaeus," in L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English (9 February 1987) p. 6. '...These doctrines, and most especially the "rationalist spirit", wished to go beyond the "threshold of transcendence". Like the Gnostic systems, they "pretended to answer the question of the how of the divine actions" (Address, n. 5). Irenaeus, according to the Pope, understood that it was necessary to stop at the "why" and apply it to the History of Salvation.'

Stephen Bevans SVD, "Mission has a Church, Mission has Ministers: Thinking Missiologically about Ministry and the Shortage of Priests," (February 16, 2009, revised March 3, 2009) 1-2; a paper presented by its author to the Bishops Commission for Church Ministry, March 5, 2009. See also, Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology for Mission today (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004).

Pope John Paul II, Christifideles laici, no. 22.

Pope John Paul II, no. 23.

Pope John Paul II, "The Extraordinary Synod of 1985; The Final Report," Origins 15 (19 December 1985) 448. See also in Dennis M. Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000) 2.

Dennis M. Doyle, 2.

Doyle lists the following 17 scholars whom he critiques: Johann Adam Möhler and Frederick Schleiermacher, Charles Journet and Yes Congar, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner and John Paul II, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger and the Brothers Himes, Hans Küng, Leonard Boff, Jean-Marie Tillard, John Zizioulas and Miroslav Volf.

Richard Gaillardetz, The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum -- Rediscovering Vatican II Series (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2006) 92. See also in Dennis Doyle, Communion Ecclesiology, 13

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, L'Osservatore Romano, 17 June, 1002, 1, in Dennis M. Doyle, 1.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, "Freedom and Communion as Basic Concepts of Theology," Origins: CNS Documentary Service, 39, no. 1 (May 14 2009) 12.

See Cardinal Walter Kasper, op. cit., in endnote no. 25, p. 14.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, 12

Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate: Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, an Encyclical Letter (Strathfield, NSW: St Pauls Publications, 2009) no. 53-54.

Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas, Communion and Otherness, ed. Paul McPartlan (New York, NY: T&T Publishers, 2006) 1. See also unpublished address, Francis W. Devoy, "A Common Wealth of Grace and Goodwill," The Parish a New Mission Field, given at the Annual Clergy Conference, Archdiocese of Melbourne, Geelong, 9 July 2007.

In this regard, see Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen - Light of the East (London: UK: Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 1995) no 6.

Aristotle Papankiolaou, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006) 1-8.

Michael Casey OCSO, Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Interactive Christology (Mulgrave, Vic: John Garrett Publishing, 2004) Introduction and chapter I.

Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 43.

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, no 8.

Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, no. 45.

Pope John Paul II, ibid.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, Leadership in the Church: How traditional roles can serve the Christian Community today (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company 2003) 63.

This section draws heavily on a previous published article, see Francis W. Devoy, "Collaboration, Consensus, and Communion: 'Matters of Character and Heart ...' ", Australian Ejournal of Theology, Gerard Hall, SM, gen. ed., Issue 4 (Brisbane: ACU, February 2005).

Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, no. 43.

Pope John Paul II, no. 43.

Pope John Paul II, see nos 1, 2, 33, 36, 43, 59 for references to trust.

Pope John Paul II, no. 43.

Fr John R. Donahue SJ, "The Gospel of St Paul: A Challenge for Our Country Today," Origins 38, no. 34 (February 5, 2009) 541. For the developmental connection between trust and hope, see Erik Erikson's treatment of the development of "virtue" in Insight and Responsibility: Lectures on the Ethical Implications of Psychoanalytic Insight (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1964). Hope, will, purpose, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom are, for Erikson, the "virtues" that grow out of the psychosocial achievements of trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generativity, and integrity, respectively.

Pope John Paul, Pastores dabo vobis, no 52: "For a deeper understanding of man and the phenomena and lines of development of society, in relation to a pastoral ministry which is as 'incarnate' as possible, the so-called 'human sciences' can be of considerable use, sciences such as sociology, psychology, education, economics and politics, and the science of social communication. Also in the precise field of the positive or descriptive sciences, these can help the future priest prolong the living 'contemporaneousness' of Christ. As Paul VI once said, 'Christ became the contemp-orary of some men and spoke their language. Our faithfulness to him demands that this contemporaneousness should be maintained'." See Pope Paul VI, Address to the participants in the 21st Italian Biblical Week (25 September 1970): AAS 62, (1970) 618.

Avery Dulles SJ, The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 249.

Avery Dulles SJ, 249.

[50] A note of caution should always surround both simplified descriptions and too easy reference to one's early history. The years beyond one's childhood can contain powerful forces for change, too powerful at times for retrospection -- and after all, "if everything 'goes back' into childhood, then everything is somebody else's fault, and trust in taking responsibility for oneself may be undermined." See Richard I. Evans, Dialogue with Erik H. Erikson (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc) 41. Reference here is to adolescence, but the principle in general applies. Nevertheless, the natural process of development may well continue to falter after infancy, as it clearly does stage-by-stage in some individuals, and an unhealthy "ritualism" occurs serially (See Francis W. Devoy, "Priestly Identity & Role: Engaging the Human and the Mystical Phenomenon," (25 April 2002) 22-23, an unpublished paper).

Erikson's theory of personality development is but one of a dozen or so major personality theories. It is chosen ahead of others because it is highly respected by professional peers, tested over time, and plausible but also because of its integrated exploration and treatment of trust, and because it holds a great deal of good sense. It is vivid in its ability to explore and explain affective development. For a critique, especially in relation to notions of ego as distinct from self, see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, trans. Matthew J. O'Connell (Philadephia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press, 1985) 189, 197-201, 215-235.

Erik H. Erikson, Toys and Reasons: Stages in the Ritualization of Experience (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co, 1977).

All these descriptions which I identity serially as blind hero worship, legalism, impersonation, meaningless formalities and empty rituals, dogmatism, elitism, authoritarianism, and the unwise pretense are identified respectively by Erikson as idolism, legalism, impersonationism, perfectionism, totalism, elitism, authoritism, sapientism). These descriptions can be found in Toys and Reasons, 84-114.

Pope John Paul II, Christifideles laici, no. 32. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, in Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II (Melbourne: Geoffrey Chapman, 1967) no. 30, 56.

Dennis M. Doyle, 179-180.

Joseph Komonchak, "Conceptions of Communion, Past and Present," Cristianesimo nella storia 16 (1995) 339; in Dennis M. Doyle, 5.

Avery Dulles, Models of the Church, 55-57.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Politics of Hope (London, UK: Jonathan Cape, 1997) 267.

Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 68. See also John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, no. 43.

Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, On Evangelization in the Modern World (Homebush , NSW: St Paul Publications, 1977) no. 70.

Monsignor Vincent Rush, "Pastor as Leader & Manager: Caring for the Parish System," Parish as a Small Business (Summer 2006) 2-6.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998) 245.

Daniel O'Leary, "Born to be wild," The Tablet (19 May 2007) 17.

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