To continually grow in faith and virtue, we need both a personal relationship with God and the support of our faith community. When it comes to our personal relationship with God, we must nurture it through prayer and the sacraments. While our faith starts at a personal level, we also need the support of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We can find community in our families, friendships, spiritual direction, prayer groups, parish life, bible studies, or other collaborative format. It’s through the guidance, inspiration, and support of others that we are able to come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a disciple. Our community can also challenge us, helping us overcome weaknesses or temptations that hold us back. We are called to a deeply personal experience of faith, yet we are also responsible for contributing to the salvation of others. Even now, in a time of social distancing, we can still find ways to connect as a faith community.
We see the critical role of community many times throughout the Bible, from the Israelites journeying together in the desert in the Old Testament to the twelve disciples who Jesus sent forth two by two in the New Testament. Here are a few.
“And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” (Mark 6:6, NASB)
An individual’s witness can certainly move someone closer to a faith encounter, but there’s proof in numbers. In a community setting, with the witness of multiple people, a nonbeliever is surrounded by those living with the joy and peace of Christ. This communal witness is more likely to impress upon people the happiness that comes from the Christian life. If we are to evangelize the world, we can’t do it solo. Just as Jesus sent out the apostles two by two, we can have greater impact if we work together.
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:4-6)
We are called to use our unique gifts and qualities in service of God’s mission. Together, the global Church is one body, each of us — in living our vocation — are an essential part of the Church. We are united by our belief and differentiated by how God made us and the role he wants us to play in salvation history. We are the precious daughters and sons of God and inherently belong to his Church.
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-3)
When we see others fall into sin, we should not reject or condemn them. Instead, as they express remorse, we must support them in their efforts to resist temptation with a “spirit of gentleness.” Accountability as a Church community doesn’t mean punishment or negativity. We should uplift each other, striving to grow and improve.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
Similarly, just as we are called to support each other, we can help each other grow in discipleship. Through our communities, we gain awareness of stories, resources, and experiences that we wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. We can always learn more about God and what it means to live our faith in the world. Every person has something they can share or teach. The more time we spend with our communities, the more opportunities we have to act as leaders, sharing our gifts, and benefit from those around us.
As Christians, we have the responsibility to build strong faith communities and be active participants in them. Community is a core pillar of Napa Institute’s initiatives, including our 2020 Summer Conference. Consider attending to experience the value of community and learn more about answering your call to the new evangelization. Through community, we have the chance to both give and receive the beauty of our faith.
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The Napa Institute Summer Conference brings together some of the world’s most prominent Catholic and Christian thinkers each year to engage, encourage, and inspire the over 700 participants who gather from every corner of the country and around the world. This conference provides unique opportunities to build community, share ideas, and grow in friendship with some of the most effective Catholics leaders in the country.
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“Jesus Christ is not just a book. He was and is our brother, our Lord.”
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said these words to me in Rome in Nov