What Kind of Spiritual Allies Should We Have?
Part I of II
Dear Father John, I’m interested in knowing what kind of people will help me grow closer to God, not just priests, but all sorts of people. What kind of spiritual allies should we have?
ALTHOUGH EACH ONE of us has a personal relationship with God, that relationship takes root and grows within a larger network of relationships within the Church. When we are baptized, we are inserted into Christ’s mystical body; we are made members of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own,” as St. Peter reminds us (1 Peter 2:9).
The Christian Identification Card
The fact that we are called to be Christ’s companions (in the plural), called to walk with him in loving fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Church, is so important to Jesus that he made it the main identification badge of all Christians. During the Last Supper, he told his apostles that to be his disciples meant following his commandments, and he condensed those commandments to one: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
He went on to say that the world will recognize us as his followers precisely through our fellowship, through our living in love and faith-filled union with each other: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).The key theological reason behind the importance Jesus gives to this loving unity among his followers goes back to the very beginning when God created us. He created the human family “in his image…in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). God’s core identity is a Trinity: one divine nature and three divine persons. He is a community, a family—a unique one, because he is only one God, not three gods. The Church is God’s way of redeeming this damaged aspect of the fallen human race, this divine image in which we were created:
[God] calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior. (Catechism of the Catholic Church–CCC, 1)
But there is a practical reason, too. Simply put, we need each other. We can’t finish our Christian pilgrimage alone. We need the strength, the light, the guidance, the encouragement, and the help that comes from traveling with other pilgrims.
The First Form of Fellowship
The first and fundamental manifestation of Christian fellowship comes in the worship of the Christian community, and this is expressed most intensely and fully in the celebration of the sacraments. Christian fellowship is only Christian because its core is Christ himself. This is why Jesus summoned his first apostles “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). He is the Savior; he is the Redeemer. It was through the mystery of his passion, death, and resurrection that the Church—the renewed communion of mankind with God and in God with each other—was born.
The celebration of the sacraments links the Church to that mystery. The whole liturgical life of the new people of God is like the heartbeat of that Church: “Through the liturgy, Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church” (CCC, 1069). The liturgy also introduces us to the spiritually fruitful, and even necessary, devotion to saints and angels and, in a special way, to the Blessed Virgin Mary—important allies in our spiritual battles.
The Sunday Eucharist is the center of the Church’s liturgical life. But the other sacraments are also opportunities to live and grow and benefit from this fellowship. We go to confession to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness and also for reconciliation with the community that we damage by our sins. We comfort the sick and dying by bringing them Christ’s holy anointing. We gather with our fellow Christian pilgrims for baptisms and confirmations, for marriages and ordinations, supporting and being supported by one another even as we open up the floodgates of God’s grace toward every corner of human experience.
And the primary place for this sacramental fellowship is the parish—a kind of local incarnation, through the Church’s diocesan structure, of the universal Church. Staying plugged in and contributing to our parishes or our religious communities is the bread and butter of Christian fellowship.
The Second Form of Fellowship
The Christian family, built up around the sacrament of marriage, is another place where this loving fellowship is meant to be lived out. In fact, Christian tradition, spiritualizing a term used originally used to refer only to buildings, has come to see the family as a “domestic church.” The natural bonds and affection that flow from familial relations are bridges, so to speak, over which God’s grace can flow in wonderful abundance if we consciously build our families around their real center: Jesus and his truth, his love, his mission.
It has never been easy to do this, because the effects of original sin are still with us, and our selfishness and woundedness make healthy family life a demanding work in progress. In a post-Christian culture, where family life is under attack legally, economically, educationally, and culturally, building the domestic church is harder than ever; it takes an almost heroic effort. But God’s grace will always come to our aid.
- In Part II, we will examine the role of faith-based friendships and the benefits of spiritual direction.
- This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: The Holy Trinity, miniature from the Grandes Heures [Great Hours] of Anne of Brittany, Queen consort of France (1477-1514). f. 155v. God the Father on left, Jesus on right, holding book with seven seals open to Alpha and Omega passage, dove of Holy Spirit in center, “animal” symbols of Four Evangelists in corners, Jean Bourdichon, 1503-1508, PD-US; “Chaplain Lt. John Burnette prays over the Blood and Body of Christ during Sunday Roman Catholic Mass aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman”, 24 October 2004 (Atlantic Ocean), U.S. Photographer’s Mate Kathaleen A. Knowles, PD; both Wikimedia Commons. Madonna in Prayer, Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, 1638-1652, copyright Restored Traditions, used with permission. Table of the Mortal Sins [detail: Death], Jheronimus Bosch, 1500-1525, PD-US; Alphonsus Liguori [1896-1787], Italian School, 18th century, PD copyright expired; Das Ehesakrament (The Sacrament of Marriage), circa 1755, Pietro Longhi, PD-Worldwide; both Wikimedia Commons. Feature image art: Sts Cyril and Methodius, Josef Zelený, 1863, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.