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Photo: Saints, Fra Angelico, 15th Century
Saint Faustina herself once wrote, "I rejoice greatly at the fact of how much the saints think of us and of how closely we are united with them. Oh, the goodness of God! How beautiful is the spiritual world, that already here on earth we commune with the saints!" (Diary of St. Faustina, 448).
By Dan Valenti (Oct 25, 2009)
"Isolation is faceless. Belonging is personal."
Father Victor Incardona, MIC, spoke these words during a recent homily at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy on Eden Hill, Stockbridge, Mass. As these things often happen, I had been coincidentally studying what one of Catholicism's greatest precepts: the Communion of Saints.
Father Victor wasn't talking about the Communion of Saints per se, but he might has well have been. "Without belonging," he said, people end up in "we versus "they situations. We are 'this' and they are 'that.' Of course, we think our 'this' is better than their 'that.'" This split contains the seed of racism, gender bias, age discrimination, and all sorts of intolerance, hatred, and bigotry — the pods from which sin and disharmony rattle.
An Ever-Present Threat
We can see fracture and fissure everywhere. Partisanship gums up the political process. Schools have to put metal detectors in doorways. Do you trust strangers? Do you know your neighbors? Indeed, do you live in a "neighborhood" as opposed to a street with a bunch of other people you don't know and don't care about?
Without a sense of belonging, we tend not to think of others as our brothers and sisters but as objects. "This produces a conflict," said Fr. Victor, "that always threatens to sneak up on us, trying to take over."
Some social forces actually encourage this type of alienation, such as the economy. The global recession was triggered by greed and exploitation, for instance. Or look at what happened when the United States went from a manufacturing country to a services country. People became "consumers" — exploitable objects who had an economic responsibility to buy things they didn't need to feed profits to those they didn't know. A rampant materialism followed.
Another social force is the military, which — in a war or conflict — must demonize the enemy. How else could a combatant be trained to kill another fighter who, like he does, has a family, friends, and loved ones, and who, like him, finds himself a pawn in larger geopolitical forces? This is not to argue just or unjust. This is merely to suggest that war would not be possible without such polarization, which runs against the principles taught by Jesus.
"When people are strangers, we don't care about them," Fr. Victor said. "When people are strangers, we become callous about the homeless and destitute, the sick and downtrodden, the least of those among us. We ask, 'Why should I bother? Why should I care? I have to take care of myself. Take care of No. 1 first and to heck with everybody else.' Once rooted, this pattern begins to show up in the tiniest areas of our life."
Their Good is Our Good
Jesus taught us a different way. He taught us to love our enemies. In the Beatitudes, he told us that the meek would inherit the earth. In the parables, he repeatedly illustrated the necessity of radical love. Father Victor referenced the story of the Good Samaritan, known to most and followed by few.
"The others passed by the poor man who was in need of help. The Samaritan, who on the outside was 'the stranger, the enemy,' helped the man. He treated his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid the bill. In the same way, Jesus doesn't make personal distinctions. He loves and welcomes everybody. He told us that when we do the smallest thing for the least among us, we do it for Him."
In short, we are in a communion of love with one another.
In the Apostles Creed, Catholics declare their belief in "the Communion of Saints and the forgiveness of sin." The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Communion of Saints as "the unity in Christ of all the redeemed, those on earth and those who have died." It refers to our unity of all things holy (communion sanctorum), enabling us to profit from the heroic good works of the faithful.
This spiritual communion links people together for the common good — all people for all good. As human beings created in the "image and likeness of God," we are members of an inclusive community that suffers when one of its members falters and gains when another does well. Every saint in heaven partners with us here on earth in this communion. They bear our faults, perfected as they are through redemption. Their good is our good. Their graces are our graces. We simply have to accept the goodness, knowing that "the forgiveness of sin" will not enable our faults and weaknesses to damage us.
The Catechism says the phrase "Communion of Saints" refers to a sharing "in holy things ... among holy people" (948). In this union, "none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together. You are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (953).
We are Not Alone
In this unity, believers "form one body in Christ ... those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven." Christ bears fruit for all, who, together, form one Church (960, 962).
The point is that we are not alone in our struggles on this earth. Thus, "The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person" (1474).
In his homily, Fr. Victor noted that Jesus "welcomed everybody into His life. He didn't neglect anyone, least of all sinners. Look at the people he associated with: tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick and rejected, those who did not believe. There can be no 'them,' only brothers and sisters. We have to live the Gospel every day of our lives. Divine Mercy means that no one is left out of this circle of life, no one. We are not exclusive people. We are inclusive people. We are God's chosen people, all of us, everybody."
The homily concluded with a prayer: "God, help our hearts grow in maturity, growing larger in love each day, every day. Father, bring all people, all races, all creeds, into this circle of love."
The Communion of Saints is a type of spirituality that — if applied socially and culturally, economically and politically — could create, if not utopia, then at least a more harmonious and loving world population. War could end. Famine would go away. All would have enough food, shelter, and clothing, with resources and time to live fulfilling and fulfilled lives.
This is not a pipe dream. This is Catholicism, which is universal and all embracing.
Do you dare live this way?
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.