Christians need community
As hard as community life can sometimes be, the Christian life is oriented toward others and achieves its fullness in community. Of course we can have a direct relationship with God in prayer and he really wants that, but he also wants us to be members of his family. A family that includes the saints of the past who are currently alive in Heaven and our brothers and sisters in faith today. If you think you can be a Christian outside of the Church, you are missing something big.
In the very first few pages of scripture, we hear God say that it is not good for man to be alone. He creates the human family to help us achieve our potential - to be saints. Even the first monastics, the desert fathers, lived in communities that supported each other. While some hermits might go years without talking, they still prayed for each other and served their fellow hermits by bringing them food or water. The desert fathers eventually led to the monastics who sought contemplation with God through a shared life, or rule. These monastic communities networked so that monasteries could support each other. This is all to say that even the ascetical Christians who seek solitude make sure to do so within a Christian community.
This is because it is in a community where we are perfected, humbled and made to be people in service and prayer of others. In community, our rough edges are polished through the process of learning to face truth, and to give and receive mercy. As we change our orientation from self to God through others, we begin to discover the gifts God gave us in our baptism for the service of others. The Bible tells us that each of us are given unique spiritual gifts from prophesy, to healing, to knowledge, to understanding - gifts that support the gifts of each other. Other than Jesus, no one person has all the spiritual gifts. Only in community are we able to pray, discern and act according to the will of God. It takes others to help us better know ourselves and in doing so better serve God.
Jesus modeled this to us in choosing his 12 apostles and founding the Church. It says that Jesus prayed through the night before picking the 12. He then spent the next three years focused on them. Jesus was rarely worried about the crowds, often escaping to pray or to spend time with his Apostles. Jesus formed a Christian community where they discovered their gifts, worshiped together, served together, learned together and were eventually oriented toward the world to found their own communities around the globe as Bishops of the Catholic Church. This is the Church Jesus wanted, Christian communities that pray, worship and model mercy first to each other and then to the world.
The Holy Trinity is the Goal
In the beginning of the book of Genesis, God refers to himself in the plural form - “we.” He later states in the Old Testament that his name is “I am” and that the “Lord is one.” Jesus says in the Gospels that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him and that when you look upon Jesus, you see the Father. Jesus also tells us that he is going to send another - the Holy Spirit - to dwell among us. This all seems so confusing. Is God plural? Is God one? We have to have some sympathy for the people who first encountered Jesus. He wasn’t just saying he encountered God, he was saying he was God. But how could that be?
The Catholic Church and all Christians uphold that God is a Trinity - a union of persons: Father, son and Holy Spirit. John the Apostle, refers to Jesus as the Word of God, the spoken form of the mind of God. St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi tells us that the Father had one thought and that thought was Jesus and all things came into being through Him. The Holy Trinity is one in mind and spirit, but each person uniquely relates to us and brings us into the heart of God. In fact, God who exists in communion, made us for communion with him. He placed us in a Garden as man and woman instructing us to be fruitful and multiply. It states that God walked among us and conversed with us. He wanted to dwell among mankind, to share his life with us.
Jesus comes as the way, the truth and the life, showing us the path back to union with God. Only what Jesus offers is better than a return to Eden. He opens the door into the trinitarian life of God. Jesus claims that he is the bridegroom and we are his bride. If the Church unites to the bridegroom as one body, we are brought into the familial relationship of God. We become members of the family of God and participants within the love of the Trinity.
Jesus didn’t just come to save us, he came to bring us to the Heart of God and reconcile us as members of a family - a community of believers.
Finding the right faith community
Every Catholic should belong to a parish or local community of believers under a priest who is subject to his Bishop. Parishes bring a diverse group of people together from all walks of life to worship together, support one another and grow in faith. In addition there are great small group communities, movements and activities outside of parishes that can further support Catholic life. We highly encourage you to find a parish or small group to grow deeper in your relationship with God.