2016 COVENANT CELEBRATION MESSAGE
Welcome and thank you for coming to celebrate with us. I want to share a few thoughts with you about what we are trying to do at New Creation Community. It’s also really important for us to remember what we are about.
We are attempting to live a basic Christianity. We devote our lives to community and we know that we are building something that will last. Life in a small Christian community is simply our baptismal brotherhood and sisterhood lived out practically with a few people with whom we share God's word, the Eucharist, prayer, our possessions, our gifts, time, and meals – in short, we try – in so far as it is possible – to share some important aspect of daily life. Because of this we will never be popular in an individualistic, secularized world and secularized church. But we are convinced (to some extent by our own failures) that it is – that it must be – God's will that we exist. Therefore, even if we are small and not so skilled, we will flourish by God's grace and mercy.
We are attempting to be the face of Jesus to the world around us. And we are convinced that Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These last few words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith we are trying to live.
The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given freely and without reservation. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. We are trying to emulate our Lord and Savior by building human relationships along the same line - to be a face of mercy to the world and each other. We are called to realize that we can be genuine agents of mercy because we are selves are the objects of genuine and infinite Mercy.
What Jesus taught placed him at odds with prevailing thought – obedience to the law was equated with love of God. Jesus tried to explain that law without love was no better – maybe even worse than love without law. After all, he told the Pharisees that prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them.
It’s no wonder that our community is directly contrary to the trends of our American society. The home is usually considered insignificant today. We are an extremely mobile society, constantly changing residences and jobs. We jump from apartment to apartment. We even eat on the run, picking up "fast foods" at drive-through windows. Home is a layover, a sleeping room. But Biblically, home is where the action is. Proverbs 31:10-31 The wife of noble character — describes a vibrant home — the center of community, business, education, social services, entertainment, and more. It is the center of life.
Technology has made it possible to begin a very large experiment. Our independent life-style is unprecedented in world history — totally experimental. We have no idea how it will turn out. Early indications are scary. According to this new experimental life-style, home-makers have meaningless lives, and children are seen as a great inconvenience to their parents and a hindrance to living the "good life." There seems to be nothing sacred in life — including sex, love, marriage, family, and community. Talents and skills which have been traditionally valued are now considered unimportant. We are taking an extreme risk in the most basic elements of life. We may be creating a Frankenstein world.
We are not taking this sitting down. Instead we are running a counter-experiment. We are taking an extreme risk in the most basic elements of life. We may be creating a Jesus world.
To borrow a book title from the science fiction author Robert Heinlein, we are in some sense strangers in a strange land. In such an alien environment, the concept of a community may sound idealistic, but as I mentioned, communities have been formed as a matter of course throughout Church history and today there are thousands of communities flourishing throughout the world. Communities like ours remain the principal center of Christian life, even in the twentieth century world.
How are we trying to be different?
a) Instead of bowing to the idol of self-actualization each committed member of our community places her or himself under Jesus' lordship and lives a life of prayer that keeps them open to the Spirit. Motivated by the Spirit, we strive to become more like Christ, and in doing so becoming more like who we were meant to be
b) We are ecclesial – we apply Biblical standards for brotherhood and sisterhood as an ideal. We are not only a support group, prayer group, or study group. In community, we are trying to be one as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). We want to love each other to the point that we will lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16). We hope to so identify with each other that if one suffers we all suffer and if one is honored we all rejoice (1 Corinthains 12:26). This is a life of mercy grounded in our identity as members of the body of Christ and lived out in community. Although we are called to be merciful, it is not because we are a kind of social or charitable agency. As the body of Christ, we are called to be a continuing and effective sacrament of the presence of Christ in the world,
c) Similar to an extended family, our community is small enough to be personal and large enough to have many varied gifts for the up-building of all the members. Although we don’t live under one roof, we are trying to share daily God's word, prayer, time, possessions, and meals (both regular and Sacramental) with at least some of the community's members. Although we are not wealthy, we are rich in the things that matter to God. And, like a family, we are imperfect. It is in the context of our lived relationships that we are purified time and again in order to be able to stand pure and holy (Ephesians 5:23). As a family, we must self-critically and repeatedly ask ourselves whether we are actually living up to what we are called to be – what we should be. Just as Jesus Christ did, we are supposed to deal with the flaws and failings of our brothers and sisters, not in a self-righteous but in a merciful way. Without charity and mercy, we would no longer be a community of believers who are members of the body of Jesus Christ. We must remember that we are objects of God’s mercy and so must be the objects of each other’s mercy. This message of mercy has far-reaching consequences. The worst criticism that can be leveled against the church—which in fact, often applies to it—is that it does not practice what it proclaims to others. This is why Pope John XXIII said, at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, that the church must, above all, use the medicine of mercy. The same prescription is given to us! But, shouldn’t we also be the pharmacy?
d) We are an "intentional" community. Many families and groups of friends are living a Biblical community life but, because they are not doing so with a vision of its importance, do not plan for continuity of leadership, and do intentionally plan to branch off into new communities. Thus, they may not have their full impact on society. Like the Church, we have it in mind to last until Jesus's second coming. Amen? Our intentional community must include our poor brothers and sisters - they are part of the body of Christ. As the pope said recently, in the wounds of the poor and sick we touch the wounds of the poor Christ. Christ himself told us: What you did to them, you did to me (Matthew 25). This was the experience of St. Francis of Assisi, who at the beginning of his way of conversion embraced and kissed a leper and had the sensation that he was embracing and kissing Christ himself. The same experience was reported by Mother Teresa when she wrapped her arms around an unkempt man dying in her mission in Calcutta. From these saints we can learn about the sensitivity and the tenderness of God, a sensitivity and tenderness we should imitate within our community and our neighbors. Pope Francis is rooted in the best of Christian history when he makes this message urgent for us today. Mercy is the central issue of his great challenge for us.
Community helps us avoid approaching this from a purely theological perspective. Often, we start from a doctrine or a rule and we start from there in order to apply it to concrete reality, which is usually complex and difficult. Mercy leads us to a different perspective, to start not from above but from below, to undertake a consideration of a concrete situation to which we are applying the law or rule. This is how Pope Francis, as a good Jesuit, practices it. He starts from the situation and then undertakes a discernment of the spirits as to how to apply the doctrine. Community is a direct application of that process.
The same approach is shown to us by Jesus. When he was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he did not give an abstract answer. He told a concrete story, the story of the good and merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) Jesus asked, “Which of the three made himself neighbor to the man, who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The answer was correct: “The one who had mercy on him.” And Jesus says: “Go then and do the same.”
This is exactly how God himself deals with us. God bends down in order to raise us up; to comfort us and to heal our wounds; and to give us a new chance, to bestow on us new life and new hope.
The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.
Jesus, seeing the crowds of people who followed him, realized that they were tired and exhausted, lost and without a guide, and he felt deep compassion for them (cf. Matthew 9:36). On the basis of this compassionate love he healed the sick who were presented to him (cf. Matthew 14:14) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7): the beatitude.
When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that this “might” of Jesus is exercised in His Mercy (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 30. a. 4).
St. Augustine says: “It is easier for God to hold back anger than mercy”. And so it is. God’s anger lasts but a moment, his mercy forever.
- Mercy is the name of our God,
- Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity,
- Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us,
- Mercy is the call to be a human being, who feels with other human beings who suffer and are in need,
- Mercy is the call to be a real Christian, who follows the example of Christ and meets Christ in his suffering brothers and sisters,
- Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life,
- Mercy is the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life,
- Mercy: our salvation depends on it,
- Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace,
- Mercy is the best and most beautiful news that can be told to us and that we should bring to the world.
One of the most ancient prayers of the church: “O God, who reveal your power above all in your mercy and forgiveness …”
As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other. Our community is the way mercy becomes something concrete: our intentions, our attitudes, and our behaviors lived out daily.
“If you've got the truth you can demonstrate it. Talking doesn't prove it.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land