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Feb 8, 2018

The Importance of Christian Community

Nicholas LaBanca

The worst place to get into a heated debate with someone about the Catholic Faith is in the work place. It’s a different story if the discussion is cordial and one topic at a time is being discussed; but there are many people who unfortunately have several misconceptions about Catholicism—and Christianity in general—which in turn leads to many conversations going off the rails. 

I found myself in one such conversation, where my interlocutor was rapidly firing a whole litany of charges against the Catholic Church. One of those charges went something like this: “The Catholic Church is so corrupt with all the money it takes from people, so it’s clear that this church isn’t authentic or pure Christianity. True Christianity can be found in the garage of a man sitting alone at his work bench, reading a Bible. It’s so different from what Catholics do.”

Well, he got one thing right: a man sitting alone in his garage with Sacred Scripture is definitely different from how Catholics view a relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholics see themselves as part of the mystical Body of Christ. This is why we worship together in our “purest” act of Christian love, the Sacrifice of the Mass. So without going into this person’s other fallacies, we should ask ourselves the following question: is it better for Christians to worship and share their faith by coming together in a community, or is it better for Christians to use the “Jesus and me” or “Bible and me” model when trying to live a robust life in Christ?

To find the answer, we can turn to Scripture. There are many examples within the New Testament that point to the need of fellowship among Christians. This can be manifested either in small groups or in large assemblies like at a Pontifical High Mass. Keep in mind that there is always a time and a place for personal and private prayer. However, the communal life of Christians is also something which must be given its proper place.

Christian Community in the Bible

Probably the first Bible verse that immediately jumps to mind is one found in the Gospel of Matthew. Our Lord says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). So the best part about gathering together as Christians is that we can be assured that Jesus is there among us. This, of course, can still be experienced in some sense outside of Mass or Eucharistic adoration. Remember how the Body of Christ was mentioned above? Christ is in our hearts by virtue of our baptism; by virtue of our incorporation into his Body. So in a very real way, encounters with other Christians during a Bible study, or a Rosary meet up, or a faith-sharing session in a small group all constitute a legitimate meeting with our Lord.

Another aspect of the Christian life that is of the utmost importance is the building up of the Body. We already see that this happens through gathering in community with each other to worship our Lord in common. But this building up also happens through encouraging each other. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is very explicit on the importance of both points in the life of the Christian:  

“[L]et us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

So first off, he reminds us not to neglect meeting together. Obviously, he’s referring to the Mass here. But he takes it a step further and asks that we as Christians “stir up one another”. Now, he’s not telling us to stir the pot and antagonize our brethren. Instead, we are to encourage and embolden each other to carry out good works in love. The Book of Acts also makes it clear that the baptized had “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) This encouragement and fellowship is sorely needed today, especially when many Catholics who, for instance, enter secular life on a college campus find themselves without any kind of support for their faith.

Community Increases Love

But there’s also another reason why it is imperative that Christians interact with each other, and it’s contingent on the other reasons laid out above. The more we get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more comfortable we become with them. The more comfortable we become around our brethren, the deeper our personal relationship with them grows, leading us to know each other inside and out. These people become the ones that can hold us accountable. They can let us know when we’re straying off the straight and narrow path. These friends know our struggles, and they can then encourage us as we strive to become more Christ-like. The example of the paralytic man in the Gospels is a good allegory for this. Although he was physically sick, we can easily put ourselves in his shoes as we have all been spiritually sick at one time or another. We’ve been so bogged down by sin that we feel like we can’t do anything right on our own.

But if we have a circle of friends within the Christian community that can rally around us with prayers, we too can be healed due to their intercession just as the paralytic was healed on account of his friends’ intercession. Just as they lowered the paralytic down into the home where Jesus was at, so too our friends can lift us up in prayer as we are all one body in Christ. For as St. Paul said in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12: 26-27)

No man is an island to himself. Without friends, especially brothers and sisters in the Lord, around us, we become lonely and isolated. There’s a reason why God gave Adam a partner, after all. It doesn’t do us any good to go through life without a support system, and what better support system than the Body of Christ?! Without that support we find through our community, we have no one around who can build us up, or better yet “stir us up” to love and do those good works that our Lord asks us to do.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that you only need a Bible to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, make sure you let them know that the Body of Christ extends outside of ourselves. We were made to complement each other, and we were made to serve God by bringing as many of our friends and neighbors to him as possible.

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  • Ive always been part and parcel of the Catholic Christian community ….but in the past few years, (I’m 73 now, ) I’ve found a surprising irrelevance in the Church. It no longer attracts me the way it used to .
    I’ve been a daily mass goer all my life , spent years in a seminary etc…but now it bores me to tears.
    I believe my relationship with God-Jesus-Holy Spirit is ongoing, a bit like being in heaven but not yet!
    I read the daily wonderful meds of Fr Richard Rohr and find enough nourishment therein.
    The whole of life and the world is now my parish . I do some work as an ecumenical interfaith mental health chaplain and greatly appreciate this gift of a job/vocation.
    I find parish life just too parochial, partisan, narrow, shallow and often unchristian and unconscious , like its asleep! Ha ha.

    Modern prophets like Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Merton, Tiehard de Chardin, Rohr, Eckhart Tolle, Joel S Goldsmith are very profound and very relevant . Pope Francis and his obvious ‘paradigm shift thinking’ also helps a lot.
    So the haemorrhage from the church does not worry me at all as I know that The Kingdom of God is within.
    Is the Holy Spirit, who is always alive and active, actually encouraging folks to wake up and develop their own Christ-consciousness? And in fact yes…move on out of the Church to a higher state of consciousness?

    Of course as a ‘cradle Catholic’ I still go to mass and receive The Lord in the Divine Eucharist ….but then I also know that God is present all the time and in communion with me night and day.

    Also reading Sacred Scripture has become momentous in its message that we, as followers of Jesus the Christ, are truly children of God and have been transformed into divinised beings .

    I just wonder if anyone else shares my state ?

    • Denis,

      I think we can all say at some point that the Mass “bores us to tears”. But even if it does, we know as Christians that we need the Mass. As the first Christians continually said as they went up to their martyrdom, “Without the Eucharist, we cannot live.” In the just same way an athlete might get bored or tired of the constant practice they endure, they still do it for the greater good. We also must spiritually discipline ourselves, because we know how much we will benefit from the prayers we lift up during the Mass, and we know how efficacious the Sacrifice at the altar is for our own well-being and the well-being of our loved ones.

      Sometimes the Catholic Church may FEEL irrelevant to us and to others, and, I agree, our fellow parishioners may indeed seem to be asleep as they get to caught up in secular culture… but in reality, the Church founded by Jesus Christ is the most relevant part of human existence. I urge you to keep attending daily Mass and receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; thank you for your witness! But at the same time, I also urge you to be wary of, and not embrace, the New Age ideas you also presented in your comment. I’ll have more in another comment since this keeps getting detected as spam…

    • You said: “Is the Holy Spirit, who is always alive and active, actually encouraging folks to wake up and develop their own Christ-consciousness? And in fact yes…move on out of the Church to a higher state of consciousness?”

      To answer both of your questions: No.

      First, yes, the Holy Spirit is always alive and active, but He is not encouraging people to develop a Christ-consciousness. Christ consciousness on its face is contradictory to anything Jesus Christ would’ve taught, as it’s typically described as “a level of awareness where you no longer see error in any action that you do or in any other human being”. Jesus never spoke like this, and it’s disingenuous to connect His Name to this type of “unity consciousness”. We slip into the dangers of pantheism if we buy into Deepak Chopra’s Christ-consciousness.

      Second, the Holy Spirit would never encourage people to move out of the Church. The Holy Spirit is God, and Jesus is God. Would the Holy Spirit really ask people to leave the Church that Jesus Christ founded? Of course not. As St. Cyrprian of Carthage reminds us: “[A]nyone who leaves the Church of Christ behind cannot benefit from the rewards of Christ. Such persons are strangers, outcasts, and enemies. You cannot have God as father unless you have the Church as mother.”

      The Church is our Mother. You can rest assured that the Holy Spirit would never ask us to leave her embrace. I also encourage you to look at another article I wrote on divinization and what it truly is. Click my name on the byline at the top of the article to find a link to it.

  • Dear, Nicholas

    I get that Christianity is a very important religion. But I’m a catholic altar server, and I never want to miss participating in the Liturgy of Holy Eucharist.

    But I want to know: what are the real benefits of being Catholic?

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