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An Introductory Course in Christian Spirituality

Communion
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The body, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine...--Pope John Paul II

As we try to make sense of the mystery encountered at the limits of our comprehension, even before turning to Christian tradition, we reflect on our encounter. The closest that we can come to finding words adequate to the experience is to speak of love. Having given our experience symbolic expression, we turn to Christian tradition where we discover that our experience of the mystery is not isolated.

 Christians experience God as the divine source and superabundance of love being poured forth in Jesus of Nazareth, made effective by the Holy Spirit, and at every moment inviting the believer into transformative relationship…God's very being, what it is for God to be, is loving, life-giving relationship. God does not just have a love relationship with us, God is loving relationship.[1]

 

The opening chapters of Genesis describe humanity as being made in the image of God. Humanity is a unique locus of God's self-disclosure. If God is agape revealed in relationship, that is Trinity, then the self-disclosure of God in humanity is best found in the communion of self-giving, love relationships between persons. We are most human, the richest images of God we are capable of, when we participate fully in relationships of interpersonal love, both human and divine, thereby being in communion with the living God. As this God is God for us in the economy of salvation, so the human person exists by being ever more fully toward and for others through continually deepening participation in communion of persons, human and divine.[2]

   Within each of us there is an inner restlessness, an insufficiency that impels us to engage our world, to forge meaningful relationships with others, to exercise our imaginations…Human desire is the source of our spiritual energy. It is what impels us in our most creative labors and moves us to enter into relationship with others…We are made for communion, driven into relationship by a deep sense that by connecting with another we might find wholeness…The longing for the communion we experience with another wells up from our longing for God and offers us a real yet imperfect participation in the one divine communion that alone can completely fulfil us.[3]

 

Since an essential dimension of spirituality is communion of persons, it can not be disembodied. Indeed, spirituality finds its expression through the flesh. "The body, and it alone," John Paul II says," is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it."[4]

 

The most fundamental element of Christian anthropology is our embodied nature. We come to know the world and act upon the world through our senses. It is through our flesh that we come to know God.  God reveals himself to us in the language of the body. Historically, it was in Jesus of Nazareth that God became flesh. It was through the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ--all embodied experiences--that we have been given the grace of salvation.

 

Communion is the human immersion in the relational character of the Trinity. The self-disclosure of God in humanity is found in self-giving relationships between persons. As embodied creatures, communion is not separate from our physical nature but is shaped by and expressed through it.



[1] Gaillardetz, A Daring Promise, 36.

[2] Downey, Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality, 65, 76-77.

[3] Gaillardetz, A Daring Promise: A Spirituality of Christian Marriage, 24-25.

[4] John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis (Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, 1981), 144.

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Some questions for reflection and discussion:

1. In the popular mind spirituality is often thought of as a matter between me and God. If communion is a dimension of Christian spirituality, what impact does that have on the “me and God” approach to spirituality?

2. The Pope makes it clear that Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality. What impact does this have on our practice of Christian spirituality? What impact does this have on the spirituality of marriage and family?

3. How is the communion dimension of Christian spirituality lived out by the married person? By the celibate priest, deacon or religious?

4. The relational character of communion is one way to understand humanity being created in the image and likeness of God. Aside from this, what impact does the dimension of communion have on our experience of relationship with God?

5. The term “communion” almost reflexively brings to mind images of the Euc harist. What is the relationship of the term “communion” as used in this discussion, and the same word used to refer to the Eucharist?


A Daring Promise : A Spirituality of Christian Marriage
Richard R Gaillardetz

Understanding Christian Spirituality
Michael Downey

Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality
Michael Downey

The Theology of the Body According to John Paul II: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Parish Resources)
Pope John Paul II

Click here to visit Along the Way, a site of reflections, homilies and stories by the author of this website.

(c)2005. Richard Shewman. All rights reserved. The contents of this website are the intellectual property of the author and may not be reproduced, aside from fair personal use for the purpose of individual study, without the written permission of the author.
 
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