Faith Lives in Community

26 Oct

Year of Faith - Seeking the Face of Jesus

Faith fascinates. It angers, confounds, and challenges. It is one of the least boring elements of religious life today. It is home to some of the central debates of our times regarding religion and science, the nature of knowledge, and interpersonal communication. If religion may be seen today by some as passé or irrelevant, faith certainly is in vogue.

This year we celebrate a “year of faith.” Some may perceive this as being entirely esoteric, isolated, and personal. In some respects, such a conception of faith and religion echoes the values of contemporary American individualism. Faith, it is said by some, should be a private affair that has no bearing on the larger public sphere. Americans want their faith interesting, but as a way of public life, visible to many, it becomes somewhat less appealing.

I want to suggest something about why faith in practice, as a visible representation of a world as well as local community, is precisely what such individualism needs. American individualism stresses how individuals ought to express themselves by pursuing their own goods and sense of fulfillment. It tends to stress individual difference as a cornerstone of our pluralistic society.

One of the major concerns raised here is that such an individualism loses sight of how communities both foster values within individuals, as well as create larger networks of charity and support for one another. We should not dismiss individual expression as simply a fad – its historical reality is our ongoing reality. Yet, we don’t have to embrace its present state as being fragmented and isolated. We can, in fact, form community around large acts of shared engagement.

Such shared activity could be understood as ritual, as the shared expression of a common set of beliefs and values. Religious faith, as an expressive act, is one of the most substantial examples of such engagement; because, religious faith seeks to transcend above, and not diminish, expressions of individualism.

And this expressive act finds perhaps its greatest representation on the cross. As a Catholic community, we experience this act of sacrificial, self-giving love every time we share the body and blood of Christ at Mass. We do this not just at the level of our local community, but also as an entire body of believers, across space and time. Those who live in such disparate places as the Twin Cities, Calcutta, New York, and Beijing can join together as one body, one community, and sharing and expressing their faith. In a fragmented, isolated, individual world, faith is the antidote to our private sorrows, reminding us of the network of charity to which we belong, and which ultimately belongs to the love of Christ Himself.

-Tim DeCelle

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