Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue:
A Pastoral Letter
To call all people to communion, participation and mission in Christ
Building community, inclusivity and dialogue is a work that God needs to do in our hearts. If this could have been accomplished by our human wills alone, the world would be a really great place at present. But as we look around, we can see how our human capacity has failed at building communities of peace. Strife, division, pain, and fractured relationships are typical in our families, communities, churches, the nation and in the world. This work needs God. As the psalmist says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). We do not want to labour in vain.
As the western world moves away from God, it moves to deeper divisions and polarisations; the fault line becomes clearer and bridging it seems impossible. Pope Francis warns us that one of the biggest temptations of our time is trying to do it by ourselves; the Pelagian attitude of those who trust in their own power (On the call of Holiness in the world today, 2018, #47).
The primordial sin of Adam and Eve was that they tried to enter paradise by their own means through their refusal to listen to God and trust in His word. Their sin resulted in alienation and isolation from God, from self, from one another and from nature. This attempt to build a community without God reached its climax at Babel, resulting in the fracturing and scattering of humanity into groups, tribes, and nations (Gen 11:1–9).
By contrast, Pentecost showed the work of God, the great architect, and the Holy Spirit, the artisan, who unified the peoples who heard the Gospel in their own native language (Acts 2:1–41). Contrary to a splintered and scattered community built by human hands, the birth of the Church featured reconciliation of a fractured community, gathering the people of God as the family of the Church in the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the source, the font of communion without whom there can be no community.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men. … Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race (775).
In its Latin origins, the word “communion” is communio, and in Greek, koinonia. The Latin communio, has Indo-Germanic origins, the word mun (in Latin, moenia = city wall) signifies entrenchment, dike, or embankment. People who are in communio find themselves together behind a common embankment (mun). In another sense, mun signifies task, service, or gift. Thus, communio means participating in a third reality or common good and the sharing of these common goods. It is in this sense that the Church is a sacrament of communion.
The use of the word koinonia can be traced to the New Testament where it can be first found by St Paul in his image of the Church as the body of Christ; see 1 Cor 10:15–17; 12:12, 26–27). St Paul understands this koinonia as communion with someone through participating in a common reality. St Paul uses this concept as the theological foundation for his understanding of Church.
Thus, in a Christian context, communion is not primarily a sociological or democratic concept, but is, first, a theological concept in which the participation of each member in the life of Christ, through sharing the Body of Christ, unites them with Christ who is the head of the body. Furthermore, by being united to Christ, members are united to each other in the Holy Spirit who is the life force of the body. Therefore, Christian community is primarily a participation in the life of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The T&T Church
We humans too easily seek our identity by excluding others. The criterion is often very arbitrary: race, village, school, skin colour, religion, class, et cetera. The feedback from the synod synthesis makes clear that we, the Church, are not absolved from this divisiveness. We divide by charismatic versus traditional, by age and gender, according to who has power and who does not, by setting one group over another. We need to ask ourselves why we make these criteria for excluding others.
In our T&T society, we have an added element: lack of respect for each other. It is chronic! This is evident on talk-shows and in Parliament, in church, mandir and mosque, in the family and office, on the streets and in the bars – we have built a culture of deep disrespect. I hear it in the way parents speak to their children, with a kind of discipline that demeans. It is in the way we tear down someone who succeeds, in the way we are greeted in parish offices and ministry groups. The wound of disrespect debilitates us, it fractures the sense of community, and sometimes, makes us unwelcoming and unloving. It is a wound that God alone can heal. We were all created by the same God, knit together in our mother’s womb by the One who loves us all (Ps 139:13–14).
The Synod on Synodality has now reached the continental stage in which the views expressed by the people of God from around the world, during the first year, have been synthesised into the Working Document for the Continental Stage (DCS). This document is meant to guide and deepen the continuing spiritual journey in the local Churches. The continental document states: “Instead of behaving like gatekeepers trying to exclude others from the table, we need to do more to make sure that people know that everyone can find a place and a home here” (31).
On 19 November 2022, our discernment at the Archdiocesan Assembly on the Synod led us to the same conclusion as the Universal Church – building community, inclusivity, and dialogue. The continental document used the passage from Isaiah to vision a way forward: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes” (Is 54:2). This image speaks to a Church opening its perspective, its arms and capacity, but above all, its heart to welcome ever wider circles of people who must be invited in. The continental document states: “Enlarging the tent requires welcoming others into it, making room for their diversity. It thus entails a willingness to die to self out of love, finding oneself again in and through relationship with Christ and one’s neighbour” (DCS 28).
Building community, inclusivity and dialogue is a work that God must do in and through us. This work of God first requires rediscovering our identity as children of God, then responding to God’s grace for conversion of heart, and finally, “putting on the mind of Christ” to live as a disciple of Christ, fully mature, choosing to live freely for Christ and His Kingdom. It entails discernment, which is to seek God’s will above our individual or collective wills and bending our heart to God’s will.
While communities of inclusivity may be a human aspiration, they do not come by will power or human ingenuity. Remember: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). So how do we cooperate with God to build these communities of inclusivity and dialogue? St Paul tells us we are already the Body of Christ; one member cannot be in disharmony with another without affecting the entire body (1 Cor 12:27).
The Church as God’s Family
Walter Kasper states that: “The communion of the Church is prefigured, made possible and sustained by the communion of the Trinity.” This is because it is only in the Spirit that we have access, through Christ, to the Father. As a manifestation of the Divine Persons in a dialogue of love in communion with each other, the Trinity exemplifies this communion. The inner life of the Trinity, characterised by the interpersonal exchange of love among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, offers a model for the deepest manifestation of persons-in-communion. As a community of life and love, each Person in the Trinity expresses His or Her Personhood in a unique way proper only to that Person in the Trinity (Theology and the Church, 152).
Thus, the Father, as self-giving love, initiates the offer of love to the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as received love, receives the love from the Father and the Son, and the Son, as self-giving love and received love, receives love from the Father and gives love to the Son (Richard of St Victor, De Trinitate, V, 16). This interpersonal image of love is summarised by Richard of St Victor as Lover, Beloved and Love (Richard of St Victor, De Trinitate, III,) Thus, according to the inner life of the Trinity, the primary characteristic of the synodal Church is one of relations of interpersonal love.
The Trinity, as a communion sharing an interpersonal relationship of love, offers the foundation for the synodal Church to be one understood as a communion.
St Thomas Aquinas states the very nature of love is that which binds. It is only when genuine love forms the atmosphere in which we interrelate that we can truly listen to the divergent views of others in non-judgemental and empathetic ways which will encourage greater participation and foster even deeper communion. This capacity for communion must embrace the entire people of God: laity and clergy, women and men, straight and those with varying orientations, Protestants and Catholics, Christians, and all persons of goodwill.
It is because of this that Pope Benedict says: “The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas-agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church” (God is Love 25). This is our model of Church – family of God, sacrament of communion.
Become What You Are!
In using the interpersonal image of marriage to elucidate the concept of the Holy Spirit as personal love, St Bonaventure shows that the family, in their relationships of love, can be seen to express a deep communion analogous to the Church. The final report on the Synod of Bishops on the Family, 2015, stated that:
Scripture and Tradition give us access to a knowledge of the Trinity which is revealed in the features of the family. The family is the image of God who “in his deepest mystery is not all by himself, but a family, since he has in himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love” (Family 38).
The report adds: “In the human family, gathered by Christ, the ‘image and likeness’ of the Holy Trinity is now visible, a mystery from which flows all love” (38).
The family is not only seen as the domestic Church, but as Pope Benedict states, “the Church is God’s family in the world.” Therefore, the Church – the icon of the Trinity, imaged as the family of God – embodies relationships which are expressed in a dialogue of love leading to inclusion and communion.
The call to communion is, firstly, to have fellowship with God. It is our Trinitarian baptism that allows us to participate in the life of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and from which we draw our deepest identity as children of God. As St Paul says to the Romans: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4). Through Baptism, we became children of God; we were grafted into Christ as an integral part of His body and anointed with sacred chrism as Prophet, Priest and King. The Gospel of John says: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12).
Baptism is a character sacrament; it places an indelible mark on our soul. It cannot be wiped off. But now, we must become who we are – children of God. If we are God’s children, then we must think, act, and live as God intends for us to live. Here, we come face to face with God’s one demand: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (Jn 13:34).
Thus, when St John Paul II, in his address to families in Familiaris Consortio (1981), says: “Family, become what you are”, he envisions the Catholic family as a community of life and love. His thinking is that when the family discovers its identity, it will also discover its mission: to build and exemplify communities of inclusivity and dialogue. It is from this school of thought that we derive our model of Church as family of God.
The Logic of Love – Inclusivity
The Church, therefore, as the family of God, is called to examine the way it is living out the great commandment in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” To become who we are, love must be our only logic, our reason for living and the motivation for everything we do. In discovering our identity – child of God – we receive the capacity to be lovers. In fact, God is our consummate Lover whose mysterious being is nothing but love and whose love is expressed in the divine Persons as Lover, Beloved and Love.
The Letter of St John explores this truth of our love being dependent on His love for us:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 Jn 4:7–11).
This text exposes the logic; we cannot say we love God and then turn around and build walls between people and treat people badly because they are different from us. Communities of inclusivity are built by children of God. Cliques – communities that exclude or make people feel less than others – are not of God. Jesus’ instruction is that our invitation should be all inclusive: “[W]hen you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk 14:13–14).
As Christians, we are called to a higher law, the law of love; as St Paul tells us, it is “a most excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31ff). As the apostle continues to develop the theme of love, it takes on the force of a verb – something that we do, regardless of our feelings. Read the whole of 1 Corinthians 13, slowly and deliberately, and beg God for conversion of heart that we all may love as He calls us to love.
This high bar of love was set by Jesus Himself. In the Gospel of Matthew, after the Beatitudes, Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:43–48).
We are called to be perfect as God is perfect. Here, the perfection of God is described as inclusivity: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” If we discover our identity as children of God, we must also discover the love with which we are loved. When we discover this love, we will be transformed into love, for we will be transformed into God. Then, we will enlarge the place of our tent and make a space for everyone.
If you rated yourself on your consciousness of your identity as a child of God between one and ten where ten is “very conscious”, how would you rate yourself?
If you rated yourself on love and inclusivity between one and ten where ten is “extraordinary love”, what score would you give yourself?
The gap between where we are and where we should be is a personal challenge for growth. Let us beg God to deepen our identity and stretch wide our hearts.
Dialogue: The New Way to Be Church
In the early Church, preserving unity was a great challenge. In the Corinthian community, St Paul had to address a division around him and Apollos (1 Cor 3:4ff) – one of many examples of personality disputes. To deal with these, the apostle simply taught on the essential nature of unity through Christ Jesus.
In other forms of division, a different approach was adopted. One of the fault lines of the early Church was whether Gentiles needed circumcision to become Christian. The real question was whether one needed to become a Jew to be Christian (see Acts 15:1, Gal 2:11–14). These were doctrinal disputes. For these, the Church turned to dialogue (see Acts 15:4–35). This was the beginning of synodality – walking together.
After open dialogue and several levels of intervention, Peter spoke from the experience of the Church and what God had done in this matter (Acts 10:1ff). He himself had been led to minister to the Gentiles. Then, at the end of the conversation, James gave the judgement which was officially communicated to the wider Church. This was the foundation of a synodal Church.
Many years ago, I attended a two-week Leicester Conference on group dynamics. There were no lectures. One of my learnings was that we humans create divisions to give ourselves identity. The only way past these divisions is through dialogue. You may notice that I hold conversations with many groups on many topics. I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks in the conversation and opens new perspectives if we are alert and open. This is a model for all of us, as Church, to have conversations with as many people with different perspectives as possible.
Pope Paul VI, in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (His Church), sees dialogue as the new way to be Church. He sees the whole of salvation history as a dialogue between God and His people. He also believes that all the challenges we face today require deep and honest dialogue. He proposes concentric circles of dialogue beginning within the Church, then among Christian churches, then with those who believe in God, and ultimately, with all people of goodwill.
Dialogue requires deep listening both to the Holy Spirit and to the person speaking. It is a holy act as it validates the person’s true dignity as a child of God. Most conflicts escalate when the two people are trying to respond, rather than listen deeply to each other. Such conflicts can often be resolved if both parties pause and listen deeply, repeating what they had heard to let the other party know they are actually listening.
Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (4 October), also sees dialogue as a pathway to conversion:
Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest, and patient negotiation. Conflict between different groups “if it abstains from enmities and mutual hatred, gradually changes into an honest discussion of differences founded on a desire for justice” (# 244).
Peter Block, in his The Right Use of Power: How Stewardship Replaces Leadership (2002), gives us a key idea. He says leadership is about getting the right people to the right conversations. When this happens, people are transformed, and communities built. Dialogue is an essential tool in this work, one that is in the service of stewardship and of the kingdom of God, says Pope Paul VI.
In another of Block’s books, Community: The Structure of Belonging (2018), he expands on the importance of the right conversation. To achieve abundant communities, he proposes some fundamental changes. We need to: (1) seek, intentionally, to transform the fabric of the communities from isolation into connectedness and caring for the whole; (2) focus on possibilities of the community and not the problems; and (3) commit to a future that is distinct from the past.
Transformation only happens in small diverse groups, one group at a time. The structure of the conversation facilitates a transformation of people from outsiders to active participants. Block holds that a new future emerges by a focus on gifts, associational life and on the insight that all transformation occurs through language. Transformation happens when members of the community engage each other to create an alternative future. When each of us engages another on the possibility of a better Church, community transformation will happen. If the Church is God’s family, then dialogue is, in fact, the new way to be Church.
If building community, inclusivity and dialogue is the overarching goal, then we need to form our people for this task. In the Catholic world, there are many approaches to formation. What is important is that each Catholic commits to ongoing formation to renew our Catholic culture.
DNA gives us specificity – hair colour, body type, height, the colour of our eyes, health risks, et cetera. It comes to us from our parents at the moment of conception. It shapes so much of who we are. We could ignore it, but that does not change the fact of its existence, doing what it is doing in secret places, out of sight. I want us to imagine a Catholic DNA that is the basic building block of Catholic life, found wherever Catholic life is flourishing.
We receive our Catholic DNA as a free gift at Baptism when we become members of the Body of Christ. From that moment, the Catholic DNA is at work in us, whether we see it or not. Through Baptism, Christ’s character is imprinted on us in an indelible way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible; it remains forever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church (1121).
This Catholic DNA that permeates all our being is present, whether we know it or not. But it can lie dormant in us, not acting or affecting us in any fundamental way. Or it can be ignited to produce a very different reaction, becoming the energy of deep inner transformation.
The DNA we received from our parents is given and acts in us, whether we like it or not. The Catholic DNA, on the other hand, is a gift from God and it only acts if we give it consent. This is the value and curse of free will; God will not force us to do anything. He will invite, cajole, seduce, but never force. Our choice makes all the difference.
The life of grace that Ignatian spirituality called “Christ Life” is more powerful than the life of sin, of sickness, of death and destruction. But it requires our cooperation with God – our yes.
To awaken this DNA and build a sustainable ecosystem, there are four practices which are necessary at every level and in all parts of the Church: “And they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayer” (Acts 2:42).
These practices or devotions (the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread and prayer) need to be embedded at every level of Church and in all its parts – domestic Church, school, the parish and parish group, the religious and ecclesial community, and the individual Catholic. When the Catholic DNA is fired up and active, community will be fostered and we will open our arms to all people, especially those on the margins.
Every culture has three levels: practices we can see, values that are evident to observers, and at the deepest level, beliefs that give meaning and cohesion to all. Look at the image of the steel pan: at the rim, see the practices. In the middle ring are the values of integral human development. At the very centre is our belief in a God who called us; He gave us a vocation. When these notes are played with skill, they make a most melodious sound that is pleasing to God and others. We need to learn how to play—open our heart to God.
Practices: In Catholic life, there are many practices, but the ones that would connect all Catholics to the Catholic DNA are the four devotions of Acts 2:42. The Holy Spirit led the early Church to these four devotions. Because of them, the Lord added to their number those who were destined to be saved (Acts 2:46). Mission was a function of the quality of the community. The devotions were the tinder that started the fire in the soul of each disciple and those destined to be saved. Moreover, these four devotions give a concrete expression to building communion in belief, communion in living together, communion in worshipping and communion in prayer.
In one study of “dynamic Catholics”, author Matthew Kelly found that while they represented 7% of the congregation, they contributed more than 80% of the ministry, money, and talent. They all had four practices very similar to those of the early Church. What Matthew Kelly calls hospitality, the ancient Church called fellowship. What he calls evangelisation is the result of the witness of the community (Acts 2:46). The early Church named devotion to the Eucharist as one of the four practices; Kelly assumes this. The early Church focused on fellowship. The technical Greek term, as we have seen, is koinonia – a bond of kinship that disciples share through baptism. Communion is a better word. It is the deepest way of speaking about building community. For the early Church, this was a devotion.
Values: From the writings of Pope Paul VI, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI retrieved integral human development: the development of each person, every person, and every dimension of the human person. In the introduction of his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (CV), Pope Benedict XVI says: “…I express my conviction that Populorum Progressio deserves to be considered ‘the Rerum Novarum of the present age’, shedding light upon humanity’s journey towards unity” (CV 8).
The statement is of great significance. Rerum Novarum was the first social encyclical written by a pope and has been celebrated by all popes. While acknowledging this, Pope Benedict XVI is making the point that, in the journey to humanity’s unity, we must rediscover Pope Paul VI and his teaching on development. If we want to build community and inclusivity, it needs to be built upon the Catholic value system of integral human development.
Kelly has distilled this complex idea into a memorable phrase: “becoming the best version of yourself”. To explain it, he uses three interlocking ideas: (1) each person is called to become the best version of himself or herself and to assist others to do the same; (2) it requires that we take incremental steps in a consistent way; (3) the best version of oneself is a saint. To read what Pope Paul VI had to say on the value system, see Populorum Progressio, 21. Popes Paul VI and Benedict XVI go so far as to say integral human development is the “vocation” of the Church (CV 16).
Pope Benedict says integral development is about the whole of Church life. In summary, he says:
The first is that the whole Church, in all her being and acting — when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity — is engaged in promoting integral human development. … The second truth is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension (CV 11).
In St Paul’s understanding of the human, there are four dimensions of the human person: body, mind, heart, and spirit. Today, we speak of IQ and EQ – intellectual and emotional intelligence. We also need to discuss PQ and SQ – physical and spiritual intelligence. We all need to commit to growth in all four quadrants and to assist others in this growth process. Contemporary literature will call this a “growth mindset”. It is at this level that the synod synthesis presents the greatest challenge. We have not sufficiently challenged ourselves to become better versions of ourselves, neither have we challenged others to grow and become better versions of themselves.
Beliefs: Pope Benedict writes: “Paul VI taught that development, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: ‘in the design of God, every person is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation’” (CV 16).
The call to development is tied to the deepest level of catholicity – our belief. We believe in a God who created and redeemed us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and calls each one of us in a unique way (Eph 4:1–16). All of us are called by God to grow and develop in various spheres of human life and to work for the development of all people. This is the deepest ground of inclusivity.
To live a life worthy of our vocation, the Apostle Paul says, in Ephesians 4, we must: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (2). These are the foundation blocks of community. We must also “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (3). He then grounds all this in the belief: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4–6). And he adds that each of us is given a special and unique gift to live this vocation. So, here at the level of belief, there can be no competition, or jealousy, or ambition. Each person is needed for the unique gift they bring to the Body of Christ. For a deeper understanding of vocation see the AEC document: “Towards A Framework For Integrating Pastoral Life”.
An Integral Model
Practices, the value system and beliefs form one integral whole that, when brought together, becomes an engine in the heart of every Catholic, every Catholic family – all our groups, communities and institutions, the whole Catholic community. When this engine is fired up, we can envision four stages of spiritual development. (1) To discern God’s call (vocation) and find the courage to live it (discipleship) (2) To be missionary disciples living with integrity and generosity (stewardship and evangelisation) (3) Striving to become the best version of yourself and helping others to do the same (integral development—a saint) (4) To be mystics having a deep interior life (mystical union).
These stages mark a progression from childhood to maturity in faith. As such, they also constitute an integral part of the formation agenda. But development is not a straight line; there are many meanderings and interconnections. Only by leading all our people to the deepest stages of development will we be propelled to the transformation of family, inclusive communities, and mission.
Pope Benedict makes a direct link between the Catholic DNA, building community and development which can be applied to our beloved nation. He says:
[T]he vision of development as a vocation brings with it the central place of charity within that development. … Underdevelopment has an even more important cause than lack of deep thought: it is ‘the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples’… Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is (CV 19).
We will break down these concepts over the next two years until we all understand them, and they become the foundation for our living. By engaging these three – practices, values, and beliefs – we will fire up a new Catholic imagination.
Where Do We Begin?
In the quest to build communities of inclusivity and dialogue, we need to change our pastoral locus from the parish to the primordial cell of society, the first community, the domestic Church: the family. The family is called to be a community of life and love; it is where we first learn community and inclusivity. If we get the family right, we will get the parish right and we will get the nation right. To build community, we need to mission the domestic Church, which is to help the family find and live its identity. It will then find its mission as a community of life and love. For the long-term success of our mandate, transforming the family is vital. This is a strategic shift of great importance. To understand this shift more fully read Transforming The Caribbean Family and Society where this is spelled out:
I am proposing an Integral model of Church on mission – the parish, ecclesial communities, schools, and the movements all joining hands for the missioning of the domestic Church. In this model, the families also join hands for the same end. And as families discover their identity as domestic Church, they, in turn, work hand in hand with the parish, ecclesial communities, schools and movements to transform these very agencies. The model here is the Body of Christ, with all its parts working interdependently for the good of the mission. (Gordon 2021, p20).
The Church, therefore, imaged as the family of God, is called to understand itself as a family of families. The real power of the Church is in the depth of discipleship in the family living as a domestic Church. In this light, the missionary focus of the Church is seen in the transformation of the family who in turn transforms the relationships within the groups, the parish, the ecclesial and religious communities extending to the margins of the Church and society.
A parish is a geographical space; it possesses boundaries that define the communities within the parish. When the families are a domestic Church, then the parish and all its groups will be alive and missionary. Building community, inclusivity and dialogue is not only about the people in the church – it is about everyone in the geographical community, especially the most vulnerable.
The religious and ecclesial communities, the movements and the groups are another vital part of our Catholic family. They have a vital role to play in reigniting Catholic life at all levels. By living their unique charism, they serve the church in a variety of ways. Their combined ministry and mission are a vital witness to the nation and an invitation to all of us to live our vocation fully. A first step towards inclusivity is to recognise them as vital parts of the Body of Christ. They too are a vital part of our family.
To be Catholic is to reach out to the least, the forgotten and the lost and protect the environment. We are called to be friends and defenders of the poor and vulnerable. We are called to protect our common home, the earth (Laudato Si’ Ch 1).
This is integral human development in practice; not just to give food, but to assist with the development of those in the community who are most in need. Every parish has communities that are underdeveloped. This, too, is part of our mission. It is also to call to conversion concerning our treatment of our common home. This is captured most eloquently by Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est, 25, where, as we have seen, he affirms:
The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas- agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church.
When every Catholic family lives its mission then we will be a community of inclusivity who will protect the poor and our Common Home.
Another important formative agent is our Catholic schools whose core business is to form disciples and great citizens of this nation. Our schools need to be integral to our mission and our parish community. They are a vital space for building community, inclusivity and dialogue. We need to be intentional in our schools about forming a generation who can relate deeply with one another, who are inclusive of those on the margins and who have a deep capacity for dialogue as a method of resolving differences and conflict. This lays the foundation for the next generation of domestic Church.
For this to work, we must invite every Catholic to a small group conversation focusing on gifts, possibility and how we can connect better. For this to be successful, we will need to live the advice of St Paul to the Philippians:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (2:5–8)
The self-emptying of Christ is the indispensable start of our journey. Let us continue by remembering our Blessed Mother who, in her humble state, opens the way for the salvation of the world. Her docility to God allows Jesus to come forth into the world. Her humility allows God to use her as the perfect vessel – the new Ark of the Covenant – containing what is most precious to God.
At the cross, she became mother of the beloved disciple. She is your mother, and through her intercession, we all will be transformed into the children of God, brothers and sisters of each other, friends and defenders of the poor, and protectors of our Common Home and our families will be a domestic Church.
+Charles Jason Gordon
Archbishop of Port of Spain
December 27th, The Feast of St John
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