Once I became aware of communion as both an orientation toward loving put into us by God and also as a goal that each of us is called to reach, I began to think about various relationships that I have and how I can possibly achieve communion through them. The three relationships that I have especially focused my attention on are my relationship with my students, my relationships with my close friends, and my relationship with the community I celebrate the Eucharist with every Sunday.
In his book “Building the Human” (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968, pp. 192) Robert Johann writes the following:
“To define man as a community of persons is thus not to define what is a matter of fact, something that exists in a settled and determinate way independently of the intentions of those who share in it. The reality of man is not a matter of fact but a matter of freedom. Mankind exists only as a conspiracy of individual liberties, each continually turning itself toward the others and spending itself to provide the environment in which they can flourish. For love alone is the soil in which persons grow, which furnishes the ‘root-room’ they need to be themselves and come to full stature. But, as every lover knows, love is never a finished fact; it is always a continuing task.” (p. 83)
I cannot recall when I first came upon the idea that if you are going to teach someone, you have to love that individual, but I now deeply believe that it is true.
Of course I am not referring to romantic love but to genuine self-gift to those whom you are teaching. I tell the students whom I teach at St. John’s that I love them, that I genuinely care about them and that If I didn’t care about them I don’t believe that my efforts to teach them would be successful.
I am a little surprised that no student has vocally disagreed with what I say or even expressed some doubt about what I am saying. I hope that my teaching reveals that I care about them. This caring or loving does not mean that I will not be demanding and try to motivate them to do their best in their studies.
I hope that my caring attitude toward the students creates an atmosphere conducive to learning and even to enjoying the experience of reflecting on important philosophical questions. I think that the students can easily perceive that I am trying to serve them and help them.
Several years ago, I was having dinner with a priest friend who had resigned from the priesthood and married.
Somehow the conversation turned toward the number of priests we knew who had resigned from the priesthood. At one point, the former priest’s wife said to me, “Bob, how come you never left the priesthood?” Without hesitating even seconds, I said, “I have wonderful friends.” I think I even surprised myself with that response. Later, when I had time to think about my response, I came to realize the enormous influence that my friends have had on me.
For better or worse, whoever I am today is greatly due to the close friends I have had during my life. I believe that God’s grace is everywhere, and that in my life my friends have been a powerful channel of God’s grace. At this point in my life I am more aware of the grace-filled influence of my friends than I have ever been.
As I am typing this column I am smiling as I recall how in my education as a seminarian we were discouraged from having close friendships. Perhaps at one point in my life that advice made some kind of sense to me, but it no longer does.
I have been celebrating Sunday Eucharist in the same parish church for more than 40 years. Re-reading Johann’s book has led me to question whether in my celebration of the Sunday Eucharist I am calling the members of the congregation to communion and whether I am allowing them to call me to communion. How I celebrate the Eucharist can greatly influence members of the worshiping community, and how they are present at the Eucharist can greatly influence me. Only The Risen Christ saves and redeems, but we can play an important role in one another’s adventurous journey toward life eternal with God.
I am going to use this series of columns on communion to help me critically reflect on my role as the main celebrant at the Sunday Eucharist and to make any changes that might help me to help others. As members of the Mystical Body, we relate to God together.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.