Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Words can be little devils. They sneak around the place insinuating themselves into sentences they have no right to be in, giving meanings they have no right to give. Naughty words! They spread their deceiving odour like the nectar of a flesh-eating plant and gradually the words properly appointed to guard clarity and truth slide into oblivion.
In the Church these little monsters have infiltrated with remarkably destructive vigour. The otherwise harmless little word 'our' for example, as in our faith, our parish, our Church has, bit by bit, nudged the definite article into the trash can. 'Our' faith is now far more important than 'the' Faith; and instead of us belonging to this or that parish, or to the Church, they now belong to us - our parish, our Church!
Another far more dangerous one is the 'all-things-bright-and-beautiful' word community. Like a Crown of Thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef it has spread its tentacles over the word communion leaving behind a meaningless collection of dead letters.
What makes it all so insidious is that to the unaware it all seems so good and true. One now discredited parish programme had as its mantra and aim: From Crowd to Community. Yes, of course, community is good, and so much better than a crowd, so let's get to work, let's build community! And we invest hours of time and loads of money on meetings and structures and 'leadership training' and all the time we should be working, not on building community, but on understanding and achieving communion.
Communion in the Church does not flow from community, it's the other way round - first communion, then community. Anything else is doomed to failure; a body without a soul.
Confusing words makes other errors possible, errors which would not have been possible had we used the right words. For example, the tiny word sin still stands with extraordinary tenacity against the giant words psychological dysfunction. And speaking of sin is only really meaningful when we speak of communion. Sin, by definition, destroys communion, first with God and then with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Community, on the other hand, does not challenge sin except in its most destructive manifestations. In fact, community is quite comfortable with sin; just witness the accolades accorded deceased public sinners by the Australian community.
Then again, community is inclusive; communion is exclusive.
I am compelled to admit that I am more than weary of hearing the silly call to 'build welcoming and inclusive communities' made by so many diocesan pastoral plans. I always thought this was the task of the Bowling Club, the School Board and the local Shire Council. But, of course, once we have fallen for the lie that we should be building up community in the Church then it goes without saying that we should be building inclusive communities.
Finally, since a community relies on the qualities and achievements of its members to make it strong, it tends, when it celebrates, to celebrate itself. I have attended Masses at which the priest could have been most accurately described as leading the community in its celebration of itself. Even the homily at some of these Masses could be said to be an 'anointing' or affirmation of the community rather than a call to attentiveness to and worship of God. How sad!
Christian community follows almost effortlessly from real communion but can never substitute for it. Where it does we get lots of bush dances, picnics and bingo nights, but very little relief for the soul or the profound loneliness we all struggle with.
Eternal life, peace, true joy come from communion with Christ in his Church on earth, with the suffering souls in Purgatory, and with his angels and saints in heaven.