Hello. This is Father Edwin Keel. I am a Marist priest and the Promoter for Marist Laity. This is
the ninth in our series of talks on Marist spirituality.
We have been discussing the corporate or community dimension of our faith and of salvation.
Probably when most Catholics hear the word “communion”, they think of their First Holy
Communion, or they think of receiving communion at Mass. And that is perfectly correct.
“Communion” simply means a close or intimate union among persons. When we receive
communion, we enjoy a particularly intimate moment of union with Jesus.
The fact is, however, that the word “communion” was first used to describe the relationship of
baptized believers, of Christians, among themselves. In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, verse
42, it says that those baptized after St. Peter’s preaching on the first Pentecost, “remained faithful to
the teaching of the apostles, to the communion, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers.”
The word “communion” here is a translation of the Greek work koinonia which is sometimes
translated “fellowship” or “brotherhood.” In any case, it is the word that was translated as
communio in Latin, and that in turn gave us the English word “communion”. And while the original
Greek word koinonia was an ordinary word that meant “fellowship” or “commonness”, it became a
kind of technical term for the particular fellowship or communion that ought to prevail among those
baptized into Christ. Chapter four of the Acts of the Apostles, without using the word, describes this
communion: “The whole group of believers was one in mind and heart; none of them claimed for
their own use anything that they had, as everything they owned was held in common.” As we are
shown very quickly in the next chapter of Acts, which recounts the incident of Ananias and Sapphira,
the idea of pooling all their material possessions did not last long among the early Christians. But the
ideal of “one in mind and heart,” and at least some form of generous donation of what one has for
the common good, has perdured. It has been the inspiration of the founders of religious orders down
through the centuries: practically every founder has desired to recreate among his or her followers
the idyllic communion of those first believers. As we will see in a future talk, Fr. Colin, the founder
of the Marists, wanted this communion, this being one in mind and heart, not only to characterize the
relationships among Marists, but to be the goal of our ministry in the Church.
But let us fill out the New Testament picture of communion in the Church. The First letter of John
begins with these profound words:
Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our
own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life—this is our
subject. That life was made visible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the
eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us. What we have seen and
heard we are telling you so that you too may be in communion with us, for our communion is with
the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this to you to make our own joy complete.
The writer here is telling his correspondents of the sublime experience of having been with Jesus, the
Word, during his earthly life, of having seen, heard, touched him, and having come to believe that he
is indeed the Word of Life. And he wants to share that experience with those to whom he is writing,
so that they might be in communion with him on that deep level of knowing Jesus, the Word of Life,
through faith. But he goes on to say that the communion he is talking about is not just among human
beings, but is our being taken up into the divine communion where we are in intimate union with the
Father and Jesus in the Spirit. In other words, when true communion exists among Christians, they
are thereby sharing in the very communion that exists between the Father and the Son in the Holy
Spirit from all eternity! The communion we are talking about can only exist where there is faith and
where there is a willingness, a desire, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. Our communion
among ourselves is not a natural human reality. It is a divine mystery, a work of God’s grace, a
sharing in the very life of God.
And note that the writer ends by saying that his very reason for writing and sharing this profound
mystery is so that his joy can be complete: he cannot have joy by holding onto the secret, he cannot
have joy by remaining exclusively focused on his relationship with God. He can only have complete
joy, as Jesus did, by sharing his joy with others.
Sharing the joy of communion in God and with one another. This is Jesus’ way. This is Mary’s
way. This is the Marist way.
Exploring the Marist Way