Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Congregation: Injustice Rectified

Guardini now shifts his focus to the Congregation itself and specifically the interior disposition of all those present, priest and laity alike.  A Congregation is not simply a gathering of many people together and not even a gathering of the pious and reverent.  More specifically, Guardini tells us they are people "disciplined by faith and conscious of their membership in Christ gathered to celebrated the sacred mysteries."  This does not simply happen spontaneously: rather, the congregation must "will it."  Many things aid in the creation of this reality, but one element is absolutely necessary.  Guardini describes it thus: "Be this as it may, anyone who knows that somewhere someone has something against him certainly can do one thing: he can promise himself to remove the injustice by correcting it as soon as possible. The honest intention suffices to bring down the wall between himself and his “brother.” Immediately the unifying element is free again to contact all parts. As soon as the injustice that isolates has been overcome, the congregation is restored." A radical unity must exist between members of the congregation.  Any wall that divides must be removed if they are to stand before God. Sacred unity must be maintained at all costs.  Forgiveness must be sought and at least established in one's heart.  There can be no indifference towards another within us or false friendliness.  Divine love must find its footing within us who have been made sons and daughters of God.
THE WORD “congregation” does not mean a gathering of many people not even of many pious and reverent people. Even in such a group that unifying, simultaneously fortifying and fervent quality which is the essence of the true congregation might be lacking. Christ defines it: “For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). The Acts of the Apostles gives more details in its report on the days following Pentecost: “And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in their houses, they took their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and being in favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). A congregation, then, exists when a number of people disciplined by faith and conscious of their membership in Christ gather to celebrate the sacred mysteries. Even then it does not follow effortlessly. There are a few exceptions when it does seem to for instance, when an oppressive need or powerful joy spontaneously fills and fuses all hearts; or when the words of an inspired teacher have moved the hearers to genuine Christian unitas, making of the many individuals one great body drawn by the same power to the same end. But as a rule congregation exists only when its members will it. Many things can help: the solemnity of the room, organ music, the power of the divine word, the earnestness and mystery of the sacred ceremony. But these can only help, they cannot do everything from the standpoint of our personal responsibility, they are unable to achieve even the main thing. For a congregation must be possible also without these: in uninspiring surroundings; with the feeblest music or none at all; with the sacred word inadequately proclaimed; a divine service to which all possible human shortcomings cling. Above all, if there is to be a congregation, the believers must know what a congregation is; they must desire it and actively strive to attain it.
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord says: “Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5: 23-24). This means: When you go to Mass and you recall that you have been unjust to someone and that he bears you a grudge, you cannot simply walk into church as though nothing were wrong. For then you would be entering only the physical room of the building, not the congregation, which would not receive you, as you would destroy it by your mere presence. A congregation is the sacred coherence which links person to person as it links God to men and men to God. It is the unity of men in Christ; in the living Christ “in the midst of them,” before the countenance of His Father, in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. But if you have wronged your “brother,” and he has a grudge against you, a wall rises between you and him which excludes you from the sacred unity; then, as far as you are concerned, congregation ceases to exist. It is your responsibility to restore it by removing the impediment between you and your brother.
You cannot very well go about it as the Sermon on the Mount in its divine simplicity advises: simply by dropping everything, going to the one you have wronged and rectifying things, then returning. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty with our “cannots.” We can do much more than we suppose, and our bourgeois, watered-down Christian existence would be strengthened if we would more often act with the directness of the believing heart, would simply go and do what love and repentance and magnanimity dictate. I am not lauding impulsiveness; I am only trying to suggest that reflection is sometimes a hindrance, and that often the necessary, truly liberating act is possible only through the power and momentum of the first impulse.
Be this as it may, anyone who knows that somewhere someone has something against him certainly can do one thing: he can promise himself to remove the injustice by correcting it as soon as possible. The honest intention suffices to bring down the wall between himself and his “brother.” Immediately the unifying element is free again to contact all parts. As soon as the injustice that isolates has been overcome, the congregation is restored.
Jesus’ word can also be reversed: We can say: “Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thou hast anything against thy brother, leave thy gifts before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Here you are the one with the complaint. Now you can act much more directly. For the essential depends not on the actual agreement reached by the estranged parties, but on one condition: your forgiveness. As long as you bear your grudge, no matter how “valid,” there can be no true congregation as far as you are concerned. Forgive, honestly and sincerely, and the sacred unifying circle will close again. Perhaps this is impossible all at once. Sometimes disappointment and revolt are too great to permit genuine forgiveness right away. Then forgive as much as is in your power and ask God to give you an increase of forgiveness. For it is not man who effects true forgiveness. The commandment to forgive one’s enemies might have been expressed: “Know that thou canst forgive thy enemy because Christ on the cross forgave His; it is He who effects forgiveness in thee.” Human forgiveness is different from that which the Lord meant. It coul.d be mere prudence, which says: “Let it go nothing will come of it anyway”; or indifference: “What does it matter?”; or false friendliness, which is no more than inverted dislike; or cowardice, which does not trust itself to fight it out, and so forth. The forgiveness of Christ is different. It means that divine love gains a footing in us, creating that new order which is meant to reign among the sons and daughters of God. Hence when you try to fulfill the law of love for the sake of God and His holy mysteries, you make it possible for God to allow the congregation of those rooted in His love to flower.

Meditations Before Mass
Romano Guardini