Yearning for communion

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. -

The mystery of Jesus’ ascension is inseparable from his resurrection from the dead, his glorification as universal judge, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Because we are time-bound, we cannot but dissect mysteries involving eternity and arrange the facets chronologically. Nonetheless, the Risen Lord’s ascension into heaven communicates Jesus return to and eternal communion with the Father and Spirit.

Before ascending to the Father, Jesus commissions his disciples to baptize all peoples “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, Jesus instructs his disciples to draw all humanity into communion with our Triune God. This is the Good News that the Church proclaims: Jesus’ ascension prefigures our ultimate destiny — eternal communion with God. This Sunday we wish to reflect on two themes: our desire for communion with God and one another and the new context for the proclamation of such.

Evolving Communities. When I was a boy, I used to play patintero and tumbang preso with our neighbors who were among my childhood playmates. My community consisted of the families that lived in our vicinity. For the longest part of human history, the tribe constituted community, which evolved into the rural barrio and the urban neighborhood. But the modern city has transformed the notion of community from the people with whom I live to the people with whom I work. Sadly, many of us no longer know our neighbors in our gated subdivisions and high-rise condominiums. Our interaction with many of them has been reduced to the token exchange of fruit cakes on Christmas. Since we spend most of our waking hours in school or work, our community has evolved into the people we spend our day with, even though we live far from each other.

With the advent of the digital age, a third form of community has evolved — the virtual community — persons we interact with vicariously in cyberspace. We can frown all we want about the artificiality and impersonality of social networks, but the virtual community has defined our digital age. Paradoxically, the virtual community has begun to define us.

As the nature of human communities evolves, so does the nature of proclaiming the Gospel. The task of evangelization today entails understanding the context of people living in the digital age. And what does this new digital context tell us about ourselves? Perhaps, that our deepest longing is to relate and interconnect with other persons.

At our deepest core, we are relational beings. The phenomenon of social networking is a protest against the isolation and depersonalization that the modern world has created — compartmentalized assembly lines and office cubicles that prevent and discourage interaction; and specialization of functions in the assembly line, such as turning a screw, or in the office, such as Xeroxing documents, that have reduced the richness of our persons into a mechanical component. Against the isolation that the modern world fosters, the children of the digital age have raised their arms (with celphones in hand) in protest by connecting and relating with one another in our locality and with others across oceans and time differences.

Technology, the virtual community and social networks are not the culprits. All technology is morally neutral. It is the usage of such that is gauged as moral or immoral. Technology hence can become powerful tools for proclamation and evangelization. How can social networking be used so that genuine communities are established? How can the Church proclaim the Gospel through digital means of communication? Many areas still need to be reflected on.

Worship. What forms of prayer and worship can be done through the internet? If one can undergo a retreat through a website offering spiritual services, can one receive the sacrament of reconciliation through webcams and Skype? The underlying question remains: what forms of worship require a direct face-to-face encounter with one another?

Church community. Most parishes are geographically determined; communities within a certain territory form a parish. But because communities are not only based on proximity of residences, but also on profession and ethnic roots, we have what are called personal parishes, such as a parish for military soldiers or for Filipino-Chinese. To what extent will virtual communities be recognized by the Church? Might a pastor be assigned not only to a territorial parish but to a virtual congregation? Might a priest here be delegated to minister to Filipinos abroad through cyberspace?

Ethics. Many social networks thrive on anonymity and false identities. If the factory and office have compartmentalized and depersonalized us, a Gospel-based usage of virtual communities will have to foster authenticity and integrity. How might the Church evangelize through digital technology in a manner that promotes real and honest mutual self-communication, in order to nurture genuine communion?

Jesus’ ascension into heaven proclaims his eternal union with the Father and Spirit. Created unto the image of our Triune God, a community of divine persons, we sense deep within us a longing for community, a longing to belong to community. The ascension of Christ promises the fulfillment of our deepest yearning, that in the end we will be gathered into community with one another and with our Triune God. But the task of building communion begins here in the modern world that isolates and depersonalizes.

Email: tinigloyola@yahoo.com

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