In today’s readings, we are first given a glimpse by the evangelist Luke of some important aspects of the spirit of early Christian koinonia, lessons from which our present-day Christian communities may learn. Often translated as “communion” or “fellowship”, koinonia is basically a sustained unity of action in pursuit of aspirations and goals which are mutually beneficial for all, yet is firmly founded upon everyone’s sense of belongingness and commitment to the union; and upon everyone’s sense of responsibility for, as well as solidarity with one another. Christian koinonia, more particularly, must also demonstrate an unwavering unity in creed, code and cult, “They were faithful to the teaching of the apostles, the common life of sharing, the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
It is initially from the disciplined practice of a communal spirituality, in divine koinonia with the unseen Spirit, that a community is blessed with true happiness and with the interior strength it regularly needs for them to move on with their lives and to continue being together. “Each day, they met together, in the temple area; they broke bread in their homes; they shared their food, with great joy and simplicity of heart; they praised God and won the people’s favor.” Thus, it is this unseen Spirit which primarily drives Christian koinonia, “Now all the believers lived together, and shared all their belongings.” It is also this same unseen Spirit who prompts and directs each “believer” from the living in humility, detachment, simplicity and charity, developed in common prayer, to the movement towards the kingdom’s ‘aspirations and goals’ of social justice and peace, through dutiful actions of and in exhortation of responsible sharing, “They would sell their property, and all they had, and distribute the proceeds to others, according to their need.”
So, it must be critically noted that it is in the “unseen-ness” of the Spirit and its works, more particularly in the raising of the Christ from materiality to immateriality, that Christian koinonia will always be “given a new life, and a living hope.” Nothing in its visible existence of “fellowship” will ever make sense, if it is lived outside the comprehension of this invisible essence of the Spirit. Hence, the Lord wisely admonishes, “Happy are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
But why, you ask, must the Spirit be Mystery? Why must the Spirit be “unseen”?
And I reply, is it not true that faith can only be forged into a real faith in the absence of the Presence? Is it not true that hope is rendered more meaningful in the striving to live in a “now, but not yet”? Faith and hope cannot maturate with the certainty of what and who lies ahead of our fortunes and misadventures; we only naturally give ourselves to uncertainty in the face of much greater rewards. Faith happens precisely because of the Mystery that is Spirit; hope happens precisely because of the enigma of what the Spirit will choose to do or not do, as a consequence of our faith. Faith and hope become precisely what they are, because of the greater reward that God is whom the Christ proclaims he is.
It is also only in the “unseen-ness” of Love that each one of us in the community is impelled to selfless love, for is it not true that false love is motivated by self-centered desires to perceive being ‘loved in return’? Genuine love happens precisely because of and in direct proportion to the realized guilt one gains from the abuse and oppression of false love; genuine love also happens precisely because of and in direct proportion to the probability that it may never be reciprocated. Charity and compassion become precisely what they are – commitments to those above and beyond the self – because of the greater reward that God is whom the Christ proclaims he is.
It is also the “unseen-ness” of Grace that is our “cause for joy” in spite of having to “suffer many trials”, the sole reason for our inexplicable tenacity and resilience in persevering to return in glory to himself. Can we clearly see the “cause” why the saints will live and die happily, at the cost of their own interests and comfort? Can we clearly see the “cause” why witnesses will bear painful testimony to our corrupt and broken world? Can we clearly see the “cause” why disciples of the Christ will follow him in the agony and ecstasy of serving those who have been left behind?
It is in the “unseen-ness” of God that we see his power, at its greatest.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.