Often people want to boil down complex subjects into simple-to-understand concepts. They are afraid that if something is too complex, some will reject it even if it is true because they can’t easily grasp it. This is also true of Christianity: throughout our history people have tried to simplify the web of truths which make up Christianity into easy-to-understand ideas. This is a noble project, although it does have its dangers. Sometimes in the process of simplification you leave out essential elements and thus distort the reality. But it is still praise-worthy to try to help others to understand Christianity and to try to break down any barrier to it.
If I had to boil down Christianity to just one word, it would be communion. I would define communion as “mutually self-donating union between two or more persons.” It is a union in which each person freely and completely gives himself or herself to the other out of love.
Communion is the leitmotif of all of Salvation History:
- Before creation, there is the Trinity, in which God is a communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- In the story of creation, the first time something is noted as “not good” is when man is alone (Genesis 2:18). It is only after man is joined with woman – in communion – that he is complete.
- The Fall ruptures two communions – the one between man and God (expelled out of Eden) and the one between man and woman (no longer able to be naked without shame).
- In the Incarnation, God entered into communion with man by becoming one of us.
- In his crucifixion and descent into hell, Christ entered into communion even with the depths of man, taking on our sins and dying for them.
- In his resurrection, Christ re-established the ruptured communion between man and God.
- In establishing the Sacrament of the Eucharist – “communion” – Christ gave us the ability to be in communion with both God and with our fellow man.
- In establishing the Sacrament of Matrimony, Christ re-established the ruptured communion between man and woman.
- At the end of time, those who are saved will be completely united to God and become like Him; we will “come to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), thus being in complete and full communion with God and with all the other saved for all eternity.
So you can see that communion is the essence of the Christian Gospel. This has profound implications for how we live as Christians. One of the most obvious is that we cannot believe that our faith is an individualistic one, just between Christ and me. Through Adam, we were lost together, and through Christ – the new Adam – we are saved together. We are bound in this process of salvation as one Body, and to think that the salvation of our neighbor is irrelevant to my salvation is to distort the Gospel.
One of the defining characteristics of Hell is that you are completely and utterly alone. The person is Hell has chosen himself as his god, and God honors that choice by leaving him by himself for all eternity – no God, no communion with anyone. Heaven, on the other hand, is complete communion with God and with all those who are saved. Thus, as the Church Militant we are called to imitate, as much as possible, the Church Triumphant by living in communion with one another and with God.
Let us live out the reality of communion in our churches, in our marriages, and in everything we do on this earth. It is by living out communion that we are truly Christian.