The Communion of Saints (and sinners)

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I was surfing the web the other day and stumbled across two interesting articles. One was a short piece from Charles Peguy. Peguy was a French playwright and poet, who said that the two greatest influences on his life were Christianity and socialism. Perhaps only a Frenchman could combine those two ideas in one body, but that is the topic of another post.

Anyway, Peguy’s essay was titled Saints and Sinners. In it, he points out that Christianity is the religion of sinners just as much as of saints. We all are, in fact, sinners and this situation does not change once we accept the Christian faith. It’s true that some of us become more holy than others, yet we share a certain level of communion that makes each indispensable to the other.

“The sinner and the saint are, one can say, two portions equally integral, two equally integral parts of the Christian mechanism. One and the other, together, form two parts equally indispensable one to the other, two mutually complementary parts.”

As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we somehow play a role in the salvation of the entire Body. Perhaps each of us also plays a role when any one member is lost.

All of the above is, or should be, obvious to any Catholic today. But, there is another aspect of communion that Peguy brings out that may not be so obvious.

“He who does not enter into the system, he who does not hold out a hand, he it is who is not a Christian. It is he who has no competence whatever in matters of Christianity. It is he who is a stranger. The sinner holds out a hand to the saint, gives a hand to the saint, since the saint gives a hand to the sinner. And all together, one by means of the other, one pulling up the other, they ascend to Jesus, they form a chain which ascends to Jesus, a chain of fingers which cannot be unlinked. He who is not a Christian is he who does not hold out a hand. It matters little what next he does with this hand. When a man can accomplish the loftiest action in the world without being steeped in grace, this man is a Stoic, he is not a Christian. When a man can commit the lowest action in the world precisely without committing a sin, this man is not a Christian. A Christian is not defined by a low water mark, but by communion. One is not a Christian because of standing at a certain moral, intellectual, even a spiritual level. One is a Christian because of belonging to a certain ascending race, a certain mystic race, a certain spiritual and carnal race, temporal and eternal, belonging to a certain kindred. This cardinal classification cannot be made horizontally, but vertically.”

The communion defines the Christian. Not only that, the one who, by choice, refuses to enter into communion, refuses to hold out his hand to play the role God intended him to play in the salvation of all. Not only does that person refuse to accept his own salvation, he hinders the rest of us, in some mysterious way, from achieving our own. He has refused to join himself in love to the whole of mankind, he is alienated, a stranger, both to God and man.

The second piece I found interesting may provide some evidence of the truth of what Peguy is saying. That piece was a stock analysis for Starbuck’s. Starbucks has proven to be extremely successful by convincing us to pay three dollars for a cup of coffee that we could make at home for less than one. What is it that prompts us to stop off every morning on the way to work to get our morning jolt of caffeine? I’ll let the stock analyst explain why he is a Starbuck’s regular:

“First, . . . because, like many others, I am a sucker for the ritualistic experience of what founder Howard Schultz has termed the "third place" of American life. It's a place without the stresses of the home or the office, a neutral ground where there are always "friends" behind the counter. In our largely impersonal, digital and ethereal world, returning to the homey confines of one's own Starbucks, staffed with people who care enough to remember something about us, provides a primal human connection.

If Starbucks were just selling water, or a blast of air, we would still want to start or take a break from our day there. It's the white-collar equivalent of the tavern next to the auto plant, where Frankie behind the counter hits us with a shot of Wild Turkey and a Bud draft on sight. A company that can create the illusion of compassion with high standards of hiring and staff training is starting off on the right foot at earning a high rate of return.”

Starbuck’s is selling relief from the alienation each one of us experiences as the culture we live in becomes increasingly secular, even anti-religious. So many people are becoming so estranged, not only from themselves but their families and friends that they are willing to spend four dollars for a cup of coffee in order to share an illusion for a half hour a day.

Perhaps all of us Catholics, members of a troubled, but eternal Church, should try a little harder to pierce the alienation of the guy standing next to us, waiting in line at Starbucks. Perhaps, we could share with him that real Communion is found, not in a cup of coffee sold for $4.00 a pop, but in the Cup of His Blood. Perhaps we can share that Communion is not found in a stale biscotti, but in Bread of the Finest Wheat. Perhaps, we can invite them to the table.

Who knows, our own salvation may depend upon it.

1 Comments

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on February 19, 2005 7:19 AM.

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