Aparecida on the Communion of Missionary Disciples

brazil-popeThe next three weeks we will examine chapter five of the Aparecida document, on “the communion of the missionary disciples in the Church.” We are learning, in Part Two of the document, about “The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples,” and we on our way from the chapter on holiness to the chapter on formation.

But Aparecida pauses for a long chapter – the second longest, after the one on formation – on communion, the Church. The context explains the importance of the chapter. What does holiness mean, and how do we achieve it, form people to it? We cannot rightly answer those questions without a vivid appreciation of the importance of the Church in our lives.

Aparecida rightly approaches the Church through the lens of “communion.” The Church is hierarchy, yes, and sacraments. But even more fundamentally, the Church is communion, the body of Christ, the spiritual conjoining of Christ and all those who are united to him. This is the central teaching of the Second Vatican Council: the Church is communion. But it is an utterly traditional teaching, a restatement and more vivid appreciation of the Council of Trent, of the medievals, the Fathers, and Scripture.

To envision Christianity without communion – true communion, with the universal Church – is to envision a Christianity without Christ, because if we are joined to Christ, we are joined to all others who are joined to him.


This chapter passes through five sections:

 5. The Communion of the Missionary Disciples in the Church

     a. Called to Live in Communion

     b. Ecclesial Places for Communion (i-iv)

     c. Missionary Disciples with Specific Vocations (i-v)

     d. Those Who Have Left the Church to Join Other Religious Groups

     e. Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue

          i. Ecumenical dialogue so that the world may believe

          ii. Relationship with Judaism and interreligious dialogue

The first section states the theme, as we have above. The next four discuss the living out of that theme. Sections b and c are long, and we shall discuss them at greater length in the next two weeks. Here we merely outline.

The idea of “places” for communion makes communion concrete. We live in the Communion of Saints, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We pray for the souls of the Church in purgatory. We obey the teaching of the Church, and love her Tradition. But these can all fade into mere ideas if we don’t live it out practically.

At the heart of Jesus’s preaching is love of neighbor. Simply put, it means that true communion in the Church is either lived in relation to our neighbor, or not at all. Neighbor is a brilliant term. In English “neigh” is from “nigh,” or “near” – the point is more vivid in Greek and Latin.

Christ’s insistence on the “neighbor” is simply an insistence on “place” in our living communion. Yes, we love the universal Church. But as material beings, we love it by loving the people who are near to us, the ones we actually see and deal with. This is where we discover what communion really means. More on that next week.


The next section considers “vocations.” The insight is straight from St. Paul: to love the body is to recognize that there are different parts, with different roles. The communion of the Church is not a “heap” of identical members – not a pile of fingers, which would be no body at all – but a rich interrelation of different vocations.

This is the second aspect of living communion: to embrace our own vocation, to accept the vocations of others, to love the appropriate diversity within the Body of Christ. Like love of neighbor, this is what makes communion real. We will discuss it more in two weeks.


As the sections on “places” and “vocations” discuss communion within the Church, so the sections on “those who have left” and on “interreligious dialogue” discuss our relation with those outside the Church.

The simple insight is that the way we think about these things is entirely related to how we think about communion.

We see – for fallen-away Catholics, for non-Catholic Christians, for Jews, and for those of other religions – the tragedy of being, in various ways and degrees, separated from the body of Christ.

And we see our call to invite them back, not only to a certain dogmas or practices, but to the communion, and indeed, neighborliness, that those dogmas and practices undergird.

Are there areas of your life that you need to think about in terms of communion?

Click here for the entire series on the Aparecida document.


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