Father Earl Meyer: One Christian is No Christian
Amid the wars and pestilence of the fourth century Saint Augustine saw the danger of Christians losing the sense of community which is essential to an authentic faith. So he reminded them, “One Christian is no Christian.” His words are applicable in every age, but have a special significance now as the COVID pandemic is abating.
We have become accustomed to social distancing, which has the danger of making us more isolated, less interdependent, even uncaring of others. That could have negative effects in all sectors of society but is nowhere more crucial than among people of faith for whom community is of its very essence. Our present moment calls for serious reflection on the terse warning of Saint Augustine, “One Christian is no Christian.”
We are all hoping that this pandemic is soon over so that we can return to our former way of life. We cannot. Thomas Wolfe reminded us that, “You can’t go home again.” The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Whether we acknowledge it or not, the circumstances of our life and the world around us are continually changing. Perhaps never more so than now, as we anticipate a post-pandemic world. Our reaction to this uncertainty can either diminish or enrich our social and faith commitments.
To those who speak of a new normal, Pope Francis replied, “The normal of the kingdom of God means bread comes to everyone and there is enough; organizations are based on contributing, sharing and distributing, not in possessing, excluding and accumulating." This ideal has application to all facets of our life, for we are by nature social animals, as Aristotle so wisely noted. Again, this is especially true of faith communities.
Church attendance can illustrate the wider issue. With the serious danger of contagion it was only right, even imperative, that all gatherings including church assemblies be limited. What was at first an unwelcome curfew, might have become a comfortable convenience. It is easier to stay up late and sleep in than to retire on time and rise early for church. As any bad habit, that will be difficult to break.
We are at a moment of choice. We can make the effort to return to the full practice of our faith with a renewed appreciation of its value, or simply slide into an indifferent neglect. When we have time to read novels but not scripture, are regular at the gym but rarely at prayer, rise early for golf but not for church, our faith commitment lacks integrity. The Catholic tradition holds that “the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life.” If habits developed during the pandemic change that into an empty slogan, the heart of our faith is in peril.
It must be stressed that a realistic fear of infection, limitations due to age or health override any obligation to assemble with others, including religious services. In such circumstances people of faith can find satisfactory ways to be present to their faith communities other than actual physical contact. No one should be intimidated or denigrated in such situations.
The enforced isolation during the height of the pandemic might have lulled us into thinking that we can live our faith privately just as well as in community. And much more conveniently! If you are so tempted, pause and reflect on these timeless words from Saint Augustine, “One Christian is no Christian.”
Fr. Earl Meyer
St. Fidelis Friary, Victoria, Kansas