Friday, July 19, 2013

Communion. A relfection by Archbishop Alexander Sample.

Most Rev. Alexander Sample
Archbishop of Portland

Since receiving the pallium from the hands of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on June 29, I have been asked more times than I can count what the moment meant for me. Both before and since traveling to Rome to receive the pallium I have reflected deeply on that question. What is the essential symbolism of that simple woolen band that I now wear on my shoulders at solemn Mass?

The word that keeps coming back to me again and again is “communion.” The pallium, which is given to metropolitan archbishops from all around the world as a symbol of their jurisdiction, is much more about communion and service than about power and authority. It is about communion with Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Trinity, communion with brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world, and of course communion with the successor to St. Peter and head of the college of bishops, the Pope.

As I lined up to process into the magnificent Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, I was standing between an archbishop from Bolivia and another from the Fiji Islands, and across from me in the procession was an archbishop from Nigeria. Here we were, new archbishops from all over the world, and yet we were one — we were in communion with each other in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. And walking in procession behind us was the successor to St. Peter, as the choir sang the “Tu es Petrus” — “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

One of the great gifts that the Second Vatican Council gave to the Church was a renewed emphasis on an ecclesiology of communio. This means that we understand the Church as a communion of believers, diverse in culture and experience, yet completely united in the bonds of faith, hope and love. This theology of communion flows from our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ, so eloquently described by St. Paul the Apostle. We are many and individual members of the Body of Christ, but we form a unity and our place in the Body is at the service of that unity.

The dictionary defines the Latin term communio as “communion” or “mutual participation.” I particularly like this second meaning. We participate with one another in the communion of the Church, and there is a mutuality to our communion, so that we complement and in a real way help and serve one another. This is so important to the vitality and effectiveness of the Church’s mission to proclaim and witness to the Gospel.

The reception of the pallium was not at all about me as an individual person. It was about the communion of the Archbishop of Portland, and through him the whole Church in the Province of Portland (Oregon, Montana and Idaho) with the universal Church, visibly represented by the Pope. It was about our unity with the rest of the Church and our oneness of faith under the guidance of the chief shepherd of the universal Church, Pope Francis.

This spirit of communio is something that we must also experience and faithfully live here in our own local archdiocesan Church in western Oregon. What is experienced on a universal level in the Church throughout the world is also reflected in our communion of faith, hope and love in the Archdiocese of Portland. Under the pastoral care, loving guidance and governance of the local shepherd, namely your Archbishop, we must be people of communion, a people of unity for the sake of the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ.

Oftentimes, we do not see beyond the boundaries and lived experience of our own local parish communities. They become the whole of our Church experience, and our sense of communion with the rest of the archdiocesan and universal Church is diminished or even disappears. But we are Catholics, not congregationalists. Without this profound sense of communion with the rest of the Church, especially with our bishop and the Holy Father, we risk becoming a closed local community that can even stray from an authentic understanding of teachings of Christ and the sacred Tradition that has been handed on to us across 2,000 years from the Apostles themselves.

As I now shoulder the pallium, it is my profound hope and prayer that together we will be able to build among us a greater and more profound communion of faith, hope and love as a local Church in western Oregon.
Jesus once said that “every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

May we come to not just profess but also live what we say in the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

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