In this age of ruthless bottom-line efficiency, of a libertarian ethos that celebrates the strong individual and scorns the weak, there is a need to recover the Catholic sensibility of communio. We are not alone, nor are we meant to be alone. Instead, we are called to support and sustain one another. In the Acts of the Apostles, we are introduced to this sense of communio in the early Christian community, and we see it in its more radical forms today in monastic communities and some ecclesial movements.
Out of the darkness that descended on America at 9:30 in the morning on Dec. 14, we have seen signs of communio in action. The tremendous outpouring of solidarity for the victims and the families of Newtown, Conn., is as heartening as the massacre itself was devastating. People streamed into town to offer consolation, song and support. Gifts of food and money were sent by total strangers. With all of the distractions of fiscal cliffs and Christmas preparations, we still felt the need to express our solidarity, our communion, with the people of Newtown.
This manifestation of communio is the hint of what we need going forward. While much of the discussion right now is focused on specific pieces of legislation — more gun control or more funding for mental health programs — the larger issue is individual isolation and the lack of concern for the other that ultimately are symptoms of the culture of death. As Pope Blessed John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”): “This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’ This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another.”
Considering what is best for society, what benefits those who are weakest or most troubled, and most of all, to live in solidarity with others, this is ultimately what the culture of life, in fact the Gospel of life, calls us to.
There was a time when this sense of community was reflexive. Parents looked out for other families’ kids. Neighborhoods were aware of their troubled souls, and the community — school, family, church and government — was more likely to work together.
But for many years, we have been a society that has been splintering. Parents don’t support teachers. Families barely see each other in most neighborhoods. People don’t want to get involved. The idea of what benefits the common good has become less and less discussed, while the new mantras are “What’s in it for me?” “What have you done for me lately?”
Perhaps Newtown will serve as a reminder that we as a community are called to something more. We are called to be in solidarity with the weakest and most troubled among us, to stand with those who are hurting, those who are grieving, those who have no voice.
We may never be able to fully answer the question why this horror happened. We will debate the details and argue about the legislation. What is most important, however, is that we realize that resisting the culture of death is a task each one of us is called to, and each one if us is capable of.