By Fr Dan Merz
We were created for communion. Which makes sense because our Creator is an intimate communion of three. I don’t think it’s possible to be in heaven without having some capacity to enter into and enjoy communion with others. In the monastic tradition, even hermits need first to prove themselves worthy in the community before being allowed to live as a hermit—which is simply striving for communion with the divine alone.
One of the greatest creations of Jesus Christ (in my humble opinion) is the Communion of Saints. With reference to the Communion of Saints, we talk about the Church in three “places”: there’s the Church Militant here on earth—still fighting the battle against evil; there’s the Church Suffering in purgatory—being purified of any remnant of sin that still clings to them; and there’s the Church Triumphant in heaven—they’ve made it! But it’s all one Church! One Body of Christ, one Communion that stretches from earth to purgatory to heaven. And the Holy Spirit flows unhindered through that entire Body.
Sometimes I think of the Communion of Saints as a giant communication network with unparalleled connectivity. And the only thing that slows down the communication is sin, our resistance to the flow of the Spirit. That means the communication in heaven, where there is no sin, must be amazing! How often do I struggle to be understood or to understand another? But the Saints communicate in the Spirit unhindered by even the slightest “drag” of sin. We can only imagine!
Another insight to the Communion of Saints is that it’s about running with the right crowd. How many times growing up did you hear your parents question whether this or that acquaintance was a good or bad influence? The people that we hang out with have a definite impact on our behavior and the kind of person we become. When a mediocre basketball team plays an excellent team, the better team tends to “raise the level of play” of the lesser team, and the better team tends to lessen the level of their play. When the Church on earth spends time with the Church in heaven, our conduct level tends to be lifted higher than where we normally walk. Luckily, the Saints in heaven can’t be pulled down from their heavenly way of life. It’s a win-win situation for us!
In 2 Timothy, St. Paul describes this life as a race, and life on high with Christ Jesus is the prize at the finish line. Those who run marathons will often say how important it is for them to have friends stand along the course of the race who encourage them not to give up, cheering them on to the end. The Saints serve as encouragements, models, and cheerleaders for us as we run the good race. We’re continually tempted to give up, and they cheer us on. We get worn out by the trials and struggles that beset us, and they refresh our weariness with their prayers and encouragement. We get confused even about which direction the race goes, and they stand as certain guideposts pointing the way.
They also remind us that life is about joy and sharing joy with others, which is what communion means. I love the fact that my journey to God is not about me. We go to God together. And we’re surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, the Communion of Saints, every step of the way.