THE MAKINGS OF A SPIRITUALLY VIBRANT PARISH
Professing Christ is a far cry from possessing Christ. Living a selfless life in absolute obedience to Christ's commandments is the only way to possess Christ and be His disciple(s). What distinguishes a spiritually vibrant parish is the parishioners' habitually 'loving one another' in the same way as Christ has unconditionally loved them. (Jn. 15:12) Loving one another is enjoined as imperative in Christian discipleship. (Jn. 13:35) Apostle Paul calls it a debt that we "owe" (Rom. 13:8) to one another regardless of pelf, position or power. Apostles Peter and John commend it as a way of life to be diligently pursued and passionately preserved for mutual edification. (1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:11&23; 4:7,11&12 and 2 Jn. 1:5) Furthermore, Apostle John exhorts us: "Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth." (1 Jn. 3:18)
Parishioners' loving one another must manifest itself in the way they instinctively think, speak and act. The following are a few among the many channels of expression of their mutual love and adoration.
1. Greeting one another: (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12 & 1 Pet. 5:14)
In the first three cited references above, Apostle Paul emphasizes the need for greeting one another "with a holy kiss" while in the fourth and last, Apostle Peter reiterates it using a similar expression, "with the kiss of love". The kiss envisaged by the Apostles is by way of informal routine unlike the formal 'kiss of peace' we cherish having during the Holy Qurbana. In a spiritually vibrant parish, members tend to greet one another, with a warm and cordial embrace and with spontaneous cheer and courtesy, especially when they come together for light refreshments after the Holy Qurbana. The temptation to remain secluded in prisons of one's own making cannot then arise at all. Inspired as they are with love for one another, 'other people' and 'common events' do not generally feature in their sublime conversation. Instead, they tend to discuss shared moral goals and values; precepts and principles; norms and standards. Even the tone and tenor of their conversation will be mutually elevating and empowering as is summed up in Eph. 5:19.
2. Rejoicing in the Lord and in one another: (Phil. 4:4)
A parish community, that steadfastly upholds love in all its internal dealings with one another, tends to blossom out as a 'joyful' community, rejoicing in the Lord always and consequently in one another.
3. Living in harmony with one another: (Rom. 12:16 & 1 Cor. 1:10)
A joyful parish community evolves into a 'peaceful' community in due course, ironing out differences and forging consensus amicably. The parish community is then at peace with itself, with other parishes and with God.
4. Bearing with one another in a spirit of forgiveness: (Eph. 4:2 & Col. 3:13)
When interactive love, joy and peace permeate among the parishioners, they tend to be graciously 'patient' with one another's shortcomings, and refrain from "passing judgment on one another." (Rom. 14:13)
5. Accepting one another and serving one another: (Rom. 15:7; Gal.5:13 & Eph. 4:32)
The offshoot of 'patience' outlined in (4) above is 'kindness' in accepting one another as one really is, and being servants of one another in "humility". (1 Pet. 5:5)
6. Encouraging one another out of goodness: (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13 & 10:25)
By 'goodness' is NOT meant 'inherent' goodness, but goodness attained by the parishioners through the practice of virtues in successive stages starting from 'pervasive love'. At this stage, they are able to overcome their envy, and begin encouraging one another to scale greater heights of success in their respective professional and/or personal pursuits.
7. Teaching and admonishing one another in faithfulness: (Rom. 15:14 & Col. 3:16)
All parishioners cannot be at the same level of spiritual growth and awareness at any given time. Those lagging behind need to be helped out by the enlightened and discerning in 'faithfulness' which is yet another fruit of the Spirit.
8. Submitting and being hospitable to one another in gentleness: (Eph. 5:21 & 1 Pet. 4:9)
'Gentleness' ranks eighth in the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) Gradually, when parishioners climb up to the eighth rung of the spiritual ladder through self-surrender, the Holy Spirit enables them to submit to one another gently without self-importance or pride. They also tend to practice being hospitable to one another.
9. Exercising self-control in thought, speech and action: (Gal. 5:22)
At this final stage, parishioners are strengthened by the Enabler to gain control over themselves and be temperate. The steady ascent, step after step from 'permeating love', eventually culminates in self-mastery and control, indispensable to overcoming the world and its temptations, and living abundantly thereafter.
Gal. 5:22 reads: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." Only when ALL the parishioners bear the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives, does a parish become spiritually vibrant in its true sense. Becoming and being a spiritually vibrant parish, has therefore to be a protracted ongoing process. Providential grace is the one key to achieving final victory.
Nakkolackal V. L. Eapen,