We await for, and desire to reach, herd immunity. Get the jab (twice), and get it for the bulk of the population, is the mantra of governments and medical professionals across Australia. Reaching herd immunity is now the primary task on our way out of COVID.
A herd, as we all know, identifies a specific group of animals associated and gathered together, and acting in a collective manner. Strikingly, we Christians are quite content with being identified in a herd-like way – we seek to be sheep of the Good Shepherd, gathering together in faith, hope and love. Christians do herding.
But we do this in a particularly distinctive way. We herd, so as to be identified not simply as a generic group, but that each person, individually, may find personal meaning and purpose in the lives we share in common. In other words, we are a Communion in Christ Jesus, not a collective of indistinguishable theists.
Our readings today bring out this reality in different ways. St Paul’s hymn to our one-ness in diversity is a masterclass in thought of our unity in the Holy Spirit that cannot be evident without our individuality in expression. A variety of gifts, services and activities, yet one and the same Spirit; each a manifestation – a face, if you like – of the shared common good. Many parts; one Body.
Similarly, though using an entirely different image, St John recalls for us how Jesus himself identified this way of Communion. As disciples, we are not servants, who are indistinguishable from one another in what they do; we are friends, each individually sharing in the life of the Lord. It was to his friends that Jesus gave the greatest of loves. All humanity would share in the crucifixion of Jesus; yet, each individual would receive it personally. The ‘no greater love’ is the communion of friendship in the Lord; sharing together in the life of Christ.
The great C. S. Lewis had a marvellous way of expressing this: friends are those who draw apart from the herd, together. From within society – the herd – individuals form distinguishing friendships by investing themselves in other individuals. There is a communion that distinguishes our friends from the pack – a sharing in each other’s lives, without a giving up of our individual, unique selves. Friends draw apart, but do so together. While lovers will lie face-to-face; friends will sit side-by-side. This is Communion – not a giving up of ourselves to be absorbed into another, but the investing of ourselves in the life of the other.
When we say that 'Catholic schooling seeks to provide the young with the best kind of education possible, one that fosters a formation of the whole person that is deeply and enduringly humanising,' we are talking of a way of educating that fosters this way of Communion: not a collective, but friendship in learning. Not a herd, but diverse members of the one Body. It is a distinctive way of educating for it does not seek generic outcomes, but shared hopes. May we pray and work for this way of educating in Communion.
Archbishop Comensoli delivered this homily at the 2021 MACS Board Commissioning Mass.