Catholic Communication is Personal

Among the many marvels of being a Catholic lies the fact the Catholic learns to communicate as a person. When this happens – and it does in the saints – then something is being manifested in this world that reflects the existence of the three-personed God. All human beings are born as persons. But this does not mean that one ever uses even the created personal human character very successfully, let alone develops the vast spiritual possibilities that lie in grace. Sin and concupiscence make that unlikely. They breed too much solipsism and spite.

With redemption and grace, however, individuals potentially “cease to exist for themselves and acquire personality through being in Christ.”(Hans Urs von Balthasar) He goes on: Christ “does not absorb the individual conscious subjects; he endows them ‘from above’ (Ephesians 4:10) with personality and a mission that brings fulfillment to their lives.” This grace elevates the human being in a number of ways “for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”(Galatians 3:28) As von Balthasar explains: “theologically speaking, it is impossible to become a person except by becoming a brother of the ‘First-born’” (Romans 8:29) – along with those who are similarly chosen to be such.”

So what exactly happens to the way that Christians communicate when they truly believe? We are speaking of Christians who want the Spirit of Christ to convert them completely, not Christians for whom Christ is merely another object alongside one’s business, car, and golf game. For them, the habits of communicating picked up at home, are not enough – all those preferences that one learns: this ethnic group not that; this social class and not that; this social clique and not that.

The usual styles of communicating have all kinds of flaws built into them because they have been developed by sinful people. There are ways of relating, ways of imposing on others that have nothing to do with being Christian. There are styles of ignoring people, ways of retaliating that all have no connection whatsoever with Christian love. And these have terrible consequences. Saint Paul had it right: “if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”(Galatians 5:15)

         Hans Urs von Balthasar, 1905-1988

Love is wishing for and working for the good of the other person in every interaction with them and also in every thought and prayer for them as well, because to return to von Balthasar: “To the extent that man is spirit he can dispose of himself. He can decide whether and how he shall make his utterances. . . .He is the first entity that can freely tell the truth, but for the same reason he is also the first that is capable of lying.” He can manufacture justification for being violent, for lording it over others. He can justify shunning this person, manipulating that person – all while claiming to be a believer. However, becoming a person – i.e., by allowing oneself to be included in the mystery of salvation and actively learning (this does not just fall from the sky) how to love the other, all others, means letting go of the security of previous behaviors.

Moreover, it turns out that, in the human spirit, going out of oneself in love and coming to oneself in self-awareness are closely interconnected. The saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19) indicates the close connection. There is a lot that we learn about the human in the scriptures. That is where the authentic person learns how to live truthfully in love: “love is inseparable from truth. It is no more possible to conceive of a truth without love than it is to have cognition without love.”(von Balthasar again!)

And he continues: “Love is not lying on the farther side of truth. Rather it is the element in truth that guarantees it an ever-new mystery behind every unveiling. It is that never-failing ‘something more’ than what we already know. . . .It is what forbids knowledge to rest in itself but makes it the servant of something higher.” Our communication as Catholics is about the truth of life expressed with love, which is what God did in the Incarnation.

Of course this kind of communication knocks our beloved schedules on their head. It sweeps away our fascination with convenience. It shoves aside our prejudices. But then: “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16:25) Losing one’s life can be really inconvenient or it can express God’s salvation to this poor man or that neighbor in need through you.

True communication comes down to affirming others (every other) as persons, those mysterious, infinite irreducible spiritual centers who are God’s unique creations. At least initially, “the subject lays aside, as it were, its entire subjectivity, so that henceforth it may be nothing but pure openness to understand” the other person.(von Balthasar) Gone is the prejudice, gone is the gossip and the vitriolic communication so many Catholics get sucked into. One becomes the Good Samaritan with words as well as deeds.