Obstacle to Community

We should celebrate solidarity with others because we are all members of the Body of Christ. While this is a spiritual reality, we cannot say that we experience it deeply or often. The great obstacle to living this solidarity is the basic flaw in human nature of alienation, the result of what has been called “Original Sin.”

Some Christian writers have interpreted Original Sin as the sin of pride, while for others it was disobedience. St. Francis of Assisi gave another explanation. Our first parents were created in the image and likeliness of God. The devil’s offer to make them on the same level as God was like selling them the Brooklyn Bridge. A terrible deception. St. Francis interpreted Original Sin as our first parents being grasping, wanting to possess what they did not already have. This lust for possession was the Original Sin that resulted in alienation from God, self and others─with some interesting consequences.

Alienating Possessiveness. Have you noticed how thin-skinned we are? We are easily offended by people being different from us. If they think differently from us, we are offended. If they act differently from us, we are offended. If the way they dress is different from us, we are offended. The French may say, “Vive la Difference!” when it comes to the differences between men and women, but countless books are written about men being from Mars and women from Venus. And the marriage statistics demonstrate that the difference in gender is hard to cope with.

It seems that we possess very strongly what is peculiar to ourselves—our style of thinking and acting. We possess our personal qualities so strongly that we feel endangered by others being different from us. Fear sets in that we may lose what we possess. St. Francis put his finger on it—lust for possession. In reality, a lust for psychic possession. Our deep-seated alienation toward others is awakened by their differences.

What does this fear do for our relationships? When St. Francis met the leper, he was able to embrace him. When we encounter people who exhibit differences from us, they become lepers to us, and unlike St. Francis, we are unable to embrace them.

Unifying Poverty. St. Francis countered against human lust for possession by emphasizing poverty. Yes, material poverty, but also spiritual poverty. In the Gospels, we read: Blessed are the poor in spirit. When we deeply experience the insight that all that we possess has been given to us by a loving and gracious God, we can begin to take steps toward spiritual poverty. Ultimately, our deep-seated alienation is a rejection of our creaturehood and a refusal of gratitude to the Creator. Living deeply a life of gratitude to the Divine Giver will help us grow in spiritual poverty and become more open to others and their differences.

The spiritual exercise of practicing compassion is another help to growth in spiritual poverty. Here we attempt to become fully present to another, in a caring and attentive way, so as to receive the presence and the unique gift of the other. Through this exercise, we give ourselves away as a gift to others, making ourselves spiritually poor. For the moment we shed our psychic possessiveness. We deliberately set aside our alienation toward another with the expectancy of discovering the giftedness of the other. In the process, we suspend judgment of the other and we see the other in a different light.

The ultimate growth experiences in spiritual poverty come from the progressive surrender to the Spirit’s possession of us. Our lust for possessiveness can only be remedied by Spirit-possession. We demonstrate our Spirit-possession by our total dependency on the Spirit. Only the Spirit of love can dispossess us of our psychic possessiveness and free us for compassionate relationships with others.

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