“The baptised who experience acceptance, healing and empowerment in the faith community are better prepared to bring an understanding ear, a reconciling touch, and an encouraging voice to alienated persons…”                                                                                                                                                                                                                —Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future #38

The Holy Spirit begins His work of redemption and awakening in us to God our Father’s love, by first introducing an encounter with Him. Following the mountain experience, the God experience, there is then a call for formation, which comes hand in hand with the call to build and to form salient faith communities. The need for faith communities is scriptural in nature. Rooted in the Word of God and the breaking of bread, the faith community brings to life the prayer of Jesus, that “all may be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe” (John 17:21) In the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church , we understand that “it has pleased God, however, to make [human beings] holy and save them not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.” (9) While faith formation used to be seen as existing in its own bubble, we are slowly coming to comprehend that, “Faith is communicated by a community of believers and the meaning of faith is developed by its members out of their history, by their interaction with each other, and in relation to the events that take place in their lives.” (C. Ellis Nelson, Where Faith Begins, 10)

The challenge that the Church faces today, found already during ordinary time, and magnified in this extraordinary time of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to be a credible and authentic witness to the unity and the community that is found in the Holy Trinity. That we are a people incorporated into one another and made sharers of the mission of Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1213), and that there is an intricate level of interconnected-ness and solidarity in and among the members of the Church. St John Paul II writes in his encyclical, Church in Asia, that “communion and mission are inseparably connected. They interpenetrate and mutually imply each other, so that ‘communion represents both the source and fruit of mission: communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion.” (24) The Church is a living sacrament – a “sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race.” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 42) Each of us plays a role and part in the mission of Christ. If one sets off alone on this mission, one usually discovers that he or she will be unable to complete that mission. Pope Francis reiterates, ‘“Go” is the verb of the mission, and it says another thing to us: it must be conjugated in the plural. The Lord does not say “You go, then you, then you”, [one by one] but rather “Go together!” Those who go alone are not fully missionary, only those who walk together. Walking together is an art always to be learned, every day. It is necessary to be careful, for example, not to dictate the pace to others. Rather, one should accompany and wait, remembering that another person’s journey is not identical to mine.’ (“Pope’s Message to Neocatechumenal Way” 5 May 2018, Zenit.org) At the core of evangelisation, is communion that has its foundation in love. As they cannot be separated from each other, “Communion represents both the source and fruit of mission; communion gives rise to mission, and mission is accomplished in communion. ” (Catholic Foundation, “Communities of Faith”) The community then is the fruit and the labour of love, which draws the members of the Church together in communion and mission, and in “fellowship” “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

Nonetheless, the forming of faith communities that are welcoming and genuine, is often a path fraught with its own share of difficulty and perils. Ironically, the greatest threat to community building is an intra-problem. Like worms in the woodwork, the biggest threat to the community is the community gnawing away and biting at itself. The community is often spending so much time, effort and energy firefighting, and then to add fuel to the fire, engaging in divisive ways, and discord, through politicking, power struggles, gossip, backstabbing, boosting one’s ego, that there is barely any reserve left to engage in the important things – tending to the poor, the sick, the suffering, the marginalised, and tending to the sheep of the flock. This is an issue that is found across the Church at all levels, from the clergy to the laity. People are vying for the best seats and fighting among themselves over often mundane and trivial things – Should we charge people $40 or $45 for the buffet to celebrate the priest’s sacerdotal? The Chinese Pastoral Council is already celebrating the priest’s birthday, so the English Pastoral Council cannot celebrate his birthday as well. Silly people perseverating over minutia. These, point to the precise words of Jesus, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:24)

Community or Koinonia reveals the very essence of and embodies the mystery of the Church. This is the sign to non-believers: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yet, a community does not simply sprout as it were like mushrooms overnight. A community has to be cultivated. This furrowing of the ground, and the tilling of the soil begins as a first step, at home, in the domestic arena with families and parents being the child’s first glimpse of living in communion and love. The home has to be built on a deep and profound contemplation and witnessing to the love of Christ. Following that, the family unit must then radiate the light of Christ. Many Christians find difficulty in building trusting and safe relationships in community because there has been a lack in experiencing the love of God at home. Being models and examples, the children see how their parents are behaving with regard to catechism, the Faith, and how they live out their lives in service, or not, and these children then internalise what they encounter. How can someone love, or understand the love of God the Father, when they have been slashed in the face with razors as young toddlers by an abusive father? How can someone have a heart for the Church when all he or she has seen is the parent black-mouthing the community, the clergy, someone who is happy to fulfil the Sunday obligation and dust his or her hands off? How can a child understand the importance of the Eucharistic Celebration and the Sacraments, when all the child has been inculcated with is that it is the examination period and that studies are more important? A community begins in the marriage, and in the family.

Beyond, the immediate community of the domestic sphere, the greater community is formed by catechists, educators, friendships, and the members of Church Ministries. As St. John Paul II says, there is a need “to promote a spirituality of communionmaking it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up.” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 43) This spirituality of communion is found when persons put the self aside, to make space and room for others, to “bear each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:12), to share both joys and woes, and to attend to the sufferings and the needs of others. When formed rightly, the baptised Catholic who experiences and encounters love, non-judgement, people united for the Kingdom of God and Godly ideals, acceptance, healing, and reconciliation, is then able to be welcoming, to embrace, and to be Christ to others. In that way, the community is able to grow and reach out to more people who are searching for God and for the meaning of life.

For a community to work out, these are the measures that must come into play:

  1. The Community has to be centred on prayer and the Word of God. Without prayer, which is both an arsenal and fortification, it is difficult to discern the Will of God in the direction of the community’s beginnings and growth. A community seeped in the sanctification of its day through prayer and the Breaking of the Word is given the right disposition to hear the voice of God and Truth and to separate it from any false sources. Without prayer, the community becomes fragmentary via its pride, thinking that it can do without any supplication to God. There has to be conscious effort and time set aside for prayer, for it cannot be left to chance.
  2. The Community has to be committed to charity. The basic tenet of the Gospel is charity. St John Paul II encourages us to look at the early Christian Community as a pertinent example. The “Jerusalem community offered non-Christians the moving sight of a spontaneous exchange of gifts, even to the point of holding all things in common, for the sake of the poor (cf. Acts 2:44-45).” (Novo Millenio Ineunte, 53) Charity and tending to the poor and underprivileged causes the person to be stirred beyond the selfish concerns of the self. Looking out for others creates a disposition of love and generosity, that makes a person more willing to bear with the faults of others.
  3. People have to be valued in a community. A personal and genuine interest in a person, creates a community that is warm and welcoming. People can sense if someone is being real and genuine with them. With the emphasis placed on a person and his or her dignity as a person, and as a Child of God; and when a person sees that his or her time, talents, giftings, and charisms are valued and celebrated by the community, it then becomes attractive to be involved and invested with that community. Fostering community also cannot be left to chance, but occasions for fellowship and bonding have to be deliberately created.
  4. A Community must have Spaces for Dialogue. When community members are unable to voice out their views, or to iron out the frictions via dialogue, discussion, and reconciliation sessions, the community gradually falls apart. Open, honest, meaningful conversations have to take place, especially when it comes to the difficult issues on hand. Mechanisms have to be built into place for conflict resolution and the solving of issues, big or small.
  5. The Community needs to undergo periodic and timely renewal – for example attending a retreat together renews the purpose and the mission of the community. There also has to be a timely renewal of leaderships and those in executive committee positions. Many people leave their jobs because of bad managers. Likewise, people leave their communities due to bad leadership. Communities that have leaders who look out only for their self-interests and who hog the positions of leadership, create toxic community environments. In fact, the task of ministry and community leaders from the get-go is to mentor and the form the new generation of leaders who would take over their stewardship of the ministry or the community.
  6. The Community has to be actively forming itself. Proper formation is crucial to ensure that the community understands the teachings of the Church, and the wisdom of the Church in applying these insights to its own daily activities and living. Without proper formation, the community is a raggedy thing that is fragile and tossed about in the wind, and completely left to the mercy of its insecurity. Formation can take the form of Spiritual Direction from qualified spiritual directors, who themselves have a deep rooted-ness in Christ, attending formation talks together, going for theology courses, or reading selected spiritual reading together and unpacking the things read.
  7. The Community has to centre itself on the Sacraments and the Liturgy. Many communities burn out because they do not frequent the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thinking that they can bear the weight themselves, they stumble on with gas tanks and batteries that are empty. When time is spent with the Lord, for instance, in the Liturgy of the Hours, when a community contemplates together the Face of Jesus in the sacrament, when the community humbly seeks forgiveness and tries to right its relationship with the Lord, healing of rifts, divisions, and wounds occurs, and Lord empowers the Community to accomplish the work that has been set out. As Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Only Christ is able to make a community work. (cf. Archbishop William Goh’s Pastoral Letter on Building Community, Catholic.sg)

The Church that is serious in building community becomes a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, and leads us to a deeper understanding of our Faith. (“Empowered by the Spirit”, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). There is a genuine need and hunger among Catholics for solidarity, for connection and intimacy, to grow together in Faith. We cannot put off the building of community any longer.

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



“Forming the Faith Community”, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, 9.

C. Ellis Nelson, Where Faith Begins, 10

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1213

St John Paul II, Church in Asia 24

Novo Millenio Ineunte, 42, 43, 53

“Pope’s Message to Neocatechumenal Way” 5 May 2018, Zenit.org

Catholic Foundation, “Communities of Faith”

Archbishop William Goh’s Pastoral Letter on Building Community, Catholic.sg

“Empowered by the Spirit”, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops