What we can learn from Augustine’s mom about community

When Augustine’s mother Monica moved to Milan, she was concerned about fasting. The practice was universal in the church from the beginning, but it differed in places. In Monica’s hometown the church abstained on Saturdays, but not the church in Milan. What should she do?Augustine, then a catechumen, had no idea; so he put the question to his bishop, Ambrose.“[W]hatever church you come to, conform to its custom,” said Ambrose. Even as a bishop he said that he observed the same rule (Let … [Read more...]

There’s no such thing as private prayer

Modern Christians have a tendency to view their prayer life as a private matter. But as I discovered while researching my book Lifted by Angels, our counterparts in the early church assumed the active participation of angels in believers’ prayer lives. “[T]he angel of each of us prays alongside us,” wrote the third-century theologian Origen in his primer on prayer. How do we know when angels are present? Feelings of comfort, humility, and joy indicate their presence. When those feelings c … [Read more...]

Dependent on the body of Christ

Paul speaks of the church as being the body of Christ, and he's rather literal with the metaphor."The eye," he writes, "cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Cor 12.21). The Christian life depends upon other Christians. Ours is a contingent existence. Only in communion with each other do we find the means to live our faith.I reflected on that fact while recently reading about the death of Étienne de la Boétie. On A … [Read more...]

A community of prayer

Jesus tells us not to pray in public. But he doesn’t teach us to pray by ourselves.The Lord addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount. Right after saying that we shouldn't call attention to our charity, but rather do it in secret, Jesus tells his disciples to pray the same way. "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites," he says; "for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your r … [Read more...]

In the community of God’s love

The Trinity speaks to the interrelatedness of the Godhead, each person of the Trinity reaching into the others by an eternal bond of affection and love. That might seem abstract, but our love as Christians is supposed to mirror this love. But how, practically? It starts with charity -- less the noun and more the verb."Whenever one person helps another by word or deed," said Mark the Monk, "let both understand that this is the grace of God at work." Charity, in other words, is God's love … [Read more...]

Why Christians need the church

There's an old story about several blind men who try describing an elephant after touching various parts of it. Because the elephant is quite large, each man can only touch a limited portion. So the man touching the leg says the elephant is like a tree, while the one touching the tail says it's like a snake, and so on, each man coming to a different, incomplete conclusion about the beast.That story comes to mind as I reflect on the increasing number of people who claim to be Christians yet … [Read more...]

Life in the community of faith

American Christianity tends to be very individualistic. “God doesn’t save people in six packs,” as I once heard it put. But then again, God saved Moses and Israel. God redeemed Peter and the Church.You get a glimpse of this in Hebrews 11, in which the apostle Paul underlines the lives and deeds of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and others. … [Read more...]