So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them; and although there were so many the net was not torn.
John 21: 11
There is some way or other in which every single one of us feels strange and different. From early on in life we learn the necessity of conforming to the demands and rules of the culture that surrounds us if we are to have a place in it. Yet, precisely because we are a unique gift of God, the fit is never totally smooth and flawless.
It is probably the case that this inner tension and conflict, which we spend most of our early lives trying to dissolve, is actually the source of our own deeper life, the possibility of transcendence in us. Growth beyond conformation to self-formation, interformation, reformation, and transformation is dependent on our creative response to the ways in which our unique call chafes at the strictures of social and cultural demands for conformity. Our unique and God-given vocation depends on our learning how to bring our own uniqueness to the community in an appropriately compatible and compassionate way.
It is the nature of true community that it can, as the net of the disciples in today’s gospel, hold the distinctiveness of so many without breaking. Communion can only occur when each person is able to live out and offer his or her original call in the community. We have Jesus’ promise that in the Blessed Community there can and must be a space for the distinctiveness of each member, not merely in the person’s eccentricities but more so in his or her original calling.
Human spiritual formation is born of the tension between conformity to the demands of the world and a congenial living out of one’s own uniqueness and “strangeness.” What distinguishes the community of Christ’s body is that, as St. Paul teaches, it is not the similarity but the distinctiveness of each member that is the strength of the community. Because community is not our creation but a Divine gift, we can trust that beyond what may seem to be the dissonance of our differences lies the harmony of God’s design. We are brought together, as we are, to be the body of Christ and to serve, in communion, God’s loving design for the world. The love and grace of God is a net which can hold us together without breaking, even in our apparently “irreconcilable differences.”
The Christian community—lay, religious, family, business, etc.—is a place where fraternity is truly lived in harmony and peace, overcoming inevitable disagreements. It is a community in which the least, those who count for less, are held in greater esteem. It is a serious group of persons that has rules which are observed and for which there also exist sanctions. It is a community where it is above all necessary to continue pardoning the faults of others. It is a community which searches for those who are lost or alienated and that celebrates those who return. Most of all, it is a community in which Jesus is at the center and, with the power of his resurrection enjoys the miracle of a union based on faith, hope and charity. It is a community aware of its shortcomings, which is not frightened by its failings because it is certain of the pardon of the Lord. It is precisely this kind of community that we must struggle to build each and every day among ourselves, beginning in the family, passing on to the parish and the diocese up to and including all of society. This vision gives us the courage to confront the gravest conflicts of our time. We are certain that hatred will be defeated by love and vendetta will be conquered by forgiveness; but it all depends on the heart of each one.
Carol Maria Martini, The Challenges of Christian Community, pp. 85-6