What you dream alone remains a dream, what you dream with others can become a reality. Edward Schillebeeckx coined this phrase as a way of expressing the important truth that effective compassion is a collective endeavour. Private charity, be it ever so generous, is, in the end, not fully effective. Let me try to explain this by way of an example:
I belong to a religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. A couple of years ago, we had a General Chapter which brought together Oblates from around the world. The intent of any General Chapter is, of course, renewal. So we met and agonized: What could we do to renew ourselves so that, through our presence and ministries, Christ would be more present in the world?
At one stage, we were put into small groups and each group was asked the same question: Given the situation in the world and the church today, what, singularly, should we do so as to try to be more effective missionaries of God’s love and compassion? In the end, all of us came to one answer, and it was not the answer we had imagined prior to deep prayer and common reflection.
Our answer? We came to realize that if we would want to be more effective instruments of God’s love, we must be more together in community, linked more strongly to each other, living out more selflessly the truth that where enough people of goodwill are together in one mind and body an effective compassion can occur. We realized too why presently we, like so many others, are often ineffective. We have good private sentiments, good individual talents, and good individual energies, but unless we are linked and acting as one body we are no larger, no more powerful, and no more effective than each of our own small persons. Alone you can make a splash, but not a difference. Great individual charism, and even heroic acts, not fully given over to community, are like the fireworks at a festival, a stunning spectacle, a distraction from the ordinary, but everyone goes home to life as it was before. Nothing changes.
What has the power to change life is community, the type of community that the New Testament describes. Alone we can do effective private charity, but we can do little to change the overall situation; alone our individual talents and gifts are often more the instruments of self-aggrandizement and the objects of jealousy than they are gifts for the betterment and joy of the whole; and alone we generally watch the evening news with a lot of discouragement at our own helplessness.
When we watch the evening news and see all that is wrong in our world, the feeling that comes over most of us is one of helplessness. What can I do to change any of this? We go to bed discouraged and a bit guilt-ridden. I should be doing more, but, concretely, what can I do?
Why do we feel so helpless and discouraged? Because we are watching the news alone … and alone we cannot do much. That is the point; alone we are in fact quite helpless.
Now, speaking figuratively, imagine that a parish would watch the news together. They would still be pretty helpless, but they could more than one individual. Next, imagine that a whole diocese would watch the news together. They would still not have it in their power to change all that is wrong with the world, but they could do a lot more than any individual parish. Then, suppose all the churches of a country would watch the news together. They would still be unable to fully change the moral, social, and economic forces that perpetuate hate and chaos, but they could do much more than any one individual diocese. Finally, imagine, (and what an image of Christ’s Kingdom this is!) that all the churches in the whole world would watch the news together. This body could effect the change that is needed; it could bring about an effective compassion in the world.
The truth that needs to be added is that until this happens, until all the churches of the world do watch the news together, we will be unable, effectively, to bring about love and peace on this planet. Effective compassion is collective. What we dream alone remains a dream, but what we dream with others can become a reality. Why?
Because private sentiment is not enough. Watching the news alone leaves us helpless and guilt-ridden. Our helplessness lies in our individuality. Alone we are no larger or more powerful than our individual talents. No one person, working alone, can change this world. A community, living a common ideal, can. Community, and community alone, can make our dreams come true.