Dear Friends in Christ,
Common + Unity = Community.
The things we have in common, do in common, and love in common both help produce human unity and flow from it. We all naturally desire an experience of community with other people, and when the things which we hold in common are noble and uplifting, then the experience of doing in them in common enriches us all. This can be as simple as being in a large stadium for a sporting event and pulling for the home team or as complex as a group of people responding to the challenge of a natural disaster.
But within all large communities are smaller communities. States have counties, and cities have neighborhoods. Dioceses have deaneries, and deaneries have parishes. And within each parish there are distinct communities. At St Mary’s, for example, we have the families in our parochial school and the families who home school; we have the singers in our several choral groups and the volunteers who visit the sick; we have scouting programs for the young and fellowships for adult men and women. All of these and many other groups in our parish are distinct communities within the same spiritual family, and belonging to one of these smaller communities greatly enhances the experience of being part of the larger community. So, when I hear someone say that it is difficult to find a sense of community in a large parish, my first questions are: What group have you joined? What task have you volunteered for? What event have you attended? What activity have you helped organize? In many ways we make our own sense of community by showing up, lending a hand, identifying a need, and offering to do more.
There was a time in living memory when the local parish was the social hub as well as the spiritual home for most Catholics. CYO dances, Mardi Gras balls, weeklong missions preached by visiting priests, parish picnics and spaghetti suppers, the 40 Hours devotion, sodalities of every kind for the women, and the Holy Name Society or Knights of Columbus for the men. These and many other expressions of community life may still exist in one form or another, but the social context in which we now live is so fundamentally different and the opportunities for doing other things in our spare time are so numerous, that the ways in which earlier generations of Catholics experienced community in their parishes no longer touch most Catholics today. And for that reason we need to shape new ways to experience community, and the first way is to stop thinking of the parish as a place where we go to get something we need – like stopping by the market on the way from work to home – and start thinking of it as a place we go to give everything we have to others. We give first to God, and then we give to all others for God’s sake. From there, we will find new ways to experience community if we look for them and take the initiative. So let’s get started. This Sunday introduce yourself to someone you see at Mass each week but whose name you don’t know, and do it again the next week to another person. In short order, no one among us will lack for a feeling of community.