The human reality of community has been on my mind and heart a lot lately. How we experience community is so foundational to how we experience Church. Pope Francis recently put forth a challenge to each of us:
“What do I do to make the Church a community in which everyone feels welcomed and understood, [in which] everyone feels the mercy and love of God who renews life? Faith is a gift and an act that affects us personally, but God calls us to live our faith together, as a family: as the Church.”
Pope Francis echoes the words of his namesake, the beloved St Francis of Assisi, who said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
Their words on community resonated deeply with me, and I would like to share with you my own words on community – through my version of the This I Believe essays.*
I believe in community. It was my parents who first gave me the gift of community. Around their college years they forged deep bonds of friendship through a Catholic group. When the group began to transition to marriage and kids, those bonds only deepened. They kept having their monthly gatherings, kids and all. And they didn’t leave us at home with sitters – we came too, and became our own community. Growing up together, all the times and trips we shared, these people were and are my first community.
Once in college, I searched for a faith community of my own. I thought I had found it initially– but it wasn’t enough. I hungered for a real connection with others who shared my insatiable thirst for God. And just when I needed it most, God opened a door, providentially putting me in a place where I could help build the community I longed for. We had no guidebook and the slow growth process was far from perfect. But I was always led by the inner certainty that this was where I was meant to be, and these were the people I was meant to be with.
Since those founding days, the community has been tested – a lot. Being in community is as challenging as it is fulfilling – and being called to serve as a leader was a challenge all it’s own. I experienced the late nights, constant demands, and silent sacrifices of mothering the community – and also experienced moments of deep humility when, reaching my limits, I realized how much I also needed them. I had to learn to lead them and to be with them at the same time. I took the risk of being vulnerable, and felt the interpersonal tension that naturally occurs when people are learning to be together. The trials were many – but I now know the joy of seeing the community I helped bring to life flourish. This experience deeply shaped my beliefs about community:
I believe our communities are enriched by differences, if we accept each other and ourselves with humility. I believe we don’t have to walk away when difficulties arise, but that continuous striving for communion is the seedbed of a greater wisdom, a deeper love, a stronger bond. I believe tension can actually be creative if we have faith in the process and in each other. I believe that I, as an individual, do not necessarily know better than the community, and that I often grow better by yielding my will to another’s wisdom than insisting on my right to an opinion.
And I believe, ultimately, as humans, we can only reach our full potential in relationship. I believe that when we embrace the graces we’re born with: the graces of free will and responsibility, of originality and union, of being able to give and to receive, to forgive and be forgiven – there’s no limit to how deep our bonds of love can grow. I believe in community.
*This I Believe is a “public dialogue about belief- one essay at at time.” It’s an amazing project where people submit short essays on the things they believe in, and read their essays aloud – it got started back in the 50’s and is still going strong – you may have heard a few of the recorded essays being broadcast on NPR. I was actually assigned to write this “This I Believe” essay for a class in my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Program, a class on integrating spirituality and religion in to counseling. Disclaimer: I did not officially submit my essay to This I Believe, but anyone is welcome to submit one!