more lessons in community

(Warning, this is a long “heady” post. If you’re looking for something more light hearted, may I suggest the calculation of at what price I’d be likely to sell out? Sex, spiders and 10 million dollars … oh my!)

Last time I wrote at length about “community,” it was in the religious vocation sense. But at the request of Talmida, and as a continuation of my last post, I give you some random thoughts about what attracts me to and keeps me part of the BIG Church.

Now, first let me say that as a once ex-Catholic, one of the things that drove me crazy about the Church was that it was this big, seemingly monolithic organization. It seemed to speak with one voice, often times in a heavy handed manner and sometimes not in accordance with my own personal views. The Church seemed to “not get it,” be “out of touch” and slow to adjust to a changing world. As a teenager, this is I think part of what caused me to leave the Church for a bit … which turned into 10 long years. It seemed unlikely that I’d be able to be “me” as a part of a 2,000 year old global organized religion. Much better to find my own way.

Of course, I found that life could be lonely and solitary out there on my own. I was no closer to having it all figured out. If anything, the pain and suffering of the world seemed even more pointless. I managed to develop a solitary prayer routine (of course I called it “meditation” – prayer was something well beneath my pseudo new age sensibilities). I was active in my community, volunteering and doing my bit. But I was still the doubting wondering sort, and I was kind of lonely doing that on my own.

Then one day I realized that my residual anger against the Institutional Church had lessened. And somehow I found myself in a parish where it was ok to not have it all figured out. I felt welcomed and at home, part of a community of believers. But more than that, part of a community of people who didn’t quite have it all figured out either. And that was ok. Lesson one then for me in community was that sometimes, it’s just easier to have company when one is wondering and doubting.

Over time, I was transformed through God’s infinite humor from former heathen to the ultimate church geek. Yes I developed an appreciation for scripture and the Eucharist and personal prayer. Yes I started to develop a friendship with that Jesus guy. But it was through my fellow parishioners that I really began to feel part of the Body of Christ. I’ve often commented that one of the things I love about church is that it causes you to get to know people you would never become friends with out there in the real world. I have come to be particularly fond of the cast of characters at my parish. Over the years there have been personality conflicts and disagreements over seemingly pointless matters. But when push comes to shove, we have always been able to overcome our differences and realize that we’re all on this journey of faith .. together. We have worshiped together. We have worked hard together. And we have grown closer to Christ … through the Spirit … together. Lesson two then for me in community was that God didn’t intend for us to walk alone on this journey but in the company of friends.

I got to the point where my parish was the focal point and highlight of my life. Weekends and weeknights, chances were you’d find me at the parish center or in the church doing my social justice thing or RCIA or Pastoral Council or teaching Sunday School or just there in the pews. I was comfortable in my fairly progressive Catholic parish, but wasn’t so sure about those “other” Catholics. You know, the ones who focused more on personal traditional devotions like the Rosary and Adoration and whose idea of justice was focused on one spectrum of life issues. But then I started going to daily mass downtown during my lunch times, at a more conservative parish. I’d love to see some stats on this, but I’d venture to guess that your average daily mass-goer is much more conservative. I often times felt like I was masquerading as one of those “good” Catholics. Nevertheless, there I was. And over time, as I prayed daily with these folks and shared the Eucharist with them, my ideas about “those Catholics” were transformed. God’s heart is big enough for all of us. Our individual personal truths are just that, our individual personal truths. It is only by joining them together that I think we can get close to God’s truth. Lesson three then for me in community was that it takes all kinds … we are meant not only to support and affirm each other, but to challenge and question each other … in love.

So, my understanding and appreciation for the global church was expanding. At the same time, I was going deeper into the Catholic Social Teaching traditions. I came to see an underlying thread throughout the teachings … community … common good … solidarity … a recognition that we are all one family, God’s children, put here together. It only made sense to advocate for policies that would give each of our brothers and sisters human rights and access to those things we need to live our lives to our fullest potential … in peace. The social justice teachings of the Church are not INSPITE of the fact that we are a global church, but because of that fact. It gives the Church a different and unique perspective. It is not us vs. them, but us together that frames the Church’s socio-political views. This fourth lesson helped me to do more than “put up” with the global institution that is my church, but to love and appreciate it. This in turn gives me pause to moderate some of my knee jerk reactions that the church is slow to change and out of touch. Yes, in my opinion this may be true. But what does my counterpart in India think about the matter? Or in Kenya? Or Bolivia? Or at the more conservation parish down the street?

My favorite image that someone gave me for the fact that our church may be slow to change course is that of a large Ocean liner. Our Church is vast and has been on its course for 2,000 years. If those navigating the church through choppy waters made a sharp turn to the left or to the right, we’d likely be knee deep in trouble. Sometimes it makes more sense to make those gradual, well thought out course corrections. And perhaps to send out smaller ships to explore the waters in various directions and report back.

Well folks, there you have more than you wanted to know on my thoughts about community as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a beautiful sunny Earth Day outside, and so I’m signing off and going for a walk. Alone. Solitary. To spend some time with the big guy. Because that’s important too … it’s just not all there is for me.


A said...

You have said volumes here, and well.

Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Let's hear it for parishes where it's OK not to have it all figured out! (which should be every parish!)

Talmida said...

Thank you, Susan! That was wonderful! What a terrific role model you are.