Thursday, 16 March 2017

We are the free : the Church and Community

By Kirsten Brown

The Portuguese language has this beautiful concept - ​Saudade - which describes the nostalgia and longing we can feel for a place/person ​that is lost. Growing up outside of my ‘home country’ I often experienced bouts of this - especially following big family parties, never quite knowing where it issued from or why. A language that was familiar but unintelligible; food which brought comfort but was foreign, even music which could evoke deep set memories. 

It was not that something was ‘missing’ ​per se but, rather, that I had never possessed my community to begin with. I have found that stepping into adulthood while we start to become grounded as individuals, we also start to gravitate ​back towards those that we identify strongly with - our families, our communities - because that sense of knowing oneself and ​belonging is a fundamental human need.

I think that this also true when it comes to faith: our Catholic communities reflect where we have all come from and who we have the potential to be. So it follows that part of our faith journey is to enter wholeheartedly into our immediate communities or parishes. Scary, I know! If you’re anything like me (which varies from quiet, introverted to alarming levels of extroverted energy and noise) all I can say is: dive headfirst and keep these points in mind.

“I’m only here for Jesus” can also be an excuse to not talk to anyone

​It can be so tempting to leave straight after mass on Sundays. I use to absolutely loath having to go into the parish centre for tea. But my mum’s persistence, and the older people I began to talk to, gently rubbed down my attitude over the years. People I saw week-in-week-out who could have been complete strangers suddenly became for me a symbol of faithfulness and humanity in all its different aspects. Whether it was getting to know parishioners who were widowed, families, those who suffered debilitating disease, or more personally as family friends. These were the very people who built up my understanding of Catholic teaching, of charity and genuine friendship.

When we first moved here all those years ago, the first friends my mother made were parishioners. Having left the church for a while, when I did decide to go back it was these very people who had remembered me as a child and welcomed me back. 

“​Now​ ​you​ are ​the body​ ​of Christ,​ ​and​ ​each of you is​ ​a member of it​”
[1​ Corinthians 12:27] 

Since we are all the body of Christ, our communities ​are the church and we belong to each other. If Mass is only about ‘me’ in isolation from ‘others’ we have completely missed the point that we are called to a holistic faith - just as God is Trinitarian, we too are called to live in community and lead each other to Christ.        

Community will be your backup memory

​You will almost certainly go through periods during which doubt is the impossible shadow on a cloudy day. Yet there he is, defiant and stubborn. It can hit us in the most subtle ways (“one day without prayer won’t count”) to full on disillusionment (“I’m literally just talking to myself”). No matter how we experience a wearying in our faith, community is our physical reminder that no matter how we feel sensually disconnected from God, we are spiritually tethered to him, and can grow in faithfulness by choosing him despite our doubts. Seeing the faithfulness of others, witnessing how God is working visibly or spiritually in their lives serves as a source of hope for our own lives. 

One of Rene Magritte’s most evocative paintings, called ​Le Mal du Pays (homesickness), can be looked at in this light to give us a visual metaphor. It shows a man looking out over a river, in the presence of a Lion, appearing unaware of its presence. At times we can be like the man, stuck in the weight of our doubts, the feeling of an absent Christ, and our nostalgia for ‘what was’, so much so that we cannot turn in faith to see he is elsewhere (if hidden). Our communities, like the bridge barrier, hold us at bay so eventually we turn toward Christ. 

In the end all that is left is our relationships with one another

Ultimately, community helps prepare us for our heavenly lives. 

'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.'

Revelation 21:1

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