By Eric Myatt
When you hear the word “community”, what comes to mind? I usually picture a community centre with kids running wild in an old gym. I imagine a summer picnic. I’m there with my family. I’m battling the urge to disregard all I know is proper and dive head first into a bouncy castle.
Community. I’ve heard this word used to describe people at church on Sunday. It seems like it should be an excellent term to describe Mass, but it’s never quite felt right to me. To be clear, I have some great relationships at my parish. I’m inspired and built up by them. We get together outside of Mass and talk faith, life, and church. But I know from speaking with other church-goers that this kind of experience is about as rare as seeing a grown man in a bouncy castle.
In his book Divine Renovation, Fr. James Mallon puts to words my unrest with “community”: “Christian community? Really? Does the gathering of a group of often isolated and anonymous individuals under the same roof for an hour constitute a community? I think not. Authentic community is a place where we are known and loved. It is a place where we find others to whom we are accountable and who are accountable to us.”
Oh. Known. Loved. Accountable. This is a far cry from what most people would place under the banner of “community”.
Under this authentic definition, where is your community? Where do we find this type of acceptance and opportunity for Christian growth? Is your community on campus, in your parish, with a group of friends? Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have this experience in your own immediate family.
Wherever it is, what’s one thing we can do this week to make our Christian community experience more authentic? Maybe after Mass this weekend we can shake off that awkward “Do I know that person?” moment and start a conversation with someone. Perhaps it’s taking an existing relationship to a new level by trying to start a faith conversation with them. Ask if they have any kind of faith background. If you know they’re a churchgoer, ask about what they thought of the readings or the homily. Ask if and how they pray.
I see a day when the word “community” will be held in reverence. I’ll proudly point out my people and say, “These loving, formative, missionary people know me and I know them. They keep me accountable. They care for me. This is my community.”