I am still shocked when I hear that people do not really realize what Christian community, the basic block of Christian life, is all about, and that all, no matter the state of life, are called to live in some kind of community beyond their own family. It is not an idea for religious, extroverts, or people with the works of mercy bent only.
The word 'Christian community' is overused, abused and misused.
I have asked recently on my Fb page, casually, if people thought that community can be built online or the close proximity of bodies is a requirement? Not surprisingly, some of the answers were confirming people's wrong ideas about what Christian community is. It also confirmed the fears or excuses many of those have when they imagine kind of hippie communes or old type Charismatic communities with ladies flowing around the prayer rooms with tambourines. The truth is that the lack of living examples create imaginary ideas for what Christian living in a community should be. We imagine that having family life and going to Mass on Sunday with an occasional participation in youth group or Bible study and a dance is all that that is. We have fallen so far away from the ideal that the scraps of any communal living are satisfactory to us. We don't even know what we are missing.
From my short questions online, I realized that people confuse community with friendships, spiritual friendships, utilitarian friendships, networking, collaborating, hanging out, and all kinds of other things they identify as creating communities and community living.
The biggest malady of today's Western world is that everyone is trying to become self-sustained and independent. They do not like or want to depend on anyone, so each family tries to build a palace and a kingdom around their own needs, wants, and dreams. We do not really know how to build a harmonious family where spirituality, education, rest and work can take place in a purposeful and meaningful way. We follow the modern ideal of a family life and then we complain for the lack of time, we pretend we are busy while binging on watching Netflix for hours weekly, we surround ourself with clutter and then are overwhelmed with taking care of it, we live as slaves and we pretend we are having everything under control. The family can become an idol in itself and we can't see beyond that. Community life heals and supports modern family like nothing else. There is no other better remedy for families not only to survive but to thrive as living in a Christian community. It will teach you freedom, release your greatest potential and train you for life.
Community doesn't happen when I seek likeminded people. The likemindedness in practicing charisms will develop and take place within a community structure but it is not based on it. People looking for likemindedness, as C.S. Lewis underlined, are looking for the same spark and interest in another when they are being moved inside of their soul. This is the beginning of friendship but relying on building a community only on likemindedness will not move forward beyond struggles, opposition, difficulties, trials.
Community is not networking or collaborating only. These can come out as a fruit of being in one community but if community is built only on that, it wil not last beyond the points of engagement in particular tasks, work, project, no matter how exciting, innovating and progressive it sounds. Task oriented collaboration could ignite further interest in belonging to a Christian community.
Community is not connectedness, although the early stage of building community is all about that. Connectedness happens when we connect. Duh. We connect enthusiastically and purposefully. But we do not engage in deep relationships, we are looking for points of interest that can further out own expansion. It is utilitarian friendship. Most friendships online fall under this category. From LinkedIn to Fb groups. People might feel they are building something close, yet if you really think about it they are very selective, interest focused and eliminate all distractions (things important but not convenient) from their point of view. Anything that doesn't suit them they omit. It's a selective world in the quietness of everyone's hand held device. People can say whatever they wish, whenever they wish and supply whatever visual aid for it online, yet the reality is far away from the portrayal of it created by them. Idealized life attracts but doesn't sustain. That's why marketing and consulting is huge now days. We want to attract to the ideal without showing the price that has to be paid. Connectedness is attraction without reality. That's why religious orders have try outs and postulancy. The first attraction has to wear off an the reality has to hit on.
Community is not looking at its core only for building spiritual friendships, although it is crucial that we find spiritual friends (persons who know us very well, and help us in our spiritual walk; not a spiritual director but a person who can speak into my life and carry my burdens with me, no matter what) within community. Sooner or later most people find their spiritual friends within a community but we are not aiming at creating clubs.
Community is not a neighborhood of default people living around in one geographical location. That's a suburb or a village or a district. People within its parameters can be friendly, know each other a bit, kindly offering meals and help in need, clean the streets and watch out for each other property but this doesn't constitute a community. It's a bunch of households trying to manage their surroundings to have pleasant life.
Christian community is not a prayer meeting. It can start as one and it is one of the core times and places where people engage and interact yet it is just the beginning. Your prayer group could be the beginning of community but it is not a community yet. It has some elements of a community.
Christian community is not having weekly meal together and talking about interesting things. It is a part of social life within a community and feasting and celebrating together is important yet just sitting around the table doesn't mean we have a common life.
Christian community is not weekly Bible study or even small group. They can be part of formation and well led small group can become a great place of discipleship.
If we would look to the Book of Acts, we would see what a local Christian community is, what principles should govern it, and what status and importance it should have.
Christian community, as in the Book of Acts, is build around one mind, one heart, and one spirit, in love. It is living in communion with God and others. Everything else comes out of that: it's purpose, goals, mission, ideals, charisms, spirituality etc.
Community will have its own rhythm, certain rule, charisms given to the founders. It will have certain feel, particular aspect of ministry and spirituality that will be elevated, a drive for concrete purpose. If you think it sound more like a religious order and less like a parish that you go to, you are exactly right.
Modern parish is still striving to accomplish what was set 2,000 years ago yet it fails on many fronts. It seems that modern parish in the US became a sacramental center not a community of believers that pray together daily, share all they possess, take care of all sick and needy among them, raise, train and send from their midst apostles and prophets. When parish lost its cultural appeal, the bare structure or what was left of it couldn't and can not sustain itself as a spiritual center or a community. Frantic scheduling of programs and frustration of lack of response is a daily bread for parish workers. People thinking that quick resolutions, weekly programs, occasional Bible studies, potlucks, social gatherings will draw crowds into Masses, religious education classes, etc. are shocked that so many people do not respond to the rhetoric of parish any more. Parishes can become communities but that requires a lot to change. St. John Paul II wanted each parish to become community of communities.
Community will require everything from you. You will have to sacrifice your time, energy and money. You will not be able to hide in your home whenever your want, if you are serious about community. You will discover and be confronted with your ghosts, skeletons, hurts as well as you will discover your potential, gifts, call and vocation. You will not be able to live as you wish for you will have to learn what real freedom is. You will have to confront every aspect of your life in the light of the Gospel. No one will control you, no one will force you, no one will demand anything from you. But you will be compelled, for the love of Christ, to revolutionize your ideas about life, reorder your priorities, and you will have to die many deaths to enter into communion with God and others and sustain those relationships, not run from them each time you want.
You can not build a community without living in close approximation. Community has many aspects of family life. You do not chose your family members, you live with them. Especially those you naturally initially dislike will be the instruments of chiseling of your heart and character. You will also find people who will enormously inspire you, draw you closer to God, you will discover depths of human interactions that you thought are not possible. You will go beyond formal, surface and weekend relationships, and you will see, sooner or later, the beautiful and the ugly of most of your community members. And you will understand that we need each other to start living on earth as in heaven now.
So Christian lay community, which can include religious, priests and lay people, will have a governing body, structure, vision, goals, mission, formation, discipline, accountability, vision, spirituality.
In our pragmatic world focusing on success what we usually ask is 'but what do you do?' asking also about Christian community. People may see that certain community is helping immigrants, or orphanages, or making retreats for confirmation kids, or presenting evangelization drama or leading praise and worship and music during certain events or running a soup kitchen but what they see is only the action of community, it's the same when we see Trappists making caskets or brewing beer, thinking this is their main occupation that improves and aids society. But we chose communal life first so we can belong not so we can do things together. Doing flows from being. In a community we verbalize our bonding in Christ, and our doing is secondary although it brings much good to common humanity. In a community we accentuate caring above accomplishing. In a community we give each other space to heal and grow. We are not offended neither distracted by it, we welcome inconveniences connected to it and we try to carry each other burdens by more than weekly phone call. We walk in brokenness together, covering each others' wounds and releasing healed hearts and bodies. In community we learn to forgive for we have to be forgiven much and often. We do not live in offense or disconnection because of someone's political different opinion, we do not carry the offense but we dig in to discovering the reasons for it. We want to understand and be open. To be seen as effective and productive is not the primary concern of a community for we understand that becoming like Christ takes long time. We decide to give ourselves and others enough time to grow. In a community we learn to trust and how to become trustworthy. In a community we receive new heart and a new spirit to soar. In a community we learn how to live in a biblical covenant and true personal freedom.
There are hundreds of Catholic lay communities around the world. Ecclesial movements, local communities, base communities, small Christian communities, houses where lay celibate and religious live together. Some communities can be as small as several people, especially if they live together, and some can have several hundreds people in them, sometimes multiplying itself in different locations. Hundreds of thousands of people in Catholic lay communities pray, serve, grow, give and receive, train, impact their surrounding daily. It is still the most invisible force that continues the presence and work of Christ in many lands, regions, countries and without them there is no future for a vibrant, impacting, holy Church to survive current challenges.
This is a repost from MajorChange Fb Group thread, it has been reposted in its original form.