A community is a unified body of individuals, who share a common bond and connection. Within my Catholic community, we gather to share our stories; our joys, triumphs, and our sorrows. We gather together in joy and thanksgiving to receive God’s life and grace; through His Word and his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. Our church is our shelter and our harbor in times of difficulty, as is stated in Isaiah 4:6.. “It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from storm and rain.” And we are brought together in Christ as stated in Ephesians 1:23…”The church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”
I felt a very keen sense of shelter and love within my church community the other week,when I was able to take my mom to Ash Wednesday mass. It was a very momentous occasion for us, because I hadn’t been able to get my mom to mass at a church in four years. This was the first time since her illness begam that mom was well enough to be able to sit through a full mass. I have been able to occasionally take her to catholic services at the chapel in her care center, but it is not the same as attending a full Catholic mass in a church. I had dreamed of going to mass with her again… especially an all school mass, where my kids attend catholic grade school. So, when I finally got her there, it was a very big deal for me!
I can’t explain how emotional it was for me to sit next to her while listening to and singing “On Eagles Wings”, which has always been a favorite church song for both of us. It brought back memories of when I would play the song on my flute as a young girl in our porch, with my mom standing in the kitchen listening (and probably secretly hoping I would get bored with it , as I would get a little “obsessed” with my playing when I found a song that I loved to play !) Every so often during the mass, I would look over at her, and she would flash me a beaming smile…obviously thrilled to be sharing mass with me and my daughter Lauren. I choked up a few times when I heard her trying to sing, as she garbled out some of the verses of the song. It was a very healing experience for all of us, and a memory I will always hold dear.
Recently I heard a speaker at our parish faith formation night tell us, “We don’t “have” to go to church, we “get” to go to church!” Sometimes I hear people talk of how they don’t “get” anything out of a particular church service. Ultimately, the real purpose of going to church should be to praise God and to show Him our great love and immense gratitude for all of the many blessings that he has given us!
I think of people in war torn or communist countries where there is no religious freedom.There are people in this world who don’t go to church, because they are not ALLOWED to go. It is against the LAW to go and celebrate their faith with their community in public. I can not even imagine what it must feel like to live in such an oppressive place. I have heard of a group who lead a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Christian retreat in China, who had to memorize the whole entire curriculum, as they had to destroy any evidence of holding any sort of Christian event. They needed to hold the weekend retreats while hidden out in the jungles, or in remote areas, where they could not be easily tracked. Talk about having dedication and a deep passion for spreading the Good News!
I think of how important it is to belong to a supportive and loving church community, especially during very difficult times in our lives, like when a loved one dies or is very ill. Our church friends hold us up, keep us afloat, and help carry us to shore when we feel so consumed and adrift with our intense pain and loss. I was very much reminded of this during the 6 funeral services that I attended during the last 10 months this past year.
One of the funerals was for my dad’s best friend who had passed away after a long courageous battle with cancer. My father gave his friend’s eulogy, which was such an honor for him, as he was his friend for nearly 40 years. I sat there feeling so very emotional and proud of my dad. I knew that it was very difficult for him, as his friend was not only his friend, but he had also become a father figure for my dad. My dad’s friend was 15 years older than him, and as a result he became sort of a mentor for my dad throughout the years. This was especially true since my dad lost his own father suddenly when my dad was only 19 years old. I was very inspired by the high level of deep respect, love, and admiration my father shared with his friend. I was so inspired by the deep faith of his friend, and the very loving support from his family and friends. At no other type of service is it more apparent just how essential it is to have that kind of love and support in a faith community!
I myself have been lifted up time and time again by the rosary prayer group that I am involved in at my parish church of St Odilia in Shoreview, Minnesota.We are a group of young moms, who usually gather once a week to share our joys and struggles, and to pray together. We pray for God’s grace and love to heal, protect, and strengthen others that we know who are hurting in our community and our world . We pray for each other and the various hurts that we ourselves battle through. We pray for the safety and well being of our families and our children. We then pray the holy rosary together, which involves contemplating on the sorrowful and joyful events of the lives of Our Lord and his Mother Mary. The rosary allows one to get a very personal sense for what Jesus went through for us…and it allows you to focus on and pray for specific virtues during each meditation throughout the prayer. It has been a very powerful prayer method for me and my group of friends!
I want to end this blog post with a passage from Max Lucado’s book “Fearless”. It is about the importance of being a part of a loving Christian church community!
Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries…When we mix, mingle, confess, and pray, Christ speaks.” (reminds me of Romans 12:4-8 🙂 )
“The adhesiveness of the disciples instructs us. They stuck together. Even with ransacke hopes, they clustered in conversant community.They kept “going over all these things that had happened.”(Luke 24;14)
Isn’t this a picture of the church–sharing notes, exchanging ideas, mulling over possibilities, lifting spirits? And as they did, Jesus showed up to teach them, proving “when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:20)
“And when He speaks, He shares his story.God’s go-to therapy for doubters is his own Word. “Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to (Romans 10:17). So listen to it!”
The following is a beautiful song called “Shelter” by Jars of Clay (just click the Youtube icon at the bottom):