Belonging to a parish community has its good days and bad days:
"She's so pompous. I'm not going to sit by her."
"Don't bother him. He'll never help."
"Her smile really lights up this place."
"There is such a friendly atmosphere here."
The prefix "com" is from Latin and means "with." The word community therefore is defined: "with unity." This gets to the heart of Jesus' prayer at the Last supper when he addressed his Father, "I pray for all those who will believe in me.that they all may be one." That unity Jesus prayed for took on a special dimension when he gave his apostles (and us) the bread that is his body. The Latin word for bread is "panis." Add the prefix "com" and you have "companion," one with whom we share bread. At Sunday Mass we partake of the Bread of Life.
In Eucharistic Prayer #3, we pray, "Father, grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ. The basis for our parish unity, our togetherness, and the strength of the bonds between us is our friendship with the Lord Jesus. He has called us to be his friends. Through our baptism he made us members of his body. And members of his body come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and nationalities, all ages, all types of personalities, people with a large variety of ideas, values, talents and - faults.
Ah, that's the problem. There are no perfect people in this body. And imperfect people sometimes cause to tension, strife, anger, unkindness and the lack of unity. So how can we overcome our tendencies to disunity and increase our experience of community. I would like to suggest two things.
One of my favorite quotes comes from William Longfellow. He said, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each one's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." Reflecting on this quote, I recall what someone told me a long time ago. He said that you could knock on any door of any home in any neighborhood and find there an individual or a family that just had, is having, or soon will have a serious suffering.
In my years as a priest, I have found this to be true. The suffering could be physical illness, the death of a loved one, marital strife, a financial setback, difficulties in school, fear of danger, in-law problems, loneliness, guilt, deep regret.the list is endless. The last thing these people need is someone to criticize them or gossip about them, and add to their pain. If we strive to be more aware of the suffering around us in our fellow parishioners, we will grow to be a more compassionate people, sensitive to hurt and supportive in need. To offer an understanding heart, and assure a person that they are not facing their pain alone can do wonders for building a sprit of community. In a sentence, "Friend, what are you going through?"
My second suggestion also has a quote. It comes from the comedian, Victor Borge, who once said, "The shortest distance between two people is laughter." Too many of us Americans are workaholics and worrywarts, and we have lost the ability to be festive. We need to recapture the sense of wonder we once had as children. We need to seek more ways to bring laughter and song into our homes and into our parish gatherings. We need to rediscover the healing power of play. Just as we grow in appreciation of another when we learn of their sorrow, we grow in regard for another when we share fun. Garrison Keillor advises, "If the marriage needs help, the answer almost always is to have fun. Drop your list of grievances and go ride a roller coaster."
Fun works magic in marriage. It works magic in many other relationships, too. Some adults find it difficult to understand and communicate with teenagers. But to join them in a game of volleyball, play a board game or video game with them, or share a few corny jokes, and bonds of affection quickly develop. In simple but real fun experiences we grow in knowledge of the beauty, the goodness, and the wonder of another. And all this does wonders in building a sense of community.
The above reflections lead us to ask:
- How can I be more sensitive and responsive to the pain others are enduring?
- How can I bring more wholesome fun into my family, my parish community, my school, my workplace, or wherever I may be this day?
Then when we all gather together for worship at Sunday Mass and share in the one Bread and one Cup, we will feel a bond that is deeply rooted in faith, compassion and play.