The Community Others Don’t Have

I‘m writing from detention, and am reminded why bad kids are so much fun. First of all, they’re nicer and kinder to each-other than “good” kids manage to be. A common bond of trouble is much stronger than the bond of the lack of trouble. Secondly, they’re funnier than kids who seem to think that humor is constant sarcasm. Now that I think of it, detention is a lot like the Church. A bunch of people who have screwed up, or are in the delightful process of screwing up, sharing in community in their common screwed-up-ness, with the goal of being saved from harsher, more just punishments for such afore-mentioned screwed up behavior, while having a good laugh along the way. Though I suppose most detentions are quiet – apparently I go to a very relaxed school. But then again, I am a member of a wonderfully relaxed religion, so it all works out.

You’re probably wondering why there’s a
picture of Grace Kelly right here. I’m not.

But it’s this community that I love about our Church. If there’s one thing our secular society – our atheist friends and our apathetic friends-we-call-friends-because-we-should-love-everyone-but-really-just-piss-us-off-with-their-cowardly-relativism – if there’s one thing they’re all missing out on it’s community. You can see this in their frenzied, innate desire to form churches without calling them churches; there are support groups, forums, websites, conferences and summer camps in which to celebrate their common lack of anything to celebrate. The sad truth is that the attempt to bond over a great, universal Nothing usually ends in with nothing much to show, and thus quickly reverts to bonding over a common dislike for Christianity, which is much more sensible, but creates a culture of friendships built on sneered lips, a foundation even shakier than sand. Oh well. At the very least, I hope they drink a lot at their functions.

The community our Church has is decidedly more radical. And we definitely drink at our functions. Everyone has dignity, everyone is Loved, everyone is a member of the Body of Christ, and everyone is a sinner. Isn’t that a happy thought? We are party of loved failures. Realizing this equality has striking implications. When we see a painting of a rich, white man stooping down to embrace a beggar, we assume it is the Saint stooping down. As far as Catholicism is concerned it might as well be the beggar who is the Saint, for deigning to embrace a man so rich. Either way, I believe that it is a mistake to view the charity of the saints as a result of pity, a result of feeling sorry that the poor are so below their status. Rather, in the true medieval spirit of Catholicism, a saint embraces a beggar for they are equal; he embraces his brother. This is – and always will be – the difference between Christian charity and secular philanthropy. The latter assumes that theirs is a position high and detached enough to make objective judgments about the needy, the former realizes that we’re all needy, that the poor will always be with us, that we are equal enough to hold hands with the poor. that we are equal enough to be held by them.

Like most things that can be said, they have been better said by Chesterton: “It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.” 

As a reader wrote on my last post, suffering levels the playing field. I agree, but would add that the playing field is already level, the Church just seems to be the only one willing to realize that. The Church realizes that rich and poor, smart and stupid, all break the same. Want to experience true diversity? Go to confession. Want true community? Become Catholic.

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