The topic of loneliness and exclusion from parish life came up recently, and I threw down the gauntlet: I don’t think most of us have a real community at our parishes. Even those who seem so busy or involved or catered to don’t necessarily have much going on in terms of genuine social and spiritual relationships.
To which I propose the following quiz, to see if your parish really is your community. Not counting close family members:
- Do the people you sit near regularly at Mass know your first and last names? Do you know theirs?
- Do you share a meal of some type with another member of your parish at least once a week?*
- Is there someone you see at Mass who’s pretty likely to greet you on your way out, give you a hug, and say it’s good to see you — and you know that they really mean it?
- At least once a week, do you pray (outside of Mass) with one or more members of your parish for each others’ personal intentions?
- Do you regularly get together with other members of the parish to study the faith, talk about your personal growth as Christians, and encourage one another?
- Is there someone you can turn to for advice in your struggles with the faith? Is that person someone you can count on to love you and be kind to you despite your faults, but also to help you work through your difficulties and grow closer to the Christian ideal? Can you contact that person freely, as needed, without feeling like you are being a bother?
- Do you see other members of the parish outside of church activities? Daily? At least weekly?
- In your hobbies, sports, or pastimes are you likely to encounter other members of your parish?
- When you want to have a good time, is there another member of the parish you get together with, and it’s a lot of fun?
- When you just really need to talk to someone about what’s going on in your life, do you have a trusted friend from your parish who’s the person you call or get together with?
- If you had a crisis, would a member or members of your parish be there to help with rides, meals, housework, or other emergency needs?
- If you were in the hospital, would someone you know from the parish come to visit you?
- If you were sick, would other members of the parish notice you were missing from Mass? Would they know why you weren’t present? Would they ask if there was anything you needed help with?
- Do you have confidence that when things get really bad, you can turn to the people of your parish for support?
- When you think about the members of your parish can you say that although nobody’s perfect — part of living together is becoming aware of each other’s faults and weaknesses — there are many friends you admire and respect because you’ve come to recognize their struggles, virtues, and strengths?
- Can you name ways that others in your parish complement you, and thus together you make the community more than the sum of its parts?
- Do you find you have satisfying friendships within your parish that fill your human need for intimacy and emotional support?
- Can you honestly say — with a straight face — “My parish is my community.”
Some of these questions seem like impossible standards because we are so used to living without any real community, at all, anywhere, that we don’t know what human community is supposed to be. Some of them seem impossible because we have set our standards for parish life so low that we’ve forgotten even basic social skills like knowing each others’ names.
Human beings need community. We need genuine, deep, lasting friendships. Every person longs to love and be loved, to know and be known. Either the Christian community answers that need, or we are, at best, reduced to a me-n-Jesus factory.
How do you build community? By living together.
Why on earth would Christians want to live together? It’s not for our impeccable taste in shoes. Only one reason: Because we are Christians.
If that reason is lacking, there will be no authentic community — nor should there be. Be disciples of Jesus. Live together with other disciples. Those two rules are the answer to all the questions.
*Staff luncheons don’t count. Parish potluck or donut hour only counts if you sit down and have meaningful conversation with someone who is not a family member, whose first and last names you know, and whom you would consider a friend.