“Every day, as long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another” (Heb 3:13)
Whether we are inclined to be social or prefer solitude, God created us to live in community and unity. Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of this: The Israelites were a community separated out from the rest of the world by God. No matter what place they called home, they were still a community—a grumbling, complaining community as they wandered in the desert for forty years; but, still a community. The early Christians lived in communities of believers and drew strength from that strong sense of community. The New Testament is packed full of St. Paul’s letters to these various communities scattered throughout the lands. He continuously extols them to keep living the life they were called to live, encouraging them in times of need, and admonishing them when they fall into sin. Even though the communities are scattered world wide, the Church unites them under one mantle. This is how the Catholic (universal) Church was established by Jesus Christ: small scattered communities (known as the Church Militant), united together under one creed and eternally connected to the Church Suffering (saints in purgatory) and the Church Triumphant (saints in heaven). It is such a deep and beautiful plan! And theme of unity and community are a repeating pattern in the tapestry of life.
Fast forward to our present time and the need for community has not diminished. Almost every family I know is suffering today. Not just small matters, these families are afflicted with chronic illnesses, alcohol or other addictions, economic turmoil, divorce, etc. One cannot help but feel that the evil one is attacking with great fury. And like scattered sheep we are in more peril the more isolated we become from the flock. As one who has suffered from chronic fatigue and burn out for close to five years, I understand the humiliation in having to ask for help and expose my weaknesses and vulnerability. But, I also deeply understand the need for community as God intended. We desperately need the face-to-face interaction within our community.
It is too easy for the devil to trick us into thinking that social media is true connection, when in fact it is a shallow form of communication that does not allow us to enter into a deeper union with one another. We need to teach our children the importance of community and face-to-face interaction. We have a need to look into one another’s eyes and get a glimpse at their souls. To open ourselves to healing by crying and laughing with one another as we share our burdens and joys. This is the principal of solidarity that St. Pope John Paul II taught us. It is great to March for Life in DC, but it is even better to shelter a woman in a crisis pregnancy, bake a meal for a family in time of need, or babysit without pay for the frazzled mother with several small children. It is lovely to wear a pink ribbon or run a marathon for a noble cause; but it is worth even more to take a woman battling breast cancer to her doctor appointment, laugh with her as she recovers, or cry with her as she shares her fears and frustrations. It is an excellent thought to lobby for the rights of the poor or illegal immigrants, but how much more noble to physically feed them, shelter them or employ them so they may live with dignity!
Now no one can do all of these things, but God is calling us to do small things for those in our immediate family and community. There is no shortage of need. If we but open our eyes, ears and hearts we cannot help but hear the cries for help. At the same time, we must not be hesitant to express our own needs and graciously accept the help that is offered to us. This is the way families and communities become strong: pray for one another, assist one another and “for as long as this ’today’ lasts, keep on encouraging one another.” (Heb 3:13)