The task of building Catholic communities at schools and parishes

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community,” wrote Dorothy Day in her autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.”

Being surrounded by other people is not the same as community. Community requires discipline and practice. What Dorothy Day learned in the Catholic Worker communities she helped found was that listening to each other, being present to each other and intentionally sharing space together were all essential to the formation of community. In her Catholic vision, these practices were in the breaking and sharing of bread: the bread God gives and the bread we give each other from what God has given us. In her words, “We know him and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

What Dorothy Day came to understand is that we do not first know ourselves and then enter into community; instead, we only come to truly know ourselves in and through community. Community is a risk. In particular, we risk giving something of who we are and we risk receiving something of who others are.

It sure seems like it is getting harder and harder to take the risk for community. Ironically, some of the loneliest places tend to be the places where we gather with other people most regularly. How many teenagers feel alone in their high schools? How many young adults feel alone on college campuses? How many people feel alone in a parish, or how many people do not go to a parish because they have not found community there?

Parishes and Catholic schools ought to be places where people can take the risk and find community. But that will not just happen on its own. We need protagonists who will take the risk first and lead other people into the same risk.

Read more at OSV Newsweekly (which includes a model practice for how to build communities)