Scripture teaches that community is essential to the Christian life. "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..." Hebrews 10: 24-25
This is why I am passionate about connecting Catholic homeschooling mothers both online and in my local community. My talk at this past weekend's online Catholic Homeschool Conference was titled "Should I Stay or Should I Go: Getting out of the House and Building Intentional In-Person Community." I spoke of how to discern which activities outside of our homes will bring the most benefit to our families, because I believe in-person community is vitally important to the salvation of our world.
For several years in a row before the pandemic, I went on a 20-hour womens’ retreat led by the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. (if you ever have a chance to go on one of their retreats in Ann Arbor or near Austin, go!) There were many things about those fleeting hours that I brought home to ponder, and this one is still fresh in my mind, especially given the division and fear that is crushing our world today.
At one point the Sisters showed us the first part of this wonderful new movie, Liberating a Continent: John Paul II. One portion of the film that struck me was after Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, and he went back to visit communist Poland, his homeland. The government did everything they could to discourage people from going to see him, fabricating and spreading stories about damaged roadways, rampant disease, and filth. But despite these lies and because of the inability for the faithful to ever speak in public about their faith, they went to see him. Historians estimate that 13 million people saw him over his nine-day visit in Poland.
I forget who, but one of the historians or clergy who were interviewed for the film explained that those gatherings were a catalyst for change. You see, these people did not know what their neighbors believed. There was no free speech, but by seeing one another gather together to pray with the pope, they realized how many fellow citizens were desperate for change. By physically being there, a new unity came about which inspired the strikes and other actions that would one day lead to the fall of communism in that country and beyond.
In our culture, it isn’t often difficult to know what another person thinks. We share our opinions freely, as we should in a country of free speech. Our Facebook feeds and our lunchroom discussions are as often about politics and religion as pop stars and TV shows, since we seem to have outgrown the previously taboo nature of these topics. But when we encounter another person who has similar beliefs and is living in a similar situation as we are, our faith is indeed boosted, and we feel we are a part of something bigger than our little circle of influence.
You have probably experienced this at a concert, conference, retreat, or similar large gathering. Wow. Look at all the people who love what I love. I usually felt that way on retreat as I met women from all over the State of Texas who were busy with jobs and families but needed 20 hours to focus on God, reflect on their vocation, and pray together for our families and our world.
As mothers, especially as homeschooling mothers, we can feel extremely isolated and wonder if anyone else has similar struggles. But as soon as we head to the park and start chatting about toddler meltdowns and tween-age dawdling, our spirits are lifted, and we know we can persevere. When we encounter another soul thirsting and questing for God, we feel an instant connection and realize we are not alone.
In my own life, I recognize the need to find like-minded friends with similar vocations. All they have to do is be there, to send a text or to meet me for coffee, and I find renewal. It does not matter how we spend our time, whether we delve deep in conversation or merely chat with constant interruptions as our children play squabble. The Lord created us, women especially, for relationship with one another, and making the effort to show up not only feeds the souls of those around us, but also comforts our own hearts by reminding us that constantly striving for holiness is indeed a noble thing and not an impossible quest.
Perhaps there are obstacles to finding these IRL (in real life) gatherings. It is then that social media can fill a void with forums and blogs, Facebook and Instagram. A simple post can connect us to strangers and remind us Whom we serve, taking us out of our self-centered thoughts. We can find our tribe, and we can be reminded to fight the good fight and keep the high standards.
So my challenge to you is to reach out today. Be present to someone IRL or online, and stand side by side, appreciating your common ground and respecting your differences, because God loves us all when we are united in His Son, Christ Jesus.