Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Each day our society is becoming more and more individualistic. Surely Covid has worsened everything, but I believe that it only sped up the process. I believe that this process has deeper roots than something just outward. We also need to reflect how this individualism is also affecting our parish. I will write about it in these next weeks.
Since the early origins, the Christian community has always lived together in unity. Jesus Christ right before his Passion, he exhorted the disciples “all to be one” as He and the Father are one (Jn 17:21). In the Act of the Apostles, we hear how “they sold their goods and possessions and distributed among themselves according to what each one needed (Acts 2:45). They were not socialists, but out of love for each other and grateful to what God had done with them, they put the needs of the others ahead of their own. This is not a utopian ideal, but rather this is what we are called to be, a community of brothers and sisters who love one another as Christ has loved us. (Jn 13:34)
The first prerequisite to be a Christian community and to love one another is to be loved by someone else first. We cannot love unless if we are loved first. In a very limited way, we were first loved by our parents who out of their generosity gave birth to us. Our mothers carried us for nine months! That’s enough proof of love. Then we were loved by other people throughout our lives. But all this “love” cannot be compared to the true LOVE with which God has loved us. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The Catechism reads that man was “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake” (CCC 356). Therefore, we could say that this requisite was fulfilled, except that at times we don’t realize, or even don’t know, how much God loves us. The intensity and the immensity of His love is something that we don’t grasp. At times we don’t stop to contemplate it, and other times the devil will reinterpret God’s action to us that it seems he forgot us and doesn’t love us. Then maybe we can call a second prerequisite that we need to be aware of how much we are loved.
The third prerequisite is to know the other person. We cannot love someone or something we don’t know. I understand that the New England culture in general is not like the other parts of the US, where people are very warm and welcoming. On top of that, Covid made everything even worse. Now we don’t even reach out to shake hands anymore. Not too long ago someone told me, “Father, we are Catholics, we don’t greet others at church.” That’s completely the opposite of what we should be doing. We cannot love if we don’t know the other person. At masses these past days I pointed out how you might “know” the other people seating next to you, but without ever asking their names. Naturally, knowing someone’s name is not knowing that person. Surely it might be the first step. Therefore, I urge you in these next weeks to welcome each other at mass and introduce yourselves to each other. If you already know the person next to you, it’s ok also to sit elsewhere and get to know other people!!! These actions are only to become a welcoming parish. However, a Christian Community is more than that. Tertullian, in the second century, wrote in his “Apologetics” how the Romans were amazed by the witness of the love of the Christians among themselves. “See how they love one another,” he writes. Jesus Christ says that we will be recognized as Christians by the love we have for one another (Jn 13:35). This is the mission of the Church, namely, to be a visible sign of the love of God in the world. But we cannot be this if we are not aware of God’s love for us and if we don't love the neighbor. Be careful to not reinterpret the Scriptures, it doesn’t say be nice or polite to your neighbor, but to love one another as Christ has loved us. Maybe, we need a place where we can do that here in the parish, since it’s barely impossible nowadays. We need help to be formed (not intellectually) to be Christians, to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” as Jesus says this weekend. Let’s ask the Lord that He may help us to be open to follow His ways.
Father Steven Clemence