In theological tradition, the universal Church (as in, all Christians, everywhere, of all time) are separated into several groups with spiffy sounding names a la “The Band Perry” or “The Family von Trapp”: there’s the Church Visible (or, if you’re looking for a more provocative-sounding title, the Church Militant), comprised of living Christians on earth; the Church Expectant, i.e. those in Purgatory; and the Church Triumphant, who are those currently partying in Heaven.
Notice how there’s no “Church Spiritual-But-Not-Religious” or “Church I-Do-My-Own-Thing”. It’s because the very nature of the idea of Church–of the idea of God even!–is community. The very first thing we read in the Bible about God’s nature is in Genesis 1.26:
Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…
“Us”…”our”….the first thing we learn about God is that God is multiple, God is communal.
Throughout the rest of the Bible, we see more and more examples of the communal nature of faith, spirituality and humanity: it is “not good” that man should be alone, so God creates Eve as his partner (Genesis 2.18); God chooses not just one person, but an entire nation of people to be His in the nation of Israel (Exodus 19.6); the prophets continuously call the people as a whole to return to faithfulness to God; John establishes Jesus as the Word of God, who was present in all of time as part of the Trinity (John 1); Jesus starts his ministry in community (Matthew 4.18-22; Mark 1.16-34; Luke 5.1-11), performs it in community, and–quite tellingly–dies apart from it (Luke 23.49); after the Resurrection, He appears to the disciples in community (Matthew 28.16, Mark 16.14, Luke 24.36, John 20.19, 26); when the Holy Spirit comes, it is when the disciples are together in community (Acts 2.1); and New Testament writers constantly instruct the Early Church on living in community (Acts 4.32, Romans 12.16, Ephesians 4.3, 1 Peter 3.8, etc.).
Are you seeing a theme yet?
When I did the research for this post, I started with a few Google searches on the importance of Catholic community, hoping to find a snazzy picture of Pope Francis or a beloved saint with a catchy quote about being part of the Church Visible or participating in the larger Body of Christ. I Googled variations of “Catholic” and “community” and “importance”. I Googled in question form. I Googled in statements. I Googled in every manner that one can Google, and you know what I found?
Next to nothing.
Which is really sad, not because it proves that I was looking for something that doesn’t or shouldn’t exist, but because it’s such an important idea that’s obviously not on the general Catholic radar. And to be blatant about the point of this post, it’s not on the radar of most of the young Catholics here in Keene either.
Let me be clear: I think it’s great if you go to Mass every week for spiritual fulfillment or a sense of peace or heck, even just because it’s a habit from your youth and you’d feel guilty if you didn’t–but regular Mass attendance does not a communal Catholic make. (And not going to Mass regularly is even farther from it). Praying is stupendous, as is going to the Adoration chapel or teaching Sunday school or any of the other things that “good Catholics” do. But those things are not enough. I’m sorry, but they’re just not.
Jesus did His ministry in community.
The Early Church began in community.
The Trinity exists in community.
We are to exist in community.
That means that going to Mass and hightailing it out before the last hymn ends is not good enough. It means that constantly citing coursework and job shifts and meetings and the need to just “have some time” as reasons to avoid other Catholics on campus or around town is not good enough.
It means that we need to connect with one another on purpose.
To be the Church Visible, not the Church “Avoiding Eye Contact”.
Living in community with other Christians (and specifically other Catholics) isn’t yet another assignment to add to your already overburdened workload, it’s a tool to help you manage that workload and all the stress that comes with it. And this is exactly what the Newman Center is for. If I had a dollar for each time a Catholic student told me that they thought they were the only Catholic on campus, I could retire. And if I had another dollar for each time a Catholic student–especially a Freshman Catholic student–told me they wished they had a better core group of friends, a group they had more in common with and who was closer-knit, I could retire somewhere nice.
Do you see the connection here?
There’s a reason that the Church Visible is also called the Church Militant; it’s because the Latin word militans means, in this context, “to struggle, to make an effort”. Christians from the very earliest days have known that being a Christian in this world is a struggle. It takes effort. And one of the many things you need to make it through that struggle intact is other Christians. That’s literally why Newman Centers exist, and why they exist almost exclusively on secular campuses–to provide a haven and a community for Catholic students who otherwise wouldn’t find one.
As we approach the season of Lent, I invite you to become a part of the Church Visible–the Church Militant–at Keene State. Come to Mass–and this time stay after and join in our post-Mass gathering! Bring your homework to do in the Common Room if you want–we have Wi-Fi! Attend a Friday Brunch and Bible at the DC, go to the Student Organization’s meeting, hang out with other Catholic students on days other than Sundays. Struggle together. It’s what we’re supposed to do.