We have all heard this one a hundred times or more. It is the Bible verse we use when we want to encourage fellowship, community, and attendance at faithful gatherings. But like a lot of things, I never realized how much I need Catholic fellowship and community it was missing in my life. This narrative has played itself out a few times in my life. And I always come back to the same place, the same kind of community.
I grew up Catholic. But my faith was never really something I lived fully; it was something I had and was a part of me. It was never the most important part of who I was, though. I was just going through the motions. During some troubling times in my teen years, I was invited to a LifeTeen mass at a local parish. What I found there was something I sorely needed. Sometimes I went out of a need to escape, but it ended up being source of spiritual energy and renewal. I was able to find courage to practice and live my faith and to speak openly about my faith. I learned so much about how to live the faith I had only known academically. But I also was able to form friendships there that have lasted to this day – around 14 years later. I was warmly welcomed by everyone. Some of these teens were seriously on fire and totally unafraid of outside judgment. I envied that fire. These friendships were built on solid ground, the common Catholic faith and the community that it can foster. I was able to bring with me the struggles in my life and in my faith, and trust the community to listen to me, pray with me, and support me.
I went off to college at the University of Illinois and chose to live in a dorm, instead of the Newman Center. I did this because I wanted a truly “college” experience. I don’t even know what that means now. Little did I know that the Newman Center at U of I is still a college dorm, filled with college kids, who also want a “college” experience. The only difference was that these kids were all Catholic and set that as their priority. It took me a while to settle into a group of friends. And again, I fell back into the routine of going to mass out of obligation and my faith became what it was before, just something I did on Sunday mornings.
It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I found a group of friends who were the people I need to find. They had all been living at Newman Hall. This whole time!! And these students were just like me; they shared my sense of humor, my interests, and most importantly my faith. Again, I was brought back into the community of believers. They could talk openly about the faith and were knowledgeable; they lived their faith with courage and conviction. These were things that were lacking in my life and I admired them so much. I wanted what they had.
The same story was played out again in my life when I moved to Maryland after college. There were two other Catholics whom I was able to go to Mass with regularly, but they got married and moved away within the first few years there. I joined Knights of Columbus at my local parish. This was a good decision because I found a way to give to my parish. But I was also the youngest Brother Knight by about 30 years. (No offense to my Brother Knights at Council #9968.) I was never able to find the community that I needed. I still felt alone at times, struggled with finding my way and my vocation, and could not find a community to turn to.
I moved to Milwaukee last year to be closer to my fiancé, Melina, who lives in Illinois. My community of faith started with her and I have always found courage and strength in her faith-life. I knew I needed to find a Catholic community; I did not want to make the same mistake again. The lesson had been learned. I didn’t have to dig that far or go searching for years or even months. Some of those friends I made back in high school live here, too. It has been such a blessing to have that Catholic community again. I found people to worship with - friends with whom to talk to about faith, prayer, and life. I have found a community that has helped foster within me a lively faith. They have given me the strength to make my faith more than just something I have, but something I can live.
The Catholic faith is an endlessly rich and powerful thing. It has been the foundation of my life, my values, and my morality. With prayer and God’s Grace, I believe it is becoming the center of my relationship with Melina. I can be a pretty slow learner sometimes and I don’t know why I continuously need to have the same lesson taught to me or be told the same thing over and over. But I think that the Catholic community is invaluable. They have always been there for me, guiding me, supporting me, teaching me, and challenging me to grow in faith. Through the courageous Catholics in my life, first and foremost Melina, I am learning to live my faith more bravely, to challenge myself to grow in faith daily, and to kindle the fire within me. They (all of you reading this!!) are my people. How amazing is it that the Holy Spirit surrounds us when just two of us are together in His Holy Name!
If you are looking for a Catholic young adult community or know someone who is, the Encounter Young Adult Conference on November 8, 2014 would be a great introduction to many other Catholic Young Adults in the region! For more information, please check out http://www.arisemissions.org/what-is-encounter-milwaukee.html.
Friend of Arise