Sunday, November 30, 2008

On The Importance Of Parish Community

As the Advent season begins, I'm thinking a lot these days about some things I normally take for granted. Take for granted, that is, in a good way. For example...

All of those familiar people sitting in the church pews around us.

All of those ordinary, yet special rituals, like choir performances and penance services.

It is this repetition of people and rituals that, in the end, defines a parish community. And it is this sense of community that we are definitely lacking in this phase of our lives.

Now, before I comment any further, a disclaimer, or even an apology, is in order. You see, if we would have placed a high enough priority on joining a parish when we first arrived in China, we could have easily made that happen months ago. We could, by now, be active members of a Beijing Catholic community, no matter how far away the churches are or how otherwise inconvenient Christian worship is in this largely secular society. And we, of course, will be here long enough that we may still decide to lay down some religious roots in our "home away from home."

For now, though, we have chosen a path that is not all that unlike our churchgoing when we first moved to Silver Spring in 1995. Back then, we were "free lance" Catholics, going from church to church, depending on things like time and location.

In one sense, this state of affairs has the potential to make us stronger in faith, both as individuals and as a family. Each one of us has to rely on ourselves and one another to stay devoted in prayer and action. These little reminders and efforts are beautiful, no doubt, when they happen.

And then there are those instances when, just by being in church, we naturally attract the attention of those worshiping around us. Like today, when an elderly gentleman sitting in the pew in front of us turned around and gave us a small booklet. Honestly, I have no idea what the pamphlet is about. Is it a prayer book? Is it an Advent meditation guide? No matter...It was the sense of connection that transcended cultural and language barriers that was important at that moment.

In this year of being away from our home parish, it is little encounters like this that remind us of just how central the communion aspect is in our, and any, religious faith.



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