When Community Bites

“You cannot pray with enemies in your heart.” 

Pope Francis said that this week, during a homily on the Lord’s Prayer. 

Last night I attended Mass at my parish church, and I was angry. Someone had offended me earlier in the afternoon — not on purpose, and with all the best intentions, but it hurt my feelings (or my pride), and three hours later I still hadn’t gotten over it. I sat in the back where I had a pretty good view of everyone else in attendance; this church has been my home parish for over four years, and I knew at least a third of the people there. 

And as I nursed my little hurt I found myself ruminating over every single hurt or aggravation any of the people around me had ever caused me, whether they knew it or not. Because let’s face it, belonging to a community of any sort can be really, really tough. I sat staring at the backs of my acquaintances’ heads and feeling lonelier by the second, and the tears welled up, and the typical Mabel “solution” presented itself almost as an imperative: maybe it’s time to move on. Find a new parish. Even better, leave the area at last, like I’ve been talking about doing for years. Start over with new friends who haven’t hurt my feelings — and whose feelings I’ve never hurt. Or maybe I should just shut down officially, shut everyone out, focus on work and prayer and family and forget about trying to live in this “intentional community” that’s so hard to keep track of anyway. 

Now I should know better than to take my pity parties to prayer, because inevitably I get a Holy Smackdown. Sure enough, it came right around Communion. It wasn’t a simple phrase or flashing lights or a holy fragrance wafting across my path, so it’s difficult to put it into words here. But it came over me then that I’ve been treating Christ like my personal possession and my convenient escape route when my relationships with other people get uncomfortable. 

You see, Lord, I said, It’s really easy to love you. 

But other people? Other people have hard edges, sharp words, mean looks, bad days, melancholy moods, rushed schedules, differing opinions, frustrating needs, sometimes bad breath and dirty nails. Other people can be very, very hard to love. 

And of course the only response I got to this inner tirade was a loving chuckle and a somewhat dismissive, “Yes, and?” 

I guess I can’t add a whole lot to that. Community is necessary not because it keeps us from feeling lonely or frightened, or because it cushions against our needs — though it can be nice in those ways — but because it wears away our sharp edges and forces us to be together and practice the kind of love that matters — the kind that just plain sucks sometimes. 

God never said, “Love one another. It’s easy!”

He just said to do it. You simply can’t claim to love him (really) if you haven’t got that part of the Christian life straight. 



2 thoughts on “When Community Bites

  1. Oh, Mary Beth, Mary Beth. You’re such a beautiful person. I think you are much more well-loved, respected, and popular than you realize. But loneliness (from time to time) is just part of the human condition, I think. Thanks for posting this.

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