Coming to Terms: Community

by Catherine Fournier

The Sunday bulletin pinned beside the calendar on my kitchen wall declares that I am a member of a Catholic Parish Community. I find it both amusing and annoying, as if I had poured cream in my cereal and skim milk in my coffee.

This phrase is amusing because it is awkward. A community is a secular arrangement, while a parish is one of communion - unity of faith and belief. A community supplies employment, entertainment, information, and service, the essentials of day-to-day life. A parish provides inspiration, catechesis, solace, guidance and companionship, the essentials for eternal life. Both have their place, but they are not the same.

Communities are formed of people, by people. They bring together those who share some specific common characteristics in order to share some common experience, be it motorcycles, sexual preference, or gardening. They are, by nature, exclusive, focusing on what distinguishes us from others. We may bring you into our community, but until we do, you are outside, not one of us.

Communities can exert a powerful influence. We all want to belong, to be accepted - remember the cliques in high school? Even in adult life; Don't rock the boat is a common attitude.

But communities are also, by (human) nature, short-lived. Even the most solid community can not last forever. Eventually, they change, split, dissolve, and disappear to be replaced by some new community, some new institution.

In contrast to Communities, Communion is what exists between those who share a sacrament, which were created and initiated by Christ. The only common characteristic is the shared experience, that we were made in Gods image, and present at Christs table. By participating in the sacraments, we are in Communion with Him first and foremost, and with everyone else, past, present, and future, who also shares those sacraments with Christ.

Communion, is by nature, inclusive, focusing on what unites us with each other. Everyone is eligible by virtue of their birth and Christs sacrifice. Communion is also eternal, as Christ is eternal.

So, it is through communion with the Church, with the mystical Body of Christ, that we are in communion with the members of our parish, not from the accident of real estate that makes us also part of a Community. This is why my Sunday bulletin annoys me. To call a parish a Community trivialises and weakens it, puts it on a level with a drop-in center or a hockey rink. And to confuse a community with Communion gives it more responsibility than it can properly manage, asks that it minister to our souls.

Further, to use Parish and Community in the same breath implies (and I have heard it stated outright in this way) that only by conforming to and participating in the ministries of the parish community, can you belong to the parish community. And only by belonging to the parish community can you be in communion with the members of your parish and only through them with the rest of the Church.

This is exactly backwards, because it leaves out the shut-ins. And the mothers busy with young children. And the parents who work hard all week to support their families and seek the Eucharist at Sunday Mass for refuge, comfort and encouragement. And those with limited finances who can't buy the raffle tickets, eat at the parish dinner, contribute to the renovation fund. They don't want to be the object of a ministry, they want to be part of the parish. Calling it a Community, initiating reforms in the name of community opens to door to the parish becoming a clique, with involvement and acceptance a greater prize than Communion.

A parish is not a community, any more than cream can ever be low-fat skim milk. I wouldn't want it to be.

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