Something that has come up again and again in discussions on this blog and elsewhere in response to what I’ve written is the need for community.
The loss of community is one of the many scourges of the modern age, particularly in countries like Australia. Unlike many older countries, we do not have the customs, traditions and rituals built up over centuries or even millennia that define culture. This is why, in this country and elsewhere, we see so much segregation of racial and cultural communities. Shared customs and traditions unify us, as do beliefs and values.
We in the Church actually have greater access to community than most. The Maronites, in particular, have very strong communities in this country, based on cultural, racial and religious foundations. So why do most of us seem so fragmented? I’ll share some thoughts on this from some of my readers:
It’s completely fair to say that until recently, stable marriages leading to families were the naturally expected norm. Normal propagation of the species, go forth and multiply, basic stuff like that. Everyone in the species used to play a role in making that happen, by participating in the social life of a functioning community. In the last generation or two, the Catholic Church has simply stopped doing that, and those of us who would have benefited from a helpful nudge toward other eligible singles (to whom we might at least consider marriage) are the victims of that benign neglect.
From another reader:
It does no good to bang the podium and say “Man Up!” over and over and over, when plenty of men exist who have done all the things you requested – they are confident, educated, socially and financially competent, and even still attend church! – but have no opportunity to meet any eligible Catholic women, because parishes no longer provide any social assistance in that regard.
And what do I mean by “social assistance?” Dating services? Singles groups? No, none of that. I mean that parishes no longer function as communities. There are no social events where a single man can show up to volunteer and demonstrate his character, so that a grandmother might notice and suggest to him “you should meet my neighbor’s granddaughter’s co-worker, who attends XYZ parish in the next town over, I think you might be a good match”. Especially for men who have “separated from their family of origin”, this is so desperately needed now.
This from a reader and from my previous post:
I don’t think we need more singles events. I think we need more interpersonal connections across groups within the church. I’ve seen singles groups, married groups, even “dating couples” groups. It’s highly categorised. I think it would be good for couples, families and singles to mix more.
I’ve been thinking more and more about this. I’ve had so many letters and messages from older men and women who have lamented the lack of community events that used to characterise parishes. Forty or fifty years ago, they say, it was common for dioceses to hold inter-parish social events like picnics and dances.
I think this lack of community is a terrible loss to the Church and I would love to see this kind of thing resurrected. Of course, one of the compounding problems is the lack of priests, who have to do so much these days they don’t have the time or the energy to get events like these started or keep them going. It thus falls to the laity. Perhaps these sorts of things have always been run by the laity and we’ve gotten out of the practice as parishes have shrunk in size and the collective age has grown steadily older.
As for practising what I preach, I have spoken to my parish priest about getting some of these events going again. Perhaps a series of inter-parish soccer or cricket games, group picnics and/or social dances?
I don’t think this will solve the Church’s problems, but I would very much like to see measures put in place which attempt to redress this loss of community. I don’t even know any young men and women outside of a dozen or so parishes in Sydney, and I think this is one of the things compounding the marriage problem. Perhaps, as some of my readers have suggested, we singles would be more likely to find each other if there were events to facilitate meeting? Of course this also depends on people actually turning up, but maybe we could even use these events as opportunities for introducing our non-Christian friends and family members to our church communities?
What are your thoughts? What else could we do to help revive our Christian communities (including Benedict Option-style)?