Building Catholic community? Start with moms
Twelve weeks into Kindergarten I sat in the principal’s office at my son’s Catholic Elementary School, scribbling notes and sharing what I had learned in the three months since we arrived in our new community. Our meeting was confirmed after some persistence on my part. My first attempt to set it up had come with a polite but firm, “we’re good on programs for this year,” from the school secretary, a message she passed along after bringing my request to the principal. In a massively sleep-deprived mom moment of confusion and emphatic desperation I responded, “Well, that’s a silly thing for him to say… he doesn’t know what I’m offering.”
I continued on, explaining that I wasn’t trying to create any more work for the already busy school staff and principal but wanted to talk about the relationship between school, parish, and family. Now the day had arrived, the principal and the two religion teachers who joined him at the long meeting room style table, were waiting to hear what I had to say.
What’s a Catholic Community?
A Catholic community often exists as a triad of Catholic school, parish, and family. When school, parish, and family work together, the resulting community is a vibrant shining example and witness of God’s love in our world. Strong Catholic community strengthens and forms us as disciples and propels us forward in our mission to spread the Good News to those we meet each day. The bond of community allows God’s love and goodness to flow between unified entities, mirroring the Trinity as God is brought to the forefront of our daily lives and allowed to work in His fullest. Building community is worth our time and energy but getting started can be difficult. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Where to Start?
If you’re looking for a starting point for building a stronger community start with moms, you and the other moms you know. We often look around at our communities and think, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was something for moms, or families, or whoever…” We might even follow up by conversing with a friend about what we feel is lacking. I’ve been part of many of these conversations and I’d bet you have been, too. In the end, they usually resolve with friends agreeing with an affirmative, “Yes, somebody should do something about that. Somebody should address that need.”
The implication in the somebody should do something statement, I think, is that someone with authority should do something, as if we need permission or tools or resources from someone else to organize ourselves and our communities. All of those things are helpful, and maybe you’ll be blessed with permission from your priest to run a mothers group at the parish, or supported with advertising resources in the form of photocopying or inclusion in parent mail-outs from the school, but to start we can recognize the unique role we have as moms.
Moms form the grassroots networks of our faith communities. I sometimes picture moms as the ones running around with watering cans, nurturing the little seeds of faith to grow. We’re the ones with eyes and ears on the ground. It’s more than an important role. It’s our vocation. If you feel the need for somebody to do something to build up your community, know this: You. Are. Somebody.
You might be just the somebody to kick-start a vibrant community or to show up in the right time and place with your watering can, ready to nurture what’s already there to its fullest potential. As moms, we can work together with the leaders of the other entities of our communities. Not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s how it all fits together:
The Toronto Catholic District School Board references the important role of each entity within a Catholic community in their Prayer for Harmonizing Our Faith Through Family, Parish, and School. It begins,
“Almighty and Ever-loving God,
We give you thanks
for the blessings of our Families, where the seed of faith is planted;
for the Body of Christ, the Church, where faith is celebrated;
and for our Schools, where faith is nurtured.”
This prayer summarizes so well the role and importance of each entity of the community. If you’re talking with school administrators or your parish priest or member of his pastoral team it’s a great launching point for a conversation about how moms are involved with and support families, parishes, and schools. With more support, we’ll pour even more back into our communities. Only God knows what that “more” could look like!
Moms are intimately involved in the lives of our children. Often prayers for our children begin long before their birth. Mothers plant seeds of faith through the care of their families. As parents, moms provide their children with the foundational loving relationship so essential to understanding the even greater love of God.
Moms need a deep, loving relationship with God. When that relationship is nurtured, the love extends to our families, parishes, schools, and wider communities. Mothers groups support the spiritual lives of moms by giving us a place to learn and grow in faith and fellowship with one another.
In our parishes, moms prepare themselves and their children for active participation in the celebration of our faith. Moms are so often the ones whispering “Look! Jesus is HERE!” to squirmy toddlers during consecration, and encouraging older children to enter into the liturgy and become aware of the beauty of the Mass and the Sacraments. Many moms take the opportunity to revisit aspects of the faith they forgot or didn’t understand in earlier life as their children are discovering the truths of our faith for the first time. In their words and actions, moms pass along the knowledge that we have a faith worth celebrating.
Moms need places to learn more about our faith. We need other people to talk with and learn from. We need resources, or even just a place to find out about resources, about our faith and inspiration on how to practice it well. More than all of that, we need places that set us up for a deeper encounter with Christ. Moms open the door for one another to enter into this deeper relationship. Parishes can facilitate foundations that lead to a deeper encounter with Christ through the Church and the Sacraments by offering mothers groups.
In our schools, moms form the majority of parent councils and classroom volunteers. They are often the ones extending learning from the classroom, nurturing relationships and assisting their children in navigating life through the lens of faith.
Moms need a place to nurture relationships with one another, to laugh, love, and journey together with others who share their joys and struggles. We need to be around people who will challenge us to grow and answer the call to greater holiness. Schools can help us connect with one another and build up a Christ-centred community around the next generation.
The Final Pitch for Catholic Community
The word community has become somewhat of a buzzword in our society. The word often evokes images of children playing together as neighbours stop by to say hello, friends come over to share a meal, and loved-ones happily pitch in with renovation projects. It all looks rather dreamy in a romanticised Hollywood kind of way. It would be wonderful if we could all have that kind of community, and maybe we can have parts of it sometimes.
Catholic community is something different, and far greater. It’s not a want. It’s a need.
Catholic community points us to Christ. It opens the door for us to care for and serve one another. It allows us to use our gifts to build up God’s Kingdom in our time on this earth. It spurs us on to share our love and good works with one another (Heb 10:24). And we can be certain that when we gather in his name, Christ is right there with us, calling us and strengthening us for a deeper union with Him.
As moms, we know we need community. We need a constant deepening of relationships with each other and with Christ. It’s in our nature to nurture and when it comes to community, we can do just that. So give your priest a phone call, and set up a meeting with your school principal. Community is best built from the ground up, and we’ve got feet on the ground.
Karen Keays returned to the Church in early adulthood after more than a decade of wrestling with God. She is a stay-at-home mother of three.