A Year Without Community

A balance of solitude and community makes for a good spiritual place to be. I live in a closely-knit family, which I treasure, but I know that I am not centered if I never spend any time alone with God. Conversely, I know people who believe that one-on-one time is enough; that a thoughtful walk in the woods or time spent in silent prayer is all they need to be in communion with their Creator. I also know people who keep themselves tightly wrapped in parish life,  who are so busy and head so many committees and projects that they are not in touch with their own sense of spirituality, their own angels or demons.

Catholicism requires both from us: reflective repose and communal action. You can't be a Catholic by yourself. We need each other. Even monks who take vows of silence live in community. But I recently spent the day with a group of men who, for various institutional security reasons, had been kept in isolation and denied any communal gatherings for nearly a year. They are inmates on a maximum-security prison yard, and the day-long retreat in which we participated was the first time that any of them had been able to speak or congregate with more than just a single cellmate in many months.
   
They came into the chapel hesitantly and looked a bit like groundhogs: not seeing any shadow, they emerged blinking into the light and greeted a new season. Some of them gazed around the chapel in wonder at the collection of 20 or so people, as though they had never seen such a crowd. They shook hands and joined in conversation, at first tentatively, and then wholeheartedly. Almost all of them mentioned how good and how rare it felt simply to be in a group.
   
The experience made me thank God for the blessings of my community, warts and all. I felt newly grateful for the choices I enjoy for worship, but even more grateful to have been welcomed into that day's particular, precious moment of community. 

Valerie Schultz

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