From alone time in prayer to communities of faith: How we get to know God
A Reflection for the Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest
Find today’s readings here.
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, Who touched me?” (Mk 5:21-43)
As people of faith we live at a particular balance between individual and community. We relate to God in ways that are both intimately personal (a morning prayer over a cup of coffee) and undertaken with others whom we may not even know (Sunday Mass). Undoubtedly both of these types of relating to God are essential. As Pope Francis has said, “No one is saved alone,” and yet, as with any friendship, one-on-one time with God is essential for a flourishing relationship.
However, I find this balance difficult to strike. Personally, I have a tendency to de-value the communal aspect of faith in favor of what feels like a “more real” individual prayer life. I have friends for whom the opposite is true. You might have your own particular combination!
I feel that today’s readings are a call for us to rediscover the beauty of both the individual and communal aspects of faith, particularly whichever one we are less comfortable with. Two moments from the readings stand out to me in this regard.
First, in the letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the community that they are indeed part of a tradition much larger than themselves.
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Heb 12:1-2).
Even in these early days of Christianity, there exists a deep sense of solidarity with other believers, past and present. And the connection is not sentimental, not just a pleasant thought. Rather, it is essential to our perseverance in “running the race” before us. Without community, even the strongest of us will eventually run out of spiritual gas.
When we open ourselves to the gift of community, this “cloud of witnesses” both past and present, we find ourselves accompanied and encouraged, and we do the same for others.
Second, in today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a woman who has suffered from hemorrhages for 12 years. Jesus notices when she touches his clothing and is healed, even though there is a dense crowd around him. While the disciples essentially make fun of Jesus (“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, Who touched me?”), he is not in the business of drive-by miracles. He has a laser focus on finding this person who has been healed, and he ultimately does when she comes forward to explain what has happened.
Jesus searches for us with the same intensity as he sought this woman. Faith will never be an activity in which we are just lost in the crowd. Instead, it is an invitation addressed to us by name; when we look up, we see that Jesus has come close to us and that each one of us is precious to him.
In light of these readings, let us continue to reflect on these two complementary images: the laser-focused Jesus who searches for us in the crowd, and the community which surrounds us like a great cloud of witnesses.