Lessons From A Monastery: Building a Christian Community

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
—Dorothy Day

In a religious community you will find people from all different walks of life, different cultures, and backgrounds. These Christians come together to form a new family of God’s, a community of believers, working together to strive after holiness and seek the kingdom together. They know they are not an ordinary community, not even just God’s family, but God’s family who are united as the one body of Christ. In Pope Francis’ letter for the Year of Consecrated Life he used the words, “experts in communion” to describe consecrated people.

The various practices that I have already shared in this series are meant to build up the body of Christ, to teach us to truly love God and neighbor above ourselves. Our faith would be so much easier to follow if it was only about keeping rules and following religious practices…but it isn’t. All the rules, practices, and doctrines we hold are meant to aid us in having communion with God and each other.

From the beginning, God created us to be members of a community. God Himself is a communion of persons. We humans that are made in His image and likeness are called to commune with one another, to be one like the Holy Trinity is one.

Also from the beginning, we have been struggling with communion. God wants to help us to restore communion with Himself and one another. The greatest aid is the communion we share in the Eucharist where we are made one with God and each other in the deepest way possible this side of heaven.

Becoming a Christian community doesn’t happen by itself and it will take never ending work and self-sacrifice. This is the work of all Christians and we must begin this work first and foremost in our own homes, families, and religious communities. Once we are striving for real charity among ourselves we can then share that love with the extended communities we belong to and the Church can then share the light and love of Christ with the world.

It might come as a surprise to some that the work involved in building a monastic community isn’t different from the work it takes to build a family or a regular parish church community. People are people, even if some wear a habit. It is in the small daily crosses where we are given the constant opportunity to love others more that ourselves. In things like: being patient when the dishes and utensils are put away in the wrong places (yet again), dealing with annoying habits, bad moods, health issues, and absent-mindedness.

Learning to sing together in a choir, get daily chores done, balancing budgets and schedules, in all of these things people are working (or possibly not working) at being community. Carrying these smaller daily crosses strengthens us to endure the larger more serious crosses that are bound to come along in sharing our lives with others.

As I mentioned already, working at being the body of Christ requires the same efforts no matter what kind of Christian family you belong to. It requires great acts of love and self sacrifice.

Practical Ways to Build the Christian Community:

Pray together. In our families and in the wider church community, it is essential to pray with one another. We overcome and work out many things when we pray with other people. Prayer is an intimate act, and draws people close to each other. It takes work and can be awkward at first, but nothing will unite people like prayer will. The Eucharist unites us more than anything but we also need to get together to pray at other times.

Eat together. Families should be having regular meals together as often as possible and making at least one meal a day as a family priority. Getting together as a parish or in smaller groups regularly is important too. Praying and/or having a book study and then having a meal together is a great way to build community. Practicing hospitality is an important part of the Christian life.

Learn together. Start a book club, bible study, or watch a series of videos about the faith. Families can do these things too. Growing in our faith together should be a regular part of our lives.

Serve together. There are multiple opportunities to serve the community: soup kitchen, coat drives, fundraisers. It is in the family where Christians should first be learning to serve each other.

Have fun together. Not everything has to be serious and work. Enjoying having a relaxing fun time together is also essential to building family and community.

Don’t be judgmental. Try to engage people and don’t assume things about them. Too often it is easy to dismiss people we feel we have little in common with, or who rub us the wrong way. Often we may not have any great desire to build new relationships even. As Christians we cannot think this way. We have more in common with people than we often think.

Be ready to give more than you receive. Most of the time, someone will have to be the bigger person, the more generous, patient, loving person. One family may have to host events more often, someone may end up making larger meals than others to share at potluck, and someone may do a lot of the planning of events. Often times feelings of things not being fair can break communities apart. If we remember that God loved us first, is generous with us, and has given more that we could ever return, this will make it easier to give more at times. We can only give what we are able, but being ready to give more than others is the only way to attempt to build community.

Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive but I think these are the most important places to start. We must remember working towards the goal of being one and loving each other as we should, will always be work; we will never reach a point when we are finished at this work. In monasteries, families, and parish churches this is the work of salvation—to love God above all else and our neighbor as our self. Most importantly, let’s remember what Christian love is:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

image: Abraham Sobkowski OFM / Wikimedia Commons

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Jessica Archuleta blogs with friends at Engage the Culture where you might find a movie review, a piece of poetry, a work of art, or any other number of culture related topics being discussed or shared from a Catholic point of view. She also blogs at Every Home a Monastery where she shares her experience of being a Monastic Associate (oblate) of Holy Resurrection Monastery located within walking distance of her home. She and her family moved across the country to Wisconsin from California after the monks had to make the move themselves. Jessica is a Romanian Greek-Catholic (Byzantine), mother of ten, and has been married for 20 years to her most favorite person in the world.

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