As members of the Catholic Church, we are in communion with Jesus, and we are part of a community of other Catholics throughout the world and with the souls in Heaven and Purgatory through the Communion of Saints. Just as we need each other’s prayers, we also need each other’s friendship. We need Catholic friends to encourage us and support us in living as faithful Catholics, to help us with difficulties, and to celebrate the joys in life.
I know from personal experience the great difference that being part of a community of other Catholics can make in one’s life. As a young adult, I never met any Catholics my age (as there were very few in the churches I attended). Because I wanted to meet some young adult Catholics and because of my interest in the Catholic Church in England, I went to the northwest of England twelve years ago for six weeks to volunteer in a parish and participate in activities with the members of Project 2030, a young adult group sponsored by the Sacred Heart Fathers.
I was welcomed by everyone in the group and made some friends I continue to keep in touch with. When my mother died two years later, as an only child, I was left without a family, but God, in His providence, did not leave me alone. In addition to the kindness of a few cousins, my friends from England (including the priest I volunteered with) were very supportive.
About a year later, God sent other Catholics into my life when I became a member of a Frassati chapter, a Catholic young adult group that had recently formed in my area. Through that group, I made close friends, not only young adults but other friends who are older than me as well, who I met through friends from the group. God also introduced me to priests who became spiritual fathers to me. I am thankful to God to have a community of Catholics who are truly like a family to me. One of the greatest blessings of this community is being the godmother to three of my friends’ children.
That group led to other groups. Some Frassati members started a local chapter of the Chesterton Society. One woman invited other women to her home for monthly dinners and discussion of a document related to the Church’s teachings on women. After leaving the young adult group, I started an organization with a ministry to senior priests; some friends from the group have also become part of the organization.
I have found that knowing other people who are trying to become saints helps you want to be holy too, and to do more for God and others. Knowing that I have friends who are committed to attending Mass, praying, and doing works of mercy inspires me to follow their example. Having a community of Catholic friends has given me the confidence to use my gifts and talents to serve God and to evangelize when I have the opportunity. It has also made it easier to practice the works of mercy. For example, I had wanted to visit the sick, but did not feel comfortable going on visits alone. When I met my friend Emily, I asked if she would come with me; we volunteered together for a while and then I was able to continue on my own. The example of a man in the young adult group who prayed outside abortion facilities, led to me to participate in some 40 Days for Life campaigns.
One of the strengths of the early Church was in its community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Although most Catholics will not live exactly in the same way as the members of the early Church, they can follow their example of being devoted to the Mass, reading Scripture, helping one another, and having a form of community such as meeting with other Catholics for prayer and perhaps a meal. Catholics can also assist others in their group or parish with practical things such as helping an unemployed person find a job, making a meal for someone who is sick, or driving an older person to an appointment. Catholics can also celebrate joyful moments in life together. Over the last nine years, I have attended special occasions for friends in my community and their families including weddings, baptisms, and an ordination. I have also attended and hosted dinners and parties celebrating holy days in the liturgical year. In my experience, it has been good to see friendships develop between people of different ages, based on what they have in common as Catholics. I have also noticed that Catholic communities promote positive friendships between men and women, who see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we are in a society where people are either ignorant of Catholicism or hostile to the Church, we need the assistance and friendship of other Catholics. We are not meant to live as Catholics in isolation from other believers. In Salt of the Earth, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (while still a cardinal) said: “No one can be a Christian alone; being a Christian means a communion of wayfarers,” and spoke of the necessity of creating communities to share the faith together.
As Pope, he told the young people who attended the World Youth Day in Cologne: “Form communities based on faith!” Pope Francis has a similar message for Catholics. In Gaudate in Exultate, he wrote: “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others.” In the Church, there are lay movements, third orders, and associations of the faithful, as well as other smaller groups (some in parishes) of Catholics who meet to pray, study the Bible, or do works of mercy. Being part of a community of Catholics, united by prayer and love for God, gives us the strength to live as Catholics in the world.