In college, community was easy and convenient. Most of my friends lived within a mile of each other, there was always something going on at school to talk about, and people were passionately pursing a degree. My Newman Center provided a place for Bible studies, heart-to-heart conversations about our faith, and Eucharistic adoration with my peers.
But after I graduated, I realized how much of my college faith community I’d taken for granted. I quickly joined many young adults who, although they’re parishioners at their local church, find community in the parish can be a challenge. Resources like Newman Centers and campus missionaries abound for college aged Catholics. But after college, young adults can experience a unique kind of loneliness. After moving away from college, it can feel like there are no resources out their for single Catholics. To add to the difficulty, many single Catholics begin to see their friends discern their vocation and move away. Friends marry and start families. Others join the seminary or discern religious life.
Although it’s a different environment than a college Newman Center, your local Catholic parish offers an opportunity for community. Here are three reasons why getting involved at your parish during a season of singleness is one of the best things you can do to form faith community.
1. Your parish offers place of to encounter both the sacraments and community
It’s easy to separate the sacramental life from community life. Before I moved to a new city, I had a great community of friends. While we went to Mass together sometimes, our community life wasn’t based on the sacraments. Many college campuses offer a variety of missionary outreach programs that appeal to different charisms and personalities. Some students are involved with FOCUS, while others gravitate towards other missionary discipleship models. While there is a beauty in each of these groups, it can be easy to identify with a group over our shared love of Christ and the sacraments. Instead of seeing ourselves as a Catholic (universal!) family, we begin to subdivided ourselves into different community groups.
Parish life as a single, adult Catholic offers a unique combination of the sacraments and community. You gather with your parish family for Mass to receive Christ in the Eucharist. In the line to confession, you stand behind your neighbors, acknowledging that you need God’s mercy. You volunteer beside the person who has an hour of Eucharistic adoration in the same chapel as you do. Instead of separating out the desire for community and our need for the Lord’s grace in the sacraments, parish life combines these two desires.
2. Parish life offers an opportunity to become aware of your gifts and charisms
This week, I received a packet of information from my parish. In addition to a parish directory, the packet also included a list of activities and ministries that are run by volunteers at the parish. There is no shortage of activities to be involved in. Men are invited to join the Knights of Columbus council, while women can find out more information for a variety of community groups for different stages of life. The youth group needs chaperones for summer trips. The church building needs cleaned every week. The altar linens need washed and ironed every Tuesday. It’s easy to look at the seemingly unending list of needs and to jump in headfirst. While it’s beautiful that you desire to be present in the parish, getting involved presents an opportunity to become aware of the gifts God gave you.
While you’re single, you may have more time on your hands than other parishioners with little people in their pews. But this doesn’t mean that you absolutely must be involved in everything. Before contacting your parish office for more details about how you can join the arts and environment team or sign up for lectoring, take time to pray about these opportunities. In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul reminds us that we each have a unique set of gifts. We can use each one of these gifts to benefit the larger community – and our own interior life, too!
What are your unique gifts? Do you have an eye for beauty? Do you desire to serve those often forgotten? Before you fill out a stewardship form for your parish, take time to evaluate your charisms. When you’re aware of the gifts that God has given you, you can then offer those gifts to others. Don’t sign up for a parish ministry on a whim. Instead, be involved intentionally in a way that best uses the gifts you’ve been given.
3. Parish involvement pushes you out of your comfort zone
When I moved to a new city and joined a new parish, I waited around for someone to notice I was new. Whether it was morning Mass, Mass on the weekend, or my new adoration hour, I wanted someone to say something and welcome me into the community. But I was also the same woman who would dash out to my car after Mass because I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t say hello to the person who had the adoration hour before me. After Mass, I would intentionally wait until most of the church had cleared out before leaving on the weekend. I desired to be welcomed into the community of my parish, but my actions didn’t reflect that wish.
As adults in a Catholic community, we have to reject a passive approach to community life. If you want to become involved in your parish and form community, you can’t wait around for someone to notice you. Do you think your pastor doesn’t even know you exist? Stop after Mass this weekend, shake his hand, and introduce yourself. Are you frustrated that you’ve been going to Mass at a parish for months but no one has said hello? Take time after Mass to introduce yourself to the person sitting behind you, and ask them how they’re doing. In a Letter to Timothy, Saint Paul reminds us that God doesn’t give us “a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.”
Your season of singleness is an opportunity to grow in community with others in you parish. But this isn’t an involvement that will happen by chance. Take this opportunity and season to intentionally get to know your family of faith better.