By Barb Arland-Fye
A headline in Sunday’s newspaper caught my attention because it stated that a well-known politician nurtures his faith outside the public spotlight. Reading the article accompanying the headline, I learned that the politician rarely goes to church, but he prays and reads Scripture.
While praying and reading Scripture are essential, the story saddened me because an influential public figure is setting an example that says, “You can go it alone.” The tone of the story underscored that message.
But as my close friend Marcia Chambers Regrut observes, “You can’t really have a walk with God if you never go to his house.”
In the final two months of this Year of Faith, we practicing Catholics need to give witness to the necessity of a faith lived in community. It’s not only life-giving; it’s what Jesus asked of his disciples when he walked beside them on this earth and what he expects of us who call ourselves the body of Christ.
Even in the early Church, some Christians tended to stay away. Paul reminds us in Hebrews (10:25) that “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
Paul and other followers of Jesus in the early Church believed the parousia (return of Christ in glory at the end of history to judge the world) was imminent. Plenty of Gospel passages remind us that we ought to be prepared, not just as individuals, but as a community of believers.
This sense of community was reinforced for me last weekend (Oct. 19-20) during two separate celebrations of the commissioning of lay ecclesial ministers in the Davenport Diocese and while singing in the choir at Mass in my parish.
In his homily during Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport on Oct. 19, Bishop Martin Amos made an observation which emphasized the idea of a community of faith. The observation, based on the first reading (Exodus 17:8-13), made an impression on me.
Amalek has waged war against Israel; Moses responds by having Joshua engage Amalek in battle. Meanwhile, Moses climbs a hill, with Aaron and Hur at his side. As long as Moses keeps his hands raised, Israel has the better of the fight; when he lowers them, Amalek has the upper hand. But Moses’ hands grow tired, so Aaron and Hur, positioned on either side of Moses, support his hands — which remain steady. The story reminds us of “the power of community prayer, of prayer for each other and with each other,” Bishop Amos said. There will be times when we hold up others’ hands and times when others hold up our hands, he continued. That community of prayer comes together in the Church and in its small faith communities.
In his blessing over newly commissioned lay ecclesial ministers, the bishop prayed: “Lord, look kindly on your servants: we send them forth as messengers of salvation and peace, marked with the Sign of the Cross. Guide their steps with your mighty arm and with the power of your grace strengthen them in spirit, so that they will not falter through weariness. Make their words the echo of Christ’s voice, so that those who hear them may be drawn to obey the Gospel. Fill their hearts with the Holy Spirit, so that, becoming all things to all people, they may lead many to you, the Father of all, to sing your praise in your holy Church.”
The next day, while singing in the choir at Our Lady of the River Church in LeClaire, that uplifting sense of the community of faith swept over me as voices harmonized for the Communion song, “Holy is His Name.” How close I felt to God — in the midst of a church full of people.