By Emily Malloy
Books upon books have been written on the subject of rekindling culture and community. Not only have books been written on these topics, but they have been purchased and read in great numbers. The truth is that ours is a fast-paced, individualistic society. There are many factors driving this outcome, nevertheless a natural result of this is the breakdown of so much, most notably community. Within us is a deep-seated desire for that which we lack, so we read and long, unsure of how to rekindle what has been lost.
Any reader who has had the privilege of picking up one of Wendell Berry's novels backdropped in the fictional, rural town named Port William, keenly realizes the loss of community that we face in modernity. Port William is a town juxtaposed between the modern and old worlds of the 19th and 20th centuries. The pages are filled with stories of those individuals who are bound together by an unbreakable "membership" (as Berry coins it). Works of fiction though they be, the books of Berry are clearly written from experience of such a community.
Establishing this connection between people is simpler to achieve than we realize. We belong to each other -- and to the places where we reside. Even if we no longer put our hand to plow, we still belong to the house where we hang our hat in the town where we live. Most of all, we are integral members of the Body of Christ.
I look to my own parish and small town for a beautiful example of membership. I also look to the message of Fatima.
During one of the apparitions at Fatima, Our Lady requested a particular devotion be spread in reparation against ingratitude, blasphemies, and offenses to heal the world. This is known as the First Saturday Devotion, which involves: 1) going to Confession, 2) receiving the Blessed Sacrament, 3) reciting five decades of the Rosary, and 4) meditating upon these mysteries of the rosary for fifteen minutes on the first Saturday for five months.
Within this devotion is a beautiful opportunity to evangelize and build community. Enter my parish:
When most official gatherings were prohibited in 2020, a bible study at the Basilica of St. Mary in Natchez, Mississippi began gathering outside of the parish in a different capacity. Though parishioners were no longer meeting for a bible study, the group began gathering in homes for a potluck and rosary on the First Saturday of each month. After my family moved from Pennsylvania to Mississippi at the end of that fateful year, we were graciously included in one of these get-togethers. It was life-changing. After weeks of feeling unmoored from the immense move, we immediately felt secure after attending.
Gathering with people in the devotion of First Saturday brings about a convergence of faith and community. It is a bedrock for membership. Moreover, it is an easy opportunity for evangelization. Many folks have attended our potluck who have fallen away from the Church, have never prayed the rosary, or are just simply lonely and looking for friendship.
Community is an antidote to self-centeredness, as a membership requires being on hand for others. In the fictional Kentucky town of Port William, the members belong to one another, as they are parts of a whole. As we are to the Church, we are beholden and obliged, but not begrudgingly, to the Body of Christ. In this wholeness, there is no room for the individualism that is plaguing our society or the creation of isolated realms of loneliness encouraged with pointed campaigns of “self-dating.” (See below image for this recent bizarre recommendation pushed by Pinterest)
It goes without saying that community comes with its flaws, but through humility, these obstacles of human nature can be overcome by the grace of God. Iron is sharpened by iron and we are challenged and improved in virtue through conflict. Vibes or not, we need each other.
Being bound by unity through submission to the requests of Our Lady of Fatima provides a unique foundation of membership. Celebrating this union through the breaking of bread opens the door to deep, lasting relationships. For my family, this foundation has expanded to include a "land membership" akin to the one put to paper by Wendell Berry, wherein the community helps one another on the land as well.
We bemoan the breakdown of community and parish life. A tangible way to foster this type of community is by the establishment of a First Saturday Potluck. Beginning the day with each other at First Saturday Mass, parting ways to tend to our responsibilities of our own lives, and then concluding the day with a rosary and potluck fosters a unique belonging between members. An immense bond is formed between people who gather once a month, year after year, with the intention of interceding for each other and the world.
It is in this membership that you carry each other in prayer and support through both sorrow and triumph. And even holding vigil in prayer in times of death. The members yoke themselves together to help share burdens. Most other opportunities for community aren't a cross-section of a parish, consisting of people in different ages and stages in their lives. We lose sight of the richness found in this type of community when we unwittingly (or intentionally) homogenize our lives. Community life shared in a multi-generational manner is a great lack in modernity.
Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput once said to me and my husband that it is impossible to be a Christian alone. He is absolutely right. What we need is the Body of Christ. What we long for is membership bound together in devotion to God and in service of our land.