By Debbie Shannon, Director of Development, St. Peter’s
Blogger’s Note: It was my intention to write my final official post for the Baylor Catholic Blog on the subject of “community”, being as I am about to depart from this community and ministry that is very dear to my heart. Unfortunately, numerous projects and deadlines delayed my writing, and so my regularly scheduled ‘Third Wednesday’ posting date got delayed until today. As it was, Wednesday, April 17, was the night of the explosion in West, Texas. My topic is still on community, but has become so much more poignant in light of the suffering by our “next door neighbors” in West. I would like to dedicate my post to the Czech community of West.
“And they were of one heart and soul; …(and) they shared everything in common.”
Of all the qualities that are the essence of our Triune God that I am most grateful for, besides Love and Mercy, is that of Relationship. Our God is a God of relationship. In a constant exchange of love, between each Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Creator overflows His infinite love and mercy on His creation. We are, in fact, created in response to the only ‘need’, or maybe more accurately, ‘desire’ that God has…the desire to love. (I hope that isn’t a theologically unsound statement…but you get what I mean.)
And, then, made in His image and likeness, we are ‘wired’ for relationship as well. It is in relationship we most profoundly reflect God to others. It is in relationship that we most likely find Him in the first place. Even the hermits of the early days of the Church discovered that permanent and total isolation was not the best, or easiest, way to pursue deeper unity with God, and so the ‘monastic community’ was born. Even cloistered religious are profoundly focused on finding God in their little community set apart.
We need community. We find God in community. We find God in each other there, and we find God in ourselves there.
I have been profoundly blessed with the most life-giving relationships over the years. I was born into a loving and nurturing family who took me to God in Baptism and formed me in the catechism of the Catholic Church. I was the oldest of 12 siblings and grew up learning how to share, to forgive, to love in that domestic church that is called family.
I experienced my first community outside the protective walls of my home and family in Catholic schools, where I was further formed in the challenges of give and take, good and bad choices and looking past irritations and hurts to still ‘be friends’ despite the effort it can require. I moved on to college life, and a far more vast community of potential relationships, where I learned to choose wisely those in whom I would invest time – sometimes because they were a good influence on me, and sometimes because I might be a good influence on them. Ultimately, it was through those college relationships that I had my first profound “awakening” of faith.
Later, God granted me a new family, with and through my husband. We have six wonderful children and now two grandchildren! In this intimate community, I learned patience and tolerance and the wonder and awe of being a co-creator with God in bringing forth new life. I learned the challenges of parenting which required that I reach out in earnest for God’s gifts of wisdom and counsel and understanding. I still do. In the covenant relationship of marriage and my husband’s faithfulness, I see God. In each of my children’s faces, I see the goodness of God.
Over the years, our family traveled and lived in numerous cities from the east to west coasts and in between. Most of the closest friends I would develop in each new town came from my parish community as I would jump in and get involved in various ministries. These communities held so many wonderful friends that brought me many blessings and reflected the face of Jesus to me and His amazing way of appearing in an infinite variety of faces, personalities and walks of life. How blessed is the man (woman) who has friends! As much as I would mourn the loss of contact with these friends over the years, when life would require us to move again, God always had new ‘best friends’ waiting for me around the bend.
And then, in His infinite love and generosity, God granted me a new and very special community when we moved to the city of Waco, Texas just three years ago. He planted me in the midst of a ‘houseful’ of Catholic college students at St. Peter Catholic Student Center at Baylor University! The face of Jesus Christ practically blinds you amidst the wonderful, faith-filled students I have had the privilege of developing relationships with over those three years as a staff member of St. Peter’s. Some have reflected Him through their profound faith and inspiring devotion to worship. Others reflect His joy in their gusto for life and fun and silliness. Many reflect His Divine Providence in the way I see Him provide comfort and guidance through our ministries to those who are struggling with the stress of studies, relationships or life decisions. And even the faces of the students I don’t know reflect Him through their youthfulness, where I see the hope and promise of goodness and potential that I know is in each of their lives, and that I know God is just waiting to offer them. I see God at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center and He is so beautiful!
Community is one of the greatest gifts God gives to us! We give and we receive from Him there. We are challenged and we are comforted. We learn and we teach. We love and we are loved.
This week, we were challenged by the horrific tragedy of a deadly explosion in the community of West, Texas. Here in Central Texas, we are witnessing a community challenged, but comforted by each other, as well as other communities reaching out to them. We see their love for each other in grief, but also being loved by the surrounding communities, who may not know them personally, but are bound with them by the larger community that is the Body of Christ. Our own student community of St. Peter’s has responded with genuine compassion and desire to help by giving blood, offering prayer vigils, and lending a hand with supplies and other means.
God’s great ‘desire’ to love stands parallel to His great ‘desire’ to see us love one another, for in this, we love Him as well. Let us all thank God for our communities.
I thank God for mine, and especially, as I move on to a new community soon, I thank God for St. Peter’s and the Catholic students it serves. I have been blessed by you and will carry you in my hearts always.