We live in an era that puts high value on our individual independence, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being independent, but issues can arise if we try to live out our faith lives independently. Even the holiest of saints-in-the-making have their own communities that they are a part of; no matter how secluded they are from the rest of the world (or rather, how secluded we think they must be because of our own perceptions of holiness and how it’s attained).
Part of our need for community comes from our own innate human desire to build relationships with other people and regularly interact with them. It might be easier for an extravert to admit that they need regular social interactions in their life, but I expect after some deep thought, introverts will admit that they need regular social interactions too. I don’t claim to speak for all introverts, but this need becomes especially prevalent for me during breaks in the school year, when I’m away from most or even all of my friends for a lengthy period of time. I’ve noticed that during these times, I feel disconnected from the rest of the world, empty, depressed, all because my basic need for community is not being met. In fact, I was complacent in my faith for years because I was not involved in an enriching community.
Community goes beyond just being social, particularly in the life of our faith. It helps us to develop our faith and our relationship with God – even in the times we don’t notice it or actively feel God’s presence. As Jesus said
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Now, that doesn’t mean that God is not present to us individually, as God is always present and with us, it just becomes a little easier for us recognize God’s presence, and allows Him to work in greater power than it does on our own. Depending on how firmly we hold to this truth, it can still take us a while to recognize his presence, sometimes weeks or even months before we realize that God was present in that moment, but sometimes His presence is immediately felt. Take Pentecost for example. Before the apostolic ministry truly began, Jesus sent down the Holy Spirit when all the apostles were gathered together in the upper room (Acts 2). This testifies to both the power of the Spirit and the importance of a strong, faithful community. Jesus recognized our need for community by prioritizing the establishment of a community of believers in His ministry through His call to the disciples. This community spent three years developing one another’s faith with Jesus leading the way before He sent them out on their own to expand the community and build the Church.
Seeing as how we are all made in the image of God through our creation and blessed with the Spirit at the start of our faith journey to help answer the call to be like Christ to the world, it only makes sense that being involved in a faithful community would strengthen our faith, since we’re constantly interacting and searching for the way Christ manifests himself within the people of the community.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
While our faith, testimonies, and witnesses are personal, community serves to strengthen us in our faith since we get to see how the Lord is working through one another. We learn from and teach each other how to be better disciples of Christ, and there’s always room for us to grow in that regard.
A faithful community also holds us lovingly accountable, which is helpful in our mission to become like Christ, especially when it comes to overcoming habitual sins or even addictions.
Without a community, our temptations become stronger, we’re more likely to give in to desolation and despair, and we just aren’t able to challenge ourselves in our faith the way an enriching, faith-based community would. I know because I’ve experienced these things first-hand, and I had no intention of getting involved in the community at Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Central Florida. I thought I could scrape by on my own and I wouldn’t have to introduce myself to this new group of people. But Jesus had other plans for me. I found myself getting involved anyways, slowly expanding my social sphere and my world changed. I found the Lord and realized how much he loved me, how much he wanted to be with me. Me, a sinner. I didn’t have to do this alone. I couldn’t do it alone.
Neither do you.