The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 64: Communal Lent
Hi friends, happy first week of Lent. If you went to mass this past Ash Wednesday, you heard a reading from the Book of Joel, all about returning to God “with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning”, “rending your hearts, not your garments, and returning to the LORD, your God.” It’s a powerful reading, and if you were born and raised Catholic, it was likely familiar to you, but the celebrant at the mass I attended this week put it in a context I had never heard before.
In the reading, the prophet Joel was reacting to a great swarm of locusts which had decimated all the vegetation, leading to severe hardship and famine. Joel called for the people to fast and to gather without exception. “Blow the horn!” he said. “Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber.” In other words, Joel called everyone to meet and to call out to the Lord together. As our celebrant, Fr. Stephen, reminded us, and he said this so slowly so that we would really get it: repentance is communal.
Well, friend, the force of those words set me back in my chair that day, because it had been quite a while, if ever, maybe, that I’ve heard that kind of language from a pulpit. Here in the west, we can think about our faith as self-oriented and directed – our individual prayer practice, our personal sin and our good works balancing out on a scale of piety with our name written right on it. In America specifically, we hear much more about our freedom to worship and about the perceived enemies to that freedom than about our belonging or obligation or responsibility to a community of believers. And I get it. I’m a 4 on the enneagram, which if you’re familiar you’ll know we are the ones who prize individuality the very most, but when it comes to our faith lives, it can be easy to forget that this was never something that was designed to do alone. We’re a Body. And if, in the Body of Christ, repentance is communal, then maybe sin is as well. Hmmm. And maybe we’d be wise to examine what else in our lives of faith could be considered as a shared experience. Is suffering communal? How about praise or charity? If you’ve ever been a part of a faith community for any length of time, you know that the spirit of that community or space is something that is felt by its members, and that’s no accident, because it is something that they build together. In the last month, I’ve discerned a spirit in two spaces that were completely new to me pretty much as soon as I walked through the door. Maybe you’ve had an experience like that, too. That spirit is felt, experienced, and built not only with physical gathering and prayer, but with care and concern, as we saw during the pandemic. The protection we offered each other by not gathering during that time – that was communal, too.
It was not long ago that we as church naturally understood this communal aspect to faith. Back then, we could not survive without each other, and we knew it. Our interconnectedness was right there on the surface of how we lived our daily lives. Look at any Catholic Church that was built in the early twentieth century in America – these grand and beautiful places were largely built by poor immigrants over time, each sharing their skills and materials to make something greater than what they could make on their own. A place to gather and to worship, yes, but also to provide a home base of care for a community. And this is why so many of us who are without a church home today feel the pain and struggle of that loss so acutely. Still, a faith community can continue to live on without the benefit of walls or structure, as I saw recently when several families from my chapel community gathered to sing Christmas carols in the yard of a family with a terminally ill young adult, or when we gathered to pray Lectio Divina together during the pandemic in a friend’s yard, complete with coffee and doughnuts. This strong attachment that we have to each other is not visible, but it is real, and unfortunately when it comes to the Church, so are the divides.
Today, there are large chunks of the Catholic Church in America who see Pope Francis as the enemy. Don’t believe me? Check out some of the louder voices in Catholic media, some American bishops, and sadly, even some priests from the pulpit. This divide is stark, and the rhetoric is ugly and all of this is a sledgehammer to the communal nature of the faith that Jesus gave us when He gathered a ragtag group of truly disparate people together to form the early Church. It is not overstating it to say that the only thing they really had in common was Jesus, and their need for Him. Much of the current practice of Catholicism in America, so centered on individual rights and freedoms, would have been unthinkable to the first friends of Jesus, who taught us to give our lives away.
Well, back to Joel and his call to communal repentance. Joel was responding to a situation which seemed out of control and pretty hopeless, quite impossible for them to solve from their own power. You could say the world today has that same kind of feeling of danger, loss, and deep sorrow. The war in Ukraine, the continuing social, emotional, and financial impact of a pandemic, stark divides in politics, religion, education, family, and society – all of this can make us feel utterly unsteady and scared and as though we are on a precipice, and we do not know what will happen next. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and oh, that is so clear on so many fronts today where we see long-standing institutions crumbling before our very eyes.
When Joel called for the people to pray in humility and repentance together, God’s promised response was to be overwhelming in its kindness and abundance. Pity on his people, confronting of evil, restoration of the devastated land, repayment for the years that were eaten, divine presence among the people of God, renewal of Creation, and peace. Well, it makes my spirit sigh just to think of it, truly, and how about you, today, friend? As we enter into this Lent together, maybe you and I can echo Joel’s call with a prayerful eye toward unity and humility as the sisters and brothers we are, whatever that means to you today, friends, because really, we are all in this together. As Fr. Stephen said during my Ash Wednesday mass, repentance and suffering are communal and that’s why in Lent, we as individuals give ourselves away. We’re sacrificing our own will for the good of the family of God. And I guess it just seems to me that, once again, Lent came right on time this year, truly, for such a time as this.
Thanks so much for being with me today, friends. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as all of that helps more people to find us and I truly appreciate that, so thanks. If you’d like to support Raised Catholic financially by throwing a few bucks my way, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with lots of resources about how to engage with this topic more deeply for yourself, so do check all of that out. For now, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, help us to turn our eyes from what divides us to what unites us, and that is, of course, you and our need for you. Help us to give ourselves away this Lent so that our faith becomes more ‘we’ than just ‘me’. Please give our leaders the ability to unite the people so that we can call out together, not as enemies in a divided house but as family. Lord, we know we can’t do this alone, and we can’t possibly do it without you, so please, Jesus, draw near to us in your kindness.
For us, our dear ones, our friends, and our enemies today, we pray for a grace-filled, fruitful time of Lent. And for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and all over the world who are impacted by war and hardship, we lift them up as family in the name of Jesus, we pray, amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Thanks so much for listening today, and I’ll see you next time.
This week we’re remembering the reading from the Prophet Joel we heard on Ash Wednesday, and reflecting on the idea of communal repentance, communal sin, communal suffering, communal life, and communal faith. Maybe the idea of communal Lent has come to us in this complicated, hyper self-oriented, and challenging time for a reason. Maybe it’s time we remember we belong to each other.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Book of Joel overview from Bible Project
2. Where Peter Is: A collaborative effort of writers increasingly concerned about divisive attacks on Pope Francis and effects on the Church
3. Podcast: Field Hospital with Mike Lewis and Jeannie Gaffigan
4. Song: One Voice, by The Wailin’ Jennys
5. Song: Clean – Live, by Hillsong
6. Song: People of God, by Gungor
7. Lenten resources/study from author Kate Bowler
8. Book: Bitter & Sweet, by Tsh Oxenreider
9. On Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners In Health, a modern and timely example of someone who gave his life away in the name of God on behalf of his sisters and brothers
10. Podcast: Jesuitical – Remembering Dr. Paul Farmer – a Catholic Who Wanted to Cure the World