Mark has started going to Sunday School at our church. This means I, too, have been going to Sunday School, and I have to say that overall, that’s been a good thing.
What’s odd to me, though, is that the school I’ve been attending isn’t one focused on God in the way that we might normally think. My church (Saint Richard Catholic Church in Jackson, MS, in case you’re curious) holds three groups for adults on Sundays. The different groups focus their attention on different issues, like spiritual growth, history, parenting, and topics related to the local and global community. It’s this last group that I’ve been attending, “Timely Topics,” and it’s making me aware of my faith community’s connection to our local community.
We start each session with a prayer–the last couple of sessions have begun with the Prayer of St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
It’s the right way to begin. Our conversations are never about faith, but I always find myself thinking of the prayer throughout the discussion, digesting it like the host and wine, taking in St. Francis’ gentle reminder that we are instruments of peace in the world, and, more importantly, in our local community. At times the conversation gets me so heated that I have to look back at the small piece of paper with the prayer on it to find my calm and remind myself that the people in the room who are frustrating me are frustrated themselves.
This one hour spent in a room with parishioners I don’t know reminds me that my community is made of real people who live in the same place and worship in the same house, but who also have very different points of view. It allows me a place to think about my city at large–about the various groups that find themselves vying for the attention of their leaders, for resources in their communities, for a sense that they, too, are an important part of this place we all call home–and I return to my own house with a wider field of vision.
Today we had a presentation from Dr. Safiya Omari, Chief of the Staff for the Mayor of Jackson’s office; Chokwe Lumumba, the Mayor, was supposed to present, but he was unable to do so. The presentation, like so many others I’ve attended in recent weeks, was full of the complexities of community life, and as she outlined the Mayor’s plans with regard to the city’s infrastructure problems and educational woes, I thought about the simplicity of St. Francis’ prayer and how complicated the world we face is, how complicated we are as we face it.
When we were done, I went down the hall to collect my son, who had spent his hour in the Atrium experiencing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. He had his work for the day with him, a sheet of paper with a circle of priest’s chasubles, each one labeled for a different moment of the liturgical year. He told me about them as we put on his shoes (no shoes allowed in the Atrium), and we talked in his three-year-old way about the Shepherd and the lost lambs and Feast, and I was struck at how different this catechism is from the Baltimore one that governed my childhood, how his first taught moments of our faith are steeped in this notion of our church as a community celebrating the gift of the Good Shepherd and not of a dry recitation of beliefs so abstract as to be nearly meaningless to the child who had to learn them.
He is learning about the Church as community and cycle and love. I am learning to love the community with the help of the Church and its cycles. We are always learning, as St. Francis knew, about love.
All of this to say: this is the purpose, I think, of this day, to be so unplugged from the daily rat race that we can listen to and hear our hearts, our families, our neighbors. May you have a peaceful Sunday.