Last week I was talking to a woman about how fractured and isolated the world is now. My grandparents had the same set of friends from the 1940s. These friends lived next door to one another, shared meals and holidays, raised children together, vacationed together, retired together. They had weekly gatherings, and their kids wandered through each other’s homes. Today, that sort of friendship is almost impossible to manage. Friends live in separate neighborhoods; neighbors barely know one another. Kids aren’t allowed to play outside on their own, exploring the neighborhood. Families often move cities and states. More often, families split up; divorce is so rampant that it is an accepted, common fact of American life. We claim to be more independent, but really, we’re just more isolated.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. The Gospel reading is the story of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus and finding him in the Temple. They didn’t realize he was missing right away because they were in a caravan and assumed he was with the group. Today, this story would be an example of neglect; they should have had their eyes on him at all times. CPS should be called. Yet at that time, it was perfectly obvious that the whole caravan was responsible for all of the children. And Jesus thought it was obvious that he belonged in the Temple. The Holy Family was indeed holy, and strong, but there was a larger family raising Jesus. He had relatives like Elizabeth, John, and James, and he had his community of Nazareth, his rabbis at the Temple, his disciples during his ministry.
It takes a strong community to properly form a person. And a lack of community will also form a person, to society's detriment. Community means more love, more support, more resources. It gives a person a broader sense of self and a stable place in the world. It makes home more than a house or immediate family. It teaches how to live in harmony with different people. It passes on time-tested lessons, values, and traditions. Each family need not reinvent the wheel; each person need not navigate the world alone. Community bears our burdens; it stops us from falling into our individual errors.
In efforts to be free and liberated, we as a society have torn apart community. We create communities for ourselves, but they are self-selected groups of like-minded or like-aged people, and we reserve the right to leave at any time. There is desire for community, but no one wants to commit. Family is spread out, divided, broken, transient. Instead of a caravan, we are lone rangers. Isolation breeds confusion, depression, error. We need to expand and solidify family. We need to strengthen our bonds and responsibilities to our relatives, our neighborhoods, and our church families. Communities are always easy or helpful; they can be demanding, frustrating, exhausting. But the work of the whole is stronger than the work of the one. It is not good for man to be alone.