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Mercy Moments: Call to Family, Community, and Participation

“Family may be sacred, but community has a holy dimension of its own. Blood is never the only thing that binds us. It is often the ties we choose that have most power.  Love connects us all like the weave of thread in a fine white cloth. And so, we entwine, becoming indivisible.  This is the pattern that was meant, and stitch by stitch, we tell our story, under the gaze of the angels and the stars.”

FROM CALL THE MIDWIFE, “CHRISTMAS SPECIAL 2021”
Artwork: © “Call to Family, Community, and Participation.” by Br. Mickey McGrath OFSF, Courtesy of Trinity Stores, www.trinitystores.com, 800.699.4482

Just a few months before I was set to move to Missouri in the summer of 2021, I binge-watched Modern Family. One of the main characters in the series was born and raised in Missouri, and upon visiting his hometown, his spouse commented that Missouri is actually pronounced: misery. As I watched what was clearly meant to be a comical play on words, I failed to see the humor as I took it more as a foreshadowing of what my life was about to become. I’d planned to move because I was getting married, and my fiancé Tony already lived in Missouri. At the time, it made the most sense for me to make the move. But that was it, I was moving for him. Not because I had a promising job offer. Not because I had lots of connections and knew anyone other than Tony and a few of his family members.  Not because I had visited and fallen in love with the landscape or the fast pace of life in Jefferson City.  No. I was moving for Tony. And yes, this reason may have come up in a few arguments following the move.

Shortly after I arrived, I discovered that it’s not pronounced misery. It’s actually Missour-uh.  But that didn’t help my transition. The hygienist at my dentist’s office, while making small talk in between scraping my teeth, asked where I had lived previously.  When I told her “Cleveland Ohio ” she said “Oh! So basically, the same as here. Cows and corn. Right?”  While Ohio certainly has its share of rural communities, when I went on daily runs through my Cleveland neighborhood, I passed stadiums and courthouses and restaurants, not cows and corn. New Bloomfield, Missour-uh is not Cleveland, Ohio.  And at the risk of sounding dramatic, I must admit that over the past 2 1/2 years, there have been plenty of times I have wholeheartedly believed I was living in misery. Of course, this really had nothing to do with the great state of Missouri. It had everything to do with what I was missing — family, community, and participation in countless opportunities I was afforded in Cleveland over the past two decades.  And that’s what I was longing for here in Missouri.

But things started to change about 9 months ago when I found two significant ways of participating in the community in my new hometown: running and praying.

I’ve been a runner my whole life.  Never very competitive, I still identify with the line from the classic film, Chariots of Fire, “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure.”  Although I have always loved setting goals for myself while running – whether it’s a certain distance or pace or personal record in a specific race – more and more I am simply in awe of what my body can do.  Movement is a gift.  Beyond the teams of my youth or an occasional road race with my siblings in which our motto was always “No Madden left behind”, I had become accustomed to running on my own.  So last spring I trained for and ran Jefferson City’s half marathon on my own.  After the race, a co-worker who had also run, invited me to join a running group.  She insisted it was open to all distances and paces. 

I was skeptical, but it was true – the group is welcoming to everyone.  There are people who have been competitive at every age and those of us who run for the sheer joy of it.  People who show up to walk and those who show up to train for 100 mile races.  (I know.  Remember when 26.2 was crazy?) And perhaps best of all, after each run, we gather to eat and drink and share. And the more we share as we run, the more I find that it’s not just a variety of distances and paces that are welcome.  It’s a variety of backgrounds, careers, traditions, families, ages, opinions, and lived experiences.  A microcosm of what the Church should be, I have proclaimed this group to be the best part of life in Missouri many times over in recent months.

Not long after I found running companions, I was invited into another community – one that practices Centering Prayer.  Here, our focus is far from movement.  When this group meets, we are still.  We meet God in the silence and discover God’s presence within us. Similar to silent retreats in which I participated years ago, there’s a closeness that is strengthened in this awareness – not in spite of the silence, but because of it.

I never had a running group in Cleveland. They exist of course. But I was always too intimidated to join.  I also never experienced Centering Prayer in Cleveland, although I had many other faith-filled connections.  Two beautiful experiences – meaningful communities that I would truly miss were I to move again. 

Catholic Social Teaching proclaims that humans are not only sacred, we are social.  How we (each and every one of us) are invited, welcomed, and encouraged to participate within our communities matters.  And although participation within communities rooted in shared hobbies and faith traditions can be transformational, our call to family, community, and participation must be realized on a much larger scale.  Both local and global economics, politics, laws, and policies determine if and how individuals and families can grow in community and realize their God-given potential.  How we organize in society must prioritize human dignity, the common good, and as always, give special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable.

Having such recent memories of feeling alone and still struggling being far from family and dear friends, I reflect on those without any family, those who have never been included, those who have never felt welcomed.  And I especially remember those who are alone, excluded, and unwelcomed as a direct result of political and economic decisions.  Ever mindful of our personal and collective responsibility for others, as Tony and I grow our family in Missouri, I’m grateful for the ways in which we continue to be invited into a deeper sense of family, community, and participation.  And I pray we can offer this same peace, compassion, and hospitality to those most in need.


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