By common opinion the United Kingdom is one of the most secularized countries in Europe and the world. Many famous atheists seem to be British. The estimated number of Christians makes us a religious minority in this country. On the other hand this secular environment and the active attack against Christianity have made believers more aware of their beliefs and more keenly involved in their local parishes.
Today’s first reading tells us about four elements necessary in building a Christian community. Let’s listen to it again: ‘The whole community remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers’. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles shows us that the first Christian communities didn’t consist of perfect, unstained and nice members. Misunderstandings, arguments and resentments were so common that Saint Paul had to cope with those problems in all his letters.
There is just one perfect community – the community of saints in heaven. Every other one consists of people who want to be better. And only a community can help us to gain perfection. Sometimes it gives us support in our troubles; sometimes it makes us confront our self-image. Once, when I was a student in the seminary my colleague expressed a very unpleasant opinion about me. I was furious! Just to calm down I went out into the seminary garden for a walk. I started saying my rosary and suddenly I realised he had been right. He’d challenged my self-image and I’d felt humiliated; but as a result I looked at myself more truthfully. So living in the seminarian community wasn’t always nice and easy; but I can’t overrate the importance of it in shaping me as a self-conscience and a self-aware person.
President John F. Kennedy at the beginning of his office said: ‘And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. This deeply evangelically shaped approach we can – and I think we should – apply to our local communities: families and parish. Don’t ask what your parish can do for you – ask what you can do for your parish.