In my personal and professional life, there has recently been one topic that keeps coming up, and that topic is community. This topic was first brought to my attention when I was interviewing a pastoral counselor. She was telling me about how she often feels isolated because of her ministerial role at the church and her roles as mother and wife. It came up again when I was on retreat with my household.
For those of you who are not aware of Franciscan University’s households, a household is similar to our version of fraternity or sorority. It is a group of men or women who gather together to worship God. Each household has its own covenant that it is based upon and which describes the charisms of the household. Each household meets several times a week for different activities, such as rosary, Mass, or Lord’s Day. Lord’s Day is a setting aside of the sabbath day. It takes place around 4 PM on Saturdays. Every household has their own form for Lord’s Day which is based on a common format: opening prayers, reading the Mass readings for the following Sunday, giving thanks, petitioning, breaking bread and drinking wine. Some people take issue with Lord’s Day because there are similar actions as in Mass, but it is in no way a Mass, but a way to prepare our hearts for Mass the next day. There are 24 men’s households and 26 women’s households at Franciscan University.
My household is Theotokos. Theotokos is a Greek word meaning “God Bearer.” It is a name given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD to combat the heresy of Nestorianism, which held that Jesus could not be both human and divine. Mary, as God-bearer, stayed with Jesus at the foot of the Cross, where Jesus died for the sins of all mankind. Because my sisters in Theotokos and I try to emulate Mary, we strive to carry our crosses and the crosses of others.
I joined household in the spring of 2011 when I was a freshman. I wanted to join a household really badly, but I don’t think at the time I truly realized how deeply I would grow to love my sisters and how much they would mean to me. College isn’t an easy time for people. Suicide rates for college students are very high. Having a group of girls who love me and want whats best for me is an amazing community to have in college. These girls have kept me sane through the insanity of college
In Karol Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility, he talks about different kinds of relationships. He said that the strongest relationships are those that are based on a higher good. My household is not focused just on the activities we do together, or the fun times we have, but recognizing our higher calling to sanctity and encouraging each other to become the best version of ourselves. In my almost 4 years of being a sister in Theotokos, I have grown towards becoming the best version of myself. I look back at myself in High School and even my freshman year at Franciscan University, and I become very thankful that I am who I am now, and not who I was before. I owe a lot of that growth to my beautiful sisters in Theotokos. I am graduating at the end of this semester. I am eternally grateful for all I have learned through Theotokos and for the amazing community they have been and will continue to be for me.
So why am I writing about this in my pastoral blog? Well, no man is an island. Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” As humans we weren’t created to live a solitary life. It is good for us to be around others. Genesis 1:27 says that we were made in the image of God. As Catholics, we believe that God is Trinity, three persons with one nature: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian theology teaches that the person of the Holy Spirit springs forth from the love between the Father and the Son. The relationship between the Father and the Son is so strong is creates another person!! God is in constant relationship, and we who are made in the image of God are also made to be in relationship, from our family of origin, extended family, friends, teachers, coworkers, etc.
Satan tries to attack us by making us think we’re alone. I know when I was in my darkest moments in my life, I thought I was alone and that no one would understand me; that I had to carry my cross on my own. But once I shared my struggles with my sisters in Theotokos, I realized I was not alone. Several other girls struggled with the same issues I did and we were able to help each other carry our crosses. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” There is power in numbers. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). When we are in union with each other, we not only have the strength in numbers, but we also have the Lord’s strength. Community is one of the best defenses we have against spiritual attack!
And that is why community is important in Pastoral Counseling. There’s a good chance that many clients that come to us in Pastoral Counseling feel isolated. We may be the first community they have experienced in a long time. But we can’t leave it there. If we are supposed to be the community for all of our clients then we’re gonna be spreading ourselves thin. Instead, it is important for us to connect our clients to groups that will encourage them and love them into the best versions of themselves.
The truth of body-soul union is so important to me in counseling. I intern in a community counseling center. In this setting, I don’t have the privilege of discussing Christ in sessions, but that doesn’t stop me from praying for my clients in front of the Eucharist and before sessions. I pray not only for their disorders and their presenting symptoms but that they may see the love of the Father through me, whether they realize it or not. This is my approach to “regular” counseling. I recognize my clients as body and soul, and though there is not too much I can do for their soul in this setting, I do what I can to help their soul while I help their mind and body.