Many years ago, about 1974 to be exact, I remember reading a book by Father Paul Hinnebusch, Friendship in the Lord.
This book is now out-of-print. However, as I was in a lay community for seven years, I learned what this meant from experience and not merely from a book. I think the confusion about lay communities stems from the fact that people have never seen one or read about such.
The Anabaptists, of course, have communities, such as the Bruderhof, and the various Amish and Mennonite communities. These Protestants began their movements as mostly agrarian groups, purposefully separated from urban life, and from the evils surrounding their worlds, such as the compromises made by the Lutheran bishops under Nazism.
Catholic communities, and, indeed, the first communities mentioned in Acts, were urban. It was not until the fall of the Roman Empire that the Church moved out into the countryside. This movement out of the cities, a Catholic Diaspora, helped spread the Gospel, and created the monastic orders, specifically Benedictinism. Recall that St. Benedict's order grew out of the decay following the lack of order after the fall of Rome. His own father was a governor, as the local governments continued using Roman law and order, when possible, even after Rome was ruined.
The combination of law, order and Catholicism created new communities, in addition to the urban ones. It was never the intention of the communities, as seen working in Acts, to isolate themselves from the great cities of the time. In fact, if one also remembers the churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, one sees that these seven churches were found in the largest cities in the Middle East, especially in the Levant, at the time.
Urban life now seems to be horribly anti-communal, and the suburban life-style, which I never lived, preferring to live in cities, or in towns or villages, dictates against communal life.
I have seen neighborhoods here in New Jersey full of McMansions and no sidewalks. Bedroom commuter neighborhoods by definition are anti-communal.
The strip malls I see here are also anti-communal. One parks a car in front of a store, shops and leaves. There is no place for gathering or even sitting down with friends.
Perhaps this is one reason I love Europe as the smaller villages have community still, and the cities are built on the old communal squares or gathering places. One sees one's friends by walking to church, for example.
Urban sprawl kills communities which existed in older times. For those who are younger than I am, the memory of community simply is not there in the imagination.
We lived in Catholic ghettos, or with other Protestant families who were still having children. People were in each others' houses. Of course, the inflation which hit America in the late 1970s, forced some women to have to work instead of being stay-at-home moms if a certain lifestyle was desired, In my own married life, we chose a simpler lifestyle on purpose in order for me to stay at home and home school.
Such are the choices people make.
However, the ideal of friendship in the Lord, which is found in real communities, seems a dream to many Catholics. Friendship takes time and detachment, and is not based on false, societal class structures, but on the sharing of resources and talents.
Many of us in the community movement in the States now so long ago learned how to have happy, prayerful families. Single people met like-minded single people, which created good marriages based on Godliness and not modern disorders of sex and false romance.
To be in a community meant that those who chose to do so had spiritual direction on a regular basis, and also, the teaching of how to become a servant. In fact, our community had something called "servant school". Dying to self, like those who lived in large families in the past experienced, became part of daily life.
Friendship in the Lord means first of all that one has a relationship with Christ which can be shared with others. and that one wants to live for and in Christ, building the Kingdom of God and not the Kingdom of Man.
Years ago, I had the delight in one college in which I was an instructor, to teach St. Augustine's City of God. This book should be read by all Catholics, and if God allows me some stability, perhaps I can share some of my notes, still floating around my head, with my readers here. At the time I was teaching this book, in the early 2000s, most of my friends were involved in the pro-life movement. Some were even in "rescue". These people met at each other's houses, including mine, and prayed together, discussing pro-life issues, and the ministries coming out of the concern for pro-life issues.
This group was a small community. We shared dinners, were in each others' houses, and helped each other sharing talents. I was working and homeschooling, and out of this group, I tutored a girl with special needs, whose foster-mother needed help. And, so on.
Out of this group, came homeschooling sharing of talents as well. Many of those involved went to the local TLM even before the Summorum Pontificum.
The group broke up as some of us had to move away for other jobs, one key person moving to California and one going into a convent. However, like my earlier community experience, it was clear that working for the Kingdom of God formed the center of our focus.
Community will be essential in the days which are coming upon us quickly. Those who are strong need to help those who are weak. Those who are weak need to grow and learn to trust in Divine Providence more directly, more intensely.
When I encouraged readers a long time ago to pod, I was hoping that some would see the immediate need for such movements towards community. The time is coming quickly when people will not be able to move into neighborhoods with other Catholics. The time is coming quickly when the isolation of surburbia will become a real prison.
Too many people tell me that they would move into pods but that their spouses do not agree. These couples need to pray together so that one mind can be found on these issues. Women need to learn obedience to their husbands, if their husbands want to take the lead in the formation of community.
Perhaps because my generation came out of big families, where we learned how to share from little on, it was easier than those who have grown up with their own private bedrooms and all the luxuries of middle-class income families. I do not know if that is a problem for some-giving up "individualism" for the sake of the Kingdom.
There is no doubt that the Church grew in persecution because of the communities. That the Holy Spirit left us traces of this history in the Acts of the Apostles proves the importance of communal life.
To be wholly human, one must learn to have friendships in the Lord.
Part One...to be continued