For most of my teens and into my 20s, I looked forward to
the day when I would live on my own, in my own place. Growing up
with three siblings, I was accustomed to sharing bunk beds, a
bathroom and what limited closet space there was
When I moved out of my parents' house for my freshman year
of college, it was a matter of learning to share an even smaller
dorm room with two roommates - and no closet space to speak of. And
later, I moved into a house where I learned to make treaties in
order not to disrupt the established peace with housemates who had
peculiar ideas about when and how to wash the dishes in the kitchen
sink or scrub the toilet.
So after 24 years of sharing cramped spaces, making
compromises and living by someone else's rules, I was anxious and
eager to move out on my own. This, I thought, would be
My opportunity came last year when I took a job at a
church in a new city where I knew not a soul. My options were to
risk signing my name to a lease with a stranger looking for a
roommate in the classifieds or… finally live on my own like I had
dreamed of doing for some time.
I opted for the latter, and was glad to be choosing an
apartment for myself. I hunted around on the Internet and drove
around neighborhoods in search of the perfect place. And to my
astonishment, within a day, I had found a reasonably priced studio
apartment in a lively little neighborhood. It seemed too good to be
For the first three months, I enjoyed the solitude that
came with living alone. I enjoyed coming home to peace and quiet
after exhausting, stressful days. But after some time, I found
myself staying at work longer each night, not wanting to return to
an empty apartment where there was no one to talk to or to share
dinner with or to exchange stories about the day.
Some days after work, to avoid going home, I would wander
aimlessly into places where I could simply be in the company of
others - restaurants, art galleries, coffee shops, the library and
the gym. But with each passing day, it became clear to me that I
needed something that I was desperately lacking -
Dorothy Day, one of the greatest Catholic social justice
activists of the 20th century who helped found the Catholic Worker
movement, wrote in her book The Long Loneliness: "We have
all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only
solution is love and that love comes with community."
She and co-founder of the movement, Peter Maurin, opened
houses of hospitality during the Great Depression to welcome the
poor, sick, marginalized and lonely, and encouraged Catholics
everywhere to have "Christ rooms" to welcome the stranger. Knowing
this, I don't suppose it was coincidence last August that led me to
find myself on the doorsteps of a Catholic Worker not far from
where I live.
Outside this Catholic Worker, staked in the front yard, is
a weathered but welcoming sign that reads: "A Sacred Space in an
Urban Place." It is here that I've found a piece of the community
for which I've been longing. Each Sunday evening, and at various
other times throughout the week, I gather with a handful of others
to pray Liturgy of the Hours, share stories, and to be nourished by
the familiar presence of friends.
The aspects of living in community that I had resented at
one time - making compromises and unceasingly thinking of others
first - are now voids I long to fill and that I increasingly
recognize as essential for true growth.
Because we live in a world where our jobs are more mobile
and our lives more hectic than they've ever been before, authentic
manifestations of community - which require an element of stability
and commitment in order to flourish - are no longer incidental to
the places where we live, or even the parishes where we worship.
Instead, if we desire true community, we're challenged to find,
build or create it intentionally.
I'm sure the monks at Saint Meinrad, where I attend
classes regularly as a lay degree student, can attest to the
sacrifice and deliberate efforts required of communal living. And
any family that attempts to carve out sacred moments of time to
spend together on a regular occasion could speak to the
frustrations and effort that is required to be intentional about
coming together to share as a family, rather than simply interact
as a collection of individuals living under the same
Being community involves a patient tolerance of others'
idiosyncrasies, a willingness to share vulnerabilities, and an
acceptance of differences. It can be a difficult task creating
community, but I think it's necessary, and in the end, produces
something much sweeter.