Sisters in Christ: The Importance of Community

Here you are now/ fresh from your wars/ back from the edge of time/ and all that you were stripped to the bone/I thought you’d want to know

When you feel the world is crashing all around your feet/ come running headlong into my arms/ breathless/I’ll never judge you/I can only love you/come now running headlong into my arms breathless

Lay down your guns/too weak to run/nothing can harm you here/and your precious heart broken and scarred somehow you made it through/I only ask that you won’t go again

So glad to see you smiling, so good to hear you laugh, I think that you’ll find you even missed yourself, I’m only asking this cause I think that truth be told, you’ll never go again.

— Better Than Ezra, Breathless

I heard this song on my iPod during the flight home from the Edel Gathering (an opportunity to meet with like-minded Catholic mothers), and it struck me how much these words are the words that God whispered to each of us over the course of the weekend, particularly those who came here struggling.

“It is good that you are here.” These words from a woman named Hallie reached out and pierced through insecurity, doubt, anxiety, and in some cases, pain, and let us know that we were seen, we were wanted, and here in this space at the Edel Gathering, we did not have to hide. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, this was a group of women who had to go on the internet to make friends and find others who value what we value and love what we love. Probably 75% of us would describe ourselves as reserved or even introverted.

Yet what I witnessed at the Edel Gathering was a sense of community so strong that I wondered if we’d somehow all known each other for years. Then I remembered: we did. Though this may have been the first time many of us had broken bread at the same tables and shared the dance floor,, many of these women had been sharing their hearts, thoughts, and words with one another for years. We may have only met this weekend, but we’ve known each other all along. I saw the beautiful face of a college friend I had not seen for 7 years, and we talked together as though no time had passed at all. I met a woman who attends my (admittedly huge and brand new) parish and who I met for the first time 500 miles from home. In addition to these women, I was so blessed to spend time with others whose words have inspired me to take a risk and be vulnerable. They have challenged me to live my faith more consistently and to think about things in new ways, to fill in the gaps that exist in my limited life experiences. Dostoyevsky has said that “beauty will save the world,” and this weekend I saw a tiny glimpse of how that just might look.

I walked into the Edel Gathering so overwhelmed by the enormity of my life, overwhelmed with three children under age 4, including a set of twins, and a husband I never get to spend time with. The strain of it all was beginning to tug on the seams of our very happy marriage. As usual, the Enemy prowls around looking for a foothold and found one in a terrible fight Atticus and I had early in the week before I left. In the interest of authenticity and embracing vulnerability, I will tell you that there was a part of me, in the wake of this fight, that considered not coming back from Texas, but rather running away from my life and hiding forever. I didn’t even have the words for it then, but I was drowning in plain sight. I was wondering how I could go on one more day, let alone a week, month, year, lifetime in this vocation, wondering if, as I was told by countless others, it would actually ever get any easier. I was feeling so unworthy of being with these women, who are holy, and brilliant, and beautiful. Because, you see, I am a mess. All of this was swirling around and around me on Friday when I arrived, a storm cloud of misery. By the time I left on Sunday, sharing a taxi with a new friend, I was 100% certain that I was where I was meant to be. That it indeed was good that I was here. That all of us were here.

Marion, the first speaker, spoke words anointed directly by the Holy Spirit. I am convinced of this. Nearly every one of us cried (or came very near tears) or experienced chills during her amazing talk about the need for community, support, and vulnerability—for mothers, yes, but also for all of us Catholic women. We are swimming upstream in a culture that would not care if we drowned, and we need each other. We need to know our sisters in Christ love us and see us for who we are. It is good to celebrate the beauty all around us and to show the world what is good and holy in our lives, to see the “highlight reels” of each other’s lives. But we also need to let the mask fall, especially with our sisters in Christ. Especially when we are together. It has to be ok for us to fall apart, so that these beautiful and holy women can be the hands that God uses to put us back together again. We are each of us carrying enormous and sometimes invisible burdens. We are each of us scarred and broken and healing. The beauty of these women, and maybe even in me, is that when we risk everything to share our broken, bleeding hearts, they do not turn away.

Jen spoke on Saturday night about the vast cathedrals we are building as Catholic women. Not only mothers, but all Catholic women—those in religious life who are pouring themselves out as a libation for a world thirsting for love; those single women who work so tirelessly to make the world a better place; married women bearing the invisible and crushing cross of infertility, subfertility, or fears of even trying to have children because of trauma or plaguing insecurities. God has given each of us gifts to put at the service of life. The broken world in which we live has given us stories of sin, and redemption, and hope. Pope Francis has called the Church to a culture of encounter, where we truly engage with those we meet. A culture of encounter rooted in love will become a culture of life. We sisters build up the culture of life when we share our hearts with one another, accepting the risk of being vulnerable and accepting the vulnerability of others.

Edel flung open the doors on this community, and I sincerely hope they never close again. I write this on the plane ride home, knowing that chaos and beautiful noise will greet me as I walk through the door, tired from two long nights of talking with friends. I know the days will continue to be hard, and probably for a long time. I know there will be days—probably in the next week—when I feel too weak to love any more or to give any further. But now I know that when I feel the world is crashing around my feet, somewhere in this grand cathedral known as the Church, some sister in Christ is feeling it too. We can walk together, and the beauty of no longer hiding our brokenness from one another will start to change the world.

Dear sisters, whether you attended Edel or not, I want to say this: the cathedral doors are open, and we want and need all of you inside.