“Community can only exist where there is repentance.”
This weekend, Fr. Stephen Freeman of Glory To God For All Things spoke at a one-day retreat in central Indiana. He gave three talks on Communion and community, and how the two support one another. I won’t try to give a summary (especially since I might’ve missed the first talk because I was reading picture books aloud at the breakfast table), but there were a few points that especially spoke to me, that seemed a bit radical in the world we live in.
Often we’re told that when we’re young, especially if we’re single, that the thing to do is to take big risks and strike out on our own, move across the country for that job, to follow our dreams. To let our biggest dream be of workplace success. But Fr. Stephen asked, “What for?” What’s the purpose of taking a job that pays more, but separates us from the people who love and support us? Companies expect employee mobility—they can build businesses wherever they wish and import employees to work there. On average Americans move every 5 years. But that’s for the company’s convenience, not for ours, and it’s worth examining why. It’s worth looking at the cost.
Fr. Stephen told a story about two Christmas eves. One was when he was a child, living in the same small town as both sets of grandparents, 17 aunts and uncles, and countless cousins. That Christmas eve, his father drank too much, and two phone calls were made. One to an aunt to take the kids to their grandparents’ house for the night; one to an uncle, to come sit with Fr. Stephen’s parents until his dad fell asleep. Their network supported them, and they got through it. I assume there was still some work to be done in the future, but they got through it.
Another Christmas eve was more recent, a newlywed couple: she grew up in one state, he grew up in another, they met at college in a third state, and were living in a fourth state. In this new place they had no family, and they had separate sets of friends, coworkers, acquaintances. There was little overlap. That Christmas eve, the man drank too much, and two phone calls were made. One to a hotel, another to a divorce lawyer. There was no network of people who loved them there to hold them up when they needed it most.
“Stability isn’t just two people being stable,” Fr. Stephen said, it requires a network of friends and family. People sixty years ago weren’t any better at being married than people today. The current 50% divorce rate isn’t just because people suddenly suck at being married, or because people were just magically more skillful Back In The Day. We don’t have that net. Fr. Stephen stressed that it’s impossible to recreate the period where tight-knit extended families were common and the whole community knew everybody’s name, and there’s no point in beating ourselves up about that. But it’s okay to make choices that put community ahead of careers.
A lot of young people come to Fr. Stephen and say, “What should I be when I grow up? I don’t know what major I want! What’s my vocation?”
And Fr. Stephen’s response is, “You have a vocation to be like God.” The will of God, in 1 Thess. 5:18, is “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Communion—ευχαριστια, Eucharist—means thanksgiving. The basis of our culture, though, is consumerism. Get a job, buy stuff, move away from our families to get a better job, to buy more stuff. But what for? What do we need all the stuff for? How much stuff does it take for us to be thankful? He called consumerism anti-thanksgiving; kids don’t get thankful at Christmas, they get greedy. But we were created to give thanks, homo eucharisticus as Fr. Alexander Schmemann put it. It’s the purpose of life.
Being rich, he said, is having enough to give some away. Consumerism consists of buying things in order to not suffer, à la retail therapy. But it doesn’t work for long—the bills come due, or it just gets old. We weren’t created to shop, as useful as stuff can be, because we’re Eucharistic beings. We’re not designed to consume and consume and consume. God created us to give thanks at all times.
Sometimes life feels like hell. Fr. Stephen spoke about car wrecks, cancer, heart attacks, divorce, even the death of a child. Things happen, and they’ll keep happening. “You are going to suffer,” Fr. Stephen said. But on the night Christ was betrayed, He gave thanks as He broke the bread.
Community is built on giving thanks, repentance, and healing. What does God want you to be when you grow up? Grateful.
To hear Fr. Stephen’s talks in their entirety, please click here.