More Like Happy Hour
The following is based on an essay written for my Marriage class as part of my masters degree. The content and style was influenced by the assignment.
You can’t force friendships upon people, but you can create opportunities for friendships to happen. A great way to help people, especially young people, feel like they belong to a community is by introducing them to people in the community in a setting that is more like “happy hour” and less like a classroom.
I spent a great deal of time in college discerning my vocation. When I graduated, I became an aspirant of the Society of Mary. I traveled to San Antonio for a year, lived with other brothers at a Marianist university, and taught at a Marianist high school. What attracted me to the Marianists was their commitment to community. The society was founded by Blessed Joseph Chaminade after the French Revolution. He formed sodalities – small faith communities - in his effort to rebuild the church. He recognized the importance and value of community and the power of community to deepen people’s faith lives.
One of the programs of the Marianist university at which I lived for my aspirancy year was a series of lectures on Catholic topics. One of the lectures was by John Roberto from Lifelong Faith about the differences between baby boomers and millennials in their approach to faith. He suggested that the baby boomers’ approach to faith was to first determine what they believed (mostly inherited), then change their behavior to match what they believed, and finally to find a sense of community with other people who behaved the same way. Millennials, on the other hand, first find a sense of community, then change their behavior to match the community, and finally change their beliefs to match their behavior. The implication is that we need a new approach to faith formation which includes a stronger focus on building community.
Another influential experience from my aspirancy was a formation retreat at which we heard a talk from Fr. Bernard Lee SM. He is a professor at the university who has researched small Christian communities in the early church and advocates a recovery of these early Christian communities. His belief is that the early churches were much smaller so there was a deep sense of community amongst everyone in the church. He fears in the larger mega-churches of today, it is easy to lose this sense of community and for people to become anonymous faces in the crowd. He suggests that we need to form small faith communities within the parish to reestablish the original sense of Christian community and to engage our modern culture.
With this background, I was excited about Macalintal and Wagner’s suggestion that community is an important part of marriage preparation. I especially liked the idea of the meal gatherings based on Macalintal’s college program of dinner with twelve strangers. If John Roberto is right, then the establishment of a sense of community is essential if a millennial couple is going to consider changing their behaviors or their beliefs as part of the marriage formation process. If Bernard Lee is right, then the establishment of community and of personal relationships within the parish is essential if the couple is going to continue to be engaged in the parish life. Last year’s Synod on the Family recognized that there is a need for ongoing support for a newly married couple beyond the wedding day. The formation of relationships and community that can occur at these meal gatherings could lead to the establishment of this sort of support network that will help the young marriage to thrive. Then future meal gatherings can provide opportunity for service for the couple which can then build community and develop relationships with new dating or engaged couples.
 Diana Macalintal and Nick Wagner, Joined by the Church, Sealed by a Blessing (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014), 37.