Today I was reviewing my notes from the silent retreat I made at Ignatius House (Atlanta, GA) in February. This retreat was a three-day review of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Retreatants arrive and settle-in on Thursday night, and remain there through Sunday lunch. Silence is the gift retreatants give each other, permitting each to listen more intently to the gentle whisper of God (1 Kings 19:11-13).
On Friday night, 24 hours into our retreat, I spent time in the company others reading silently in the library. Community matters, even in silence. Given our shared purpose of drawing closer to Christ during the weekend, there was a palpable sense of support from others without a word being spoken. Brief eye contact, a nod, or a quiet smile was all that was necessary and was fully understood.
Community always matters—and it matters even more, perhaps, when the noise of the world around us causes us to withdraw into ourselves. A torrent of words sweeps over us daily in simulated community: “So good to see you!” “How are you?” “Let’s all join in . . . (song, prayer, sharing).” Yet real community as the Body of Christ—seeking the graces of Christ—may be lost in social ritual, or lively Christian “fellowship.”
This is one reason I’m thankful for the communal prayers of the Church. Catholic Christians don’t pray the same prayers repeatedly out of lack of imagination. We pray from a fixed repertoire of public prayers so that all can participate. Whether it is in simple thanks before meals, “Bless us, O Lord, in these Thy gifts,” or “Our Father” of The Lord’s Prayer, or the more extensive Liturgy of the Hours, community is always in mind. For this reason, Catholic Christians often use plural pronouns even when praying alone. “Bless us.” “Our Father.” “Forgive us our trespasses.” “Pray for us sinners.” “Bless the work we have begun.”
This sense of community is a good thing; a blessed reminder that in Christ we are one. Our identification with others parallels Christ’s identification with us—solidarity. So, let us not skip lightly over the the “we,” “us,” and “our” in communal prayer. And let us not abandon these signposts of community in personal prayer. Community matters! It is a fundamental part of Christianity Richly.