I’ve heard several priests talk about the phenomenon of going to mass at different parishes each Sunday, depending on which mass times are more convenient. This is possible here in Portugal, because there are many parishes, a short geographical location from one another (especially when traveling by car). These priests complain about how this reflects modern day society, in which the parish is “used” for a service and people have difficulty in committing to a community and to serve when it is asked to them.
This phenomenon can be seen in a variety of sectors, of a disconnected modern society, especially in big cities like Lisbon where I live. You would be hard-pressed to find close-knit communities, in which people mourn together, celebrate together, help each other when necessary. The closest community many people have is at work. Technology has made many promises that don’t actually turn out to be true in the end: that we will have more time if we constantly check email throughout the day, and that we will be more connected to family and friends through social media. However, virtual relationships and communication in no way substitute quality time in person and physical touch. Pope Benedict XVI said in 2009 on the 43rd World Day of Communications, “The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shift in patterns of communication and human relationships.”
He also said,
“It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbors and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”
While technology and many other factors can mimic, and sometimes inhibit, our necessary social interaction, we are called to love our neighbor and cultivate real friendship and communion with those around us. Spouses are called to love one another as a reflection of God’s love in the Trinity: total, free, faithful, fruitful. Stable and lifelong marriages give a solid foundation to society, as many governments realize. The state of California spends $2.4 million a year to strengthen marriages and families. Spouses need community; they need help with their relationship and children. Single people also need community: to tangibly feel part of this big family God wants to create with us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1879 says, \”The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.\”
Culture might tell us, “Do it yourself”, “Don’t depend on anyone”, but we are called to depend on others and let others depend on us. Old people, sick people, annoying people… they are all part of our family. When we love our neighbor, we’re called to care for him also. And hopefully we will have a neighbor to care for us when the time comes.
Brene Brown says in this video, “In order for connection to happen, we have to let ourselves be seen and really be seen.” We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I’ve been a parishioner at my parish for five years now and a youth group leader there also. Although the youth group has had relative failure and I have had conflicts with many people there, it’s a place where people know me… however embarrassing that may be. It’s one of the few places I also feel love and belonging. To be loved is to be known and to be known is to be loved.
As it says in the International Youth Coalition’s mission statement, “We are relational persons, not autonomous individuals.” Therefore, loving your neighbor in the 21st century still means cultivating close and meaningful friendships, promoting community (especially within your parish), depending on and caring for others, mourning and celebrating together. It also means being careful not to become isolated by location, overworking or technology and to remember our nature as fundamentally relational.
© 2013. Julie Rodrigues. All Rights Reserved.