I never realized just how hospitable Catholic, rural living was until I moved to the woods. All of a sudden I was living the dream. Surrounded by acres of my own trees and sun-dotted blackberry canes. I finally felt like a part of the Catholic Agrarian Movement.
After years of reading about and being inspired by the Catholic Land Movement, I’d stepped into it with both feet. Inspired by the words of Pope Leo XIII, the Catholic Land Movement calls us out of towns and cities and into the wild; to find intimacy with Christ through intimacy with nature.
We answered that call and built a little woodland homestead. A domestic monastery, in which to live out the life God is calling our family to live. As we built that little homestead though, I found myself reaching out more and more to those whose domestic church was more of a bustling, urban parish or a village church than a monastery. I learned quickly my dearest friends and greatest inspirations would always be abundantly varied.
As married couples, we’re called to build our homes as domestic churches – places in which the faith is nurtured and passed on. But every church is a little different, isn’t it? Some are healthier than others, obviously. There are so many dying churches here in the northeast. Parishes that were once full and busy places now sit empty.
But there are other parishes in which the faith was passed on. Some of them are tiny, country churches; some a stunning, urban basilicas; others are rural monasteries. As we build up our own domestic churches, we take one or more of these thriving churches as inspiration.
For my family, in our little woodland homestead, the monastic ideal has been our guidepost. So I refer to our home as our domestic monastery. But that doesn’t mean my inspiration is limited, or that yours has to be. Whether you see your domestic church as a tiny monastery or a sprawling cathedral, our universal faith allows us to find inspiration in each other.
A Family of Inspiration
When we first began our little woodland adventure, I found myself reaching out for advice and inspiration often. And that’s when I realized that my mentors weren’t always fellow rural Catholics. They were priests, tending to busy, urban parishes while teaching old-world bread baking. They were small-town housewives who knew how to grow better leeks than I ever will. They were creative Welsh mothers and dedicated, retired teachers.
All of them good and holy people. All of them were beloved friends.
I learned that the wisdom of domestic churches is a truly universal blessing. Catholic rural living is primarily about living as a Catholic. We’ve chosen to live that life as close to nature as possible. A life that follows the rituals of the seasons and the richness of the liturgical year. But our faith community is a constant reminder that guidance and inspiration can be found across the globe.
Holiness, the saints teach us, has nothing to do with where we live, and everything to do with how we live. Catholic rural living encourages us to seek inspiration from holy men and women who loved Christ and lived out their vocations with joy. Whether those callings took them out into the woods – like St Fiacre and St. Hugo, or deep into the desert, like St. Anthony and St. Macarius.
It’s important to see the people around us in the same way. However they build up their domestic church, devout friends help us on the way to heaven.
Holy friendships are life-giving. They take us out of ourselves and into the heart of Christ.
We’re surrounded by shallow friendships on social media, work acquaintances, and hopefully a few well-loved companions we can go out with occasionally for lattes and long conversations. But unless those friendships are also linked by a deeper unity, they’re not enough to inspire and guide us.
As Augustine wrote long ago, “There is no better proof of friendship than to help our friends with their burdens.” We are so blessed when our lives are full of the love, prayers, and guidance of good friends who share our faith and are able to help us bear the burdens of the world.
It’s when we step away from the pursuit of acceptance, and the casual camaraderie of social media that we’re able to form authentic friendships with people who can lead us closer to Christ. Those people might be building similar lives – raising families in cozy, rural, Catholic communities. They might be single friends wandering the countryside. They might be priests, monks, nuns, or hermits. They might be busy, urban doctors or quiet suburban housewives.
Our intimate, holy friends don’t have to look like us or live like us – as long as they lead us towards Christ and His Love. When our friends help us to live our vocation better, then we know we’ve struck gold.
Finding Community in Catholic Rural Life
What makes rural living such a great way to build a true community? The quiet. It isn’t really quiet out here, we have the birds, the animals, and the woodland sounds. But our minds are a little quieter than they used to be. There is more space to see God moving in the world, and more time to listen to Him. Our neighbors are farther away, and so we tend to notice them more.
We also have a place to offer hospitality. A space that is quiet and wild, where friends can find the still, small voice of God in the midst of a busy world. Rural life teaches us humility as well. We’ve learned we can’t do it all – the rural Catholic community we’ve seen is quick to share. Everything from goats and chickens to woodstoves and engine lifters have been passed back and forth like library books.
Whether we’re welcoming friends from the city to come out and preserve the harvest, or gathering with other rural Catholics to celebrate the liturgical seasons, the rural, domestic monastery can become a haven for authentic friendships and meaningful relationships.
Authentic Community Exists Everywhere
While I love the richness of rural Catholic life, we can build authentic friendships in even the most unlikely places. We can do this by becoming a haven for our friends. By reaching out and helping them bear their burdens; and by opening up to allow them to help us bear our own burdens.
With social media engagement on the rise, this can seem like an overwhelming task. We’re used to ‘Facebook-style’ engagement that allows us to ignore our friends when their needs and ideas are problematic. We can unfollow them, or even ‘delete’ them from our online lives. We can mark messages ‘unread’ and pretend we never saw them. It’s a selfish and isolating way to interact.
If we refuse to play the game, we open up the opportunity for true intimacy. Radical friendships grow up around individuals who chose to allow a little bit of silence to grow up in their hearts; and then open up that silence and share it with a loud, busy world.
I find that silence in my little woodland home, where do you find it?