By Nimmi Candappa
Earlier this month we held our annual Gathering of the De Mazenod Family – well over 100 members from across Ministries and States joined online to reaffirm our focus on being a spiritual family, united, supportive, loving, and founded on St Eugene’s charism. Despite lockdown difficulties, time differences, and being separated by vast distances, there was a tangible sense of community and connection.
Not only within the De Mazenod Family but also as we strive to maintain a sense of community around us during COVID restrictions, it is worth asking what we mean by community. During lockdown, neighbours bring out chairs onto their front lawns so they can wave to those walking past, some neighbours become walking buddies. We hear of food being left on the doorsteps of neighbours, shopping being done for elderly neighbours. Others offer their phone numbers through neighbourhood apps for those struggling with loneliness. Through these gestures we build community, recognising that we share common struggles, indicating that there is someone to reach out to, that help is available. We acknowledge the presence of the other and find time to say “hi”, we look beyond our immediate responsibilities and needs, to see the needs of others.
St Eugene pushes the definition of community even further. “Community should signify a web of relationships within which we are ‘at home’. This means that we are accepted as we are. The Charity (or love) of which speaks as the bonds of community is scarcely charity if it remains cold, distant and intermittent, always questioning and nearly always criticising…Although a healthy measure of privacy is necessary, are we not seeking today a degree of human sharing that goes beyond more sociability”. Some challenging words from our Founder.
As family, as the most united family, we are called to accept others, allowing them to feel at home with us. We seek to show love in our interactions with others. To demonstrate a warmth and kindness that is accessible to the other, a consistent and authentic love. A love that sees beyond the mistakes, weaknesses and flaws of the other, to embrace the other simply as a child of God. Even further, we are called to be vulnerable with each other. Share not just the safe, social, likeable parts of us, but also the challenging and confronting, so that we go from a family that is polite yet distant, to a family whose members are known intimately by the other members, and loved fully. Imitating God who knows each of us intimately, and yet loves us unconditionally.
In this coming fortnight, we might look to share something with one person within the De Mazenod Family that gives an insight into an aspect of ourselves we have not typically shared before.