I like to listen to podcasts in the car as I travel back and forth to classes. It’s about a 40-50 minute drive most of the time. I also like to listen to various podcasts at the gym. Yesterday morning I listened to a Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast while working out on the elliptical. I laughed out loud on the way to my car afterwards, listening to Father Nathan’s amazing Tom Brokaw impression! It’s hilarious and what he said made it even funnier! Thanks for the morning chuckle and for making me look crazy, Father Nathan!
His co-host, Father John, talked about the Peloton, a French word for Platoon, (you know a small group of Soldiers!). In his case he was discussing biking in relation to the priesthood, but the military term, for this Army wife, of course brought to mind all the ways the Army is similar to the Church and in some specific ways, like the Priesthood. I’m actually developing a talk along those lines now. Dibs! No one reading this steal my idea! I’m about 3/4 of the way through with it at this point. Father John’s podcast topic today added a few more paragraphs, for sure.
But another way I found his topic intriguing was the fact that it works for pretty much any faith based group or community. Whether it’s a Bible study at your own parish or a graduate theology course with a few classmates, the 3 traits needed in order to function well are: community that’s positive, consistent, and transparent. This is according to neuro-science studies that indicate the brain can actually change and for the better, with these 3 factors working within the relationships in the group.
Father John says, according to these studies, your brain can actually change and for the better, with these 3 traits of a healthy relationship working in our lives! How cool is that?
Another thing to consider in our relationships, according to Father Nathan, is dying to our own desires. That is, basically, sacrificing for the good of the other or the whole community. I could not agree more based on my own life experiences. When we are selfish and self-centered, we can destroy the cohesiveness of a group or relationship. When we are always looking for ways to care for the needs of the other or others out of love and respect for them as human beings who carry the same dignity that we all have as children of God, that can only be a good thing.
To die to self, to sacrifice for others, is not to be a doormat or to never have a voice. That respect and love needs to go both ways. Within the community, whether it’s two people or 10, there has to be a willingness to give out of that love so that everyone knows their opinion and beliefs matter and that everyone’s well-being is important.
Father John quoted St. John Berchmans in the podcast, in Latin, but he and Father Nathan courteously translated into English for their listening audience. “Communal life is the greatest penance.” Because it ain’t easy to live in community where each individual brings his or her own life experiences, wounds, joys, expectations, and fears, hopes and desires into that arena. We are each unique and, though we share many things in common, we also have our own personal views of the world. Even our faith, though basically the same if we’re talking about Bible study or other faith-based organization, is unique to us because of that list I just enumerated.
So patience is a must; so is grace. In fact, grace brings patience. And God’s grace brings those 3 main ingredients that the scientific types say are necessary for a happy brain! A positive group that sees the best in others because we are all looking for the best, can only be an asset, right? A consistent group, which means we can count on one another when the ‘chips are down,’ that we’ve ‘got each others’ backs,’ is crucial for a flourishing group. And the transparency ingredient has to do with trust. Can we trust each other? No one is secretly harboring bad feelings toward another; transgressions or hurt feelings, real or perceived as real, have got to be out in the open. They must be dealt with and true reconciliation must result. That’s forgiveness and humbly asking to be forgiven. No false or ‘politeness’ for the sake of smoothing things over will do.
All that goes back to love for the other, wiling their good because they are our brothers and sisters, each of us loved into being by our awesome God. And we can’t be in it for what they can give us. Whether that’s just feeling good about being good or feeling good because of the pleasant light in which others now see us. It’s got to be wiling the good of others because it’s good. Just like we read in Genesis as God creates the Heavens and the earth, and all the creatures therein, including human beings. God saw that it was good. That’s the authentic good we are yearning for, each of us. Even those of us who don’t know it.
When I was an Army wife and found myself in what we refer to in the business as an “informal leader,” I always kept 2 watchwords in mind to keep the groups I was part of on the right path. Positive and productive are the words. Not a lot of complaining, please; but more of a ‘how do we meet this challenge?’ attitude. Not a lot of negativity about a situation or people we disagreed with; but a ‘what can be done to make things better for each of us?’ way of thinking. It’s not a perfect solution. There won’t be any this side of Heaven. But with prayers from the group members and prayers for God to be with us, we can do amazing things! Inviting God in, requesting Divine assistance, is key. We’re just instruments in the Hands of the Master.
Here’s a prayer for any group to pray to ensure that the God of all Creation, through the power of His Holy Spirit, is with you all. Giving you grace and peace and creativity to move ahead courageously and fruitfully, together.
Heavenly Father, Lord of all creation,
We praise You, adore You, we glorify You and we give You thanks for all that is good. And all is good. We ask Your presence among us as we meet this day. Let there be joy and love here. Let there be peace and productivity here as we work to advance Your Kingdom and glorify Your name. May we take that peace and joy and love with us everywhere You send us when we leave this gathering to be leaven for the world. May Your love flow through us when we know we are loved by You, and that every one of us is here because You want us to be here. We ask your blessings upon all that we say and do in this community and as we live our lives with our family, friends, and strangers in the rest of our lives.
We ask all these things in the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.