As someone who grew up in a big Catholic family and attended Catholic schools from 1st grade all the way through college, I have been blessed beyond measure to have always had a community of fellow believers right on my doorstep, literally. While this was an incredible blessing, it also made it very easy for me to take this blessing for granted. It wasn’t until I took a job out of college teaching English as a second language to middle and high schoolers in a remote town in Eastern Czechia that it really hit me how lucky I was to have so many people in my life who shared my faith and with whom I could practice my faith daily.
It was a big leap to say the least – I went from attending a very small, close-knit, staunchly Catholic college to living on my own in a pretty rural town in one of the most atheistic countries in the world. I met many wonderful people who were sincerely trying to live good lives of virtue, but who were averse to religion for whatever reason and had no beliefs beyond wanting to be a “good person” in the most general sense. These friendships were a great blessing in their own way, and also gave me many opportunities to witness to the Faith, but for the first time in my life, I felt the loneliness and isolation of not being surrounded by a community of fellow believers.
Thankfully, our Church is a universal one, and even in this remote town I had access to the Blessed Sacrament daily. Even when there is a lack of close human companionship in our lives, we will always have the companionship of Christ to rely upon, which is the only relationship that can satisfy the longings of our hearts. However, that doesn’t mean we may not also desire and at times greatly need human companionships or friendships to help deepen this companionship with Christ. The Church is a community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ, and as members, we are meant to be in communion with one another, as well as with Christ. I had my friends and family back home whom I could call and talk to about my spiritual life and who I knew were desiring my good from afar, but I had no one to go to Mass with or live out my faith with on a daily basis.
Two of the highlights of my year abroad were when I took a pilgrimage to Czestochowa, Poland to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa and when I traveled to Rome for the Easter Triduum. Both trips felt like a homecoming as I felt so much consolation and hopefulness from suddenly being in a place overflowing with fellow Catholics of all ages, young and old, gathered together for the same purpose: to worship God. I didn’t know any of these people – they were all strangers who spoke different languages than me, and yet we were part of the same Body of Christ. How much more wonderful and remarkable is it, then, to have close friends in our lives who know us and love us and who are also part of this same Body of Christ? To have friends with whom we can live out our faith on a daily basis as we go about our lives?
This spiritual isolation I felt was thankfully temporary, and I learned that God gives us many, many graces to make up for the difficulties we encounter. One thing I will forever be grateful for is the much deeper appreciation I now have for the local community of believers in my life and the friends that I have within that local community. It’s so important to seek friendships within these communities, whether that be your local parish, a group within your parish, a Catholic group on your college campus, a mom’s group or young adult group, and so on. The joys of our faith are multiplied when we can live out that faith alongside others and know that we are far from alone on our journey towards heaven. As St. Teresa of Avila says, “What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”