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“The importance of community, long for it, search for it, struggle to attain it.

Hold on to it with all your strength.”

St. Angela Merici, Foundress of the Ursulines

Today, globally, in Cleveland, Ohio, and in our Ursuline congregation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this title phrase has become for me an important and significant 16thcentury writing of St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines. We hear the plea from the media, from friends, and from our Church that “we are in this together. Each person has an obligation to think of the other and cope together. Each of has had to come to grips with the importance of being in this together in order to mitigate the virus and slow its progression. And, I am quite sure no one likes it. So, what are we to do? How can we dig deep down inside and, in an on-going way do something this magnanimous when we, individually and collectively, really don’t want to? St. Angela Merici provides four possible pathways to meditate on for this daunting task:

The first, recognize the importance of community. Many of the TV networks are telling story after story of the many people from our own state of Ohio, from around the US, and all around the world; who are joining forces and finding ways to connect through food and recipes, clapping on balconies to cheer and show visible support for the frontline workers in hospitals, to people helping people in grocery stores, with restaurant deliveries and thanking transportation workers, etc. Celebrities are singing on ZOOM, a wireless screen sharing, to raise money for the homeless, and for people who get their daily food primarily from a Food Bank, etc. Churches of all denominations have found ways to pray together and to “gather” via online streaming services. Millions of people are responding to the importance of community in their family lives, around their tables and in their backyards. Small businesses are struggling yet reaching out to the community for support, corporate business practices could not have been imagined only a few weeks ago. Community is now seen, valued and needed all around the world.

Second, St. Angela asked us to long for community. I believe if I asked the sixty-seven sisters with whom I live in community at Merici Crossings, “Are you longing for the community life we had before the Corona-19 virus?” Each person would respond with a wholehearted “YES!” We are longing for Mass and services to return to our Chapel especially as we look toward the Easter Vigil services and Easter Sunday itself. We long for our interactions in the dining room where we had lively conversations and meaningful exchanges at each meal. We long to see the other sisters in the congregation who live in houses outside of Merici Crossings, and those at Regina Health Center and at Light of Heats Villa. The social distance from our sisters and our families and friends is upsetting, challenging and missed. St. Angela has inspired us deeply and we are longing for community, no doubt. What we need in this time of social distancing, is not take it for granted, is not to forget. We pray committedly that each of us can be patient enough and persevere long enough to receive the wonderful gift of Ursuline community life again when social distancing no longer separates us.

Third, St. Angela recommended that we “search for community and struggle to attain it.” How can people we know and people around the world search for community at this time of social distancing? We are “stuck at home” some say. Of course I don’t know the answer. How each person will search and attain community will have to come from within and begin to see things from a different view. For example, instead of feeling “stuck” imagine feeling free to do whatever you could not do when you were working. Imagine having the time to talk with friends with whom you have lost touch? Having time to rest. To read and to pray during Lent when we are usually hoping we can pray during Lent because we are so busy. To seek meaningful connections has potential for peaceful renewal and solace. Our St. Angela certainly presented a challenge to us when she optimistically hoped we would create community wherever we are and therefore would pass on an important legacy, that to do so is to love God as well. Such a beautiful invitation.

No matter if you are alone or with a small or large family, in an isolated working environment or in a multi-national corporation, in her wisdom, she suggested that it is good for a person to struggle to attain a level of community in one’s life. Community sustains faith.

Lastly, once we embrace this beautiful gift of community, St. Angela begged us to hold onto it with all our strength. I truly hope that we as a society and an American culture grasp and cling to this moment of opportunity to seek community within the social distancing mandate. To recognize the time to let go of consumerism and replace it with a stronger desire for unity and kinship and cooperation among us. How astute she was. St. Angela Merici knew community in itself is fragile, is vulnerable, and is easily lost within all the anxieties, distractions, confusions, and interruptions that we all face in the days, months and in the years of our lives. She knew how effortless it is to give up trying to make connections, to be in good relationships that sustain conflict, disappointment, betrayal and failure that are inevitable in any community living setting.

Perhaps the best action is to stop. To quiet our self, in our particular place and breathe. Then reflect on the pathways listed above, and connect to what is most important in life, in our family, in our community and in our world. Then, whenever you may have a discouraging or disconnected day read this quote from Winnie the Pooh, or it may be from God or St. Angela, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”

Sister Nancy Beckenhauer