SCHOOL OF COMMUNITY: Newtown, Connecticut
We begin a new series highlighting the experiences of those in smaller Schools of Community throughout the U.S. and Canada. . . .
Our Newtown, Connecticut, School of Community began in the early months of 2013, not long after the Sandy Hook School tragedy. Even before that tragedy struck our beautiful, peaceful town, my husband and I had been searching for a way to learn more about our religion and grow in our faith together. One day my husband came home and told me that his dear friend Harry had extended an invitation to both of us to come to a ministry that he was bringing to Newtown, called "Communion and Liberation." Harry had been traveling forty-five minutes to attend meetings in nearby New Haven and was encouraged by a local clergy member to start a group in Newtown. So, Harry went on a mission to extend invitations to people via personal encounters. I remember thinking, Once a week seems like a big commitment. But Harry was so excited and passionate about this movement that we couldn’t say “no” to his invitation.
We began with about seven to nine members, about the size of our current community. What I remember most about the early days of our meetings was that I barely understood a word of Monsignor Giussani’s writing--it might just as well have been a foreign language. As it turns out, I was not alone. And, in fact, some of us were absolutely convinced that it must have been a translation issue that made the readings so difficult to understand. At times, it was extremely frustrating. I remember being tired after a full day of teaching, and thinking, I’m absolutely lost. This makes no sense to me. What am I doing here? But out of friendship for Harry, I persevered. Then a shift happened. I began looking forward to seeing our small group. Through these meetings, muddling through the difficult text together, we were forming a relationship with one another.
Over these years of attending our School of Community, I have learned more about my religion and have grown in my faith, but that education came in unexpected ways. I am in awe of the members of our community who are so versed in doctrine and theology, as well as Monsignor Giussani’s teachings. I’ve learned a lot just from listening to the conversation. However, beyond the doctrine and theology lies the unexpected part of my education.
In our community, we talk a lot about the life of Christ, when he walked the earth. We talk about his encounters with people and how they must have felt. For instance, how the Samaritan woman must have felt when Jesus spoke to her at the well, when no one else felt she was worthy of engaging in conversation. We talk about the early days of Christianity, about the apostles--what their lives must have been like, how they must have felt, when, for example, Christ appeared to them after he was dead and buried in a tomb.
These conversations have astounded me. Intellectually, I knew that Jesus and the apostles were real people who walked the earth, but I’ve always thought of them as holy and otherworldly. Thinking and talking about the actual lives of the early Christians and how they had fears, doubts, and challenges, as well as joy--just like me--makes me realize that we are all the same in our hearts. From the time that God made each of us, from the beginning of history, we are the same.
Thanks to my School of Community, my view of my Catholicism has shifted from being formalistic to more faith-filled. I am more aware now that Christ is really present in each of us in a very real way. I am grateful to my School of Community because, before, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That’s not to say I’m done learning--far from it. The School of Community is not one that you graduate from. It’s the school of life.
Dawn, Newtown, Connecticut