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It takes a parish; the witness of a life

Who is Annie Smith? For the purpose of this article, imagine that she is the spirit of Everywoman; and Everyman.

Annie Smith was born and her birth was celebrated by her loving parents through the ritual of Catholic Baptism. Friends or family members were given the honor of being called “god-parents” to her, and all gathered round the baptismal font to welcome her into the community of the parish and the larger Church.

And this is Church:

During Bill Clinton’s campaign against George Bush in the early 1990’s, political liberals spread the concept that “it takes a village to raise a child.” It was a catchy phrase rooted in African tribal culture and Hillary Clinton decided to exploit it for the purposes of her husband’s rise to power. Unfortunately due to this use of the idea, many conservatives scoffed and shouted “socialism!”

But, liberal or conservative prejudices aside; when one ponders the meaning of the concept of the village, it is actually full of truths.

Consider Annie Smith.

She is growing up with her parents and god-parents now watching out for her, carefully guiding her in a world with many roads and few signposts.

At age seven she is beginning to attend school where, suddenly her world has gotten even larger with even more options for opportunities or dangers. The parish offers the sacrament of Holy Communion. Again, family and community alike will gather to applaud Annie’s new life landmark. She will enjoy a cake and punch in the parish hall with other children in the community, all of whom have just learned timeless lessons of love via the person Jesus, who lived and died so long ago in a similar small community far away.

Time will pass. Annie will begin high school; that scary new place marked by excitement as well as confusion. She will need to remain grounded in something; something old, rooted and strong in order to maintain her own identity; her own face in the crowd.

The Church will extend an invitation to come, “be part of this adult community that has witnessed your life thus far. Come, let us help you to remember always who you are and where you are from, for we remember you at the baptismal font and in your pretty white first communion dress. We know your family and we’ve seen you grow up.”

Confirmation is offered and Annie Smith accepts.

Annie is now an adult. She meets a nice young man and they fall in love. Who do they want to tell? They are excited and joyful and they share their love with their parents and family, but that is not enough! They want to invite the entire community into the celebration of their love.They want to share this newfound happiness with a village!

So they marry, not in the town hall, but within the community of Church wherein Annie feels most surrounded by those who fully understand the meaning of this new happening in her life. For they have watched her grow and know from whence she came to get to where she is. They can witness to her young husband that Annie is more than just a pretty face; she is a person with roots, a person with dignity and a person with their support.

To them, she will always be Annie Smith, but her name changes and she moves away from the parish. But she will return.

Annie will bear a child. She will baptize him because she wants for that child the warmth of the village that she recalls having. She will happily return to her home parish each Easter Vigil with that child in his Easter outfit. She will be welcomed back to sit with her parents in their familiar pew in that place where those who knew-her-when will smile and say, “Oh, look, Annie has a beautiful baby now.”

But time passes, and not all is happiness and joy. Annie’s father will grow ill and people will come from the parish to visit him and bring him communion. And because they know him through the very intimate mutual experience of spiritual worship, those who visit from Church will bring food for both body and soul. They will give solace by offering, not small talk, but ‘big talk’ about the reality of life and death. And Annie will watch as the sacrament of Last Rites is performed.

Both of Annie's parents will die. But she will not mourn alone. Their death will be marked and mourned by the many who have remained steadfastly watching each other’s respective lives from the vantage point of their weekly sabbath pews. Hymns will be sung for them and prayers will be offered for their souls as Annie weeps. Because their lives mattered…

..in the village that is the parish which exists within the larger Church- that is needed within the much larger, much colder world that none of us completely understands.

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