August summer days in Malta promise plenty of heat and as the days become warmer, we tend to try to hibernate in airconditioned rooms to avoid the blazing afternoon sun. Not so for the 60 strong MSSP Lay Community members who gathered at the Oratory in B’Kara between the 2nd and 4th August. They were days that had been pencilled in my diary since last September. It’s the time for the annual Live-In for the Lay Community. Even if most of us felt tired after a week’s work or because of the lethargy caused by the sweltering heat, we trickled into the Church, most of us call a second home, to start the weekend with a Eucharistic Celebration which is the central focus of the Lay Community. “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
The theme for this year’s live-in was ‘Living Together in Community’ based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together. The MSSP Lay Community was founded 17 years ago by Fr Martin Cilia mssp, who has since been the Director of the Community. Throughout these 17 years the community has doubled in size and the members embark on a personal and communal spiritual journey. The members of the Community seek to live a Christian life in a fast-changing world and in a society, which celebrates individualism and self-centeredness, together with, being part of a Church that outwardly does not reflect what should be happening inside. Living in a Christian community is a different type of lifestyle. We are called to “be the salt on the earth.” (Matthew 5:13). We are called to be witnesses of God’s love and faithfulness in all that we do in everyday encounters.
Being part of a Christian lay community means genuine relationships with Christ’s love and reaching out to others and being witness of this faith at its core. Commitment shows our love for Christ in real ways, in great or small acts, reveal a quality of care. There are countless times where people have encouraged me when I felt down, prayed for me when I expressed concerns, listened when I was frustrated, shared in my joys, given me hope and provided wise counsel. I am a better person when I give and accept these kind acts that show my humility with interdependence and vulnerability yet reveal the strength of our corporate testimony. It was precisely this theme that we reflected upon during our weekend encounter, based on the episode when Jesus forgave and healed the paralytic, Mark 2:1-12, an icon of the first Christian community gathered in Peter’s house in Capernaum. We were called to reflect, think and pray about the gift God has given us through each other as a community as “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians” and Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ… We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” (Bonhoeffer) People who do not have others that genuinely know or care about them in close proximity usually are curious or drawn to the idea of intentional people who do strive to create a place of community.
What struck me most during my time of reflection, prayer and sharing following Fr Martin’s input was that my eyes opened to see how broadly and vastly the gospel shapes and influences the practice of healing, caring for and interacting with others. I learned from the experiences of my fellow community members through seeing the ways that the gospel uniquely and purposefully intersects with their life experiences and personal journeys. These interactions convince me regularly of the reliability and breadth of how God’s word is brought to us alive in our daily lives and personal encounters. I have experienced God’s faithfulness to His promise of peace in my soul and a grace that saved my life, because my story is filled with brokenness, some bad choices and ugly truths.
God too asks us to be faithful in order to be fruitful. What challenges do I face? All I can say is, life is messy at times, but there is blessing behind these challenges: they highlight the power of grace and the benefit of practicing daily forgiveness. It is challenging to realise that I can agree so deeply with community members regarding the centrality of scripture to our lives but yet so difficult to live the scriptures in practice.
The final highlight of the weekend was the concluding Eucharistic celebration held on Sunday, during which the whole community welcomed 9 new members with a special blessing. We blessed them but they have blessed the whole community with their acceptance to join after a year of preparation and discernment.
This weekend was a time of experiencing true Christian community in faith, time with God in prayer and reflection, caring for others, learning to know myself within the community and spending time with new members, talking about our spiritual journey, eating as a family, laughing with one another, time alone, learning from others, growing in faith, rest… in a profoundly serene atmosphere created through the presence of each member and the spirit each one brought in. It was a time and the place to belong and connect with others in and environment where we encounter God in the midst of good times and deepening relationships.
Mrs Marguerite Agius forms part of the MSSP Lay Community (Malta) service team.