By Mary North

Somewhere to Belong:

Three years ago if you would have asked me about my “friend group,” tears would have welled up in my eyes for lack of an answer. If you had asked me about my relationship with Christ, I would have awkwardly mumbled about going to Sunday mass. If you would have asked me if I was truly happy in  life, my honest answer would have been “no.”

Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t know the Lord. I was constantly depressed and searching for more, but finding no answers. I went to public school and lacked any Christian community. I didn’t quite fit in at my parish, and there was no one to turn to at school. My senior year of high school, by the grace of God, I was introduced to another parish’s bible study, and within months these kids became my family. We’d stay in the parking lot for hours talking about everything from cute boys to our conversion stories. We were all so different, coming from different families, school systems, and ranging vastly in age, but yet we all nestled in together perfectly. 

The time came for me to move away to college, and my heart ached at the thought of losing them, but upon settling in at Franciscan University, I found the Handmaids of the Lord, a household seemingly made just for me. For context, Households are Franciscan’s spin on sororities and fraternities, just completely faith-based. These women filled a space in my heart longing for true sisterhood. They seem to understand me in a way I can’t even explain. I was given 30 big sisters I could turn to with anything on my heart, and 30 friends who were constantly there to pray with and for me. 

P R A Y E R

These two groups have shown me the value of having a strong foundation of Christian friends. First and foremost, prayer in community is such a blessing and these friends are always there to pray for me. I’m in so many group chats that are constantly flooded with prayer requests and praise reports. Not only am I able to receive prayers, but I am also able to bring my friends’ struggles to the cross and help them through prayer. My friends are constantly teaching me how to grow in prayer and relationship with the Lord. Their constant encouragement and advice keep me striving towards heaven. 

A C C O U N T A B I L I T Y

When it comes to prayer, I am so quick to put it off for another episode of the Office or another hour tapping through Instagram stories. My accountability partners are always there to call me out when those cries for ‘one more episode’ have become too many. Something as small as a “Have you prayed today?” text or a call inviting someone to confession can make all the difference. A few weeks ago I sent a message into my household group chat asking my sisters to keep me accountable for getting a holy hour for the coming semester. The minute the sign-up sheet went live my phone was flooded with texts pushing me to sign up. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to push and be pushed by those around us and called to make heaven crowded, just one text at a time. 

S T R A I G H T F O R W A R D N E S S

As friends and family, we must be honest with those around us, even if the truth can hurt. There are times when we all need to be called out, myself included. Just as an example, when I’m out for coffee or a meal with a friend, I make a point to nudge people when I believe they need to turn their “Do Not Disturb” on, or just put their phone away. That’s not to say I’ve never been nudged to do so, or that I’ve eliminated the distraction of phones; I still need a lot of help too. We all need straightforward friends to give us a little kick when we’re doing something we shouldn’t, or avoiding something we should be. 

L O V E and B E  L O V E D

It wasn’t until I found my bible study that I fully understood what it meant to love and be loved. Love doesn’t always look like holding the door open or complimenting someone’s haircut. Sometimes it’s a simple check-in text. Sometimes it’s a grab of the hand and dragging to mass. Sometimes it’s a tag in an Instagram post. Whatever it is, we all need it, every single day. The Lord is providing His love to us through these people around us, and in reality, it’s not your friend carrying you to mass–it’s Jesus. He wants you there, and He’s using your friends as a vessel. 

One night this past semester my friend came running down the hallway yelling between sobs for help. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend and needed to be held. My household has a wing in our dorm where a bunch of us live, and so immediately we all opened our doors and she was greeted with 4 or 5 sisters to soothe her aching heart. As heartbreaking as it was, it was one of my favorite moments because I could so swiftly help out my sister without a second thought, and I know if I were ever to do the same, I too would be greeted with a roll of toilet paper to wipe away my tears, and blanketed in hugs. 

P S A L M 3 4 : 4

“Glorify the Lord with me, let us exalt His name together.”

Where two or more are gathered in His name, there He is. We are called to seek and praise the Lord with others. Humanity was never equipped to be able to do this alone, we (of course) need Him, but getting to Him is a heck of a lot easier to do with help. Whether you need encouragement, or you’re giving encouragement, striving with others to heaven provides nothing but joy. It has its struggles and trials, but it is beyond worth it. 

S E E K  C O M M U N I T Y

This Catholic community is bound to be a blessing in anyone’s life, but for some, it is hard to find, and a daunting task. As Scripture says, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find. First and foremost, pray for these friends to come into your life. Ask the Lord to bless you with friends that can hold you accountable, and push you to love more. The most common place to find this is a youth group at your parish. If your parish doesn’t have one or if you are truly struggling to fit in, seek another one. My bible study was also pivotal in my relationship with Christ, so if you can find one locally, get involved! If you are in college I’d suggest seeking out the sacraments. For most of you, this involves seeking a Newman center and getting invested there. I cannot stress enough how important Catholic community is in college and high school. If you don’t have it, find it. You have no idea how much it will help you. 

Today, if you were to ask me those same opening questions, I could ramble on for hours about the deep love I have for my friends, and my gratitude for the ways they have helped me to grow. My cheeks would begin to ache from a wide, uncontainable smile. My zeal for the Lord and the Church has since increased exponentially. My heart would flutter with excitement at the chance to tell someone about the wonders Christ has done in my life. I can’t help but think these things may be related, and that being surrounded by a strong Christian community has helped me to truly find the “good life.”