There was a time my wife and I dreamed of living in a lay Catholic community. We strongly believe that people are too isolated these days, too individualistic, trying to do everything on their own. There is so much we can do better together. And my wife and I feel a greater need for something like this, being separated from our families by a 7 hour drive. But some time ago we lost most of our hope in the matter.
The lay Catholic communities we have looked into seem too strict, not in terms of the necessary moral requirements, but more along the lines of a religious order, with required prayer times and other requirements that go beyond ordinary Catholic moral standards.
Also, the two of us are very shy. We have difficulty connecting with others, especially in a deeper way. Just speaking for myself, when I let down my walls it exposes raw nerves, and I become hyper-sensitive, and I just end up hiding behind a dumpster.
So, our difficulty with connections limits our ability to sell the idea of a community, and our desire to try fitting in with an existing community.
But we do have a bit of a vision, and perhaps it will do some good for someone who actually gets along well with people.
I can see various possibilities, but I generally see a two-tiered structure with a more loosely tied large group, and more tightly bound small groups.
I think two (possibly three) families would be enough to form a small group. These two families would form a sort of partnership, doing things like cooking, cleaning, praying, and sharing much of life together. I could see this working in one shared house with a large common area, as well as separate areas belonging to one family or the other. Or, perhaps more likely, two separate homes next to, or very close to each other. These units would generally get together with the larger neighborhood community maybe once a week, perhaps a few times. Or to simplify things, they could just gather for ordinary parish functions, which are generally fine for a broad sense of community, just not so much the daily interdependence that would be the strength of the small groups.
One possible problem with the small group structure could be an issue of exclusiveness, but I think that would fade with a bit of time. The two small families would become like one large family, and wouldn't need be any more exclusive than any large family.
I don't think God intended this American spirit of self-reliance. He meant us to rely on each other. As brothers in a shared faith, we should be able to truly be part of each others' lives: helping each other with the difficult task of raising children, with the mundane tasks of keeping house, shopping, living, and most of all, with growth in our faith.
And the truth is, while such dreams of community may be beyond my reach, there are small steps I can take in that direction. Even if we don't live in walking distance, I can offer to help one or two of my close friends with ordinary tasks, whether accomplished together or apart. And if my gift is reciprocated, and it becomes regular, it will make life easier and happier for all our families. And I think we will live a little more like God intended.