We were giving a renewal in Westport, CT last week. During Question Time someone asked about the people leaving the Catholic Church and joining evangelical churches. It was suggested that the Catholic Church doesn’t seem to want to build community or family – it is a clergy problem!
I don’t reject that entirely, we can do much more to build community than we do, and priests can be uncommunicative and distant, there is quite a bit to do there. But the problem is much deeper than that. The fact is that the majority of Catholics go to Mass as a duty, they come in late and leave early, and God forbid that they should have anything to do with anyone else at church. I know that is an exaggeration but there is truth in it.
There are people who don’t want any talking in church, we go to church to talk to God, not other people! Where do they think God lives? Only in the tabernacle? By only wanting to talk to God we are missing out on what Jesus told us: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” Jesus is certainly part of our conversations, our caring for one another. He wants us to talk to God through our friendship with others.
It is obvious that people are lonely, and maybe coming to church and meeting someone else woud be a way of overcoming that loneliness. Many churches welcome people and ask them to introduce themselves to one another at the beginning of Mass. I applaud that. The Sign of Peace just before receiving the Eucharist is not an empty ceremony, nor should it be a dry, “HI!” “I want you to know I care for you and want to make your life better!” That is what we should be saying. We are not just passengers on a train or bus, we are a parish community!
The word “Communion” says something as well. It is not just Communion with the Lord, but Communion with each other. It is never “me” who receives Communion but “US”. We go together, and when we are united with Jesus through the Body and Blood we receive – we are also united with each other. Jesus now lives in all of us together, and it is united as a community that we become powerful.
I don’t know how we will ever get to the stage of realizing we are part of a family at church, but I do know that those who leave the church because they don’t find family there are making a statement about us that is an indictment.
I was recently at St Thomas More’s Church, Darien, CT where I spend a lot of time. This year I had a chance to say the Chldren’s Mass twice. Some people think that is not “really Mass”, it is too noisy! Well those people are really missing out. There is a noise, it may not be peaceful in some sense, but there is community, even in the laughing at the antics of the kids, and the toddlers toddling around! There is conversation before and afterwards, and people don’t seem in such a hurry to race out and go home. This is what we should be doing at the “adult” Masses, it seems to me!
Fr Mike talks of changing “Obligation” to “Opportunity”! If we could only see that by attending Mass we are not only taking care of our obligation to God, but also perhaps helping someone else, then perhaps we will begin to see what God wants by asking us to join the community of the faithful! God is not lonely, we are, or can be!