Saturday, March 1, 2008

Finding a Place to Belong

Barbara, who characterizes herself as a "Catholic in crisis," writes to say that her core identity as a Roman Catholic is exactly what stops her from leaving for an evangelical or Pentecostal church. "I can’t bring myself to follow the lead of so many to find a closer experience with God, to find a place to belong. Its been a struggle for me for about 2 years." She asks if I have any advice.

These sorts of conversations with cradle Catholics always ramp up my gratitude for arriving at Catholicism during adulthood. By then, I'd pretty much figured out that to be a "good" Catholic I'd need to distinguish:
  • religion from faith;
  • religious identity from cultural identity;
  • being catholic from being Catholic, and
  • parish life from the Body of Christ.
Being raised Jewish puts me at an advantage because Jews have spent millenniums grappling with such nuances. My Jewish legacy absolutely entitles me to answer her questions with questions:
  • What do you mean by "closer" to God?
  • What do you mean by "belonging"?
Whenever I get my knickers in a twist over something that's going on with the People of God or church leadership, I take a break from them and focus on God.

I suppose I'll always retain Judaism's insistence on direct dialing, but as a Catholic this means I focus on Holy Communion. Call me human, but I cannot commune with them unless I'm in communion with Him. You will not find this central focus on Eucharist at an evangelical or Pentecostal church.

As a practical matter, you'll need to find a parish where you can focus on coming to the table of the Lord and being nourished there. Go someplace where you're not distracted by community maneuvers or whatever you may have heard about the pastor. Practice lectio divina with the Mass readings du jour. Pray to God for signs. Gently place your two years of desert wandering within a lifelong journey of faith.

As for "belonging" in the sense of participating in a parish community, I'll have more to say about that in another post. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with someone about the whys and hows of leaving one parish for another. I seem to be having a lot of these conversations lately. So glad that tomorrow is Laetare Sunday!


  1. This is a really insightful post, Meredith. I was truly blessed when I converted to have a dear friend catechize me on the side about Holy Eucharist. Although the RCIA program at my parish was trying to make me feel "welcome" by teaching nonsense (no one prays the rosary anymore, don't bother with confession, i'm ok - you're ok), I still had a wonderful honeymoon in the Church based on receiving Eucharist.

    As I started to notice all the junk (and whew, do we Catholics ever hoard the garbage!), I had a firm foundation on which to just keep plugging away with Jesus and *know* for sure that I really was doing ok. And it also kept me reading on the side, voraciously, to find the good stuff intellectually, so I could peek under the trash bins to find the pearls hidden there. There are hidden treasures in every parish, and as we have moved a number of times over the years, I particularly am thankful for the kind and wonderful priests that we have found in each city. They outnumber the duds by at least 100 to 1!

    Even though all of the externals are hard to slog through, there is a core truth there that each man and woman is a unique combination of body and soul, and God provides food within the Church for those who are seeking. My wise mentor told me that I would receive out of the Eucharist exactly what I brought to the altar, meaning that if I open myself wholeheartedly to God, what I will receive is infinitely greater than I can imagine.

    The Pew study is important, and point to ways that the Body of Christ is failing. But we can't fix the externals. We have to ask God to fix the internals, and then He will lead us where we do not want to go.

  2. I linked to this post over at Wheelie Catholic. It really addresses a number of issues that some of my readers with disabilities email me about.

    How interesting that the statements of the USCCB dealing with embracing the disability community and the gifts they have to offer, which is such an inclusive statement by the church, define not only "belonging" but discuss the issue of inclusion by focusing on the fact that everyone is a member of the Body of Christ.

    As for being a member of a particular parish, I often tell my readers that we already belong in a way that others may not be ready to see, but God certainly does.


Thanks for your comment and please consider continuing this conversation with me on Twitter and Facebook!