Friday greetings from a rainy and cold Midwest.
It has been nearly a year since I stopped worshipping at the parish I called home for over a decade: Saint James here in Chicago. Since leaving the parish, the church building has been torn down.
It hadn't been in use for nearly five years. I was one of those who agreed that it should come down and the parish should follow the vision of Cardinal George to build a new church a few blocks away, in an area where people live and there is more activity occurring than the original site for the church.
The reasons for my leaving are quite complicated and I most probably will never share them here. Put simply, it became more and more painful and stressful for me personally to go to Mass at Saint James in the months leading up to my decision to leave. It simply was not a healthy environment for me.
Over the years, in my travels, I have heard people complain about an aspect or aspects of their parishes. Some have deep disagreements with a parish staff member. Others dislike the music choices. Others deeply dislike a new or renovated parish church. I once heard a prominent pastoral theologian, who himself was a pastor of a Catholic parish, respond to one of these complaints by stating directly to the person complaining: "There are plenty of Catholic parishes. I would urge you simply to leave the parish that is causing you so much pain and anguish." The surprised complainer looked at the priest and said, "Oh, this is my parish; I would never think of leaving my parish!" I must admit that I felt an inner resonance with this person and the response given. And that has been my own mantra for most of my Catholic life, until this time last year.
When one reaches a point, like the point where I was, that attending Mass is too painful and stressful, I knew that I had to make a decision, and that decision was not an easy one. But it was one that had to be made.
In the year since leaving Saint James, those of you who read this blog have watched me float around from parish to parish. This has been a painful year for me as a Catholic. I have not yet found a community that resounds with me. And I am still floating. It is quite challenging to remain faithful (which I have done) and to do so without a kind of permanent home in which to live my Catholic faith. I wonder where God is leading me. I know that it is somewhere; it just hasn't become apparent yet.
I have worshipped in places with very small congregations where I am obviously a stranger among regular parishioners. Yet no one, not a soul, in any of these places has ever reached out and asked me if I were a newcomer; no one has reached out and offered any kind of personal welcome. This has been more than disappointing for me. And it makes me think about how complacent some Catholics are in their parishes, in parishes where the numbers of Sunday worshippers may be on the decline. I have continued to be a tithing Catholic. I am not patting myself on the back here; I just very simply follow the call to give ten percent of everything that I earn to the Church. While I am certainly in no way a wealthy person, my weekly contribution is not insubstantial. I have often wondered if a money counter, or a pastor, or a business manager would ever notice a larger-than-usual check from a non-registered-in-the-parish person at Mass in the collection (and often several weeks in a row) and perhaps give me call, either thanking me or inquiring about whether or not I want to register in the parish. So far, nothing.
Perhaps I am craving some kind of special treatment and I need a dose of humility here, and maybe that is the lesson to be learned in all of this.
Perhaps what this past year has taught me is something more important. When I do eventually find a spiritual home, a parish community, I need to be someone who doesn't hesitate to reach out to a newcomer or visitor. This has been a hard way to learn this lesson.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.