To Be Known

Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12; 6-7)

stefan-kunze-16862

Recently, my husband and I officially changed parishes. We had been on the books at a very large church, which someone informed me was so large it actually classified as a mega-church. Several years back, we signed our kids up for the school and once we registered as parishioners, I set to the business of trying to make connections and build community.

My faith history as a post-Vatican II baby, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s groomed me to have extremely low expectations from my neighborhood parish. As a kid, it was the place we went to celebrate mass. The word celebrate here is even a stretch as there was never much exuberance at all. But we went to mass. And that was literally it. Not even a donut Sunday in sight. I say this with certainty because I remember there was no actual place to gather- short of a very cold, (this was Cleveland after all) impersonal hallway that led to the sanctuary. There was no narthex. (Even the term narthex is fairly new to me, a cradle catholic of 46 years!) There was a nice school gym on the other side of the parking lot, but it must have been in full bingo swing, and unavailable to parishioners who indulged in fried fats rather than gambling and smoking. I understood that our church was a stop that was necessary. Once the obligation was checked off though, you were expected to bug off, preferably in an orderly, polite fashion, a goal not often achieved. Hello church parking lot road rage! 

In retrospect, it was not much different than our understanding of McDonald’s, waiting for our luscious Lenten filet-o-fish. You grudgingly shared the space as you waited to get what you were there for. There was no real need to make eye contact. We all understood why we were there and it certainly wasn’t to make friends. Get in, get out.

At the time family included, mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. I never considered others in the congregation as part of my family, nor I in theirs. Fellow parishioners were just people who just happened to hang out in the same waiting room.

I mention all of this because somewhere along the line, by God’s infinite grace, I began to understand there could be more, that Christ himself demands more. Maybe it was crossing state lines, learning more about my own faith, or a trend in the Church to shed that drive-thru culture. Either way, I started to desire more. In fact, I’ve come to understand that I actually craved it all along, but didn’t even realize it. In all major life moments: the sudden death of my middle-aged mother, a cross country move, the births and miscarriages of each of my children, I longed for a huge family, or “a deep bench” as my sports aficionado father would call it. My bench was shallow and I was painfully aware of it.

As a new mom, with a new understanding of my faith, I began to seek out more for the sake of my own kids. I wanted so much more for them and I wanted what Christ himself wants and promises them. So I tried to get involved, to make connections in a parish that felt so awkwardly huge, impersonal and imposing. This resigned introvert stretched herself big time; seeking out friends and ministries in which to build real Christian community and to grow my Christian family. I went from knowing no one to being able to chit chat with multiple folks before and after mass in the… Yep- the narthex. I became a regular in this new mysterious space. I attended ministry fairs and even regular donut Sundays. I can triumphantly report that I did make strides and even sisterly connections, but I still desired more. While I had graduated from the drive-thru, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this parish was a lot like the big media company where I used to work. We were united in a common goal, but none of us did it with much joy or enthusiasm. 

The reawakening of my faith, from a check-the-boxes Catholic to someone who came to truly love Christ and his bride the Church, I started to ask myself what I was doing, or more precisely not doing to achieve this elusive goal of being known. I racked my brain for ways to go deeper, to become more involved. My shy husband and I reached way out of our comfort zones and even invited a young priest to our home for dinner. If we were serious about being known, we needed to make the introductions. Unfortunately, it was not a great match. And I’m pretty convinced by the end of it he could not pick any of us out of a parish line-up.

There’s a lot of little reasons we eventually made the move, but ultimately it came down to seeking more- more community, more connection, more something… The new parish is much smaller, but there is an inexplicable vibrancy I can’t articulate. It’s cultural. For instance, the first event my husband and I attended was completely slammed. This small parish was bursting at the seams, like a Christmas party in my Uncle Bobby’s basement where we squeezed in tighter than sardines, but were loving every minute of it. We were inundated with invites, urgings, announcements to join the parish and various upcoming events. Free food would be supplied and free child care! What?! My husband’s and my instinctual suspicion ran so deep, we arranged for a sitter at home because there was no way these people could make good on this cuh-razy promise of free child care. However, to our delight and amazement, the joint was packed with smiling young people and their kids. The pastor repeatedly welcomed everyone, reminding us, “there were plenty of brats and burgers to go around. The bathrooms could be found to the left inside…” We just stared at each other, mouths agape, such hospitality we had never experienced at a church, such enthusiasm and warmth. To be fair, I made no deep connections that night. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself and by the end of the night I was very hopeful. Then a few weeks later, God affirmed our parish switch again. The parish called, a lovely, kind voice on the other end. She welcomed our family and asked if we would like to meet about the parish. Wait… she called me? That has never happened, unless they were collecting money. She wanted to meet to discuss our needs and what the parish offers to hopefully find a match. She was so nice and not the slightest bit officious. I made the appointment, hung up and called my husband at work. “This Christian thing is sheer magic. Sheer magic,” I trumpeted.

It’s admittedly in the very early stages with our new parish and as in any romance, I know the bloom will eventually come off the rose, but hopefully in its place will develop a beautiful, enduring love. I will try to train my expectations to be realistic from this point forward, but I’m beginning to understand that what I’ve experienced at the new parish should actually be the norm. I noticed a few years back, that many Catholic parishes have installed greeters at the door when you enter the church. I never thought Christ’s church would be getting pointers from Walmart. It’s a start folks, but an anemic one at best. When Jesus himself tells us he knows us so well that the hairs on our head are counted, aren’t we called to emulate him with gusto? Shouldn’t we robustly follow his beautiful example to really know our fellow Catholics? We are meant to be one body in Him. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect anyone to be able to count hairs on my head, but it would be nice if they noticed when I got a haircut.

Praise God! I am beginning to be known. And they don’t even have a narthex!

photo by Stefan Kunze

 

31 thoughts on “To Be Known”

  1. Respectfully, typical comments of a post Vat II liberal who would have the Church and celebration of the Eucharist much the same as the Protestants happy clappy community social gatherings. The early days of the Church were definitely about community as they were then as now persecuted, allbeit in a different way. They gave what they had with each
    other and shared and those are important Christian details that we do today when contributing to our Parish pantry and clothing drives and Charities. The Mass pre-Vatican II was a devout solemn worship in the presence of God`s temple where the priest faced East in the ancient Jewish tradition with the people and Holy Communion was devoutly received on our knees with woman who had their heads covered and administered by a priest who had his hands anointed to touch the body of Christ who placed the Sacred Host on our tongue. There was no peace sign with people running up and down the isle shaking everyone’s hands as though they were running for political office with a 5 or 10 minute disruption of Mass and people shooting the breeze in the communion line with, and yes I have seen it, woman in low cut dresses handing out communion to people who take it in their hands and stick it in their mouth while they are walking back. Mass has been changed to accommodate Protestants in the interest of ecumenism and sadly has lost much of the reverence solemn spirit of worship that we used to enjoy pre-Vat II. I believe many have lost the meaning of Mass and even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted the lack of respect and even the meaning in the Novus Ordo. Plenty of time for friendship and community after the gathering for the celebration of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Alter. Sorry you could not find that where you attended but then maybe you missed the point of the gathering in the first place.

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    1. Your comment totally, I repeat, totally misses the point. There are two forms or expressions of community in and around a parish. One of those, the first and most essential is of course, the Eucharist in which we come into communion with one another as members of the Body of Christ. And that expression doesn’t have to be “happy, clappy” in your most infelicitous phrasing. In fact, it is best when it has a balance of solemnity and joy and formality. The other form or expression occurs–or does not–after Mass and between Masses in which people who have shared the Eucharist continue to share a communion of fellowship based on the first expression, deriving from it in fact, but distinct from it by virtue of the fact that while it is genuine, it is not the Eucharist itself. It does not, cannot replace the Eucharist.

      The desire for this sense of community is not “liberal” or post-Vatican, or what not. It is human. Simply that. It is in fact a desire and a need that has the power, if honored and practiced, to cut across all sorts of polemical and political lines that divide us.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a well written and honest post. What strikes me is your need “to be known.” If I could offer a suggestion, I suspect it might be spiritually fruitful to explore that need more deeply and prayerfully. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It’s been bothering me since I posted my original comment. Forgive me, I should have used the word “desire” rather than “need.” Your desire to be known I suspect is something to prayerfully ponder.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The writer of this article could almost be me, and the parish she describes sounds similar to a small parish I am on the verge of joining, after years of struggling as a convert to Catholicism in dysfunctional parishes large and small.

    Mine has not only very warm and welcoming community, but deep focus on spirituality, constant charitable outreach, priests who are deeply involved and caring about their parishioner’s lives, and the most beautiful, reverent liturgy I have ever encountered. Even the small children are quiet and reverent, unlike the screaming and running around typical in other parishes around me. Everyone is properly dressed, too, including headcoverings on some of the women. It also has a high number of converts, and new converts coming in all the time.

    And, it’s Eastern Orthodox. Not Catholic. But it’s the best parish I’ve been in during my two decades as a Catholic. Of course they haven’t turned their parish life upside down by changing or sacrificing their tradition, rather have jealously guarded it – and I am loving hearing so much teaching from the Early Church Fathers and the great holy men and women of the Orthodox tradition, instead of the usual drivel at Sunday Mass that seems to reduce our faith to merely a matter of having good manners, because, you know, God loves everybody, right?

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    1. No matter how refreshingly reverent, Eastern Orthodox Liturgies are never legitimate substitutes for the Catholic Mass if the latter is at all possible to attend. Schism is not okay, sorry. I humbly recommend the Sacrament of Confession to you.

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      1. Humbly? Please. You assume too much, know nothing about my process, how often I’ve been in the confessional to discuss this very thing, along with many conversations outside the confessional with trusted priests, including moral theologians and canon lawyers.

        I have learned it is not sinful to convert to Orthodoxy, though we do not have shared communion. Pope JPII lifted the schism, and they are considered sister Churches. Conversion from the Catholic point of view of course is not considered ideal, and no one on the Catholic side wants me to do it. But it is not a sin – and I am learning greatly from the Orthodox side of our Body, who have much to offer liturgically, spiritually, and from the different historical perspective, having lived under so much oppression under Communism and Islam.

        Not all Orthodox parishes are welcoming of Westerners, if they are heavily immigrant-oriented. But some are very welcoming. And the reality is we are already one with them in Christ in the Eucharist, even if we receive Him in different parishes. It is not being Catholic or Orthodox that is sinful, but the division itself, which thankfully Catholic and Orthodox theologians are working to overcome. So regardless of whether I stay Catholic or become Orthodox, we may yet find ourselves one again. I certainly hope so!

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      2. Theo West, you have been badly advised. Article 751 in the Code of Canon Law (repeated in Paragraph 2089 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) plainly states that “Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” Schism incurs the penalty of excommunication and deprives one of the right to a Catholic burial.

        Your Orthodox friends will readily confirm to you that they do not submit to the Bishop of Rome, and I am confident they would not knowingly admit me, a Catholic of the Latin rite, to their Holy Communion.

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      3. I am familiar with the canon, that’s why I’ve been asking canon lawyers about it. Canon law is not so clearly laid out and black and white as western civil law. It is subject not only to interpretation, but to documents, statements and modifications outside of and subsequent to the formal Code of Canon Law, which can modify and even obviate – if I’m understanding it correctly – certain provisions of the law.

        So much has happened towards reconciliation between East and West since our current code was written in 1983, I wasn’t sure how the actual wording applied anymore. It does seem there is some gray area because things are in flux – but I have been repeatedly told, though not ideal, it is not actually a sin for a Catholic to become Orthodox.

        With respect to the Pope, the present focus of Catholic and Orthodox theologians is on how the Bishop of Rome actually functioned during the first 1000 years of Christianity, prior to the schism, not how his role developed in the West after the schism, which was conditioned by political situations not shared by the East, and in which the East did not participate. The hope is reconciliation could be based on that earlier model, which is very acceptable to the Eastern Orthodox.

        Regarding the canon itself, the language of the canon is from papal statements made after the schism, written during times of political power struggles between Church and state, to protect the Church from state control. So the sense of it is being modified with respect to the relationship between East and West, including for lay members of both Churches and movements between the Churches. Nothing is settled, of course, but the situation has improved a little, at least.

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      4. True, the Orthodox Liturgy is not a substitute for the Catholic Mass for the simply reason that it is not the Catholic Mass. It is, however, a legitimate eucharist. Eastern Orthodoxy is as ancient as Roman Catholicism. Schism? Who left whom really? And who was responsible for the final split? For some it depends, I suppose on which side of the fence you stand.

        If your recommendation to seek confession were really “humble,” I doubt that you would need to characterize it as such. Might it more accurately be described as arrogant, condescending? Besides that, do you really care about this individual anyway, or are you mostly concerned to protect your own turf and sense of “rightness”?

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      5. I don’t really care whether my suggestion is seen as humble or arrogant; there is no salvation outside of true and full Communion with the Roman Pontiff. Period. Obviously invincible ignorance (in its diverse forms) is an exception; clearly Theo West does not fall under that category — hence my charitable (no matter what you wish to think of it) recommendation of repentance.

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    1. Sue:
      I completely agree. As an introvert I would run from this parish. I’m not sure how someone who would seek out such touchy-feely closeness could be called an introvert.
      I came to this column off of New Advent which titled the article “Two introverts leave a parish”. I expected a tale of two people fleeing a charismatic-style parish.
      Matthew

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    2. Indeed. I clicked through to this article because I am a flaming, unrepentant introvert. What she describes of her new parish is my version of a nightmare. I go to mass to worship Our Lord. I wish I could find a mass where the parishioners were joyfully reverent. What I find at my local parish are parishioners who are joyfully social.

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    3. I disagree. Introversion and extroversion have nothing to do with whether you like being around people. Introverts can love being around people, but find it draining and tiring if too much, and need to be alone to rest and recharge. Extroverts find being alone to be draining and tiring, and need to be around people to gain energy and recharge. But we all need both rest and connection with others.

      As Christians, we need to be part of a Body, in communion with each other, for spiritual reasons, not merely socializing or Protestant-style fellowship (because non-sacramental in nature), being one in the Eucharist not only in worship, but serving and loving one another as one in all kinds of other ways, too. It’s one of the ways we grow in holiness and become Christ-like.

      But as an introvert myself, I find it hard to reach out to others. Which means I love it when others reach out to me, it makes it easier to be connected. And I love being part of a smaller parish (not overwhelmed by too many people at once) that is also friendly, where others reach out and include me, as otherwise I might be too shy to reach out and include myself!

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    4. This introvert shies from “greeters.” Not people who nod and say a cheery “good morning” as we pass, but those modern-day church ministers whose job it is to say hello, open the door, and thrust books at you. When I see “greeters” in action I start looking for an unmanned door. I’m not a misanthrope, but my participation in the liturgy began when I got up that morning and forced unsought social interaction is intrusive.

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  4. Oh dear. You are heading to liberal la la land which is a path to losing your Faith altogether. You are putting the protestant notion of fellowship before the One True Faith. Find a parish that offers the Latin Mass. Or at least one that actually follows the documents of Vatican II. Pronto!

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    1. Just what in the article sounds like “liberal la la land?” Honestly, this woman is growing in her faith and seeking deeper connection with other Catholics, that is a good thing. Since when is community and friendliness bad? And in this busy world, childcare is a needed blessing if parents are to really be involved in their parish!

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  5. What a well-written testament to how God can and does work in our lives. Jesus came that we might have spiritual life in abundance amidst the messiness of our individual, family, and parish lives. There are no perfect families or churches, but we can call seek to become and be more. Don’t settle for less, but try to make progress with the grace of God who makes all things possible.

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    1. Thank you for the kindness, Father. I probably didn’t do the best job with the article since a lot of the comments seem to mistakenly undermine my devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the holy, reverent mass. In fact, it was those graces through out my life that continued to call me deeper into community and my faith. Maybe for another post?

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      1. Forgive me if I seem to judge you. I was not and whats more I am in no position to judge anyone, I leave that to God. Basically I was referring to your descriptions and comparisons of various Churches. It does seem to be a problem since Vat II that people are required to have to “Church shop” to find the kind of worthy celebration of Christ`s sacrifice they are looking for. In other words the differences between Churches is stark and did not used to be that way before 1965 when everything changed and you could travel the world and the Mass was the same, the language was Latin and universal and sadly all that is now gone. Some of us sorely miss all that and the solemnity and universality that went with it.

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  6. I would offer a slightly different take. I am myself in a small parish and do not enjoy masses at the local mega-parish. However, I would suggest that often times the mega-parishes are run as if they were still small, and the parishioners have the same expectations. Is it truly reasonable for a parish priest with presumably thousands of souls under his care to know each of them by name, on sight? I’ve often heard that the most a person can keep track of is 150. It sounds like the parish needs more staff, and the parishioners need to re-calibrate their expectations. The days of a Catholic church on every corner with three or five priests are gone, though by God’s grace we will get those days back again.

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    1. Come to Coeur d’Alene, and visit us. We have 3.5 outstanding priests (the .5 is the chaplain for the nearby Traditional Carmelite Abbey). We are bursting at the seams with new arrivals; many, many children, and the Mass of the Ages twice a day, every day, and three times on Sunday. St. Joan of Arc, FSSP.

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  7. Damian
    I really do not care to engage in the controversial history of the East, West schism that divided the one true Holy and Apostolic Church into two but allow me to respectfully inform that in
    1965
    “Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagorus of Constantinople met and nullified the mutual excommunications that both placed on each other and although better relations are established, the East-West Schism continues”, from joint meeting of Paul VI and the Patriarch of Constantinople. Basically these are a matter of understanding of various dogmas that were declared that the East took no part of in determining due to the separation. Actually if you study Orthodox history closely you would find their beliefs are almost the same. Also I would point out that there are Orthodox Churches in communion with Rome and the Pope who never changed their traditions and Divine Liturgical services and one of them across the U.S. would be the Ukrainian Orthodox Church who I know have a large Cathedral in Philadelphia called the Immaculate Conception.

    and while the two are not officially joined as yet efforts continue and allow me point out that the ordinations and sacraments of Eastern Orthodox are valid and recognized as such by the Western Church due to the fact that they enjoy as the West does, Apostolic succession as you will recall both were founded by Christ at the same time on inspired by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. A search of ancient Church history would actually reveal that the Greek preceded the Latin Church as they were founded by Sts. Peter and Paul in Antioch in 34 AD.

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    1. “The Greek preceded the Latin Church as they were founded by Sts. Peter and Paul in Antioch in 34 AD.” True. Antioch is where the Christians were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), founded by St. Peter before he went to Rome. So the Antiochian Orthodox also trace their Apostolic Succession back to Peter.

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  8. Being a former Protestant that knows what that fellowship is like in those “happy clappy” churches, I agree wholeheartedly with all the author said. I know nothing, just a young catholic, just a struggling mom, unintelligent, non-intellectual. I could be ripped to shreds I’m sure by the Latin mass people, I know nothing. But having been on the other side of the fence and now struggling just to stay Catholic, let me say there is something to that fellowship Protestants have. I don’t think we’re meant to go this journey alone, as I’m struggling to do now.
    Anyhow, saw this quote and think it sums it all up well:
    “When Christianity refuses to encounter, it stops being what it is.”

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    1. I love this quote! Thank you!! (That’s a lot of exclamations.) I also love and admire converts. They have been such an inspiration to me on my faith journey. They have soooo much to teach us. Your comment is point-on. And I pray that you will find your niche. Don’t give up… In the meantime, we Catholics need to work hard for our church and continue to seek encounters.

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