This weekend I was off camping in the woods (read: the middle of a state forest) with the fam and then some of the extended fam (our highest total: 16 people). Some of us ventured out of the woods on Sunday morning to attend Mass, as we are obligated to even when we’re having a blast being grungy in the middle of the woods.
As always, it was an excellent decision.
The church we attended was small, in the country and surrounded by sunflower fields. It was obviously a newer construction (est. 1999) and looked more like a building that would have signage saying “Country Church of God Who Loves Us Greatly”. But no – it was St. George Church in Mifflinburg, PA. We walked in a minute late (we were slightly tied up by country roads and the two baby deer that crossed in front of us), and saw packed wooden pews stacked like pencils waiting for a standardized test. Squeezing into a middle pew, we jumped right into the liturgy (metaphorically, of course).
That which stands out so vividly is the homily from the priest, which the parish website leads me to believe is Msgr. Williamson. He stated that the parish had spent considerable time surveying those members of the parish community who were no longer active, Mass-attending Catholics. They were sincerely questioning as to why this happened, to better assess the needs of the community. Answers fell into generally three categories.
1) I disagree with Church teachings.
2) I was hurt by a priest/nun/religious/parishioner/someone who claimed to be Catholic.
3) I’m too busy or too lazy.
*drumroll* as you to try to guess the most popular answer. I’m too busy or too lazy. Now, before looking at what this response from former active Catholic means, I’m going to share with you what Msgr. said. Paraphrased (because time has passed), those who choose to no longer attend Mass because they’re too busy or too lazy have not had an experience of Christ.
Let’s think on that for a second. There are many possible reactions to such a comment.
Outrage, real or fake – How dare he judge those people like that!
Shock – Did the priest really just throw the gauntlet down like that? Whoa.
Sadness – There’s truth to what he says.
And certainly there are more reactions that could be had, though those came to mind first. But wait… isn’t a priest, under the holy orders of God, called to lead his flock? And shouldn’t the leader of a flock do what is necessary and charitable to bring the flock together, for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of their soul? Well, yes, among other things. I don’t think it was a harsh judgment or statement to make. And perhaps it needed to be said with some sort of shock value – this isn’t some wishy-washy, let’s-define-culpability issue here. He’s discussing the fate of the souls of his community. That should be dramatic. And… yes, it is sad. And perhaps that’s the hardest part to accept. It is sad that there are members of our communities who no longer feel welcome, or needed, or wanted, or that there is something and Someone waiting for their return.
It’s not just a statement that there are people who don’t believe in the True Presence – it’s not that simple. It’s a statement that there are people who…
-don’t see Christ in the face, words, and actions of their fellow parishioners.
-haven’t seen Christ offer himself up for them, time and time again, despite their actions.
-fail to fully grasp the wideness of God’s mercy.
And who are we? We’re the sometimes struggling, sometimes succeeding, often sinning, sometimes confessing, members of the body of Christ. And what do we need to do to invite our fellow members of the body of Christ back into our community? Well… I’m working on that. But it all starts with being present, being open, being welcoming, and being honest. Really, I’m no better – there was a period of time where I was a “too lazy, too busy” member of the Church. Some early Sunday mornings I consider it, but I don’t go back to that place, because I know Jesus expects me to show up and be ready to do some more work on this soul (and goodness, we all know I need the work). In the meantime… I’ll continue pondering this.