Well, it looks like I’m back to being a “Roamin’ Catholic.”
Like many single Catholics, I have spent my life more or less wandering from parish to parish. It’s difficult to “sink into” parish life when you’re unmarried and childless. Much of the programming revolves around marriages and families. When you’re not a youth group parent or a marriage ministry prayer partner, it can be a lot harder to meet people and to find a place to fit in. And so, on any given Sunday, I would attend whichever parish was most convenient, worshiping with a church full of strangers.
Then, a few years ago, several of my friends all seemed to converge onto one parish. So I began attending Mass with them, and actually registered as a parishioner. A few years later I started working at the parish—sort of the ultimate way to “get involved.”
I made a lot of friends, gave a lot of talks, and participated in the life of the parish. It was great. After Sunday Mass I would stick around for an hour or two afterward, eating doughnuts and chatting.
I attended Lenten fish fries and Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts. But best of all, I worshiped with a community of people I knew and cared about. We stood at the altar together and we approached the Eucharist together.
I really liked that.
But apparently all good things must come to an end. And when my job with the parish came to an end, so (unfortunately) did my involvement with the parish.
And so I’m “roamin’” again, but this time it’s different. This time I know what I’m missing. And I’m missing it a lot. I want to join another parish. I want to get involved and to attend fish fries and to worship with people I know and care about. But that’s easier said than done. I feel a little like the baby bird in the children’s book Are You My Mother?—going from church to church, looking at a room full of strangers and asking “Are you my parish? Are you my community?”
(Note: I feel I have to point out that I’m not a huge fan of the word “community.” In English, it has been watered down so much that it conjures up images of “community centers,” or worse, “community organizers.” John Paul II shared my distaste for the term, and preferred “communio” or “communion.” But since neither of those words are commonly used in English in this context, you’re just going to have to play along with “community,” and know that I use it in the deepest, Christ-centered sense of the word.)
The one thing I have concluded is that Christ did not intend his Church to be made up of random groups of strangers praying as individuals who happen to be in the same room.
The Catholic parish is not supposed to be merely a “service station” where we drop in, receive our sacraments and leave with no regard for those around us. In the Eucharist, we approach the altar not only as individuals but as a “community of believers.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “’It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates.’” (CCC 1140).
The USCCB says that the Mass is a “corporate” act of worship, which means it is the action of the whole assembly gathered for worship. We gather, not as individuals, but as the Body of Christ.
Of course, it is rarely possible for us to know everyone in the church. Sometimes, when we’re traveling, it’s basically impossible for us to know anyone. There’s beauty in knowing that, wherever we are in the world, there is a Catholic community celebrating the same Mass, hearing the same readings and receiving the same Eucharist. And that we are welcomed into their community just as we would be in our own.
But that’s just it—they’re a corporate assembly that we have joined with in worship. We aren’t just a bunch of unconnected people in line at Panera, waiting to get our individual orders of bread. We’re a unit. We’re the Body of Christ.
Ironic, I know, that I’m talking about the importance of becoming active participants in the parishes in which we worship, when I’m not currently living that way myself.
I’m seeking a parish home and I want to encourage you to do the same. I know it’s more difficult for singles, but it’s also more important.
Blessed John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation to Families, made a special point of addressing singles when he said “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church . . . must be opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone.”
If you don’t have a parish “family,” do what I’m doing. Pray for God’s guidance, and then go out and find one. It may take a while, but I think you’ll be glad you did.
And maybe I’ll see you at the fish fry.