I was in fifth grade the first time I met someone who had left the Church because they found “a better community” elsewhere. A friend of mine from my class told me that her family used to be Catholic, but that they recently started going to the local Mormon Church because her parents liked all of the family activities offered there. They felt more welcome there, more at home. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a feeling they were getting from the Catholic parish they had been attending. So they made the switch.
Of course since fifth grade I’ve met many more families like my friend’s. Good people who I have to believe just don’t fully grasp the great gift they’ve been given in their Catholic Faith. They leave in search of a sense of belonging, and I can only pray that this search will ultimately lead them Home…to the first and only Church instituted by Christ.
My parents always tried to stress to us kids that, even though “community” with other believers is certainly important, the communion that is offered to us with Christ present in the Eucharist is far more important. Leaving the Catholic Church means walking away from the Sacraments, and there’s nothing else on earth that can possibly compare to the gifts that Jesus has given us in the Sacraments of His Church. I’m thankful that my parents taught me this.
But this doesn’t change the fact that it is important to feel welcome where you worship. My fifth grade friend’s parents weren’t bad people for feeling a need for community. It’s human nature to desire a feeling of belonging, especially in the place you go to worship.
So what happens when the Church doesn’t feel like home? I propose that the solution is to look to the head of the household. Look to Christ, and seek answers to how and why He built the house the way He did. (Matthew 16:18-20).
As Catholics, the mass is where we go to worship. It’s our response to Christ who stands at the door and knocks, saying, “…If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). In the mass we— the faithful— are united to Christ in the heavenly banquet. It’s our family meal. It makes sense, then, that it should feel like home.
The problem is that if you don’t view the mass in this way…if it’s just an hour or so of mindless ritual in which you may or may not “get anything” out of the sermon, then it can feel stuffy, or without meaning. But the meaning is there. The banquet is there. If only we open up our eyes to see it.
If you’re struggling to feel at home in the Catholic Church, if being part of the Church has become more about the wonderful parish activities (that you may or may not be blessed with) and less about the Sacraments, it’s time to dig deeper. Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. Are we willing to respond and open the door?