Saturday, February 27, 2010

Because Parish Life Isn’t Easy

Guest post by Allison 
My husband and I, both cradle Catholics, grew up in households where one of our parents was not. Consequently, going to Mass was more or less the only way our families expressed their Catholicism; they didn't pray family rosaries, or read the Bible together or talk about their faith journeys. And they didn't involve themselves in the life of their parish, other than my dad, who sang in the choir from time to time.

In contrast, Greg and I have immersed ourselves in our parish life. My husband serves on the parish council, where he oversees parish communications, and he is a lector. I sing in the choir and the Chant Club and I also co-founded and coordinate a youth group. Our eldest son is an altar server and also sings in the Chant Club. Because our parish is tiny, we know our parish priest well. He is a family friend who has shared books and meals with us on many occasions.

This all sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Well, sometimes it isn't.

Being involved intimately in a small parish means we are witness to everyone’s foibles and failings and they get first-row seats  to ours.

Good writing means offering your readers good detail, painting a picture so they can see what you are talking about. But I'm unwilling  to provide specifics, because anyone with even a passing knowledge of the families and staff at our parish would recognize the people I am describing.

Suffice it to say that the whole human condition is on display at our parish—people who have trouble holding their tongues, people who fail to speak up even when it would be in their best interest to,  people who gossip, and people who hold grudges. I will confess here that sometimes I have fit every one of those descriptions.

And sometimes, the whole enterprise is discouraging. If we adults can’t behave ourselves in a parish,  of all places, where can we?

Recently, another thought has occurred to me: parish life is hard because life is hard. You don’t get to pick your parents and you don’t get to pick who sits next to you in a pew.

What continues to draw me to the Catholic Church is not always my fellow travelers. It is always the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because of His presence, we don’t need a telegenic pastor or the loveliest of voices singing in the choir.  We don’t need our lectors to sound like voice-over artists or for all our parishioners to be saintly and charitable at all times.

I like the metaphor that a church is like Noah’s Ark transformed into the boat, or Barque of Peter. Yves Congar, the late French Dominican cardinal and theologian, described it this way:

We are pilgrims and passengers and members of the crew beckoned onward by what the Church calls “the universal call to holiness.” Which is to say, beckoned on by Christ and the promise of the Kingdom. What is expected of us is to respond to the call where we are, and in doing so to allow ourselves to be carried where we are to be.

I am Catholic because parish life isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. We are imperfect travelers—sometimes scared, sometimes grumpy, sometimes just bone tired. We journey together on a boat, through a storm. We are holding on for our lives and praying we make it to our destination safely.