Finding a Home in the Church


CNA

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.






20 Comments

  1. Paul-463372 July 21, 2013 Reply

    Thank you for this insightful posting! Most of my (single) adult life has been quite similar. Over the past few years these feelings have heightened due to the fact that I now live in a foreign country. The Lord has called me to be in the poorest country of the mainland americas, Nicaragua, in order to spread the awareness of this communio we all share as the Mystical Body of Christ. In the synod Ecclesiae in America, JPII expresses the importance of this theme in a dynamic way. We are One Body, no matter where we may find ourselves; it is due time we start supporting one another in our specific roles in the Body of Christ.

  2. Ivan-964167 July 21, 2013 Reply

    A lot of times I find myself doing the same thing. As a kid I enjoyed being involved with the church and being an alter server but it is difficult to find a parish where I feel I can fit in as well. Most people in the parishes where I go to never stick around to chat or go out to eat breakfast or do something together. Everyone just sort of splits apart and goes about doing their own thing. I agree with what you say on programs only being geared for only marriages and families or youths like teenagers. There is really nothing for young adults and adults. I think the church should have more events, and get together events for both couples and singles, so that they can bond and maybe get to form new friendships. There needs to be more trips, outings, and other activities that gets people more involved as opposed to just traditional church services.

  3. Maria-954158 July 21, 2013 Reply

    You have hit the nail deep at the center of my heart! I am recently divorced, and I know that both me and my ex-spouse feel the same way about this “family” we are desperate to find. However, the more I pray, the more I am convinced that God has made me keenly aware of the ministerial absence that exists for single persons (never married/divorced/with or without children).

    Could it be that God purposely intends for us to feel this disconnectedness, this sorrow and hopelessness by feeling somewhat orphaned, as single Catholics? Could it be that God intends for our feet & hands to fill the need. As a child, I remember hearing a gentle voice in prayer repeat those words time and time again…”Be my hands, be my feet.” 20 years have passed and I still hear the the same words in my head, except that I am hearing Pope Francis, my current Pastor, Relevant Catholic Radio, and Catholic Match articles repeat the very words/idea, but this time the words have a deeper resonating sound like that of a Gong!

    Perhaps it’s a sign to walk in faith; believing fully that God has allowed us to FEEL THIS NEED, precisely to FILL THE NEED for communion among the single. Jesus’ words, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7) have a deeper meaning in the light of the “single”. I often wonder if the answer to what we desperately seek, as single person’s, lies precisely within our hearts.

    Could it be Lord, that we must have courage,to rise up and answer to You by walking in faith and allowing YOU to use us? Could it be Lord, that we (the single & orphaned) are the very community that are meant to reach out and help to congregate others, who feel the same? Help us & guide us Lord, to be YOUR hands, YOUR feet. That communion among the single be the driving force that God uses to feed the hungry of heart.

  4. Adele-43180 July 21, 2013 Reply

    Amen!!! It took me a good long while… and it was worth the wait and the search. My little St. Basil really works to welcome the stranger and we take time to commune with each other in celebrating the Divine Liturgy, and afterward with fellowship.

  5. Alexis J. July 22, 2013 Reply

    As an adult convert I have been an itinerant Catholic most of my time in the Church. Even now, married with kids, due to frequent relocation and family considerations it has been hard to settle. My Dad mentioned something about a year ago and I heard a priest mention something similar: in the old days, there was a more ‘grow where you are planted attitude’. This has inspired me to try to stop ‘parish shopping’ and work on making the parish I am in better. One thing you might take as inspiration: there are likely many people, married and un-married who feel similarly to you. Perhaps you could start a group at the parish you stick with to minister to this need?

  6. Lee M. July 22, 2013 Reply

    Come to Kansas and you can experience COMMUNITY in a small town with a big Catholic church. You will be immersed in COMMUNITY at the county fair, school events, the post office, the hardware store, the convenient store, the parade, MASS, picnics, driving down main street, mowing your lawn, auctions, thunderstorms, and blizzards. What more could you ask for?

  7. Jamie W. July 22, 2013 Reply

    We have a wonderful parish here in Kalamazoo MI. (www.stmarykazoo.org) We even have an Extraordinary Form Mass on Sunday, too. Would love to have to join our parish.

  8. David A. July 22, 2013 Reply

    Alexis wrote:

    “My Dad mentioned something about a year ago and I heard a priest mention something similar: in the old days, there was a more ‘grow where you are planted attitude’. This has inspired me to try to stop ‘parish shopping’ and work on making the parish I am in better.”

    If the parish would oblige, that would not only be the ideal, but what a parish is supposed to be; not only a “people who,” but a “place where.” Indeed, the term “parish” itself denotes a physical territory, thus those who dwell therein. Unfortunately, so many of them, particularly those with large physical plants in the suburbs, are taken over by a pseudo-intellectual cabal that prattles on about “community” as a euphemism for getting along by going along. For many faithful Catholics, this comes at a price. That’s not “community,” never mind a working definition of a parish. One shouldn’t have to be a stranger in one’s own neighborhood at the behest of Father Billy Bob’s hirelings. This is real life, not the lunch room in junior high.

    As for you, my dear Ms Bonacci (or “Miss,” whatever), I can’t think of any easy answers, except for the consolation that your situation would be slightly worse if you were divorced. And there is also a trade-off that accompanies one’s state in life. Single people have other options (ostensibly) for socialization, those which married people do not necessarily have, and any institution that must serve enough people, such as a parish church, will tend to “aim towards the middle,” so to speak. Guess who that leaves on the edge.

    As for me, in over thirty years in the DC area, I have belonged to at least ten Latin Rite parishes. I’ve moved a lot, and … well, wasn’t always divorced. At present, I volunteer at a parish that has the Traditional Mass, and have managed to play a significant part in its promotion. People from all walks of life, young and old, married or single, hang around after Mass into the afternoon, or go elsewhere for a light repast. When you find the experience of both believing and belonging in one place, you won’t have to write about trying to find it.

    Of course, then you’d have to write about something else. Good luck with that.

  9. Michelle-950681 July 23, 2013 Reply

    Mary Beth,
    I don’t quite understand why you had to leave the parish when you left its employ. But that may be another story. I can only say that in any parish, there are opportunities that you have to make a choice to connect with. Some, not all, parishes have singles groups, divorced support groups, single parent support groups, grief support groups. Most have one or more singing groups, and some sort of prayer group or on-going education groups.
    You have to make the effort. I have moved a lot in my adult life, and have often felt that I didn’t feel a part of a parish. Until I made the choice to join in. I joined choirs. Just this year, as a relatively recent widow and retiree, I agreed to help with Vacation Bible School. I’ve never had my own children, but I met new people and that made me feel just a little closer to my fellow parishioners. When I went on my parish ACTS retreat (similar to Cursillo) earlier this year, I really found welcoming new sisters in Christ and that made me feel more a part of a parish than I’ve felt since childhood. Bottom line: it’s how you choose to involve yourself, maybe how you choose to answer God’s call. It’s there for you, you (and not just you, Mary Beth) have to agree to do something with what’s been made available. (That’s not to say the parishes couldn’t do better, but if not you, who? If not now, when?)

    • Ann-983063 July 23, 2013 Reply

      I have moved a great deal during my adult life, and have had mixed success with the parishes where I attended Mass and participated in various volunteer efforts. The “Bottom line” as you call it is not always that easy. I am single ( divorced) and childless. I would love to be more active in my current parish, but some things just make it nearly impossible – choir practice in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday?, sponsors of groups who decide that continuing on with the adult singles group ( or other similar things) is “just too much work” ( I never saw this man attend any of our organized or spontaneous activites in the year that I attended before it was disbanded), I even made numerous phone calls to the various Girl Scout leaders for our school letting them know I was willing and able to help with the Girl Scout programs they have. I was greeted with conversations that went like this “Leader : do you have a child in the group? Me: No, but I had such a positive experience throughout my many years as a Scout that I’d like to pay it forward and help. and I love kids. .. Leader: oh (pause), well we have all the help we need. Thanks anyway” Click.
      I dont think parishes should go to extra efforts for a select population within the communio to feel included, after all we are ALL children of God- none more special than another. However, practice the messages delivered to us during the homilies and be fishers of men(women) from all walks of life- not just those with whom you are accustomed.

  10. DeaconEd P. July 23, 2013 Reply

    Perhaps someone should start a website entitle, ” Why You Should Join MY Parish.” Catholics could then give 500 (or less)-word entries extolling the positive virtues of their parish. Being able to access each entry by State and zip code, could allow anyone to locate a promising parish from among those endorsed. Let’s face it, there are parishes with reverent liturgies, active evangelization efforts, good preaching and catechesis, orthodox teaching, home schooling families, an active Catholic community, etc, etc that would appeal to those like Mary Beth who are searching.

  11. Daniel-860051 July 23, 2013 Reply

    I will always remember the day I went to an Sunday Mass, and during announcements at the end the priest stated (as direct a quote as I can get from my memory), “And if you’re new or first time visitor please feel free to introduce yourself to folks.” I thought there might be something of a coffee hour when all were dismissed. But no. What I saw was a mass of humanity head straight to their cars and off to their separate lives.

    And when I have introduced myself or gotten involved, as the middle age, single man I’m just as much persona non grata, left to feel like the veritable skunk at the garden party, about as wanted as a box of microwave re-heated McDonald’s french fries.

    Over and over and over again I see the Church reaching out to families, the youth, and the elderly. And I’m just left to fend for myself on the sidelines.

    • Ann-983063 July 23, 2013 Reply

      Daniel you are spot on! Where do adult singles fit in the whole puzzle- many times cast aside under the lid of the box!

  12. Kristina-702907 July 23, 2013 Reply

    I could not agree more with Daniel. The Catholic Church is AWFUL at acknowledging single adults in any way. I am a generally happy person, I feel valued at work and in my daily life. Then I go to mass on Sunday and am reminded of every way I am ” not enough.” No spouse who will join the knights of Columbus, no kids to attend the elementary school, no mom-hood to attend the mom’s group, and not quite in my 60’s to join the ladies guild. That sums up the organizations at my church. It’s just no wonder that every church I have gone searching to in the 20 mile radius of my home has no single people in it. Lots of elderly and lots of families with kids. I hate to be critical of well-meaning priests as well but all the homilies on marriage and child-rearing do nothing for me and I have yet to hear a priest acknowledge the single life in any homily. I have never felt so isolated and alone as i do at mass.

    • Jason-833495 July 25, 2013 Reply

      I couldn’t agree more with what Kristina is saying. I attend alot of different parishes, and I do all kinds of volunteering at these parishes, and I attend daily mass, and attend prayer groups. But when it comes to finding a good young catholic girl it is virtually impossible. If I do see some attractive looking girl that I would be interested in, it would be during a Sunday mass, and they would be in and out of the door.

  13. Theresa-110510 July 23, 2013 Reply

    It is not the job of the sheep to look for the shepherd. Nor is it the job of any of us ‘to start up groups in the parish’ for us: they should already exist and be long established (like 2000 yrs old) and ongoing long after we leave the parish. Christ meant all of His flock to be ministered too – it was not for his apostles to pick and choose the easy ones to deal with, not caring if the rest go to hell. It’s a sure sign a church isn’t really Christian if it isn’t adhering to His teachings – and stupid to stay in if our souls are important to us (or our future families – where our kids would only fall away as soon as they can.) In reality; you can start up groups all you want, but if the pastor and bishop in your area didn’t have them in the first place you will be facing opposition to keeping them there, it will be difficult to get a good balance of activities/spiritual and it likely will fold when you can no longer run it.

    You can’t neither be sure that those receiving Communion with you share the same beliefs either. Catholics contribute to harassment in the workplace, believe in and have abortions, regularly have sex just like any other heathen while dating, etc., etc., etc. If you’re looking for a Christian with values for marriage I’m not so sure even wanting another Catholic is worthwhile; due to so many thinking of you as a ‘holy roller’ simply for wanting to go to church each Sunday. (other than those on this site, unfortunately mostly in the U.S. The members here I have always felt are of the highest quality.)

    Oh and Kristina: it’s not that you are being critical of priests who are ‘well-meaning’ – they’re uncaring.

    And Daniel: your priest said that if you’re new or a visitor feel free to introduce yourself to strangers; well, why aren’t they to introduce themselves to (so-called) newcomers instead? As it is, that parish could be one you’ve been at over 10 yrs and you still don’t feel you know people other than to see, nor is it a home. The only reason the priest is even saying this is because it has been made ‘the year of faith’ by the Pope. In December when the church year changes and it’s proclaimed something else, he’ll be off the hook and won’t have to pretend to care anymore (or make these announcements.)

  14. Ed-501357 July 24, 2013 Reply

    I definitely agree with Ann, Kristina, Mary Beth, and Daniel as I also find it amazing that there are so many ministries that cater to families and children but not enough to engage the singles of the church of who would prefer to meet their significant other at a church function as opposed to singles dances, which personally I find boring and attract “players “as it were.

    That being said, Deacon Ed’s suggestion is a good one but I was also thinking if some kind of an arrangement such as a meetup.com organization can be done here at CM so that perhaps a designated individual in each of the metropolitan areas of North America can organize a group that would attend mass together and go to brunch or a picnic afterwards at least once a month (or more if demand warrants it).

  15. Don-986783 July 24, 2013 Reply

    I’m of the opinion that if the Catholic church isn’t your ideal fit as a single person ,as I felt my situation was and my priest suggested I shop for a parish “more to my comfort level”. Instead I took the approach of finding a way that I would make myself a better fit, and I found that volunteering was my way to reach my comfort zone within my parish. I’m very happy I didn’t take the shopping recommendation, I would have missed out on meeting a lot of great new friends.

  16. Barbara-584798 September 28, 2013 Reply

    Mary Beth thank you for sharing. This is just a thought and may not be for you but consider finding a retreat center as part of your “new search”. In addition to being a part of my parish I have come to find another community in my local Passionist retreat center. I make an anual retreat with a group of women from my parish who I cherish as our own little core group within our parish and on retreat. But I have also volunteered at the retreat center on various projects or days and have come to know not only the priests and lay staff but other volunteers. In some ways, I feel part of this “community of believers” more than my parish but being part of the retreat family is also leading me to participate in a few more things at my parish.

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