This is eighth article (a day late) in my 30 in 30 challenge, where I write 30 things I am thankful for in the 30 days leading up to my thirtieth birthday.
I remember as a kid passing the time during Sunday Mass playing, "Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, there are all the people." I'd whisper it quietly, and I would repeat the motions over and over. As I grew up, the distractions continued. It's not that I didn't want to be at church, It just felt like it was a chore. Well, that's a lie I guess. There were some Sundays that I was trying every excuse in the book to get out of going to church!
This is likely the same feeling most kids have every Sunday, and as they get older, they appreciate and look forward going to church.
My story is no different. I grew up Catholic because that is what my family is. Born, baptized and put in catholic school, I began learning about my faith early on. While it was nice to know that all my sacraments would arrive on schedule, I was coasting through important events and I took it all for granted. I began to merely hear what was being said, and I didn't take take the time to listen and learn.
I remember as a 2nd grader being more concerned about the dress I was wearing to my First Communion, than the sacrament itself. I also remember getting that dress, a beautiful hand-me-down from my cousin, caught up in my Big Wheel bike. That was not a good day at all!
So why the back story? Well, as you can imagine, years of just going through the motions puts a toll on someone, and by the time I was away at college, I had some tough decisions to make. For the first time, my parents didn't drag me out of bed to go to church, it was completely up to me. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you already know where this story is going. Maybe you have a similar story of religious rebellion.
I use the word rebellion loosely, because I didn't go on a public strike, rather I merely created an internal battle of what I should do. There were month-long spells that I would choose not to go to mass, and I felt like I was in charge, but actually, it was the contrary. I felt so completely empty. It took me a bit of time to know that the emptiness I felt, was a longing to be somewhere; to be part of something. It clicked that the something I longed for was Mass. I missed the Eucharist and the community. When I began going more frequently to Mass, my emptiness dissolved and I was filled up with joy.
It sounds so hokey, I know.
Anyway, this set me up for a good routine when Doug and I were newlyweds. We weren't the most regular Mass-goers, but we did go when we made time for it.
It was tough going to our home parish because the drive was insane, but that is all we knew. We essentially grew up in that parish, so to to leave felt like a really bad breakup. So we stayed all the way through my pregnancy with Deacon.
While in the hospital, a deacon came by to offer us Communion. Afterwards, we ran through the standard questions of "Where are you from?" "Where do you live?" We discovered he was a deacon at church down the road from our home. I mentioned where our parish was, but the long distance made it tough to do. I then said that his parish was one we were thinking about joining.
What he said next is something I'll never forget.
"We'd love to have you, and we'll welcome you. But I would be foolish NOT to tell you about St. Barbara's. Please try there first, they need you." I thanked him for his opinion, wished him a great day and after he walked out of the room I looked at Doug with my jaw dropped. "Did he just tell us to go to a different parish?!" Doug shook in head.
Three weeks later we went to St. Barbara's.
I had to hold in the laughter upon entering the "church" that had folding chairs, a temporary wall and dingy lighting. It's embarrassing to admit what my thoughts were back then. God got a bigger laugh that day when he served up a nice slice of humble pie. It wasn't 30 seconds after we entered the doors that we were engulfed by the hearty good mornings and "we're so glad you're here today!" The folding chairs? they were filled. People flooded in and squished themselves into their seats. It was the most crowded I've seen a church.
I wondered why. Part of it was already answered; the people. No judgements--just a solid handshake and even a hug were used to welcome us into their home. If that wasn't enough, I was given a second helping of pie. The priest delivered one of the most eloquent homilies I've ever heard. On that day he said that many people have said they don't get anything out of Mass. He said that we would get something out of it, if we put something into it. It was real, honest love, and I was smitten.
The flame of my faith burned a little brighter that day. Doug and I decided that this was the parish for us. It was a no-frills, love-filled church and the perfect place for our family. In the almost seven years we've been going to St. Barbara's, there
have been significant changes. The chairs have been replaced with pews
and that temporary wall that was prayed down was nothing short of a
miracle. Our faith community continues to grow and we are blessed to be a part of it.!
I have much to be thankful for that church and I continue to learn many life lessons as a result. So far, the biggest lesson I've learned is that it isn't about the church, or the steeple as spoken through my preschool rhyme. It absolutely about the people. Matthew 18:20, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them." That's a pretty darn accurate description of St. Barbara.