A few years ago I was invited to a Facebook group run by Catholic women. For all intents and purposes, it was a place to request prayer, ask for advice, and share struggles, victories, and resources. I typically ignore most of the posts, but recently, I had been struggling with fellowship and thought it would be a nice place to start. Lord, have mercy. I was wrong. Time after time, post after post, there was such division and vitriol. A complete lack of compassion and even, dare I say, joy? One of the more egregious back-and-forths occurred when a post read something like, “I’m having a hard time connecting with my faith at Mass. I miss my old Protestant church. I felt more connected, more a friend of Jesus there.” This did NOT sit well with a lot of readers. Comments flooded in telling the poster that there is NO GREATER connection than the Eucharist followed up with the question, “Why would you convert then if you didn’t want to be Catholic?” That they were WRONG for thinking the Protestant Church could be better. Comment after comment I read that just hit my gut in all the wrong ways.
I absolutely believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, that it is an actual encounter with Jesus each and every time we receive it, and that it is powerful beyond measure. I ALSO believe that not feeling connected in the Church is not only to be taken seriously, but also delicately. There is never an excuse to catechize angrily. We do it out of love (as He first loved us), and not out of our own self-righteousness. Here this woman was being vulnerable and other people just wanted to spew lines they heard in Sunday School instead of coming alongside her and supporting her. Thanking her for her honesty. I, too, have struggled with connection in church. Many times in my life I’ve dragged myself to Mass because it was an obligation more than it was something I wanted to be doing. I found more fellowship, connection, and conversion in Bible Studies I was a part of (even, gasp, a Protestant study). The hubris we have when we think that we have it all figured out. That our brothers and sisters of other faiths, even other religions, don’t have value to add to our own faith journeys! Reading those comments turned me so far off from that brand of evangelization.
Sara Groves, a Christian singer/song-writer, is one of my absolute favorites. She has a song called, “What do I know?” Every time I hear it, the song hits me right in my heart of hearts. In part the song says,
“I don't know that there are harps in heaven,
Or the process for earning your wings.
I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels,
Or any of those things.
But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good.
Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord,
and from what I know of him, that must be very good.”
It reminds me in ways I cannot properly articulate that we don’t know a whole heap of a lot. We do know that God is Love. That He has a plan for our life and He longs to have us draw ourselves to Him. We proclaim 90% of what we know during the Creed on Sundays. We proclaim,
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
224 words. That’s what our faith can say it “knows.” Not a whole lot. And certainly not enough that we should pontificate 224 million words. There is not enough self-reflection happening behind our keyboards. When we join these groups where someone is going to share so vulnerably, we have to meet that vulnerability with love. It’s the Jesus in all the stories. Meeting with love. I have seen God work in the moments that vulnerability is met with compassion. I have become more holy through gentle conversations that led me to conversion. Likewise, I have been completely turned away from what is good for me when preached in a fire and brimstone sort of way. I’m not interested in being a canon lawyer, and when asking for help in my faith I’m not looking for the canon lawyer version of an answer. I’m looking for the Holy Spirit to move.