From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Are we church to one another?

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Nov. 14, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

The voice on the phone sounded matter-of-fact. The woman runs her own business and seldom meets a problem she cannot solve. But she admits she’s challenged trying to raise her three young daughters in the Catholic faith.

“I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing and why, even though I’ve been a practicing Catholic all my life,” she tells me.

She’s found it hard to feel a sense of belonging in her parish. “It’s huge and Mass is so packed you don’t get a seat if you’re five minutes late,” she says. Joining a mom’s group at the church has helped, but her family as a whole is disconnected from the parish. Religious Education seems like one more thing on the list of things to do.

“I feel a lot of peer pressure to have my children involved in tons of activities. As small as two, they’re in kindermusic and gymnastics,” she says. “Religious Ed isn’t cool. It’s not what all their friends are doing.”

I ask what she thinks her parish or the larger church could do to help. She says they’re probably doing all they can. The parish offers classes and retreats, but she doesn’t have time for them. Her husband, though Catholic, isn’t interested in church stuff.

Is she right, I wonder? Is there nothing more we can do to help families? This young mother doesn’t seem to have a vision of how things could be different. Are we as a church failing to offer any alternative to the prevailing culture? I ask the question to a number of other Catholic parents.

“People have to want help,” answers Carol. “The church offers the sacraments.”

Is that enough?

“No,” says Marian. “The parish focuses on sacramental prep, rather than on developing Christian households.”

“Many Catholics are waiting for permission from Father to do this or that,” says Robert. “I have a friend who was down on his pastor for not allowing him and other men to meet as a men’s group. I said, ‘What’s he got to do with it?’”

Danny says he and his wife have had to look beyond their parish to find a sense of community and support for day-to-day living as a Christian family.

Mary says her teenager is asking why she has to go to Mass. “Megan looks at some of the people who go to Mass, and the way they live their life, and she gets kind of cynical. I tell her it’s supposed to be about us supporting each other and living out this vision of faith, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that.”

We know from Scripture that the outstanding characteristic of the first Christians was their visible love for one another. Christ’s followers broke bread together on the first day of the week. But much more set them apart: their refusal to see differences like slave and master, man and woman, Gentile and Jew, the way they recognized each person’s gifts, and how they shared wealth.

Vatican II documents re-emphasize the identity of the Church as a family with all members loving and serving one another and those in need. We can’t wait for the institutional church to hand out community. We need faith animating our daily life all week long. Though we live in the world, we can choose to be not of the world if we draw together and support one another. We must each choose to be church for the other.

I wanted to tell this young mother on the phone, “Don’t settle. Church can be more than just trying to keep the kids quiet through Mass on Sunday.”

I wanted to tell her about my experience of Christian community, and how I’ve come to depend on it. I wanted to share how it has supported me in times of trouble, challenged my perspective, transformed my pain, and given me joy and hope. But words fall short. Community needs to be experienced to be real.

How can we love one another better? There’s no simple answer, but let’s keep asking the question.

If you have any answers, please contact me at my web site — and I’ll share your ideas in a future column.

© 2002, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane freelance journalist and children’s writer.)

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