Sunday, August 24, 2014

Church....It's Not You....It's Me!

I saw a quote posted the other day that stated: "The biggest problem with being a Christian, is going to church!" Hmmmm Truth?

In the Ten Commandments we are told to "Keep Holy the Sabbath." Translation? Go to church? There was a time, that if you considered yourself a Christian, you went to church. If you didn't go, then you might as well just consider yourself a non-Christian heathen. As times have changed though, peoples relationships with God, church and the Ten Commandments have greatly changed and because of this, church is replaced by sleeping late, "family time," weekend projects and any other excuses we can come up with. But in a poll I saw recently on some Christian website, one of the top three reasons people quit going to church (regardless of denomination) was.....the people who also attend church. Hypocrisy and gossip were the reasons given for not going to church. It had nothing to do with lack of love for God or loss of faith....and everything to do with others. I have to say, I kind of get that excuse.

I have spent the better part of 40 years in my little town and my little church. Those two phrases (little town and little church) are exactly why when I was in school about 1/3 of  the kids were church attending Catholics and now only about 1/2 of that number remain. And it wasn't just Catholics. We had a large number of Baptists and Methodists also, with other denominations making up the rest. Their numbers are about the same too. Some of the loss of church goers was that growing up....going to church was a thing, but not really a thing. In other words, they did what was expected of them, but they never really got invested in God or the whole church thing and so when they were of age to make their own decisions, their choice was not to attend. In my home, we ate, slept and lived God as He and prayer were a fixture there. We prayed before meals and at bedtime and we invited God into our lives daily. Sunday Mass was not just a childhood my home it was a life long requirement.

I always loved church, but I also knew that the Catholic church had rules. When I was old enough to choose for myself, there were stretches of time that I didn't go to Mass. It wasn't because I didn't believe or didn't want was because I was making the choice to live outside the rules of the Catholic church and therefore I didn't feel worthy of attending Mass. At least that is what I told myself.

Once I began having a family, I realized how important a faith based foundation was for raising a family and I came back to regular attendance and was the best Catholic I could be. However, I couldn't receive any sacraments.....Holy Communion to be precise, because I was married to a divorced man outside the church. It is amazing how being denied that one thing can change the entire Mass experience. Now don't get me wrong, I am not blaming the church. That rule was in existence long before I was ever thought of and as a cradle Catholic, I was fully aware of it. I made the choice and I lived with the consequences. The Church had no reason to bend for me...nor should it.

After Tim died, I was once again allowed to receive the sacraments and I was happy with my faith and my religion. Then it began to happen. Maybe it had always happened and I was now just at a place in my life where I actually saw it. I am speaking of the whole hypocrisy and gossipy thing. I found myself more than once witness to people sitting in church on Sunday with their judgmental eye on everyone who walked in the door and yet Monday they were being the opposite of what most of us would perceive as good Christians. Since I try hard not to judge others, I chalked it up to all human beings, being works in progress and would tell myself, "Well at least they go to church and try. Think how much worse they might be if they didn't do that!" I think though, the straw that broke my back was when I learned that I was the target of judgement and gossip. I tried very hard at first to keep a low profile and stick to my own little world and my own little life. Then I thought, maybe I should just jump head first into church groups and that would quiet the voices. Neither worked as apparently my life, my family and our souls were up for conversation and judgment every time two or more were gathered at that church.

One Sunday, several years back, as David, Z and I were sitting at the back of the church in the vestibule (we no longer have a cry room.....and I for one miss it) David got a little loud and vocal. I tried my best to keep his loud "wooo's" and "yee haws" to a minimum. He was not happy sitting still and wanted to roam and after Mass I felt like I had been through the wringer. The next day I was told by not one but two people, in the kindest of ways that maybe bringing David to Mass was not such a good idea because he was loud and very distracting. Not wanting to further subject David to those people nor the Parrish to David's loudness, from that day forward, Z and I have not attended Mass together. We now go in shifts so that one of us can always stay home with David. After that, it got to the point that people were "kindly" letting me know that so and so said this about me and surely it wasn't true. After one of Davids two week episodes of being in and out of the hospital someone else came up to me and said, "I heard you had left the church!" Shocked, I explained that David had been in the hospital and that is why I had not been able to attend the last couple of Sunday's. Their reply was, "Well you know not attending Mass is a sin." Yeah, I was taken a back. The most heart breaking incident though, happened when someone close to me, grabbed my son after Mass one Sunday when I was home sick with the flu and told Z that they were worried for our souls because we were not attending Mass regularly. It was all I could take.

After all of the judgment and gossip, I simply couldn't do it anymore. I dropped out of any and all church groups and I started attending Mass at the Catholic care home in town. They have early Mass on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. and aside from the residents, there are only a handful of parishioners that attend.  That and the occasional trip to the church in the next town is where I have been attending. Of late though, I have been struggling with church. NOT my faith mind you, but my church. I pray, I question and quite honestly, I have been lost. My life does not feel right without church, but in light of the last six months and all that has been happening with my family, I am simply not up to being judged or gossiped about. I don't do it to others and I hate that others feel that it is okay to do it to me. Now let me say here, the few I speak of, are not the whole at my home town church. Within that church lie the hearts and souls of  many very kind and generous people who have reached out to me on more than one occasion, especially when it was hard for me to ask for help on my own. Unfortunately, it was the few with sharp tongues and unrequested judgments based in nothing more than gossip that were keeping me from walking through those doors. However, today I realized that the power I gave them was ruining my spiritual wholeness, my relationship with God and my relationships with all the truly wonderful people in the Parrish. It really was me.....and not the whole of them.

There has been much soul searching going on of late. I am changing and not just in one area. I am changing EVERYTHING and today, I stepped out of the past and left it at the door of my church as I walked into 11 a.m. Mass. When I stepped in, the comfort and warmth surrounded me and the feeling of "home" was there. I watched as familiar faces, new faces and some faces I missed very much, walked in and took their seats. As I knelt to pray, I felt a calm and relief come over me and I realized, that for the first time in a very long time, I wasn't angry. I no longer had the feeling that at times almost felt like rage over how I and my kids had been treated by a select few. It was replaced with complete forgiveness and I went back to knowing what deep down I had always known, these people weren't perfect. They were human and they weren't why I attended Mass. I was allowing my inability to forgive, and my anger over the past, to be my excuse for not visiting God in His home. His sanctuary. My sanctuary. My home. God had done nothing wrong and my going to Church was not about them. It was about Him and my relationship with God and God alone.

Today, I have spiritual perspective.....much more than I have had in a very long time. I have forgiven, been forgiven, found peace and most of all......I have found my way back home!

Happy Sunday everyone.

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