One of the things that I’ve always loved about the Church is that it is universal. I can walk into a Roman Catholic Church anywhere in the world, and attend, essentially, the same Mass. This was great for me, as a high school and college student. By the time I had begun to take my faith seriously and attend Mass at least weekly, I had so many options for where I could go for Mass. If I were on campus, I would go to the chapel for daily or Sunday Mass. If I were visiting my parents, I could go to the parish I grew up going to. If I wanted to sleep in, I could go to the evening Mass a few towns over, or if I had to meet a friend for lunch, I could go to the parish closest to the restaurant. It was a network of parishes that I could walk into any time, and it made life convenient.
My personal Mass attendance went like this for years. I popped around to different parishes, depending on my mood or plans. I could always find a time to fit Mass into my schedule, wherever was most convenient. It was easy, and for times when I had legitimately busy weekends, it was a great gift. However, after several years of this, I felt disconnected. See, up until my mid twenties, my principal faith community had been my friends. I saw them often, we would go to Mass together, and they encouraged me to grow in love and virtue. As we all got older, started to get married, and moved for our careers, that sense of community just was not there in the same way. My husband and I, new parents at the time, started to wonder why our spiritual lives felt a bit lost. It was like we were lone wanderers, unconnected to God and His people. We wondered why.
As Advent started, we thought about what we could improve our relationship with the Lord and each other in the new liturgical year. He suggested we choose a parish, that we register, and attend the same Mass there every week. We prayed, and recognized that we were both spending our days trying to give the faith to others, as we were both high school Theology teachers, but we were not being spiritually fed, ourselves.
As we began to attend Mass at our new parish and at the same time each Sunday, we noticed a change. We got to know the priests at the parish very well, as each of them was present to greet us. We introduced ourselves to other families while our kids all climbed the tree outside the church entrance. We began to give regular financial contributions to the parish, and we planned our day around our Sunday Mass.
For our children, too, things began to change. They began to ask about and learn all of the nooks and crannies of the building. They went from seeing the parish priests as strangers to dashing off to hug them at first sight. They could tell the stories of all of the statues and stained glass windows, and happily pointed to the spots where they were baptized, to the tabernacle, to where mommy and daddy got married, and to where we went to “say sorry to Jesus” (i.e. Confession). Eventually, going there started feeling like coming home.
We felt at home, and I can’t help but think that Jesus gave us the Apostles as our first Bishops for this reason. We had a home parish and a Pastor. We were connected through our parish to our Bishop, to the Papacy, and to Christ in a way that we just had never taken advantage of before. Of course, our parish was not always perfect. There were days that the priests were busy, days when we didn’t want to be there, or days we rushed in and out with cranky children. Through it all, though, we chose to call it home, because every family is made of broken, fallen people. Families don’t require perfection, they require perserverence in love for each other and just because we did not always feel a connection that did not mean we were not connected. We chose to perservere in love through our parish family.
“Registering” at a parish is not required, and for some situations and times, moving between parishes and Masses may work out best. However, if you are seeking a community and a place to call home, a guidance and direction for your faith life, making your home parish your home may be a great step.