A few weeks ago I heard a parishioner say that he had been as Mass and found it to be a lonely experience. Due to the public health crisis, it has been a while since he was in Church. On his return, he found that things had changed. There were less people there and those who were present were older. There were few young families present. It is a strange, even an upsetting experience – feeling lonely at Mass.
Thankfully, the situation has started to change a little over the last few weeks. Most pastoral areas and parishes have been able to invite the families who have members preparing for First Holy Communion and Confirmation to take part in enrolment ceremonies for their children. Virtually all the families have accepted the invitation to commit themselves to walking with their children as they prepare for those sacraments. We are also beginning to see the return of other aspects of parish life – altar servers, play and pray, Church music, liturgy groups and so on. Hopefully, the loneliness of worship during a time of pandemic is gradually coming to an end. This week we celebrated Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent when many people renew their faith in Christ.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Spirit is calling us to build a Church where everyone is at home, where nobody feels lonely. He uses the phrase ‘synodal Church’. It might sound new, but it isn’t really. The Church is a people before it is an institution. It is the community which draws its life from knowing Christ. Our shared faith in Christ binds us together. We rely on each other just as the different parts of our bodies depend on each other.
To live its life, to live the Gospel, the community of faith must have a structure. We need a routine, some shape and form that helps us live together so that we can all offer what we can and receive what we need. We are prone to make the mistake of thinking that the gifts and talents of one person are more valuable than those of another. The Pope’s ‘synodal process’ seeks to give a voice to everyone and to treasure to the contribution made by all. Every Catholic is invited to offer his/her thoughts on how we can rediscover the joy of the Gospel and bring it to the world. There will also be a reach beyond that to all people of good will, whatever their spiritual tradition might be.
As a priest, I enjoy being part of the moments when people truly feel part of a family of faith. Pre-pandemic we felt it at Christmas when a very large part of the community come together to celebrate Christ’s birth. You see it as funerals, when people gather in memory of the deceased and in solidarity with the bereaved. First Holy Communion and Confirmation brings families together in celebration of the wonder and beauty of their children. Local pilgrimages to Holy Wells and other sites can also create a sense of unity in faith. We don’t often experience the same sense of togetherness at Sunday Mass. The big moments reverberate with people, the routine less so.
There are people who are angry with the Church, many with good reason. When they think about religion and faith, they see a very different reality to what I see. Their anger is usually not directed towards the Gospel but at how we have lived it. Our failure to protect the young and the vulnerable has caused a great deal of suffering and done untold damage to our credibility as people of faith.
What will the future bring? Will Sunday Mass continue to be a lonely experience? How can we fan into a flame the faith dwelling in our hearts, our homes and communities? Down the centuries, there have been a great many dark moments when people said that religion had no future. The darkness has had its source both within and without the faith community.
Our lives have many dimensions – the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. To be fully human, to be fully alive we need to nourish the full person. We are living in a time when the spiritual is often overlooked. It takes courage to be a believer today. We need the support of each other. Most of all we need Christ.
Pope Francis’ is inviting us to rediscover the Spirit dwelling in our hearts. We need to rebuild our Church and especially our local faith community so that it may support us in our quest to be fully alive. We are invited to share your thoughts through the conversations in our local pastoral area or thought the survey on www.killaloediocese.ie
Fr. Albert McDonnell, Kildysart
Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area.
Clare Champion Article Friday 4th of March 2022