Occasionally, my boyfriend and I attend services at a Unitarian Universalist church. At this particular church, there is an optional discussion about the service about 15 minutes after it ends. We attended the discussion last weekend, which allowed us to engage with the service on a deeper level. We took the long way home so we could continue to talk about it.
It made me think about how isolating being Catholic can sometimes feel to me, how passive my Catholic engagement can be. Although I do find myself yearning for the Eucharist when I’m away from Catholic services for too long, when I’m actually at a Catholic service my favorite part is the homily. I love to hear the unique insight a particular priest can bring to the readings. But when the service is done, there are very few opportunities to actively engage with the ideas presented therein. When I attend Catholic services with others, we’re sometimes able to have a good discussion about the homily amongst ourselves. But what about Catholics who attend service alone — as I did for many years of my adult life?
What appealed to me about the structured discussion at the UU church was that whether you came alone or with someone else, you still had the opportunity to engage with others. It has me wondering how we can bring these opportunities to Catholic worship, which is so often a show-up-and-go-through-the-motions experience. And while this can foster a sense of unity, it can also foster a sense of isolation, perhaps broken only by the sign-of-peace when we’re invited to engage with our fellow Catholics at last.
I think that one barrier to this kind of engagement for Catholic parishes is that many Catholic communities place more stock in answers than in questions — when “discussions” do happen, it’s as an opportunity to “prove” the rightness of the official Catholic teaching rather than allow a full and honest exploration of the issues — and an acknowledgement that maybe there aren’t easy answers, or any answers, to some questions. By cutting the opportunities to grapple with these issues off, we also cut off scores of Catholics — including those who continue to attend but daydream in the pews (again, something I’m guilty of). I think this is especially true of young adults, who are less content to just “go through the motions” of religion.
This blog provides one venue for ongoing engagement, seeking, and questioning, offers a sort of virtual circle discussion and some protection against the isolation one can feel as a young Catholic (and I would argue that this isolation is felt by progressive and conservative young adult Catholics alike, although perhaps for different reasons). What else can we do?