I wrote a couple weeks ago about how my husband and I regularly attend worship at a UCC Church. Last weekend, his mom and stepdad were in town, so we went to Catholic Mass with them. I wondered if it would strike me any differently, after the longest hiatus I’ve ever taken from Catholic services. I was acutely aware of what felt comfortable and familiar, and what felt stifling and even soul-crushing. And because I’m no longer hearing the exact same words every week, I noticed them in a different way. In particular, this stood out:
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of Your Church.
It was in that line that I found insight into one of the reasons that attending Catholic services is often so difficult for me. It’s because, even though we implore Jesus to look on our faith, not on our sins, that’s not where we’re looking. When I explained to my mother-in-law why we didn’t go to Catholic Church as often, I told her it came down to this: the Catholic churches in our area don’t seem to talk very much about Jesus.
Instead, they want to talk about our sins. Or our perceived sins. There’s one priest who never delivers a homily without railing on the evils of abortion. Another compares homosexuals to pedophiles in the same breath as he says we need to treat homosexuals with “respect.” I never leave these services with a vision of how things could be, of the kingdom of God we might work toward where all are welcome. Instead, I leave feeling that we just can’t do anything right. And if we can’t do anything right, why bother at all?
What would Catholicism look like if we looked at faith more than sin? I don’t think we can ignore sin; but at the UCC church we now attend, I leave service feeling inspired to live a Christ-like life because the emphasis is on working toward a life that’s more like Jesus’, not on holding up the ruler and showing us all the ways in which we fall short. There’s humility, and acknowledgment of our imperfection, but no reason to dwell on it. We make mistakes, we hurt, we seek forgiveness, we absorb God’s grace, we move on toward a better tomorrow.
At the same time, I’m aware that this admonishment applies to the way I perceive the Church as much as it applies to the messages the Church seems to send me. I, too, have a tendency to focus upon the “sins” of the Church, not its faithfulness. To focus on all the things that are going wrong without holding tight to the things that are going right. As I sat in Mass reflecting upon all of this, my heart ached with longing to have a conversation with my aunt Marian, who as a Sister of St. Joseph bridged for me our Catholic identity of the past as well as a vision of a Catholic identity for the future. Many of the sisters I’ve met do this for me — show me what remains “right” with the Church. And in the future, I will try to shift my own focus toward faithfulness rather than sin.