This is a post by Julia M. Julia serves as a Campus Minister at a Catholic college in the Midwest. She’s learning what it means to minister to a community while also questioning many of the practices and traditions of the Church; sometimes it’s quite a challenge! She’s especially passionate about feminist theology and story-telling, particularly as they relate to the integration of sexuality and spirituality.
I used to joke that I was the only one of my 12 young adult cousins that still went to Mass on my own – meaning without parents encouraging or forcing me. But I’m not sure I can say that anymore. I’m losing interest in the Mass. It’s a beautiful practice that can sometimes be so comforting, reminding me of my childhood, my family, and people that I love. Since my first Feminist Theology class, however, I’ve struggled to sit in Mass without analyzing everything I saw and heard. For a while I thought, ‘oh, its no big deal.’ So much of my daily life included thinking about, studying, and contemplating the Creator. Mass wasn’t the only place I could experience spirituality.
This last year has changed things. I’m no longer a student of theology. Now, I minister at a small Catholic university in the Midwest. And I’m the only minister there. We have no priest, no sister, no other lay people working in ministry. Just me. Because of this, a part of my otherwise enjoyable job description was to attend every Sunday night Mass we held on campus.
Let me give a little background: the school I’m at is largely a commuter school with most students either living at home or going home each weekend to work and spend time with family. Many students, then, go to Mass with their families on Sunday mornings or do not attend Mass at all. Very few students ever attended our Sunday night Masses. (I think the most that I ever saw there were 12 students at one Mass.) I love small communities, but this was different. I was a leader and a minister – but not really. There, at Mass, the priest was the leader; he was the minister. I was just there to set everything up for him and put it away when he left. Sundays were totally different than Monday-Friday. During the week, I would sit with the students and talk to them and engage in spiritual conversation and practice. On Sunday nights, I was the priest’s helper.
That said, every Sunday around two in the afternoon, I started dreading heading back to work. I couldn’t think about it as anything other than that: work. On Sundays I lost my credibility to minister to the community that I had grown to know. Those nights I was just a young woman preparing the way for the older male priest – most often a stranger, since he was whoever from the area we could get to come help out that night – to celebrate the “true” sacrament, to allow us all to “finally really experience God.”
One evening after Mass, a priest scolded me for not doing enough to build community and bring the students in for Mass. He never asked how many students attend our other spiritually-enriching or prayerful services on campus or where the students seem to find meaning. He didn’t ask me what they were struggling with or how we could best minister to them. He just scolded me for not creating a vibrant Mass for the student body. Hey, Father, I’ve got very limited opportunity to make the Mass “vibrant” when I’ve got a makeshift community of eight and don’t know which priest will be presiding over the next Mass and if he’ll “approve of” the vibrant liturgies we practice. Oh, and I’m not the one preaching the homilies!
(Don’t get me wrong: I appreciated the men’s help and their desire to work with our students. What I didn’t like, though, was that our community had to call in a stranger to lead us in intimate prayer and that these strangers felt the need to take over and then criticize our spiritual community.)
I share this to explain a reason why I’ve recently lost my interest in Mass altogether. Since the school year ended, I haven’t been able to get myself to go to Mass alone. If I’m with my family and they ask, I’ll go because then it’s about being with a community of people that I love and celebrating a tradition that is dear to us. Even when I’m alone and Saturday night comes, I’ll lay in my bed checking the times of the local Masses but when Sunday morning arrives, I can no longer bring myself to go. And I feel the lack of community and the lack of ritual something strong but know I need to start looking elsewhere, for now at least, to feed that spiritual hunger I so desire. So here I find myself, questioning what to do next as the new school year begins and searching for something meaningful as I sadly break away from what too often stands in the way of my relationship with the Creator.