Dear Maria,

I’m a lifelong Catholic, recently retired. I stopped going to Mass regularly about 3 years ago because I disagree with many of their rules, their “we are better than others” mentality, and mostly their unwelcoming nature in general. My parish is very open and welcoming, but the restrictions on who can receive communion make me sad for the people who come to church but are excluded this way.

Recently, I attended an event for my granddaughter and realized how much I miss the music and how much I really, really miss the community.  I feel hypocritical when I go, though. I’m searching for authenticity in my life and so feel awkward joining in with what I don’t believe anymore. What should I do?

Signed,

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Should,

The first word of your signature gives us a clue to the answer. What’s that expression about “too many shoulds and you’ll end up in the should house”? Part of your resistance may come from feeling that you have to go, instead of wanting to go. The church teaches that Sunday Mass attendance is an obligation, so maybe a part of you is feeling guilty? In years past, you found the music and community to be good reasons to attend. But now your thoughts about the church’s stand on things have created dissonance for you, and you’re taking a break to sort things out. CS LewisBravo! It’s all a part of adult-ing to step back and assess the institutions in our lives. Many depend on rules to maintain membership and order. Sometimes following the rules overshadows membership itself, and people are hurt in the process. That’s where compassion and mercy are needed. Pope Francis has made this the cornerstone of his message. He is not changing existing rules, but wishes to breathe new life into how they are implemented. How this happens in the local parishes depends on the tone and approach of the bishops and priests in leadership. The parish community can influence some of this, too.

It sounds like your parish has a lot going for it. Keep your heart open to ways you can participate, like your granddaughter’s event, while you sort through your thoughts and feelings. As you do, seek out resources that shed light on the reasoning behind the rules you no longer feel you can support. (Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing is highly recommended.) This information will help inform your conscience and perhaps bring perspectives not yet considered. Through it all, continue to attend to your feelings—there’s gold there, too. It may be that you will gain a new understanding of your faith at this transitional time in your life, or you may decide to close that door for good. Give it time. You’re living a big question, and the answer isn’t clear right now. It will come.

live-the-questions