During the past year Ross Lonergan has been restlessly moving from church to church. He has finally realized that he’s not going to find God in religious ritual.
The only Roman Catholic priest I have met in recent years who was truly himself was “Father Bob,” a Basilian, who said Mass most Sundays and Tuesday mornings at my parents’ church in the small town of Chase, British Columbia. His always-succinct homilies rang with a truth that often speaks to me even to this day. I remember one of Bob’s sermons, delivered in 2007, less than a year before his death, in which he assured the members of the congregation that God dwelt in each of them. At the end of that homily he said that he had long wondered why Catholics always genuflected to the tabernacle and never to each other.
Today is Sunday and again I am not in church.
I have been restless over the past 14 months. In April 2010, I left the Catholic church to which I had belonged for four years; my departure was in protest over a blatantly homophobic article that had appeared in the weekly archdiocesan newspaper. A few months later I began attending Mass at another parish only to leave this church as well after a brief spell.
Finally, in March of this year, I contacted the pastor of an Anglican church that had been recommended to me, met with him, and subsequently began attending his church, a community that is welcoming, inclusive, and committed. The pastor is a brilliant homilist: his sermons, like those of Father Bob, are profound reflections on faith as it relates to how we live our lives every day. The parish is deeply involved in social justice. And this year’s Good Friday liturgy was the most beautiful church service I had ever experienced. I believed that I had at last found a spiritual home.
Yet, after only a few weeks, I stopped attending services at this wonderful church as well. I admit that I did not really give it a chance. The church is not in the most convenient location for me; thus it is easy to make excuses for Sunday-morning laziness. Furthermore, I am practically pathologically socially inept, so it takes me five times as long as “normal” persons to insinuate myself into a community.
But the real reason for my restlessness is, I believe, that I am simply unfulfilled by the church-going experience, no matter how beautiful the service, no matter how friendly the community. And it all goes back to what Father Bob implied in his homily and indeed to what the mystics have said throughout the ages: we must seek God — the Divine Spark — within; we will not experience that spark in the Word, in the Eucharist, in liturgical music until we have recognized that God is within us as we are within him.
I have been seeking God in the external “trappings” of church. Yet instead of leading me to God as I once believed they were, these elements of ritual have in fact been distractions that have kept me from doing the “work” of creating the silent space within which I may experience the divine. The trappings are meaningless unless they can be seen as symbols of that divine experience, reminders that God dwells within me as I dwell within God.
Will I go back to church? Given that even in my long agnostic period I was deeply attracted to the traditional liturgical expression of faith, it is likely that at some point I will return. I understand now, however, that if I do begin attending services again, whether the community is RC or Anglican, I will be experiencing the liturgy and the community in a profoundly altered way.
“Summer breeze” archangel _raphael @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
Did you enjoy this article?
Please let the author know by leaving them a comment below!
And, subscribe to our free weekly digest!
Simply add your email below. A confirmation email will be sent to you.