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Dear Sister Sunday

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abandoned church

Dear Sister Sunday,

I went to St. Mary’s college, and one of the things I appreciated about being in South Bend was the diverse group of Catholics there. I felt like there was room for all sorts of folks in the Church. For every person who made it seem like there were litmus tests to be truly Catholic, there were many more who acknowledged that one of the gifts of being Catholic is the acknowledgement that we’re all sinners. After college, I got to be a member of some vibrant parishes, one on the border of Mexico, one with a L’arche community and a Berrigan brother, one inner city mostly black gospel style parish. Now that I’m at a conservative parish in rural Ohio, I really struggle. We hear more about gay marriage, transgender issues and contraception than we ever hear about refugees, poverty, environmental issues, etc. Prior to Romero’s beatification, parishioners had warned me that Romero was a communist and not a good representative of Catholicism. Although I can’t imagine leaving the Church, I feel much closer to my Presbyterian and Mennonite friends, and honestly feel they are closer to Pope Francis in terms of what he stresses. Your website. It is a true breath of fresh air for someone who feels like a square peg in a round hole at my current parish. People like you and Fr. James Martin challenge me, yet help me not feel crazy. Thank you.

Now that I’m at a conservative parish in rural Ohio, I really struggle.

Here’s my question: What is one to do when they love the Church because of the sacraments and agree with Pope Francis’s vision, yet struggle with a very up-tight local church? I long for a sense of community. At my parish we were warned that hospice has the tendency to overreach and promote death (thereby endangering souls) etc. The problem is that these are the same folks who sometimes have not-so-flattering things to say about Pope Francis, and he’s a great pope. The long and short of my question is how does one remain Catholic when they find their local community stifling and often at odds with what I love about Catholicism.

Signed,

Ostracized in Ohio

Dear Ostracized,
Sometimes being a member of a church feels like such a gift. Other times, it feels like the cross. As Doestoevsky wrote, “Love in reality is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

Take to heart the words of Pope Francis, ‘The Church needs you!’

We all want community, but when we join communities they inevitably disappoint us, because communities are made up of people, and people are subject to the human condition. They judge, and spread half-truths, and spiritualize their hysteria, and, in a word, sin. So most Americans flit from community to community, never putting down roots because every community inevitably disappoints them. You, on the other hand, are trying to make it work. Bless your heart, the world needs more people like you.

Try not to let someone’s conspiracy theory (i.e. all hospice nurses are trying to kill people) carry too much weight. Catholics often speak from their fears, and not Church teaching, as in the case of Oscar Romero. He’s a prophet and martyr, which doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but which certainly means he’s holy. Hopefully, you can share resources you’ve found on our site, or in our new book, with members of your parish who might be interested. The Church isn’t a private club. It’s a place, where, mercifully, everyone is welcome. Even messed up people like me. And while your current parish may not be diverse, it’s some consolation that the universal Church is.

One of the things I love about Catholicism is that is in fact (small c) catholic. Among American Catholics there are: single parents, big families, single folks, gays and lesbians, liberals and conservatives, Navy Seals and peace activists, artists and engineers. It’s big, it’s various, and it touches every party and every ethnicity. The liturgy is the only place in my life where the homeless man and the wealthy attorney drink from a common cup. So hang in there, pray for those its hard to love, and if you decide to stay at your current parish, get involved. Start a book group and read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. Volunteer at the soup kitchen, or start a film series and pick films you like from our site. Most of all, take to heart the words of Pope Francis, “The Church needs you: your enthusiasm, your creativity, and the happiness that characterizes you. Just three words: go without fear!”

Signed,
Sister Sunday