I went to Mass this morning. Well, I nearly went to Mass. I went to church. Sat in my pew. Said a few prayers and waited. And waited. And waited. Sadly, fifteen minutes past the due time Mass has still not started and so I decided to make my way home. It has been a little while since I’ve been to Mass – over six months (not counting our niece’s recent Communion in Ireland) but surely it’s not a lot to expect the priest to still turn up to say it!
I reflect on this today at a time when I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my faith and relationship with the Catholic Church. As I have written before, I am proud to be a Catholic. I believe that the values of the church, instilled in me from an early age by going to church with my Mum and Nan and going to Catholic primary and secondary schools, have helped guide me through my life.
But, like many Catholics, my journey with my faith has had its ups and downs. In has become increasingly difficult for me to reconcile my faith in the church with my faith in equality to my fellow men and women. The church’s continued focus – almost at times obsession – with a male-dominated church, no abortion, no contraception, no gay marriage and the like is so far out of step with my thinking that I feel like a hypocrite for still going to church. That coupled with the sexual abuse scandals – which will not go away and on recent evidence seem to stretch further and further into the highest levels of the church – leaves me feeling like my attendance at Mass is somehow an endorsement of this wickedness. I feel genuinely conflicted. Surely, the principled thing to do is to vote with my feet and stay away?
It is not that easy. I still have faith; I still believe in things the church says and does and I still see the amazing work it can do. If I think back to when I did go to Mass regularly it had much to do with the priest or the church itself. Wonderful communities like St Francis Assisi in Notting Hill where I worshipped every week for years – a place I have seen on the TV recently, opening its doors to the Grenfell survivors. Or the Hidden Gem (St Mary’s) in Manchester where I went to Mass at times every day though Lent when I lived or worked in the city. In truth, I have struggled in recent years to find a priest or Mass that I can connect with and that matters to me.
On the plus side there is one person in the church today who does draw me closer. Someone in whom I do believe and see as the model priest; the best teacher there could be. The Holy Father. The Pope has done so much to restore my and other’s faith in leaders in the church with his focus on the poor and on being an active, hands-on, down to earth man. His energy and vitality reminds me of the early years of JPII. A man for whom good works and good deeds are more important than good words. A man for whom the message is always simple and human – not pompous and hard to access. If only he was my local priest! Or if my local priest was Father Michael from Broken.
So, this is my personal struggle to be a good Catholic in a world which has changed so much whilst the church has stayed still – or gone backwards. I know it’s a struggle that many others face and I hope that by thinking deeply about it and writing about it I will find a way forward. I am going to perserve. I am still very open to my faith returning fully and hope that it will. For the moment I am going to keep trying to find a priest in whom I can believe or at least one that turns up at all. I will keep searching.
In the meantime, I am using memories of my Nan – who had the most wonderful but unorthodox faith and relationships with the church – and my favourite hymns to inspire that search. Our favourite hymn together – a hymn we had at her funeral and Dr J and I had at our wedding – is ‘I Watch The Sunrise’. It’s words continue to help me today and every day on my ongoing journey of faith.
“But you are always close to me
Following all my ways.
May I be always close to you
Following all your ways, Lord.”