I am blessed to live between two Catholic churches. I have a choice in where I attend Mass each week. For the summer, the parish where I am registered has almost the same schedule as the other, so it really doesn’t matter where I go, since the procrastinator in me has to get ready for the same time.
This past Sunday I attended the Our Lady of Lordes, which is “the other church.” In the past year, the parish has seen the installation of a new pastor who has made some modifications. The biggest difference I see is moving the tabernacle from the chapel to behind the altar. It may not seem like much, but I realized how much more it feels like home to me. When I go to Mass, I’m not there to see others, I’m there to see Jesus, and to spend time with Him. Yes, this is all done in communion with the rest of the congregation, but the focal point is God. All of the churches I’ve ever belonged to had the tabernacle by the altar, not in a separate chapel. When I attend St. Mike’s, the parish where I’m registered, I try to sit in a very strategic spot so that I can see the tabernacle from my seat. I don’t think I realized how important having the tabernacle in the worship area was to me until I realized how comfortable — and comforted — I felt kneeling before it.
I understand that the Church (with a capital C) is all the people and the church (in lowercase c) is just a building. Going to Mass we are gathering as the Church. The building we are gathering in is set aside as a sacred place, where the sacraments — the milestones of our faith journey — will be celebrated. While the church is supposed to direct our thoughts and actions towards God, not every church will appeal to every member of the congregation. Some churches may be too fancy for some, others will be too plain and dull. Some will have odd configurations, while others could feel more cave-like. Some parishioners may love the building and find the clergy a challenge, and others the reverse is true. Some may have a choice of where to go, others feel blessed when they are able to celebrate the Mass when a priest is able to visit their village. While the reality of what happens in the building is much more important than the building itself, the building can, and should, try to elevate the congregation to a closer relationship with God.
What can one do when faced with a church that doesn’t feel like home? Rejoice! Yes, rejoice that you have been given the opportunity to seek God without tactile comfort. It’s these types of challenges that help strengthen our faith in Him. Perhaps He is calling you to a deeper participation in the Mass or in the parish community. It’s very easy to get lazy in our regular routine, yet when we go outside of our comfort zone, the blessings He provides far outweigh any hardship we perceive. Perhaps He is calling us to see beauty in a different way. Maybe by opening our hearts and asking God to help us see His handiwork in what surrounds us, we will be able to appreciate the uniqueness of the church. Like all things in the spiritual realm, it’s not a once and done thing; it’s a journey we undertake with both times of joy and times of struggle.