Tuesday, May 17, 2011

loving through judgment .

The other evening I attended church at the normally scheduled time of 5pm on Saturday. This mass is not necessarily my favorite, as I tend to prefer to super early Sunday mornings, but I knew I wouldn't be able to go in the morning since I was working early Sunday morning. Well as it turns out, this week happened to be the one of the weeks where they incorporate First Communion services into the mass. When I made my First Communion, it was a completely separate service where the goal was to only celebrate the sacrament, and not have mass on top of it.

And yet while mass was going on, I couldn't help but look around at all of the people that filled the church that was usually half to three quarters full at best on a normal weekend, and internally judge them. They seemed apathetic to the service; they didn't sing and they didn't participate in some of the prayers. Perhaps it was because they didn't know the prayers so they couldn't participate in them. They were loud and boisterous in the beginning, which is what the gathering space is intended for. Once you enter the church, it is supposed to be a solemn time, where you can pray and prepare yourself for the mass that is imminent.

During the service they didn't know when to stand or sit, and it was obvious that they either don't go at all or haven't been in a long time, because they would be caught doing something that everyone else was doing right and they were doing wrong. I usually find it amusing.... at the very least.

But I couldn't help but sit through mass, participating as much as I could but wandering in my mind. I wasn't at peace during the service, and I usually am. I'm usually happy to be there, and happy to be there by myself. Something was off and it had to have been those people. It was the way they just existed in the presence. It would be like if you had a usual group of friends that you hung out with and then there was someone there that just didn't belong.

The problem is that every time these people actually make it to church, even out of necessity, we all should be as welcoming and nice as possible, in hopes that they will continue to come more often. The way I sort of think of it, though, is as follows: I was in the Youth Group at my church, and went every week. Well, Youth Group came up in one of my classes one day, and one of the 'popular girls' was asking me and my friend about it. We talked about it a bit, and though she is a really nice girl, inside and out (which is unusual for someone with so much population pull) I just couldn't see her at Youth Group. Had she come one day, I would imagine it would be very awkward, for both parties. It's not easy to walk into a group where everyone knows each other very well and has been around each other for a long time, knowing they have the freedom to fail and the opportunity to completely open up without anyone judging them for what they talk about.

I know I would feel very uncomfortable letting down those walls to talk about things that are held in the utmost security from the rest of the world, if someone I didn't trust was there. And maybe that's just the problem -- the lack of trust. Maybe it's partly the connotation of that popular group in high school: the loud, always well dressed and "painted up" (in makeup), gossiping, partying group. In some ways I guess one of the reasons I would be against that type in youth group is that I don't want to associate myself with that. I'm gonna be me, and that's it. No one is going to change me. But what we may not realize as members of the inside group, is that maybe they're truly trying to make a difference in their lives. Maybe they really want to seek out God and try to become closer with their religion. If we pass that by, and internally ridicule and judge people before we know their true intentions, we lose the opportunity to bring that person into our religious community.

One of the biggest complaints about Christians or Catholics is that they are hypocrites. They profess openly about being a good person and having good morals and being tolerant and accepting, and then they turn around and ridicule all of those who don't share the same beliefs. To some extent, I accept the blame on the Christians for this, because it certainly does happen.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is to say that when we have this opportunity to enlarge our faith community, even just by one or two people, we shouldn't be cautious or turn it down. We need to be excited at the opportunity! Just imagine if we could fill the church at all five masses during the weekend. Imagine if every person sang, or if even half the people sang their hearts out at mass! The results would be incredible, heartwarming, touching, and maybe even bring some of those who are doubting their faith, closer to God.

When the people who are not the usual churchgoers walk through that door, we have slightly under an hour to show them that this is something they want to be a part of, something that they could get used to doing weekly. That requires invitations to return, and even just interaction with them to maybe help them see that we are all the same person! I would imagine that these people walk in and have the same feeling of disgust, thinking that we are thinking we are better because we go all the time. I would even go so far as to say that they feel unwelcome, and obviously if that's the way you feel, you're not going to come back unless you feel welcome.

It's a work in progress, and I'm not sure I could singlehandedly make a difference in this department. But it goes to show that at least it occurred to be while I was sitting there, and I hope that our faith community continues to grow. In Clemson, which is obviously a part of the Bible belt, it's amazing to see how many people go to church; it is always overflowing. Everyone sings, prays and listens with such heart. I wish that our church could do that. And maybe that will happen someday. But for now, we need to just work on looking past our assumptions and judgments -- and just welcome these people into our home.

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