Saturday, May 19, 2012
Where Do I Belong?
Do you notice that some people sit in the same place in church, week after week? I myself am one of them; I feel comfortable near the back, near the statue of Mary. Some days I am the only one seated in that section of the church, and I guess that is somewhat contrary to the community purpose of the liturgy, but still, for a reason I can’t easily define, that place feels comfortable for me. And looking around, I see that others have found a comfortable spot also, week after week. In some way, I guess they feel they belong in “their” spot, a tiny bit of ownership or control over their lives.
And, of course, in every church on every Sunday there are the members of the “accounting class”. They are the LIFO members, the last-in, first-out members. They always sit near the exits. They account their duty done if they show up on Sunday, and they check off the box that says they are good people of faith. I don’t wish to judge them, but I wonder if they are much different than the good people who don’t go to church every Sunday. And there are many of those. But all these people, and me, have one thing in common: they are looking for a place to belong. Belonging, fitting in somewhere, being a member--- being wanted--- is a natural human longing. Belonging gives us stability in our life, something to hang onto when everything else seems to be rushing by all around us. Things are rapidly changing and we can’t seem to keep up with the latest trends, the movements of our culture, our families, even our friends. Nothing seems to be stable, except the Church, and so we grab on there, in part just to feel a level of comfort.
Change is a difficult thing to accept, and constant change almost impossible to accept. Fear of change is partly why the battered wife stays with her husband, why the abused employee stays with the unappreciative employer, and why people hang onto old clothes, old cars, and old friends. What is known may be bad, but what is unknown may be worse. In one of Bill Cosby’s old comic routines he had a line: “Never challenge worse. Never say: ‘Things can’t get any worse.’” Although it is a comic line, all of us can relate to the truth of it. Today in this country we have an election coming, and I suspect that some people’s vote will be made considering those words, and the fear of the unknown.
And that, in part, is why our Catholic faith is such a challenge. It says we are to grow in holiness, over our whole life. It says that we were not born to be secure or safe, to belong to this family or this group of friends or job or city, or even this particular parish. All of these things are subject to change, as we change, as we grow in holiness. As we change --- there’s the rub: we are expected to change. The thing we fear, we are expected to do. The security we want in belonging, is to be traded to be a nomad in this life. We don’t belong here, anywhere in this world. This is only a temporary place for us; no matter how comfortable a place we find here, we can’t stay. So looking for that comfortable spot to stay, to belong, is a futile exercise. Although it feels good, this road we are journeying on, and there are many pleasant places along the way, we must put our eyes on the destination, and find a happiness, even now, in our expectation of getting to the end, our eternal destination. Seeing the whole map, the picture of the entire journey, with our sights on the destination, will also give us strength to bear the problems along the way, the flat tires, the noisy kids in the car, the getting lost, and perhaps even getting robbed along the way. At times, every long journey will seem tiresome (read what the Jews said and did in the desert), and we may want to quit. We must never quit, and we must fight being anxious.
To find a level of contentment with this journey, we do need to understand it. We talk of evangelizing others to understand our faith, but we need to firmly understand it ourselves. We need to be comfortable with our faith, deep inside of us comfortable, and not just with a certain comfortable place at church to sit in each Sunday. Evangelization starts with ourselves: reading the catechism, praying. We need to understand our faith and the purpose of our life, the reason we journey and the destination we are going to. We are journeying to home. Home is not here, not anywhere on this earth.
You aren’t where I am, rivers separate us which you must cross, jungles of confusing paths which you must navigate, to come home to Me.
Holy Communion often takes me to a different place, as does time in an adoration chapel. Time slips away in those places. I cry at the beauty I see and feel there. A communion prayer I pray says: “Stay with me, Lord,” yet in the same prayer I tell my heavenly Father: “Faith tells me I am with Him … I share in His life.” We aren’t home yet, but that doesn’t mean we are alone for the journey. We have a guide close at hand, if we want Him, if we would listen for Him and to Him. We journey to be with Him, home forever, but we can be with Him even now, if we would look for Him in our lives.
It used to be that I felt compelled to plan things, now I am often content to be shown things --- and they do not always lead me in directions I had planned. My thoughts are now directed to what He would teach me, not what I am seeking to learn. He knows better what I need; it was a major lesson for me to accept that. It was a major learning to KNOW in my heart where I really belong.
And our hearts are restless, until we rest in Thee. – St. Augustine.