Although I recently graduated from The Catholic University of America, I frequently find myself back at my alma mater for various events and activities. Even more frequently, as I look around, I am reminded that the usually vibrant and bustling campus is now much more subdued and calm: it is summer in Washington, D.C. and the university seems to be an empty nest. As a former student, I’m free of the academic schedules and obligations that have dominated my life until now. I sometimes feel as if I’ve taken on a new identity. I am more conscious that the direction of my life rests squarely in my hands.
This is especially true as I begin to look for a new parish community and cultivate my faith as an adult. In order to benefit from all the Church offers spiritually, personally, and materially, I need to actively seek out and choose opportunities to continue to grow in my faith each and every day. While my time as a student was blessed with high exposure and easy access to the various ministries of the Church around campus, now that I have graduated I must seek new sources of spiritual nourishment closer to home or work. As disciples, this is something we are all called to do. Ministries and resources for adult faith formation, such as those found at the Catholic Apostolate Center or in our local parishes, ensure that we continue to grow in our faith. The places where I grew up remain open for me to return to, but now I look to places that are more cohesive with my current location and daily schedule. It might be unsettling having to look for and choose a new spiritual home. As is the case for starting at a new school or moving to a new neighborhood, the process of making friends, learning the culture, or finding support systems begins anew. While potentially uncomfortable, doing these things is a necessary step to adapt and thrive while laying down new roots.
The same goes for the spiritual life. Finding ministries to join in a new parish will be necessary in order to make the most of a new spiritual home. As stated in Christefideles Laici, “the parish is called to instruct its members in hearing God's Word, in liturgical and personal dialogue with God, in the life of fraternal charity, and in allowing a more direct and concrete perception of the sense of ecclesial communion and responsibility in the Church's mission.” It is within the context of the parish that we are able to continue to grow in our faith.
There is much diversity in the Catholic church resulting in differences in the parishes and ministries around you. Perhaps the atmosphere in one parish is more subdued or the community in another is less tightly-knit that what you’re used to. That’s okay! The life of the parish depends on the contribution of its spiritual family. We are all called to participate in the life of our parish. As we read in Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, “As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.” Do not be shy to attend a new Mass time with a different liturgical or musical character. Parishes offer many resources to the best of their ability, not just to the local church, but the greater community; the Christian life is not one of isolation! By taking advantage of the spiritual treasures of a parish, you not only learn more about yourself and your spiritual needs, but you’ll inevitably meet others seeking to do the same. Introducing yourself and taking the time to share ministerial or social experiences (and contact information) will help you to be a more fulfilled and involved member of the parish.
These are just a few of the many ways to plant new spiritual roots after a transition. A good place to start a more detailed search can also be done on a diocesan website. The bishop and his staff, as well as the parish offices, do not need to be distant or removed from your daily life, but can help you become comfortable and connected in the local church. In my own search, I began by looking for parishes near my apartment and work before reviewing their websites for a snapshot of the life there. I would venture out for a Mass I could attend and get a feel for how vibrant the congregation worshiped with, served alongside, and supported each other. Above all, I needed to feel welcome! My search eventually ended, but my life as a member of my new parish is just beginning. Now it falls to me to make others feel welcome and engaged in this spiritual family of ours. Just as the Christian life is not lived for the self, so too must we always strive to serve wherever there is a need and encounter others wherever they are in life. By remaining involved in the life of the parish, may each of us continue to grow in faith and so better respond to the dismissal at the end of Mass to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
Question for Reflection: How can you use your gifts and talents to participate in or start a ministry in your parish? What can you do to make others feel welcome?
Click here to read more from Thomas about making others feel welcome in the Church.