The National Catholic Review
Why is it so hard for young Catholics to find the right parish?

In the fall of 2013, gentrification arrived in my working-class North Oakland neighborhood. The rent ticked up month after month. Then one day, the landlord called to notify us he was putting the house on the market. Because of an influx of highly paid tech workers into the Bay Area, the house listed for $600,000. This was out of range for this writer/academic and her musician spouse. So we packed up and moved 45 minutes away.

At first, I remained active at my old neighborhood parish. But between being a team leader for the parish’s adult Christian initiation program, going to Mass, work and the gym, and running errands, I was behind the wheel two or more hours a day, seven days a week. Burning that much gas was a thorn in the side of someone who worries about climate change, but my remote neighborhood has no public transit options. And a change in leadership at the parish also left me asking some hard questions about what all that commuting was for. A sense of disengagement began to creep through our community, and a push mandated by the diocese to focus on student ministry caused adults who were not students to feel left out. The 45-minute drive to church did not make things any easier.

So with discernment and talk with my spiritual director, I started church shopping. In an urban area, this should be easy—there are dozens of Catholic churches in the East Bay Area, and even more in San Francisco. I started at one within walking distance, figuring saving gas would assuage my guilty conscience. When I arrived for the Sunday morning Mass, nobody was at the front door greeting people, so I wandered around for five minutes looking for a bulletin or a hymnal. By the time I found both, some 40 people were in the pews. The choir was good, but the homily lasted 35 minutes (I confess that I timed it) and seemed to have no central message. When it came time for singing, I was the only person within several pews pitching in—and I do not have a good singing voice. Other than one or two families with children, I was the youngest person in attendance by a couple of decades. Passing the peace was cursory, there were no social justice activities listed in the bulletin, and the priest shook one or two hands outside before disappearing.

Perhaps, like many Catholics, I had been spoiled by thoughtful preaching, good music and beautiful liturgies. My non-negotiables seemed minimal: good preaching, decent music and social justice activities. Living in a multicultural area and teaching at a multicultural school, I would prefer a parish with some ethnic diversity and would really like it to be welcoming to my L.G.B.T. friends and my family. I am in my early 40s, and I would like to see someone my age occasionally. I also do not want to feel ostracized for being married to a non-Catholic or for not having children and therefore attending Mass alone. But even as I tried parish after parish, I was not finding those things in combination. Was I just asking for too much?

The Church Compromise

A study by the Pew Research Center in 2014 found that for every adult who is received into the church, six Catholics leave. How much does what we find when we arrive at a church have to do with our dissatisfaction? I put together a questionnaire that asked people under 50 what they were looking for in a church and what their church-shopping experiences have been like and distributed it to people on Twitter and Facebook.

The predominant feature found lacking by those who responded was good preaching. Tom says that he is so fatigued by “culture warrior” homilies that he has “given up on there actually being good preaching anywhere consistently.” One man replied that he wanted preaching that was “substantive and meaningful,” coupled with beautiful liturgy. “I guess I want what doesn’t exist,” he added. Justine said of preaching, “Who wants to be bored? Or worse, angry or offended?” Ashley prefers “intellectually stimulating homilies,” and Justin says that after years of mediocre preaching, he feels lucky to have found preaching from a theology professor and priest that is “theologically informed.” Christopher says he looks for “homilies that are thought-provoking but also provide complex theological themes.”

How people are received when they arrive at a church not only sets the tone but can also cause problems. Most people said they were not greeted at all—not even with a cursory hello. Those who went out of their way to introduce themselves to priests and get involved in parishes found that once this hurdle was surmounted, things sometimes got a bit better. Parents of young children also found that participating in family activities helped them to get networked. But single people, those married to non-Catholics and those without children all said that there was almost no outreach. “So many young adults have given up on religion,” said one man, “that churches just focus on the people who are already there.” Needless to say, that, too, can be alienating.

Justin, who describes himself as introverted, says he doesn’t like “being blitzed by the greeter ministry” but found that with time the priest reached out to him to get involved. But he was the exception among the people who replied. Most of the people I spoke to listed community as one of the things they most longed to find at a parish. Only a few had actually found it. Of these young adults, very few wanted specifically to be part of young adult activities, with one man saying most young adult activities feel like “forced awkward socializing,” and others describing them as “hokey” and “trite.” A space for “organic socialization,” if possible, would be preferable. They also on the whole preferred a multigenerational parish to one that specifically targets young adults.

When asked if they had eventually found a parish they loved, most people said no. Instead, they compromised. Of his closest church, one man says, “The liturgy is terrible, the homilies are worse, and there is little to no racial diversity. But I feel like there’s a possibility of fostering greater community in this parish simply because it is so close to my house and most of the parishioners are my neighbors.” Ashley says that she “grudgingly” attends her childhood parish but finds the young adult activities wanting: “[They] don’t offer any nourishment to me. They focus more on socializing—beer night and ball games (I don’t drink, and sports are boring)—and less on intellectual spiritual stimulation.” One man said that his parish “only makes sense for Catholics once they’re married and have kids to plug into the programs.” And another says he likes his parish, but it is “aging and shrinking and doesn’t offer a lot of opportunities for fellowship.”

Liturgy, too, can make it hard to find a parish one can really love. The tastes of those who responded to my survey range from the traditional (a few preferred the Latin Mass and organ music) to the contemporary, with every possible combination in between. But reverence and attention to theology came up again and again, from both Catholics who self-identified as progressive and those who self-identified as traditional. Yet many reported that perfunctory liturgies or disorganized ones had driven them to continue seeking a better parish. The “we’ve always done it this way” factor also comes into play here: those who tried to join liturgy or music committees and pitch in with suggestions were often rebuffed.

Searching for Community

Doing research for this essay and for my forthcoming book on the increasing number of religiously unaffiliated young adults, I found many people described themselves as “picky” and indicated that their pickiness might be why they had given up on finding a church. But pickiness may also mean that people are searching but do not feel welcomed or included by churches when they arrive. As one man put it, “Why devote time and energy to a community that can’t seem to find a way to make you feel as if you are valued and necessary?” And in a financially difficult time, when young adults often have to balance the demands of multiple jobs, the time spent at church means giving up time with family and friends. If that church experience is disappointing or alienating, the question arises: Why bother?

My spiritual director had an answer to my frustrated tales of bad homilies, cold and detached congregations and turgid music: Focus on the Eucharist. That, after all, is what Mass is for. Although this advice may help those with a disappointing church experience, it does not by itself create the sense of community that is so hard to find in our increasingly fragmented era. So I am still searching for a parish with a real sense of community, and it is hard work. Perhaps, like many people I spoke to, I will always be searching. But perhaps, as a group, we have a precedent. Jesus, after all, did not worship in the same place every week and his friends, like many Gen-Xers and millennials, were itinerant and just trying to make ends meet. But they occasionally found a place to gather. Finding it involved wandering, confusion and even fear. Who met them when they arrived, and what did that person offer them? Fellowship, safety, acceptance. Perhaps churches worried about the absence of younger adults would do well to offer them the same.

Kaya Oakes, who teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of the new book "The Nones Are Alright."


joseph o'leary | 11/5/2015 - 10:06am

Looking forward to reading your book!

Henry George | 11/4/2015 - 7:02pm

Kaya, Kaya, Kaya,

No has a the right to demand a Liturgy that fits out wants.
You should get down on your knees and count your blessings that you can attend Mass without
having to worry about being beheaded.

That being said - we do need to work on making our Liturgies more inviting and our Parishes true communities.
Few preachers need to preach for more than 5 minutes and even more have anything worth saying for more
than 3 minutes. If the Gospel does not move your soul why do you expect the Preacher to bring you to the feet of
Jesus ?

If you need community go and help the homeless and the mentally ill.

Christopher macdonald | 10/14/2015 - 9:57am

Chris Macdonald. This was a great article describing some weaknesses within the American Catholic Church. The time has seem to come to change the approach to attract young people searching for Truth in their lives. Modernity is not a bad thing and should be embraced. Be in the world, not of the world. We as Catholics can learn from some of the non denominational Christian Churches who offer many sub groups within the church that appeal to many different people. They seem to change through Christ on the inside, but maintain their unique outward idenity by the way they dress, the music they like, and what they enjoy doing. For example, If you like metal music, purple hair, the church should embrace these people. I think Jesus would have and accepted them fully. Thank you America for talking about this.

Tim Reidy | 10/13/2015 - 1:50pm

Thanks for the comments all. Just a reminder to use your full name as per our comments policy.

Charles Monsen | 10/12/2015 - 1:41pm

As the title suggests, you seem to have a certain amount of consumerism in your article. As if mass is a product, that should be designed to meet your particular needs of quality of sermon, or music, or the friendliness of the congregation. The concept of looking for a different Catholic Mass, should be at its core, a contradiction in terms. Mass is the bloodless sacrifice of Calvary and its purpose is for us to adore God, and to receive the grace of that sacrifice in the Eucharist. This is, and should be both very catholic, and Catholic.

Your article saddens me, because it is completely understandable. In this day and age of 40 person choirs front and center, hand holding, 10 minute signs of peace, 25 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and the sanctuary being treated like a stage, it is easy to forget why we are really there.

Community is important, quality sermons are important, music is nice, but you should be able to go to any church and fulfil its true purpose. To actively and attentively sit at the foot of the cross.

Charles Erlinger | 10/12/2015 - 12:01am

I recognize the conditions that the author describes but thinking about us Catholics as consumers of church who shop for bargains (in terms of the greatest amount of it received for the least personal cost) makes me a little uncomfortable.

And one final thought about old folks. We look forward to meeting and even mildly socializing with younger folks. Of course, some of us may experience chronic pain which tends to make one grumpy. But just wait till you sprain your knee while skiing, playing tennis or running a marathon. You may get grumpy, too. Cheers.

Charles Miller | 10/11/2015 - 6:34pm

Toward the end of his article Kaya Oakes states that his spiritual director suggests he (Oakes) "focus on the Eucharist" in the face of "bad homilies, cold and detached congregations and turgid music." If the spiritual director is implying that Oakes should focus merely on the Liturgy of the Eucharist or even more specifically on the consecration or on receiving holy communion as if he were an isolated individual engaged in a devotional practice, then the director is narrowing down the meaning of the Eucharist to one aspect of the Mass, albeit a significant one, apart from the authentic context of what the Eucharist implies. For the Mass is the Eucharist in the context of the author's article, and he is apparently focusing on all its constitutive and interrelated aspects as he should. Christ is truly present and active in the entire Mass, always faithful to His part through symbols and rituals that confer the grace they signify. It is therefore incumbent upon the celebrating community as the visible, tangible Body of Christ - i.e., the priest presider, the other liturgical ministers, and the entire assembly of those gathered for worship - to do its part well through knowing and active participation in order that the Sacrament of the Eucharist becomes truly efficacious in the lives of the faithful. To the extent that the Eucharist, i.e. the Mass, is celebrated knowingly and vibrantly by those gathered, to that extent is greater glory given to God and is faith nurtured; conversely, to the extent any of those gathered fail to do their part, by that same measure is faith diminished. Thank you for your article, Kaya Oakes; it is right on target!

Julian Irias | 10/12/2015 - 10:59am

Also very much on target are your own observations about the fuller meaning of the Eucharist. If the accounts of its institution in the Synoptics were not enough to show why it is not reducible to the "devotional practice" of an "isolated individual," John 15:1-17 should shed further light on the matter.

But understanding the communal nature of the sacrament is one thing; doing justice to that understanding is another. It can present difficulties, and to some extent it must, since Christians are human. That's what I tried to get at in my somewhat rambling comments of 10/9 and in my brief response to D Griffith on 10/10. Then again, we are told that with God nothing is impossible.

By the way, the present version of your comments refers to Professor Oakes as "he." That may be taking Gal 3:28 too literally, and then eliminating one of a pair of pronouns somewhat arbitrarily. (Or it could just be a flub, the sort we all make.)

Sseprn S | 10/11/2015 - 10:39am

I simply feel blessed to be able to hear Mass, where the greatest danger is my commute by car to the church! Through much of our history as Catholics, to the present day in the Middle East, safe passage at Mass was not and is not, a given. I love good music and company as much as the next person but find that the Body of Christ, all of us worshiping together, to be key to my experience. Remember, we are the Church. If I try to realize what is happening on the altar, and in all of us during Mass, I easily forget the "inadequate sermon, distractions, relevance,etc,". This 2000 year old tradition, from the Last Supper, to every Mass, is powerful to behold.

Eric Prine | 10/11/2015 - 3:51am

My first thought was- do we really understand and have experienced community, for many of us in our current culture?
My second thought was how Christian community, in light of the Trinity and Christ's relationship with the Church, has traditionally been viewed through the lense of the sacrament of marriage and through vows of celibacy and monastic lives.
I myself have a hard time desiring the level of sacrifice that marriage or celibacy requires. Or even committing myself regularly to building community. But maybe many people are also like me which is why community is so rare in our society.

Janet Sever | 10/10/2015 - 7:55pm

I am not sure that this is unique to young Catholics. I'm an older Catholic, but a new Catholic. I went through RCIA at my parish in Texas but then moved a year or so later. I attended the church near my house, and even though I went out of my way to introduce myself to people and attend adult religious ed classes, I just was never able to "break in." I really think it had a lot to do with the fact that although I'm 50 years old, i was still much younger than most of the people; of the younger people, I didn't have a kid in the school, and I'm single with no spouse. It's REALLY hard being a single, older Catholic in my opinion.

Tammy Gottschling | 10/10/2015 - 6:20pm

I'll be honest, I am now a devout Catholic (from traditional and devotional). I agree with the Jesuit way of being present where one is at, and that has been Paul Krugman's blog. I don't know what it mean to be present where one is at at times. I do know that "church" is made up of we the people and my understanding of who we the people are has expanded.

I don't know if that's fair to non-Catholics and non-religious, but I have come to think of them as my faith family and take what I have learned with me where I'm at. I'm not being double-tongued when I've mentioned I think the Jesuits can be a little out there because I think they can. But, all-in-all, I can't complain about our priests.

Phil Tanny | 10/10/2015 - 5:32pm

Kaya Oakes and other young Catholics might recall that Jesus is one of them, a young person. They might recall that Jesus didn't join a church, he started one, in just a few years while still in his early thirties, such is the power of youth.

Young Catholics might recall that the young, strong, vibrant Jesus was not an obedient servant of a comfortable status quo routine, but a revolutionary. That's how Jesus did what he did, by being a revolutionary with the inexhaustible energy of youth.

As followers of the revolutionary Jesus, young Catholics should not be entering a church, but standing on the steps outside demanding to know why millions of precious dollars were spent on a fancy church building, when so many might have been lifted from poverty instead. Like that. Don't join the sleepy hypocrisy of we your elders, over turn it.

Dear young Catholics, why do you need to hear more sermons? You already know that God is love. You already know that love is an act of surrender, a dying to be reborn. You already know what to do. If Christianity was complicated Jesus could have never explained it to the very humble folks who made up the first congregation. Leave the endless repetition of sanctimonious platitudes to we your paralyzed elders, let that be our job, you have bigger fish to fry.

If you don't become revolutionaries now in your youth, in just a few short years you will be the sleepy gray haired elders mumbling memorized phrases in a slowly dying status quo, and then that dying won't be our fault anymore, but yours.

Tony Franco | 10/10/2015 - 3:59pm

Thanks, Kaya. I'm well beyond the age where I can be called a "young Catholic" but have been thinking about parish shopping myself. Maybe I was spoiled at a young age and I'm looking to return to those days. I'll explain. As a teenager, I did a little 'parish shopping' and found one in the next town. I went to mass once and never looked back. I'll never forget this mass...Easter Vigil, new priest with a heavy Irish brogue and square in the middle of mass, the priest performed a Baptism (in place of the Homily and Creed!!) He brought up the parents, God parents and Baby. He baptized the little one, then proceeded to walk down the main aisle with the newest Catholic! Of course, this was met with a rousing ovation! I was so touched, I never left. Unfortunately, Fr. McDermott passed away some years later - about 6 months before I was married (REAL bummer...on several levels!)
So why was his mass ALWAYS packed to SRO? Why did he have to add an extra Saturday evening mass to accommodate the overflow? Why was his CCD and Marriage schedule booked solid? Because he knew everyone, and their stories. He related. He put himself into every class, mass, sick visit. He even showed up at local small businesses and introduced himself to the owners and customers, inviting them to Sunday mass! His sermons were 4 minutes. He once told me that 'people stop listening after 4 minutes anyway, so give them 4 minutes...and make the them count.' And he did. I still remember some of them today. I guess what I'm saying is there are MANY ways that the Mass can and should be appealing to the people. No disrespect intended, but we want a happy, pertinent message. Make it relevant, make it reasonably quick and personal. And reach out to the people! and you'll fill the pews. Any priests out there?...try it.This will work!

Susan S | 10/10/2015 - 1:02pm

Great article, and timely for me. I am struggling, as my beloved parish has been going through some changes and the community seems to be, at least in some respects, falling apart. I only just found the parish about 16 months ago, and immediately became involved as a lector and in other ways. The community was vibrant and liturgies were nurturing, challenging, community-building experiences. But within six months, the bishop made changes that have had a domino effect on the parish, and not in a good way. I have experienced so many difficult times in my life as a Catholic, mostly because of frequent and drastic parish changes that have invariably weakened the community. Every time, this has happened because of new pastors making changes in the parish to suit themselves instead of taking time to learn what the dynamics of the community are and then encouraging and strengthening the parish through the parish leaders and groups that already exist. At times, of course there are existing structures in the parish that need to change, and ministries that need to be added, but this can be done in ways that do not tear the community apart. Very often the changes have happened almost immediately upon the change in pastor; sometimes the pastor waits a few months before making changes but even with that time does not appear to have appreciated and understood the parish dynamics.
The upshot of all this for me is that I am spiritually worn out from it all, and don't really have the energy anymore to keep on trying to build and be part of a community that will once again be treated so dismissively by the hierarchy and so many priests. The Catholic Church is broken in so many ways, and until the issues in this article are addressed, especially the need for a true and strong sense of community in every parish, I'm pretty sure things won't improve.

D Griffith | 10/10/2015 - 12:47pm

With all due respect, and thank you for doing this research & article, I understand this point of view in someone under 25, but for yourself, an adult Catholic woman, I would urge you to concentrate on the purpose of the Mass, which is the blessed Eucharist, which is being offered to you by the Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Church, of which you are an intrinsic part. Once you have that state of mind, you will notice that every single member of the body of Christ is your brother & sister and that the ones who happen to be sitting next to you are just as much the embodiment of our Lord as the ones who sit in your imaginary pews in your imaginary parish that you deem to be the perfect church. I do not know how far north of Oakland you live, but if you care to visit Saint Joseph's Parish in Pinole, you might find yourself being welcomed properly there.
With much love, peace & all good,

Julian Irias | 10/10/2015 - 3:10pm

The advice is unexceptionable but has never been easy to heed, not by Christians who spoke Aramaic and those who spoke Greek in Paul's day, not by Guelphs and Ghibellines present at the same Eucharistic feast as the Middle Ages waned, and not by young and old, or liberal and conservative, in our own day. And the thing is, nobody but us can make the advice any easier to follow.

Mark Ungemach | 10/10/2015 - 12:02pm

I loved Most Holy Redeemer when I lived in San Francisco, and Saint Francis Xavier (a non-diocesan Jesuit church) when I lived in Manhattan, but I have found little joy in the churches of southeastern Pennsylvania. I took my partner to an Easter Mass in Chadds Ford, where all was so dour, most funerals I've attended are more uplifting; the miracle of Easter was clearly lost on them!

Oh, and Go Bears! ;-)

ROBERT SWAIN | 10/10/2015 - 11:52am

I am a convert and attend a smallish parish with an aging population because of shifts in neighborhood makeup. If all I wanted was beautiful liturgy and music, I would have stayed Episcopalian which I think wins on the liturgy and music hands down. However, I came to the church for more and the parish I attend basically caters to its older population with study groups during the day and precious little adult formation. I have looked longingly at other parishes with a more vibrant faith formation life, but for the time being I am staying where I am. We have started a Knights Council and although I am the youngest there (I am in my 50's) I hope for the best.

Fr. Jim Chern | 10/10/2015 - 11:33am

I want to begin by saying I have great empathy for people -- especially Young Adult Catholics - who struggle to find community, struggle to find a parish they feel connected to. And as a priest - who tries (and works hard) on my weekly homily and have great people (paid and volunteers) who work hard on the music, I agree that liturgies must be the primary focus. At our Newman Center I'm a broken record - everything we do must flow in and out of Sunday Eucharist.

That being said, I read the article looking to pass this along to alumni, but found myself discouraged. It's the same discouragement we have to fight week to week here. And that is that unfortunately many Catholics are seeing themselves as "consumers" and looking at parishes as different places to "shop" (ergo the "Parish shopping" mentality) And while I'll encourage people all the time that if they feel put off or the liturgies are terrible or whatever it is that's distracting them to try another parish - unfortunately that seems to have encouraged more and more criticism:

- this parish caters to young families
- I'm the youngest person in the parish
- they only have social or sporting events

yet I can find parishes or individuals looking for those very things who are discouraged they can't find them either.

And worse for the Priest and the staff -- and I'll speak personally here - is the difficulty when we do try to be all things to people and there's little commitment on the part of our "parishioners". Here at our Campus Ministry where we have 9 bible studies a week; Daily Mass at a variety of times; spiritual growth opportunities and discussion groups; social activities; very active in the campus intramurals (4 sports per semester); at least 2-3 community service opportunities per month - and Sunday liturgies where students can simply show up an hour early to practice (vocally or with instruments) to share their gifts and talents -- so often we have the same small group who participates in things... or people will come and say how much they love what we offer and then maybe we'll see them in a month or something.

I get it - everyone's busy. And I wish I had an answer to all the important issues that are raised here. But at the same time I did want to offer that when I was full-time in a parish - the young adults who were faithful, made commitments (and fulfilled and honored them) were the ones that I saw as the future that we can build from. People who are randomnly coming and going, simply criticism what's NOT available - hard to see how that's building up a parish or the Body of Christ for that matter.

Not saying priests or parish staffs should get a pass on any of this - and I'm abundantly aware of the terrible experiences some have had when they have tried to get involved. But I keep trying each and every week, each and every semester, each and every year - whether in Campus Ministry or as a parish priest - to reach out to the people of God and build them up and our community. Just want to encourage all you lay people to do the same.

Maria Costa | 10/10/2015 - 11:14am

People of any age long to feel accepted and to belong. Only last night I watched a program on the brotherhood of "Mongols", bikers with tattoos and codes of conduct that characterize the brotherhood. The wives are known as "property" of their husbands and some women described feeling proud of belonging to their men and being considered property. I cringed as I watched. The need to feel accepted and to belong drives and shape people of any age. The Catholic Church must find ever more creative ways of including people and truly make them feel accepted. It is not easy, but we must try again and again.

F. Kelly Dougherty | 10/10/2015 - 9:53am

I've recommended the Knights of Columbus for parish bonding. This obviously doesn't work for you, but if your husband did convert he'd find a laid-back group of men interested in improving the Church. In our parish new ideas are welcomed, as long as the proposer will lead and show us how. Men push hard with their pet projects and then coast for a while. So: minimal pressure, good works and a quick group of new friends.

Lisa Weber | 10/9/2015 - 10:15pm

None of the problems mentioned are limited to young Catholics. Thoughtful preaching, good music and well-conducted liturgies are all blessings to be grateful for - especially thoughtful preaching. The problem of a lack of social activities could be remedied, but it will take a revolution on the feminine side of the church to accomplish it. Women are the usual coordinators and initiators of social activity and women have no leadership structure to foster the leaders who might develop a more active social life in the church and make the church more welcoming.

Julian Irias | 10/9/2015 - 11:13pm

The advice to focus on the Eucharist really brings back memories and recalls paradoxes. The latter persist; the former go back to the 1950s, at low Masses with the priest facing away from the people for most of the Mass and praying in mostly inaudible Latin. As for the faithful in the pews, they were by and large more focused on the liturgy than would have been the case a decade or two earlier, less likely to be reciting other prayers (such as the rosary) and more likely to be reading along in their missals. But participation in a communal liturgy was at best to be conjectured from their reverent and (it could be hoped) companionable silence.

By no means was that entirely a bad thing. The silence and the emphasis on the sacramental character of the gathering made it less likely that too much weight would be given to how inspiring (or not) the sermon was. And of course at most weekday Masses there was no sermon. Hilaire Belloc, in The Path to Rome, writes approvingly of
the Low Mass as a sign of authentic faith, with the implication that all the music and singing and preaching of a High Mass constitute at best an optional luxury (never mind that the High Mass is in principle the full celebration, the Low Mass allowed as a simplified version). Thomas Merton, in The Seven-Storey Mountain, recalls the contrast between some Protestant services he has known and the silent reverence of participants in weekday Masses, which greatly impress him. And JRR Tolkien, in one of his letters to his son, takes the notion of emphasizing the Eucharist above all else one step further: he encourages his son to seek out celebrants who preach uninspiring sermons, so he can concentrate on what's really important!

And yet…

I recall reading along in the Missal, and being subjected to sermons no more inspired than some of today's homilies. And I recall, as I read along, surrounded by my silent fellow parishioners, thinking of our forerunners in the faith, Perpetua and Agatha and the rest, as supplying a sense of community that was less evident in what we were doing then and there as disciples of Jesus. It worked, to some extent. And the changes that ensued from the sixties on were not all for the better (Ken Rexroth had some acute comments to make about the "lunch-club liturgy" --no offense to Rotarians or Optimists).

There's an inescapable tension underlying all this, between the need for some solitude and quiet, each seeking salvation alone in fear and trembling, and the clearly communal nature of the Eucharist. Jesus calls us to love one another as he loved us, to recognize that we are branches of the vine, members, as Paul wrote, of one body. I've never been sure what it's supposed to mean to "accept Jesus as your personal savior," or to claim "blessed assurance, Jesus is mine." We live in hope.

All we have is a community of faith, composed of human beings and bound to disappoint and exasperate us. What could Jesus have been thinking? Why not deploy a legion of angels and be done with it?

John Adams | 10/10/2015 - 10:00am

Excellent comment.

John Walton | 10/9/2015 - 1:31pm

If the pastor puts the weekly collection in the parish bulletin, you can see what kind of financial pressure he's under. Pastoral crankiness is inversely related to weekly collections. You don't want to get off on the wrong foot immediately upon joining a new parish and complaining to the guy in charge about the sermons and bad music.

My suggestion, be generous in your financial support. The pastor's secretary will soon know you by first name.

Quinn Kristof | 10/9/2015 - 12:33pm

I'm a young adult myself, and I also find myeslf having some degree of difficulty finding a place at my parish. I agree that Young Adult groups feel forced and are somewhat uncomfortable, and that the community I'm trying to build is not necessarily one of people who are just my age. One of the best things about my childhood parish was that my family made friends and met with people of all different ages, from elderly couples to families with kids my age.

Another thing I'd add to the author's article is the emphasis on liturgy. I grew up in a liturgically progressive parish, and for a while that was what I understood Mass to be. It wasn't until I moved from the West Coast to the East Coast that I was exposed to traditional music in traditional spaces. The effect was instantaneous: I felt immediately more aware of the sacredness of where I was, of the sacraments, of the Eucharist. For me, part of feeling welcome in a parish isn't so much the community in my immediate space, but the community of saints and angels that traditional music / architecture makes me so deeply aware of.

One final note: we are blessed as Catholics, as the writer mentions, by the amount of parishes in different kinds of communities. Although I certainly favor traditionalism because God speaks to me more clearly in that mode, I can certainly respect those who find it stuffy or boring. Maybe we don't all need to look for the same thing? We are the universal church, after all!

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