At St. Monica’s Church in Santa Monica this past Sunday, I experienced an emotion I may have never had during Mass before. As the congregation raised its hands in blessing during the recession of the Catechumens and Candidates, I was jealous. That’s right. Jealous.
When I looked across the hundreds of lifted hands I remembered what it felt like to be the recipient of this symbolic gesture. The smiling faces and open palms said, “We are so glad you are here with us. We are so excited for your life in the Church.” That message brought me peace and comfort at my Confirmation at year ago, when I received a similar ritual of welcome and belonging. This weekend I found myself anxiously longing for that sort of ritual experience again.
The envy I felt toward the Catechumens and Candidates made me realize how much I am paradoxically within and without the Church. On one hand, I long for ritual in order to make sense of my life. How Catholic of me, right? On the other hand, the catalyst for my yearning is the very fact that I don’t feel a sense of belonging in Catholicism at times. Why would I jealously long for this ritual experience if I did not feel a lack of belonging in the Church?
In light of all that, I’ve concluded that I want a ritual of my own. We—those of us who identify as Catholic yet feel we live in the margins of the tradition—we could really use a ritual of healing, welcome, and belonging.
Surely, it is not just Catholics who need one such ritual. Many of us feel burned by any number of religions at one time or another. What if religion recognized this, and tried to offer us a ritual to make us sense of the times when it falls up short?
I began to wonder why I feel a need for this type of ritual beyond the numerous ones that already exist in my tradition. What need do I have that the pre-existing sacraments cannot tend to? Why doesn’t the Eucharist or the sacrament of Reconciliation serve as the type of communal symbolic practice I long for? These thoughts have challenged me to reconsider my approach to the sacraments: What if I regularly confessed anger, pain, and bitterness I sometimes foster toward the Church? Could I experience reconciliation in this aspect of my life if I approached the sacrament like this? What if I thought of Eucharist as a personal invitation to life in the Church—one extended again, and again, and again—despite my frustrations and occasionally unkind words toward the institution? With a little intentionality, could these sacraments help me make sense of my ambivalent belonging in Catholicism?
Until I can come up with a ritual of my own for people like me, I am going to try to be more honest with God about the baggage that I bring to the sacraments: “God, I really want to be here, but I don’t feel like I belong here, or that people want me to be here with them sometimes. By the power of Your Spirit, help me work through all this in the ritual we now celebrate together. Help me to believe You are here, and that You want us all to be here, too.”