Together but Alone?

The high school youth minister at our parish publishes some great weekly reflections for the youth and their parents. I particularly liked the one published today. I read this reflection on the same day I read an article speaking with “Nones” – folks that are orthodox in Christian belief, but when asked what church they attend, their reply is none. There is a list of things absent in their experience of church – connecting Scripture and social justice, preaching that is relevant to their experience of life, several other items, but there in the list: “a friendly church.” It wasn’t “a welcoming church” but once the welcome was over, was the church friendly. In that context, I found Brandon Jubar’s words on point – what follows is from his post.

I find it interesting that the Church teaches that humans are created to be in community – to be in communion with our Creator but also with each other – and yet most people seem to think of spirituality as a solitary thing. It’s something you do quietly, alone with your thoughts and with God, and not together as a group. Oh, sure, we go to Mass together (when there isn’t a pandemic raging) but other than during the sign of peace, we stare straight ahead, saying prayers and singing hymns in unison…but not really “together.”

I wonder why that is? Why do we go to “celebrate” as a “community,” but all through Mass we seem to tune everyone out and just go into our own little world? Is it like going to a movie, where we expect to experience something without actually participating in it? Perhaps we want to watch, observe, laugh and cry when appropriate – all the things a good audience should do – and then go back to our real lives when the show is over.

I’m no psychologist – and I don’t even play one on TV – but that doesn’t sound like people who are really, honestly trying to build God’s kingdom on earth! That sounds like people who want to check the boxes – they want to do the right things on the list – so that they can go on living the way they want to live. It definitely does NOT sound like people who are trying to discern God’s call or prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

But maybe this Advent and Christmas season can be different. Most of us have experienced the joy of celebrating a new birth with family and friends. Welcoming a new little life into the world can warm hearts and bring people closer together. So why not try capturing some of that magic with your parish family this year, as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Don’t stare straight ahead and repeat the familiar words without thinking about them. Instead, look around. Make eye contact. Smile. Think about the prayers as you say them and the songs as you sing them! Listen to the voices of those around you – the melodic and the tone-deaf – and remind yourself that this motley crew of unique individuals is our family in faith. And we are much more likely to succeed in our preparation, and on our journey of faith, if we do it together!

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