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We left off yesterday with a new plan for my returning to Mass with a view to trying out a new [to me] local parish where I wouldn’t know anyone. I think I had forgotten, or possibly never appreciated, that my faith is between me and God.  I’m not answerable to the church or to a priest, just God. Once I took that onboard going to Mass seemed easy and finally felt right!

So that’s exactly what I did.  Just a couple of days after speaking with Sr M I plucked up all my courage and went to an early morning, weekday Mass.  It was perfect.  No more Mr Nagging Doubt, just me and God.  That was about six weeks ago and I’ve been going regularly ever since.  I’ve also managed a few Sundays when family commitments allow and I go to the weekday Mass as often as possible, which can be up to three times a week and I’ve not really looked back.

Back to the original question of why I go to Mass at all, especially as finding or ‘hearing’ God there is rare, the answer is multi-layered.  Superficially I go to Mass because the Catholic faith expects that of me and it’s kind of what I signed up for, but we already know that’s a flawed and potentially flaky reason at one level and there has to be more driving you than obligation.  There is also the joy of worshipping alongside like-minded folk.  Sharing your faith through group worship is lovely.  We, the people, ARE the church, without the faithful there can be no church.  The church is not just a building or a priest.  As the bible states in Romans 12:5 “We are one body in Christ”.  

I love the physical and spiritual beauty of the Catholic Mass, the rise and fall of the faithful, the bells and smells, the joyful message of the Psalms especially, and the comforting repetition as the liturgical year rolls round reliably and predictably.  I am a girl of routine so, for me anyway, this is all a plus.  Also, given the choice between a swanky new auditorium or an older atmospheric church with stained glass windows etc., I’m going to choose the latter every single time.  It just does it for me.

On a deeper level it’s probably unfair to say that I rarely, if ever, find God in the Mass.  It’s truer to say that I don’t ‘hear’ Him so clearly there, it’s busy with all that standing, sitting and kneeling lol.  However, I often get echoes of previous encounters through the Gospel or the Psalms.  I hear a familiar piece of scripture and I’m instantly transported back to a time when God placed that scripture on my heart during a time of struggle or in response to prayer.  For example, I cannot hear the start of Psalm 138 [Hebr. Ps 139] “O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising,” without breaking into a smile, because that was the Psalm I studied at St Beuno’s [more of that next time as promised] and that message comes back to me afresh each time.  The Homily [Sermon] occasionally gives up gems that feel like they’re meant just for me.  Not so much during weekday Mass as the whole service is shorter and devoid of music or hymns, but Sundays are longer and more time made available for the Priest to share his thoughts on the scripture of the day or a relevant issue.  You can be in Mass and just feel wrapped in a warm presence of love and comfort…surely that must come from God?

Going to Mass is also an act of fidelity, an act of faith.  It’s part of your relationship with a God you love and who loves you, a bit like a marriage.  I never show up and find that God is late or AWOL, He is always there waiting for me.  It’s a two-way thing.  I think people sometimes assume that we do all the work and get nothing back, nothing in return but I have never found it to be that way.  The more time I spend with God the more He does in me and through me.  We’ve come a really long way, God and I.  He has transformed me into someone I actually quite like. 

Sunday Mass is officially the start of the week for catholics, a place to renew and refuel for the week ahead and hopefully you take God with you when you leave.  Faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday morning, it’s really the other six days and twenty-three hours that are the most important otherwise what’s the point?

Finally there is receiving the Eucharist.  The thing that gave me the most angst and heartache in the beginning and for so many years.  Well, what can I say.  It’s a simple process with the most complex meaning.  It comes from The Last Supper and we get to share that meal with Christ every time we go to Mass.  It calms, renews and sustains me.  It’s probably the thing I missed the most in other denominations.  It’s the thing that draws me back because I can’t find that anywhere else.  It’s the culmination of Mass, we show up and so does Christ.  Perfect!

To wrap this up if you’re looking for a place to worship and you’ve no idea where to start then start with prayer and an open heart.  Think about practicalities too, can you get there easily, do the worship times suit your availability?  Don’t set yourself up to fail by choosing a church that you have to drive forty miles to or take three buses ‘cos chances are you’ll always find a reason not to go.  If you’re surrounded by a young family then look for somewhere that caters and welcomes little ones.  Is there a crèche facility and a sunday school?  Is there a ‘Messy Church’ being run near you?  If you go a couple of times and think it’s not a good fit then try somewhere else.  However, remember above everything else, it’s just between you and God and He loves you!  He isn’t really at church at all, He’s there in your heart, always!

 

Sharon xx

 

 

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between-you-and-god1

So, following on from yesterday’s post about church and possible reasons why people do or don’t attend, I thought today I’d write a little about my relationship with ‘church’ and how that has changed over the years.  Yesterday’s post might make some people wonder why I go to Mass [church] at all if I rarely find or ‘hear’ God there so I thought an explanation was in order.

Naively I always thought that people of faith just went to church and that was that.  Easy!  They might attend a church they always went to with their family or they might find a new one if they moved, but either way it seemed pretty clear and straightforward.  Hmmm lol the reality turned out to be a little more tricky than that.  To recap I received my Calling in June of 2006.  I didn’t live in MK then, I lived out near Banbury, in a little village called Sulgrave.  For three years after my calling I remained purposely non-denominational.  Partly because I was unsure what the next step was and partly because, in the May of 2007, I moved to MK.  Once here I tried lots of churches and denominations on for size.  I’d mostly worshipped in Anglican ‘pointy spire’ churches as a teen and in my twenties, which encouraged me to give that a go here.  I also tried the Quakers, the charismatic evangelical Happy Clappys and the Baptists.  All were lovely, all were welcoming but none felt like Home.  

2008 found me still without a spiritual home but there had been some defininte and persistent nudgings from God towards catholicism which horrified my mother who was a lapsed, pre-Vatican II, cradle Catholic.  Taught by nuns and raised in “fear for her immortal soul with the distinct possibility of burning for all eternity in the fiery pit”.  You can see her point but I felt things had possibly moved on by 2008 surely?  They had indeed, I found an amazing Priest in Fr J, told him I was a divorcee and he told me, “God meets you where you’re at” and before I knew it I was attending Mass every Sunday and yes, finally I felt I’d found my spiritual home.  During the Easter Mass of 2009 I was received into the Catholic church, it was beyond wonderful!!  My mother didn’t attend. 

All sorted you’d think wouldn’t you?  Well things change, priests you didn’t realise you relied on so much move to another parish.  You listen to dogmatic people and read dogmatic literature which tells you that divorced catholics aren’t allowed to take Holy Communion.  You doubt yourself and before you know it you’re not enjoying Mass anymore.  You stand there feeling a fake and a fraud.  You try a new parish and all seems fine but eventually Mr Nagging Doubt comes back and starts pecking away at you again.  Let me be clear, no one in my parish ever said anything negative or unkind to me, it was all about my own self-doubt and feeling like I should ‘come clean’ which is ridiculous given that I’d ‘come clean’ at that very first meeting with Fr J.  Admitedly there were some priests that I felt wouldn’t have given me the time of day but, for the most part, all the clergy were lovely and supportive.  What I didn’t realise was that this was between me and God, not me and the Church. 

Fast forward to 2017 and the death of my mother in the July followed by the life-threatening complications after my surgery at the end of October, and suddenly there were more emotions flying around than I could deal with.  I certainly wasn’t up for the weekly self-imposed emotional torture of Mass.  So I stopped going and the certainty about my choice of denomination plummeted.  Not so much a crisis of faith, more a crisis of denomination.  If anything, my faith and relationship with God improved rapidly and drasticly once church was removed from the picture.  That was when I realised that church, instead of enabling and facilitating my relationship with God, was actually hindering it massively but I didn’t understand why and was still too all over the place emotionally to even begin to work it out.

In early 2018 I went back to a few of the denominations I’d tried before.  I also went to Mass very occasionally, but never in my own parish, only where no one would know me.  Nothing felt right anymore and I was very lost at this point and quite sad that I’d got it so wrong.  In early June ’18 I found myself on the St Beuno’s website looking at retreats, I still can’t remember what prompted me to do that. [my photo’ at the head of the page is one I took of St Beuno’s at sunset]  It was one of those moments when everything aligns; I had the money, despite it being close to the retreat there was still a space, it fitted with Simon’s schedule, I bought the very last train ticket for that day…it just all fell into place effortlessly.  Clearly meant to be. 

That weekend was truly fantastic and marked a huge turning point. I would do it an injustice to try and talk about that here so I’ll save it for another post but suffice to say I had an amazing Spiritual Guide in Helen and I left there feeling back on-track and with a promise to be put in touch with a Sr who lived locally to me here in MK so I could talk further about my issues with attending Mass.

True to her word I had an email from, and consequently a meeting with, the aforemetioned Sr M who was just lovely.  Such a down to earth, compassionate lady with a super twinkly smile.  Very intouch with real life and she put me straight very quickly.  What the Catholic Church teaches and what happens in reality and practise are not always the same thing.  Reading a lot of dogmatic literature can be damaging.  My relationship is with God first and foremost and the church second.  The church teachings and the recent papal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia clearly state that it’s down to your personal conscience regarding receiving Holy Communion at any time.  In my heart I think I knew all this but it was so good to hear someone actually say the words.  I felt lighter suddenly.  We also discussed the possiblity of Mass and, at her suggestion, I would try a different parish still close to me but not with people that knew me, a fresh start.  It also offered weekday Mass which was super handy for me as Sundays are often homework heavy and, if Si is on-shift, that just leaves me to help Ethan if he needs some support.  I do like a plan!!

This feels like the perfect place to leave part one.  I will carry on tomorrow. 

 

Sharon xx

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Return to Mass…..

.…… after months of not attending, due to my breakdown, I finally went back to Mass yesterday.  It’s strange how the desire to return just suddenly reappeared and I absolutely couldn’t ignore it.  I went to my old church where I was originally received into the Catholic faith [2009].  I have never taken to the church in my new parish ~ same lovely Priest  yes, but just not the same feel somehow….!!  So, back to Christ the  King and oh it was just wonderful, like coming home to the arms of someone who you love dearly and who loves you the same in return.  No recriminations for absence, just a quiet embrace of welcome.

Makes you wonder why you stayed away so long……..

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News from the city….

This is a quick update on recent events.

Suffice to say that Si is still takings meds for his UTI. He finished the second course last weekend and within less than 24 hours the symptoms were creeping back so I took aggressive action and had him to the walk-in centre within the hour. They were most attentive and efficient and he is now nearly at the end of this third course but feeling alot more ‘cured’ this time so here’s hoping.

Our poochie Fletch is still giving cause for concern. He too is on his second lot of meds but if these fail then we’re looking at X.rays next. We thought he may have contracted lung worm but the test was negative ~ never before has a parasitic infection been so hoped for.  His cough is better and no sign of blood in the last week but he still just doesn’t look quite right. It’s a waiting game now to see how he copes once off the tablets and pain killers. The list of possible causes has become very narrow and cancer is looming large. Sigh!! 😦

Next week is A level results day so Millie is starting to get a bit nervous and making contingency plans in anticipation of failure ~ bless her. These are only AS level so she still has another year to go so re-sitting anything she’s not happy with is absolutely possible but I’m sure she’s done well, maybe one subject may be a bit shakey but overall I’m sure it should be fine.

Ethan turned five on the 8th August [photo’s to follow, probably on his own blog] and we hired a hall and a bouncy castle and entertained a dozen or so five year olds for two hours. It was just brilliant actually and although I’d been dreading it it turned out to be alot less painful than I thought it might be. Have to admit it felt alot like being at work 😆 Ethan and his little friends had a ball and that was the main thing.

Finally on my quest for a church I had a meeting with my Spiritual Director last week and this issue came up. She suggested that as my heart is still firmly rooted in Christ the King [where I was received into the Catholic Church and where I worshipped until we moved to this side of the city last year] then possibly I should do my best to get back there no matter how infrequent that may be. She quite rightly pointed out that all things are transient and there may soon come a time when Mum may want to visit on another day especially as I’m only working afternoons now. Maybe the reason I can’t find anywhere else is because subconsciously I’m looking for what I had/felt at CtK and fruitlessly comparing all new places with that. God could well be telling me that no matter how ‘inconvenient’ it is maybe this is where I’m meant to worship. I’m praying about that and giving it some thought. She is absolutely right, I love CtK and do miss the congregation and spirituality there so maybe I have to jiggle things around a bit on Sundays and try to make it ‘convenient’. I am a creature of routine and am known for being rather inflexible about that at times so ~ putting mum politely aside for one moment ~ maybe it’s me that needs to change rather than the location.

If you’ve read this consider yourself prayed for, with love…

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servingA while ago I was part of a couple of discussions [christian forum style] on what church was to us ~ social, spiritual or both?  We also examined ‘serving’ and our perceived calling to that.  Did we feel called to serve and if so how,  in what capacity and to whom??   Both of these subjects gave rise to some very interesting thoughts, ideas and definitions about community [in which we serve] and what community meant to each of us as individuals. 

Now you know me well and know that I have to be inspired to blog and this really did inspire me and made me think.  My initial thoughts on serving were difficult to define however.  I read the other posts which talked about serving within the family, through employment or as part of the aforementioned church community or even all three.  I looked at my life and as I don’t do a paid job the ‘work’ bit didn’t apply.  I’ve held back from ‘serving’ at church as I felt I should focus on becoming a full member first before jumping in prematurely with offers of help with no experience to back that up.  I do have my family to ‘serve’ and I believe that the domestic church is at the heart of every Christian upbringing ~ a truly vital [and rewarding] role especially when all around is mayhem and chaos in our oh so busy and impersonal contemporary society.

So what exactly was it that I was doing then?  Who was I ‘serving’ other than my family which felt/feels like a job I could do standing on my head?  I really couldn’t see any defined area where serving began or in fact ended.  I thought I’d leave it for a while and have a think, oh and a bit of prayer helped.  Maybe I wasn’t really serving any real purpose at all from a faith perspective??

The next day things became clearer as I concentrated on the word ‘community’.  By defining who my community was it suddenly all became obvious.  My community is anyone and everyone who touches my life immaterial of their religious persuasion ~ my family, my church, Turvey Abbey [secular and monastic], my friends [both online and off], people I may meet in a store or speak to on the ‘phone.  However brief the contact, everyone deserves the same level of care and compassion whether long standing friend or brief acquaintance.  This is what being Christlike is about.  The length of time is not important, it’s how you touch someones life in that brief moment that stays in the memory, whether that be good……….. or bad.

And who am I serving ~ why God of course, not an individual or a group.  I’m called to be a hand~maid of the Lord in order to serve God and be His representative on earth.  No wonder it was tough trying to define my area of serving because I’ve realised that I try to love others in ALL that I do by serving God 24/7, not just for a couple of hours after breakfast.  Jesus didn’t limit himself so why should we??  Community shouldn’t be limited to a single body of people such as our fellow worshippers at church.  In fact as a good friend pointed out when I asked her opinion, “Jesus wasn’t fussy about who He mixed with and in fact those who were ‘religious’ were the most distanced from Him!”  

Another Christian friend who I approached for her thoughts on this gave a very clear illustration on how important friendship and community outside of church is.  Alot of her non~Christian friends behave in a very Christian way by giving their time, support and friendship through good times and bad.  Does our Christian ethos rub off on others or is there a little bit of God in all of us under the guise of a different label?  Do people associate what we do and how we behave with our faith??  I suspect they do sometimes [and not always for good reasons] especially if they already know we’re religious; many are curious and many dig deeper as a result.  Who knows what seeds we sow?  As Fr James says, we only sow the seeds, we rarely get to see the fruit,  but that shouldn’t stop us planting as we go.

So, now when I think of serving and community I’m no longer looking through blinkers at a cosy little group of people who already love the Lord anyway ~ I’m gazing out at my world [albeit still a bit limited probably] and all those in it and I aim [not always successfully] to bless everyone who touches my life either with a smile, a word, a hug or something more.  The only thing holding me back is ME.  And is church [Mass] spiritual or social??  It’s neither and it’s both.  Primarily it’s about me giving to God through worship, thanksgiving and the blessed sacrament, not so much about my spiritual need [although that is always renewed and fed] but either side of that there is room for friendship and social interaction where appropriate.  

I’ve learnt alot about myself by working through this subject and about the direction and importance of my faith in the day to day things.  It has focussed my intentions and given clarity and meaning to my purpose.  It’s not always about the earth shattering stuff, in fact the reality is that it’s most likely to be about the little things, the things that matter to no one except the person whose life you’ve touched, the fruit you never see.

 “The Mass is ended. Go in peace [into the wider community] to love and serve the Lord”.

Pax

Sharon xx 

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