I was raised going to what I would call an “alternative” Catholic Mass. When my family moved to Mystic, CT in the 70's, there had been a fire at the church, so all of the Masses were moved to a building next door to the church which consisted mainly of a gymnasium with a stage at one end and a kitchen where coffee and donuts were served after Mass at the other. People called it The Center.
Once the fire damage was repaired, all of the Masses were moved back into the church, except for the 11 o’clock Mass that my parents attended. They and their friends embraced the more open format of folding chairs placed in a circle, bright cloth banners hung from the ceiling, and modern hymns accompanied by guitar, bass and drums. The rest of the parish and regional Catholic hierarchy were not pleased. Over the years, a variety of priests and the Bishop visited to assess whether the Mass in The Center constituted going to a “real” Mass in a “real” church.
After about ten years, the 11 o’clock Mass in the Center was shut down. My parents and their friends left the parish and created their own weekly worship gathering in the warehouse of a religious book publisher whose owners had been a part of the Mass at The Center. They called it Agape. It still exists, almost 30 years later.
Around the same time, I needed to decide whether, or not to become confirmed. Even though I’d gone to Mass almost every Sunday of my life, and to Catholic high school, I declined. I didn’t want to be a part of a system that shut down the powerful community that the people who came to The Center became, and ignored its own teaching: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
That was pretty much the end of Catholicism for me. Over the next thirty years I explored a variety of spiritual paths (e.g. yoga, Buddhism, creativity, being of service in the nonprofit sector), but nothing really felt like The Truth.
And then Pope Francis began showing up in the news.
He exuded the kind of loving kindness I remember from the community at The Center.
He reminded me about the good parts of Catholicism.
The question, “Where is my spiritual community?” kept bubbling up until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Last month, I pulled out a book I’ve had on my shelf for twenty years, Finding Your Own Spiritual Path: An Everyday Guidebook, and slowly began to work through the exercises.
I don’t have any answers yet. What role I want religion and spirituality to play in my life is still unclear, but it feels good to spend time exploring it.
I’d love to know: How has Pope Francis, or his recent visit caused you to reflect on your spiritual path?
Photos by me.