September 21, 2014
Went to Mass today. It’s some years now since my Rome-ward shift, and though I can say that it’s proven a substantial thing, I’m still very much in process of finding my way. I don’t go to church every week. I would like to, but I don’t. Sometimes there are good excuses, sometimes not. I’m not especially ashamed of not making it to church regularly, in any event. The long period of my adult life in which regular church-going was a sort of primary virtue is past, possibly for good.
I still seem to get a lot out of going as an outsider. That’s a noteworthy fact. The Mass service is no longer novel, but it’s still foreign, and I like that. I like not knowing all the words. I like not knowing any of the people. This can’t last, but I’m in no hurry to get beyond it. It’s been a thoroughly enriching thing to have to be in the position of looking at church as something I don’t entirely get and don’t always know that I entirely approve of. I keep this up in part by not managing to go every week, as I say, and by never going to the same parish twice in a row — something living in a part of the country with a lot of old and enduring comfortable Catholicism facilitates. (Baltimore is the ‘Premier See’ in the U.S., incidentally — the first diocese established in the once, from Rome’s point of view, controversial new & decidedly non-establishedly religious nation. That, and a great haven for Catholic immigrants, among others, in the 19th century.) There are above half a dozen parishes within 15–20 minutes’ drive. Probably more like a dozen, if I really set out to map them. I added another this summer.
This preference for not belonging is a little perverse, I’ll readily acknowledge. Yet I’ll insist that it’s not altogether perverse. How that should be so is something it’d take more space to explore than I intend to take here. But one thing to say about it is that, more than ever, I go to church to pray, and praying in and/or with a crowd certainly comes easier when you can forget the crowd. To a certain extent I’ve lost my interest in the particulars of the sermon, in fact, and my curiosity about the minor (in these non-extraordinary-form settings) spectacle of the ministration happening at the altar. At the same time, my investment in the dialogue, scripture and liturgy, is greater, if anything, than it was when regularity was principal principle. If I can hold on to something of this faintly realized sense of freedom (from the church, even while in the church) to apprehend this dialogue as at once familiar and strange, and to wonder at the idea of God’s speaking, I can’t think that it won’t be to my lasting good.