Living Faith

In Defense of the Local Parish

As young adults my husband and I have become accustomed to the process of searching for and showing up at a new parish every year or so. It’s not because we like being transient. Rather, we’ve had to move because of jobs or to find better housing or cheaper housing. We appreciate the Catholic parochial model in which your church is, well, the parish you’re closest to geographically. In recent years it has become more common to choose a parish based on liturgical or musical preference or to seek out a priest who gives good homilies or a parish with a vibrant young adult community. I totally get that, and I can’t say we won’t ever do that too, but our first stop is always our local parish.

Why, you ask? Well, being part of a parish is sort of like being part of a family. You don’t choose which family you get, you don’t choose whether your family members are your best friends, super interesting, not your cup of tea, or down-right annoying. No matter what though, they’re family, and we have a responsibility to grow in love for these people with whom we may not share many interests or whose personalities may even grate on our nerves. Hopefully that’s not the case with every family member or with every fellow parishioner, but in both cases there is an opportunity that we don’t often get in our increasingly custom-fit society. If you weren’t part of a family (or your local parish) you could theoretically go about your days thinking and discussing and reading only those ideas and opinions that you already hold. But the parish, like the family, should be full of, well, everybody!

On Holy Trinity Sunday, (the Sunday on which it seems every priest dreads preaching) we were privileged to hear a homily that noted the importance of the unity of the Trinity. We often focus on the mystery of God being three, and of course this is worth pondering and (more importantly) living into through prayer. But my husband and I were struck by the priest’s emphasis of the Trinity as Love and of the Unity of the fully mutual love of God. I have unfortunately been witness to faith communities divided by ideological emphasis, even by musical preference in the liturgy. It is important that we care and think through how we worship God and how we can best live out life as Christians, but friends, let us not leave behind unity!

A parish that is able to maintain its members’ individuality and beauty and wonder and yet come together lovingly to worship, to serve, and to call one another to holiness is more than just a good parish, it is a witness to the love of the Trinity who despite being three persons is united in a never-ending, eternal outpouring of love. We lose some of that witness when we choose to leave a parish because people are different than ourselves. It’s not easy to be part of a community in which you don’t feel free to be yourself or voice your opinions, and I understand that, but I hope we can all work to make whatever parish we call home a place that witnesses to the mysterious and miraculous love, unity and diversity of the Trinitarian God who calls us his own.

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