We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing; He chastens and hastens his will to make known
I go to church. A lot of us around here do.
Are we odd? By some measures, yes. You can get swamped pretty fast googling church attendance statistics. But it appears some 40 percent of Americans attend church. That number is higher here in the middle of the country, and lower if you go east or west.
You can look on the bright side and say the church is half full: Americans remain more religious than our European cousins. (That would be faint praise, since European churches see many more tourists than prayers.) Or you can say the church is half empty: church attendance has declined steadily the last 50 years.
Why do I go to church? I could say, "I don't know, I just do," but that wouldn't make much of a column. There is a level of "isness" to it: it just is. I don't wake up every morning and wrestle with my identity as a husband or a father. I'd go crazy soon enough if I did. In much the same way that I just am a husband and a father, I just am a Christian, a Catholic in my case.
I like that on Sunday I can quiet myself at church. For that hour, there is nowhere else that I should be, no one I should be calling. All the tasks and chores will be there when Mass ends. I try to be still, to focus on the worship and the sacrament. All the other hours of the week, I struggle to live in the moment. But in church, the moment is clearer, sharper.
For those of us who go to church, the rest of our week revolves around that time. Days and nights march on and on, but there in the middle of it is a balancing point. Work, play, family--the rest of our lives are in all these pieces. In church, it all ties together. That hour instructs the rest of my hours; it lends perspective to the landscape of life.
I like that I am part of a choir during that hour. I don't mean the formal choir; I mean the all-of-us in the pews choir. I might not have much of a voice, but I like how it sounds when blended with those around me singing the hymns. The all-of-us is the community of believers. In the Catholic Church, we call the all-of-us the Communion of Saints. We certainly don't mean we all behave in a "saintly" manner. But as believers, we are bound together.
The "communion of saints" is in plain view in a small town. I look around church, and there are friends, there are acquaintances, I recognize most everyone. Like the country song says, "These are my people, this is where I come from." We work together, we school together. Hell, we sin together. And we pray together.
I've heard often that someone doesn't go to church any more because of the hypocrites that are there. "Oh, there's Such-and-Such, looking so holy on Sunday, and then he goes out and cheats his neighbors on Monday." Of course, we are all guilty as charged, we are all sinners. Perhaps Such-and-Such sins a bit more egregiously. Well, I'll take my chances on bringing him in on Sunday, and let's see what the Lord might not do with him.
I fell away from church-going in my early adult years. I fancied myself pretty smart, and I struggled with the very 20th century notion that mankind had "outgrown" God. Science seemed to explain everything, technology could do anything, so where was God? Eventually, after the world had dished me out some humility, I found writers that were smarter than me (C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and others) who showed that the modern world fit quite well with faith and belief.
I do worry about young people today. I challenged my faith intellectually and worked through it. But now, cynicism and sarcasm seem to have replaced reason. The very 21rst century notion seems to be, "Church? Really? Whatever."
In The World That I Grew Up In, it was expected that I "would get my butt to church," not only by my parents and older siblings, but really everyone. And I would sit there, grumpily sometimes. Around me were my neighbors and my mailman and my grocery man and my doctor and...
As it had for generations, the act of church going began as an expectation of parents and an obligation to community. It transitioned to habit, at times almost mindlessly performed. But then, as time escorts understanding, church going became a choice. And finally, I can't imagine not having that.
Years later, I appreciate that I was expected to get my butt to that place. It was a step on the way toward a "simple faith." I had to work my way through doubts and perplexity. But the closer I come to simple faith, the righter it feels. A simple faith? Love God, treat others with kindness, tell the truth, read your Bible, get to church. There's really not much I can add to that.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.