Sunday, October 9, 2011

Reflections from a Family Wedding: Church is For Sinners

Our family just pulled into the driveway from a whirlwind weekend in upstate New York, where we helped to celebrate the wedding of one of my husband's cousins, a 28-year-old nurse, to a wonderful man. The wedding took place at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Ballston Lake. The bride's side of the church was filled with siblings, first cousins and second cousins who had flown in from as far as Idaho and California, a sprawling clan of Irish Americans that I was delighted to introduce our sons to. (We loved spending an hour and a half at a diner before the wedding meeting blogger Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, who lives and works nearby.)

On the drive home, my husband told me he was surprised to hear one of the newly married couple's friends refer to the bride as a nostalgic girl, as a girl who likes to do things the old-fashioned way, including marrying in the church. This led us to reflect on what draws people to the Church and what prompts them to leave.

Among our family and our friends, my husband and I know more former Catholics than current Catholics. While each person's journey is different, a common theme for those who leave is that they see the imperfections of the Church, the hypocrisy of what is being taught and what is being practiced in real life. And they don't find faith compelling. They don't see or understand the correspondence between their lives and the rituals, rules and structure of the Catholic Church. How can those of us who have been blessed to discover that deep connection help our sisters and brothers find the correspondence?

I consider any decision by a couple to marry in the Church a triumph of Christ and for Christ over the common mentality of our times. And so I was filled with joy as I watched my husband's cousin and her beloved vow fidelity to one another before their families and friends. The task before them now is to guide one another to their destinies.

It had been five full years since we attended a wedding; the last we went to was the bride's older brother's. He married in the same church, the church where he and his siblings were guided in the faith. It was moving to meet his toddling son and see that he and his wife have another child on its way.

This is Beauty, to be sure. I was happy our sons could see it and appreciate it.

And yet...Have you ever known, really known, someone else's family? And by family that I mean each grandparent, every sibling, spouse, cousin, nephew and niece? Are all of them perfect? Is any of them perfect?

Last night I spent hours with my husband's large, kind and beautiful extended family. We dined on sushi, steak and shrimp at an elegant inn. We boogied on the dance floor. And we smiled and laughed as we talked about family vacations, dreams of the young, and hopes for our futures. We also told each other stories of ailing parents, job loss and divorce. One father's story stuck to my soul: about a teenager who couldn't join us last night because he sits in a county jail, awaiting trial on drug charges.

My faith is not about whether this one genuflects or that Catholic parish plays the right kind of music or whether the priest is a particularly inspired preacher. Faith for me is about trying to become more and more aware of the presence of Christ right here and right now: for the lovely young lady and her groom who are so smitten with one another they were glowing all evening, or in the face of the father talking about how he'd seen his oldest son for the first time in three weeks just the day before, shackled in court.

I wish I could find a way to tell my loved ones who have left the Church that, in the end, despite the distracting internal arguments about so many things and the failings of so many of its leaders and followers, the Church is about helping every last one of us find the presence, the peace, of Christ in every moment of our lives. Church is for sinners, which means Christ is for all of us. 


  1. I like your "faith" as you said it, "is not about whether this one genuflects or that Catholic parish plays the right kind of music or whether the priest is a particularly inspired preacher. Faith for me is about trying to become more and more aware of the presence of Christ right here and right now". The rest is just details. Sometimes in the blogging world and in small circles of Catholics whom I sometimes associate this can be an obession and one can get a frightful case of tunnel vision. But what you said is true. It's not about you or me, it's about Jesus. It always has been and always will be just about Jesus and our response to him.

  2. @Sarah: Yes. I have the same experience in "my world."

    The experience of extended family reminded me: this is life! How can we help each other understand a Presence among us?

  3. What a great post... I love the way you see and express things. And your wise words struck me - "Faith for me is about trying to become more and more aware of the presence of Christ right here and right now."

    It was great to meet you - that 90 minutes flew by! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all of you!!

  4. @Fran: Thanks and right back at you!

  5. Allison, I am definitely going to keep your wise words, especially "Church is for sinners, which means Christ is for all of us" in my heart as I attend a wedding (not catholic but with between catholics) in the near future. Thank you so much for this! God bless!

  6. Hello, I was browsing the blog land and landed here. ^_^ I agree church is for sinners as well as hospital is for sick people too. I am from the Philippines and as a catechist there, if I rule the personal feeling and what I see in the church leaders I am one of those who left the church. But I can't because I know that the one true church is the Catholic Church aside from that I compare our church as an old, worn out, chest but if you open it you see different beautiful gems and jewels. How can I leave this chest when I have not even touch all the gems and jewels inside the chest more so dig deeper what is at the bottom.
    Faith is what it lead me to go on and never feel weak. Happy Monday

  7. @Kim: Thanks for stopping by! And I love your imagery of the Church as an old chest with treasures inside. Blessings to you.

  8. You find such deep meaning in your life experiences. Thank you for sharing.
    I have run out of things to say to say to my close relatives so I pray.
    You are right Church is not for the perfect but is a place I know I find peace.

  9. @Dee: Thank you and yes, that is the way I see it, too.

  10. Amen! I couldn't agree more.

    I wish every lapsed Catholic could find the beauty and comfort that this faith offers. I was lucky enough to re-discover that in my mid-twenties, thanks to an open, warm Catholic community at my grad school. It taught me that I didn't have to be perfect to be Catholic, and I didn't have to renounce my unique self, either. And I think it taught me that God is in the questions, too.

    Thanks for this great post.

  11. Ginny: Love that you say God is in the questions. I love your blog and your writing and am glad Fran pointed me in your direction!

  12. 'm a conservative Mo. Synod Lutheran, but my kids attended Catholic High Schools. I see the same thing all over the culture. Too tell you the truth I think people use the "hypocrisy" argument as an excuse to leave the Church without guilt--because I think if we all looked inward we would see that on some level we are ALL guilty of being a hypocrite at times--just as we are ALL sinners in need of His saving grace. Glad I stumbled upon your blog--have enjoyed perusing it and I also love Susan Branch!
    Cowgirl V of Stick Horse Cowgirls

  13. So glad you stopped by. Yes, I agree with you. I heard an expression recently. Someone says they can't go to church because it is full of hypocrites. "Well," you can answer. "We would welcome another one."