Monday, October 8, 2012

The Inevitability of Struggle and the Omnipresence of Grace

A week after my whole little family visited a parish and heard a Saturday afternoon homily so horrendous that it prompted a weekend of soul-searching conversations about why we stay Catholic, we all were blessed with homilies that confirmed our struggles and our journeys. I know the Church is not yet another consumer good, but this old Catholic has grown weary of homilists who try to harangue, discourage, threaten and scare their listeners. I know living one's faith isn't easy, isn't supposed to be easy, but I sometimes miss words from the ambo that can give me food for my journey.

My husband and older son attended the 5 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Providence, Rhode Island, the city where our son was participating in the Providence Cyclocross Festival in Roger Williams Park. They both came home to report "the homily was good," though the cathedral only had about 70 worshippers. (A stained window from the cathedral is pictured above.) They said the priest was joyful and welcoming and spoke about how our Catholic Christian faith is a thing of joy and how often we forget that.

Back at my home parish, St. Peter the Apostle, I braced for the homily. The readings this Sunday were all about men and women, about how Eve was created from Adam's rib and how when a man and woman marry, they become one flesh. And how divorce is a no-no.

I don't have a dog in this fight in the sense that Greg and I married in the Church nearly 20 years ago. Our marriage was one of those easy ones for the priest. Both of us were raised Catholic and neither had been married before.

But, like my blogging friend Fran, I worried the homily would be all about how the Church needs to defend marriage in the public square against those seeking same-sex unions. And how our votes need to reflect that. It is, after all, a month before a national election.

Instead, Father Peter Cebulka began by explaining the Catholic understanding of what a marriage is, about why we consider it a sacrament, and not just a legal contract.

I am not really doing justice to his homily because I didn't take notes. But I remember his talking about how the Christian life involves suffering. Father Peter quoted an old hymn that says "If you want to wear the crown you have to carry the cross."

And he talked about St. Therese de Lisieux. The Little Flower often is seen as a sweet young girl, but she suffered greatly in her final years. We all suffer at times, Father Peter said. When St. Therese could no longer partake of the Eucharist, she was at peace, because, she said:  "Grace is everywhere." Exactly what I needed to hear.


  1. Oh Allison, what a wonderful post! And then to find myself mentioned in it, thank you - what an honor.

    I have kept you and your family in thought and prayer all week. Last Sunday when we communicated about this, my heart was broken for you and for all of us. We are One Body in Christ, and when one member hurts, we all hurt. I know that the grace of the Cross means that we will hurt, but I believe in the promise of what will follow.

    I'm so glad that all of you, in disparate places, were united in grace through Christ. Grace is everywhere indeed.

    Once again, a beautiful post, thank you - your faith and friendship are a gift.

  2. Sorry you are having struggles. Being a Catholic is not easy. Inevitably you will run across a homily that doesn't fit with what you need at the time. I don't attend mass for the homily but for the grace of the sacrament.

    The homily at my parish this weekend was particularly good with a focus on the love and grace in a marriage.

    1. Me too, Dee. It is that we have endured weeks of homilies that were poor fits. One grows weary and then eager for word that wil help to sustain. I know the Eucharist is the food our souls need, but as humans we can't help long for a human connection also at Mass. I am grateful to my home parish and its wonderful priests.

  3. I know that feeling of bracing myself before a liturgy. I've heard the collective sigh of relief and I've heard the tightening of jaws and other joints. I'm grateful to be part of a parish where the words we say and the things we do are a whole piece.

    Thank you for your clear honesty and bravery, for wrestling with the hard stuff.