St. Monica's Catholic Church in Santa Monica is pretty much my favorite church, ever. I have only been privileged to attend Mass there three times -- in the summer of 1992 or '93 (I can't remember exactly) and twice this year. The first time I went to Mass at St. Monica's, I was basically holding onto my faith by a thread. Or, perhaps I had let go and Jesus was just holding onto me. The times I attended Mass there this year, my faith was also at kind of a low point. Not as low as in the early '90's -- but low, nevertheless.
Why does my faith hit these low points? I'm not really sure. I mean, I understand my faith and I believe in it. It makes sense to me. I love the Lord. At times, though, I get sensitive about certain things. There are teachings which, at times, seem too hard. There are people who sometimes seem too difficult to deal with. Occasionally, the sheer number of people in the church building gets to me. I get tired of the bickering -- of the "orthodox" Catholics lashing out at the "progressive" Catholics, and vice-versa. There are times when I get annoyed with the hierarchy for getting (it seems to me) a bit too political and saying things that appear to me to be unhelpful in human relationships. For example, I do not like this whole "culture war" thing. I am not going to get into a "culture war" with anybody. But, that is another post.
But, when I really think about it, my perception of my own shortcomings -- my own sins -- and my inability to conquer them is maybe one of the things that most deeply and negatively affects my faith. Especially -- most especially -- when I am often in the company of "holy" people. What do I mean by "holy" people? People who are constantly talking about the sins of others, the sins of society, the sins of the Church. People who talk about Democrats and how bad they are. People who talk about "pro-choicers" and how bad they are. People who talk about gay marriage and how bad it is. People who go on and on about "liturgical abuses." People who criticize the English Mass or the Latin Mass or OCP. People who yammer on about the "evils" of Praise and Worship music at Mass. It is when I am around a lot of this kind of talk that I just feel like becoming Episcopalian. Why? Because I realize that I am worse, deep down, than any of the Democrats, or "pro-choicers" or OCP publishers. And then I just feel like a crap Catholic. And then I get depressed and want to jump right off the ship that is the Catholic Church.
It is at these times, though, that the Lord -- in His great Mercy -- has seen fit to get me into the pews of St. Monica's. The most recent time was on Mothers' Day of this year. My husband, two of my kids, and I attended the Sunday evening Mass. We were on our way to a Monday wedding in Santa Paula, so as we were enroute there from San Diego on Sunday afternoon, it happened to work out that we could go to St. Monica's. It was lovely. There is the most wonderful choir/band at that particular Mass. And all the moms -- and some of you will not like this -- were invited to go up and stand around the Altar during the Consecration. It was amazing. It was happy. It was prayerful. And it was also very cool, because you get a wonderful view of the instrumentalists from the Sanctuary and they are stupendous. All us moms held hands and prayed. We also got roses -- beautiful roses with no thorns that must have been extremely expensive. And even though some of this involves a little "pushing of the liturgical envelope," I felt at peace and loved by God. And I wondered why I felt this way, and this is what I realized.
I realized that when I go to St. Monica's, I feel no judgement. No judgement from the priest or any of the people. I feel welcomed. And it is not the kind of no judgement and welcome that is prideful, that involves a rejection of the idea of "sin" or wrongdoing. I have gone to parishes where they try to be non-judgmental, but it is a kind of non-judgement that is more the fruit of wanting to deny the reality that we are fallen creatures. I don't like that, either. I know I am fallen and that I do wrong. At St. Monica's, the feeling of not being judged, of being made welcome, seems to come more from a spirit of true HUMILITY. The acknowledgement that nobody is really better or more worthy than anybody else. There is the feeling that we are all in this together and that God loves us and accepts us as we are. And in this humble love, it is easier to quietly and humbly acknowledge my own faults and my own sins. Because I am not so busy being defensive. Because that's it sometimes, I think. When I am surrounded by "scribes and pharisees," I start to feel defensive. I curl up in a ball or retreat into my protective shell. But, if I am treated with love by people who are humble, it is easier to be humble. That makes it easier to acknowledge my wrongdoing to myself and to God. And that makes it easier to accept His forgiveness and His healing. It makes it easier to not despair when I fall into the same crap over and over again -- which I inevitably do.
So, when I go to St. Monica's, I know that I am a sinner. But, I receive hope anew that God -- and the people who truly love Him -- take me as I am and will help me to go forward to a better place. I am not tempted to give up on myself or on others or even on our society. And I am not tempted to jump off the ship, anymore.
If you are ever in Santa Monica, I would encourage you to attend Mass at this wonderful parish. You can also visit their website, where they livestream the Sunday evening Mass and where you can watch Masses from previous weeks.