Showing up for Mass
Real relationships keep one young Catholic woman coming back to church every Sunday.
Guest blog by Julia Feder
One Sunday in late August, I went to church. I had been going on and off to this particular parish for about 6 months. I had the intuition that I could feel at home here—it was a vibrant community with a rich musical tradition, though the preaching often left me more frustrated and empty than when I arrived—but this was just an intuition at this point. I wasn’t at home quite yet.
I wasn’t coming every week; I would attend one Sunday here and there, not attend the next week because I felt frustrated and angry, and then return again when the negative feelings subsided. I wanted to commit to weekly attendance. I really did. I didn’t know, though, if it was healthy for me, that is, if I would end up feeling more alienated and frustrated through regular attendance than without it. So this particular day in August I think I was so frustrated and desperate that everything I had been holding inside came tumbling out to anyone who pressed me.
During the after-Mass coffee and food hour, I really let it all out to two folks—both longtime members of the community, elderly and well respected, faithful Catholics: Charlotte and Mack.
“Why don’t I see you more around here?” they asked me, “Did you just move here?” I paused for a moment before I responded, “No, I just have a really hard time being a part of the church and being a woman. I see a lot of injustice, a lot of misogyny, and it makes it difficult for me to be here sometimes.” Charlotte chastised me, “You can’t change things by staying at home! If you’re just sitting on your butt, we’re never going to see women on the altar. You’ve got to get working, Mother Julia.”
A 70-something year old woman calling me, a 20-something-year-old “Mother” humbled and challenged me. “Okay, I will come,” I agreed, “but I’m going to be talking about it with you when it gets hard again!”
I started regularly attending Mass and formed a weekly discussion group so that the parishoners could gather to discuss the readings. In this context and that of the after-Mass coffee and food hours, I formed relationships with some parishoners, particularly the elderly ones.
A few months later, during one coffee and food hour, Mack shared with me a hurtful comment that his doctor made during a recent visit. His doctor had “joked” that Mack had little reason left to live. I told him, “You better keep living. You’re the reason that I come to church. Do you remember when you yelled at me because I said I was going to stay home? If you’re not around, who is going to make sure that I keep coming?”
I was joking a little, but not completely. “Yeah, that’s right,” he said seriously and with a smile on his face, “I am the reason you are here. I can’t go anywhere.” I was caught off-guard by his sincerity and tears filled my eyes. I became, for a moment, the reason he was there. And in that moment I could feel the best of we think of as church—not some abstract idea of community, but real, concrete people with whom I have built and am building relationships of encouragement.
Honestly, it is still difficult, but I can now express when I have difficulties honestly, I can say what I’m struggling with and I can experiment with a vision for a better future alongside people who know me and care about me and who yell at me from time to time. This is, for me, the only way to keep the faith in a wounded, but still hobbling institution.
Guest blogger Julia Feder is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame and blogs at Women in Theology .
As a supplement of the January 2011 special issue on women , U.S. Catholic is asking guest bloggers, “How do you keep the faith as a woman in the church?”  To submit your answer (about 500 words), e-mail email@example.com .
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.