April 3, 2015

Be Our Guest / Gilbert Marsh

‘The church across the street’

In his editorial “Why Do Catholics Leave The Church” in the March 6 issue of The Criterion, Editor Emeritus John F. Fink says he is “baffled” about the results of a survey that says that the number one reason Catholics give for leaving the Church to join evangelical Protestant churches is a desire for “a more personal relationship with Jesus.”

Fink wonders, how could we possibly have a more personal relationship with Jesus then we do in the Eucharist? But he should not be baffled.

Fink goes on to say that we have failed to make people understand what the Eucharist is, and he may well be right here. However, I think this theory misses the point of what people mean when they describe what they are seeking when they go searching for Jesus outside the Catholic Church.

For many people, a personal relationship with Jesus begins with the relationship to his Church. This was brought home to me when I was out of town and looking for a church so I could go to Mass.

I mistook a church for the Catholic Church. As soon as I got out of the car, three people in the parking lot welcomed me to the church. I felt a little uneasy.

When I entered the church, three more people welcomed me and one told me about a two-year study course on the New Testament that this church was offering.

This really didn’t “feel Catholic,” though it did feel welcoming.

Someone then asked, “Are you here to worship?”

I was really squirming at this point and replied, “Is this the Catholic Church?”

They smiled and said, “No, that’s across the street.”

I had often puzzled myself over why so many who are raised Catholic seem to drift elsewhere. I guess you could say that before this experience I was “baffled.”

After this experience, I had a better idea of what people mean when they say, “I want a more personal relationship with Jesus.”

Certainly there is no closer relationship to Jesus then we find in the Eucharist, but it will be experienced as such only if we can first feel Jesus in the Christians we meet, as I did among those people at the church across the street.

(Gilbert Marsh is a clinical psychotherapist in Bloomington and a member of St. Agnes Parish in Nashville.)

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