I have a problem: I don’t know where my family and I should be attending Mass.
When I was first hired as the youth minister for two different parishes, both pastors were new, so we didn’t have any idea which one would be the best fit. We decided to join the one that was closest to our house. Now, we’re 3 years in and the two parishes and pastors have developed very unique personalities and charisms, and I just can’t figure out which one is the best fit for our family.
Part of the struggle lies in the difference in faith development between me and my husband. My husband only recently became Catholic and has had some pretty disillusioning experiences of Church life (Someone remind me how I could have ever thought parish council would be a good idea for a new Catholic?) and he mostly goes to Mass because he knows how important it is to me. I, on the other hand, am a cradle, Catholic-school going, Church worker with a Master’s degree in Pastoral Studies who tries to get to daily Mass at least once a week.
The problem is that the two parishes meet two very different needs for our family.
Parish A has a very orthodox pastor who truly lives and breathes liturgy as “the source and summit” of our faith. He busts out all the Catholic smells and bells every week because he wants the parish to understand how important the liturgical experience is. He’s a stickler for following the Church liturgical documents and is incredibly obedient to the directives of our Bishop. His homilies are grounded in strong theology and catechesis (teaching). I love his homilies because I learn something new every week – he speaks to my level. My husband on the other hand, often finds these homilies flying miles over his head. He doesn’t have the same appreciation for the chant, incense, and bells, so he complains that the Mass feels like a production at this parish rather than worship.
Parish B has a pastor who is all about personal relationships. He makes each person he encounters feel as though they are the most important thing he is doing in that moment. He doesn’t use all the smells and bells at every Mass, but his homilies are strongly grounded in real life experience. I don’t often learn something new during these Masses, but I find myself engaged in the personal stories, jokes, and parables he uses to challenge us to live out our faith better when we leave the Church doors. I miss some of the more traditional aspects of liturgy when we attend this parish, but my husband really enjoys this pastor’s personability and the easy way he can relate to the homilies.
We’ve been bouncing back and forth between these two parishes on Sunday mornings for the past few years, but we’re running into a problem with that approach. See, our son is going to be receiving his First Communion next year and has started to develop an understanding and appreciation for what’s happening during Mass. He really wants to go to Parish B every Sunday. He likes that pastor because, “he sometimes sings songs or talks about Indiana Jones” during his homilies. I like taking him to Parish A because I can count on so many teachable moments – like when we talked about how they use the incense honoring the 4 places in the Mass where we find the Real Presence of Christ (Word, Eucharist, Priest, & People)
I know how important it is to develop a strong Catholic identity and love for the Mass in my children, and this is where I’m feeling torn. I’m trying to figure out how to balance all the factors:
- Is it okay to keep bouncing back and forth, or do we need to foster a sense of parish identity for our children (and ourselves) by picking one and sticking to it?
- Is it more important that my children are exposed to all the sensual experiences of a truly strongly developed liturgy or that they are able to connect with the Scriptures through the homily each week?
- Is it better for my children (particularly my sons) to regularly see the innate holiness of a priest, or that they are able to develop a positive relationship with a friendly priest each?
- Should I sacrifice the liturgical experience that speaks more to me so the rest of my family has a more positive experience or should I continue to push my family outside their comfort zone to bring them deeper into that experience?
It’s not an easy decision because both parishes are really good. Both pastors are holy men who care deeply about the flock entrusted to them. And ultimately, despite the occasional frustrations, that’s what makes me grateful to be in this position. Having to make this decision means I’m a part of something that’s bigger than me…bigger than my husband…bigger than our family. The diversity of our universal Church is played out even in our small town, and I am reminded of how many gifts and talents we are blessed with in our parishes. The river of grace flows wide in Oshkosh and all Catholics can find a holy experience of liturgy that can reach them where they are – which makes us truly blessed.
Have any of you navigated the “choosing a parish” waters successfully? I’d love your advice and thoughts on how my husband and I should prioritize moving forward…