That’s how you do church

As I settled into my pew at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago on a recent Sunday morning, I gazed at the beautiful interior, a feast for the eyes, and hoped for a liturgy that would be a feast for my soul. I was not deceived; in fact, I was joyful, almost dazed.

Flipping through the cathedral bulletin before mass, I read an informative public policy piece on growing anti-Catholic sentiment and religious liberty; a short reflection on the gospel story of that day; and a reflection on the upcoming feast of Mary Magdalene which made this Magdala fan-girl smile from ear to ear.

In terms of a spiritual meal, this spread was a feast of delicious starters that left me feeling satisfied and eager to see the main course, which was everything I had hoped for and more.

The music was accessible and easy to sing. The homily was relevant and food for thought. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was reverent to the point of giving me goosebumps. The pews were filled with young and old, families and singles, but especially so many young adults.

After a magnificent liturgy from start to finish, the reader browsed announcements of upcoming events – coffee and baking in the courtyard after mass, a summer jazz concert (BYO picnic dinner), a painting evening and sip. Everything was free and open to everyone, without exception. I turned to my husband, Dennis, and said, “That’s how you do church.

As we were leaving mass, we were repeatedly stopped by people encouraging us to join them in the yard. The young priest who wrote the reflection of Mary Magdalene greeted people in the back. (I knew he was the writer because he wore a name tag.) I stopped to thank him for the inspiration. Then I went to the celebrant to thank him as well.

Maybe this morning’s hope has something to do with the general population of Chicago. I had felt a rush of hope as we strolled the halls of the Chicago Art Institute because it was so crowded with young adults and families, but I believe my mass high was due to more than demographics. .

This was due to the intentional effort that had been made to welcome newcomers, to find points of connection, to offer something relevant and inviting, to recognize that, while the Eucharist is source and summit, we, the humans, often need tangible benefits to accompany transcendent intangibles.

For years I gave a talk called “Lost Generation”, which focuses on reaching Catholic adults who are disconnected from the faith. One of my key points has been that we cannot bridge the gap by starting with theology, or even with the Eucharist.

For many inactive or uncatechized people, the Eucharist is a mystery that requires time, prayer and a revelation that does not always come suddenly when someone walks through the door. We need to meet people at the door, connect with them where they are, and walk the path with them until the mundane gives way to mystery.

This connection starts with a sincere welcome, with broad inclusion, with coffees and painting lessons – not just once in a while and not just with minimal effort. Connection begins with a willingness to let go of the old mantra, “We’ve always done it this way,” and open our hearts and minds to new ways of doing things.

There’s a surefire way to tell if we’re on the right track: imagine you’re a non-Catholic — or an out-of-touch Catholic — walking into Sunday Mass at your church for the very first time. Would this Church experience make you want to come back a second time? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, it’s time to rethink the usual routines.

People crave deep connections and a loving community. If you build it, they will come. And they will bring their friends.

Martha J. Finley