One Sunday afternoon, I posted on Facebook:
“Reasons the Fishers left their pew this morning:
Had to go to the bathroom.
Also had to go to the bathroom.
Had to check ketones and bolus.
Had to go to the bathroom after all.
Had to take migraine meds.
Had to get to work.
Had to leave the building entirely because, while the four-year-old could behave herself, her puppy Crystal could not.
BUT WE ALL CAME BACK EVENTUALLY.”
I’m not sure how the other parishioners feel, but I have no problem with this level of traffic during Mass. We’d rather keep a lighter grip on the reins, and let the kids do what they need to do, as long as they always come back. And we do always come back.
When I was a teenager, I also didn’t sit in the pew. I did come to Mass with my parents, because they expected it, but I never made it as far as the pew. I would lurk sulkily in the back of the church, glowering at the little red votive candles as they flickered in their cups. Sometimes I would sit on the steps to the choir loft, my head between my knees, hating every moment of it. I never prayed, I never went to confession. I chose the path of misery for years, rather than sit in the pew.
And you know, I eventually came back. Look at me now! I’m so Catholic, the Jehovah’s Witnesses barely even try. I’m sure my parents were worried when I started to stray as a teenager, but they knew they were playing the long game. They kept a pretty loose grip on the reins, and I think that’s a good principle.
Almost as if to illustrate this principle: During that same Mass I described above, where my family spent most of the hour coming and going and to-ing and fro-ing, the pastor made an announcement: An elderly couple in the parish would have their marriage convalidated. They’d been in a civil marriage for many years but had recently come back to the Church.
I missed most of the short ceremony (see: naughty Crystal, above). But I did see the end of it, after the priest finished saying the words that brought them back into the arms of the Church. As the couple returned to their seats, the white-haired woman smiled at parishioners just as glowingly as any new bride with her whole life ahead of her. They looked very happy to be together, and oh, they looked happy to be back.
You can always come back, you see. I understand that there are times when you feel like you must leave. Maybe you are so disgusted with what you’ve learned about the behaviour of the hierarchy, you just can’t bear to be there. Maybe it causes too much conflict in your marriage to go, or maybe there are too many logistical struggles to being there. Maybe someone in the parish has hurt you badly, and you can’t stand the pain of standing there and knowing justice hasn’t been served. Maybe someone calling himself a christian has been cruel to your children. Maybe you’re just exhausted. Maybe you’re afraid. Maybe you’re ashamed. Maybe you’re confused, and you have more questions to work through still. Maybe you have one of ten thousand other reasons people have for leaving the Church.
But you can always come back. As long as you live, there is always time to come back. It doesn’t matter what other people think about your reasons for leaving. All that matters is the long game. I promise you, you can always come back, and oh, Jesus will be glad to have you home again.