Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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April 4th, 2011

Church Hopping


church-hopping-flash3The more years that separate me from my time at Notre Dame, the more I realize how easy college made certain things in life.  Making friends was easy as I was surrounded by a great community of people with whom I had a lot in common; I never had to spend a lot of energy finding people with similar interests.  We also had Mass in our dorm, which meant we all went to Mass with our closest friends — it didn’t take a lot of extra work to be part of a spiritual community.  In fact, being a theology major and, in general, just being a Domer, it was never difficult to find tons of groups, retreats, events, or volunteer opportunities that guaranteed an awesome spiritual community.

Then I graduated and lived in a Catholic Worker house.  As a community we said daily prayers together, usually attended daily Mass, and were always having discussions about faith and Church teachings and how to live out the Gospel.  It too was a wonderful spiritual community.

Then came Austin — when I finally found out how hard it is to make friends in the “real world”.  There was no longer a guaranteed community.  I was in the world where most people were very different from me and I had to work to find people that I could relate to and be friends with.  As for a spiritual community, this was even harder.  I couldn’t just walk down the hallway with my roommate to go to Mass.  I couldn’t just get dressed and head downstairs for Morning Prayer.  I had to put effort into finding a place to call home.

Ever since getting married and moving to a new part of town, Brandon and I have been bouncing from parish to parish looking for a home.  Parish-hopping if you will.  Between me, the theology major, and Brandon, a complete and total liturgical nerd, we are extremely picky when it comes to finding the right parish.  A good homily is a big deal to me, which immediately narrows down the pool.  Sometimes we get tired of mediocre liturgical music, so we want a place with a good choir that sings traditional songs.  I also want a church with an active Hispanic ministry where we can attend Spanish Mass at least once a month.  On top of this we want a vibrant community that is active in social justice, interested in discussing and sharing their faith and deepening their understanding of the Church and God.

With all that criteria we set out to find the right fit — and it turned out to be much harder than we expected. One church had a bad sound system and we couldn’t understand anything.  One church had horrible music.  The priest at one wasn’t charismatic enough.   One had no cry room.  One had no social justice ministry.  And so on, and so on: bad homilies, not diverse enough, no Spanish Mass, no English Mass, not welcoming enough, too big, too small.

Within a fifteen-minute drive we can get to at least 12 churches so we sampled a lot.  Feeling pretty unfulfilled with our search, Brandon and I sat down to discuss our priorities.

After all this church shopping, we realized how jerky we were being.  The Church is made up of people and people aren’t perfect.  How could we expect to find the “perfect” parish and hold churches to such a high standard when we ourselves are far from being perfect parishioners?  We typically show up during the Gloria due to figuring out how to get around with our two little ones in tow.  We distract people around us when we’re attempting to squeeze our way into a pew after Mass has already started, not to mention that Olivia is certainly no angel during Mass once we’re settled.  We have yet to start giving at church again on a regular basis, and for now we don’t even have much time to give to the parish.

Thinking about these points definitely knocked me off my high horse.  How could I criticize the priest for not doing cartwheels to keep my attention during his homily?  Or criticize the choir for being slightly flat when singing the entrance song?  We don’t go to Mass to be entertained, we go to grow in grace and in faith and to worship God in communion with others.  Whether the liturgy is done well or not, it is still worthy of our time.  If God can be patient with all of my imperfections, then I should be able to do the same with others.  If the parish and the Mass are good enough for Jesus to become physically present then it is certainly good enough for us to spend an hour in prayer.

We narrowed our priorities: good liturgy, welcoming environment, good Spanish and English ministries, space to accommodate young children, and a place that we could benefit from their ministries without putting much time in at the moment, but still having plenty of opportunity to get involved in later when life settles down a bit.

We finally picked one and were happy to have some consistency to our Sundays.  While the Catholic Church has always been a home, we’ve finally found our home within the Church.

As most parishes do, this church holds a Fish Fry on Fridays during Lent, so we decided to celebrate our decision by enjoying the feast.  We walked in, got our food and sat at a table by ourselves.  We saw the pastor walk in and start greeting people.  Expecting him to just say hello and move on to the next table, we were surprised when he sat down and said, “Hey, you guys are back.  I’m so happy.”  Then proceeded to make fish faces at Olivia while he sat and ate with us.

Yep, we’re home.

Originally published on April 4, 2011.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Jamie

    Great article! I really appreciated your honesty about being judgmental and then start being open to the imperfections in others! It’s so true. We lost our spiritual home after a new order of priests arrived and made our community feel unwelcomed and shut down our Mass. So it’s sad to feel like your wandering in the desert to find your home again. And Paul is 1000% spot on about offering to start the ministries which are lacking in your parish. I take my kids to all the events or activities I’m organizing. We are the caretakers of the Church!

  • Paul

    I ran into a gentleman once who had attended Catholic schools from elementary through masters degree. He was reading a Mother Teresa book. In our casual conversation he said that he no longer attended the Catholic Church because he couldn’t find a parish that had an ongoing Bible study. It was only later that I realized I should have asked him why he didn’t start one. Sometimes when our parish is lacking something it is a call to us to begin a new ministry instead of waiting for someone else. I also didn’t think to tell them that I would miss the Sacraments if I left the Catholic Church. Definitely a missed opportunity!

  • JMS

    This actually brought tears to my eyes!

  • Katie S

    I understand this sentiment completely! I’m an ’06 Domer who has also had some not so great experiences at a non-welcoming Church. I was SO FRUSTRATED trying to find a church after we moved. But, once we had a little bit of an open mind and really thought about what was important to us, we found a community that we loved. The tricky part about this was that each Mass had its own “personality.” Once we found our fit, though, we couldn’t be happier!

    Thanks for your thought!

  • Meagan F

    WONDERFUL! I’m so happy that you found a parish!

    I was just discussing the difficulties in community-building with a group of Catholic women. These days, people don’t stay in the same parish for their entire lives and it can be difficult to establish continuity. But I’m hoping that our generation can work to maintain a sense community even in the face of some transience. I think it’s the next big challenge in order for the Church to keep its members.

  • James Leo Oliver

    With all the sad news about sinful priests I was moved to tears by your last paragraph where you share that the priest at your church welcomes you, joins you for a meal and remembers you, thus demonstrating the love of Christ.

  • Gaby

    Dear Vanessa,
    I am currently a freshman at Notre Dame, and I know exactly what you mean about the Catholic experience here. It is SO EASY to be a Catholic college kid here! I am constantly surrounded by other practicing students who take advantage of all kinds of campus ministry offerings. I hope that this will be the foundation for me to live an active, Catholic life after graduation. I love reading your articles- thanks for the sneak peek of what it might be like as a Catholic adult.

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