Healing What Is Broken

by Jen Owens

I’ve spent the past three weeks on break from classes with my family in Southern California. The intent was in part to work a bit at the parish in which I grew up, but more than anything else, to rest in the company of my family.

Slowing down is a difficult thing for those of us who struggle with our culture’s urging to be constantly going, going, going. So often we internalize it to the point that it is no longer the voice of a depersonalized other pushing us along, but rather, our own. Recognizing that I am one of these people and that self-care is something I struggle to do by myself, I felt a prompting to renew my commitment to attending daily Masses.

I tried. I did. But I often felt disappointed. That my fellow Mass-goers refrained from actually making physical contact with one another during the Sign of Peace, that they remained in their pews and waved rather than shaking one another’s hands and learning their neighbors’ names. That half of the priests assigned to our parish used their homilies as opportunities to chide and wag their fingers, rather than to encourage and inspire their hearers to become more faithful Christians.

So I stopped. And I made time to pray on my own. But I felt like something was missing. And I shared that concern with one of my spiritual directors, who reminded me that none of us is safe from hypocrisy and pride. Is it fair to God and to my worshiping community for me to deprive them of my presence at Mass because I have so busied myself judging the people around me? Is it fair to me that I don’t get to experience Jesus in the Eucharist as often as I might because what a priest has said in a homily has upset me?

Don’t get me wrong, members of our worshiping communities have a lot to work on, and I advocate using what we have to make these communities the most welcoming and hospitable places we can. But I also know that I am not such a together person that I do not need to spend time with God in prayer in community. Because I am just as broken and fearful as the person next to me in the pew who is too afraid to shake my hand or the priest in the pulpit who is too afraid of what might happen if he were to preach something more hopeful in his homily. And I believe, at least for now, that the Eucharist can heal what is broken in me, in us.

The language of the Mass gives me the grammar and the vocabulary to communicate with God when I am too tired or too unsure of myself to find my own words. Participating in Mass isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s the one that is most comforting to me in my brokenness. It connects me to roots that run deep, that bind me to my family, living and dead, in my hometown and around the world, that remind me that I am not alone. And the particular words we use for God—Lord God, Father God, Heavenly King—these remind me that my work is needed in our church, that I need to learn my lessons well, to use the gifts and the opportunities with which God has blessed me to argue for other words, more inclusive words, more egalitarian words for God that better serve the whole community.

So this week I pray that we would be able to open our hearts to find the ways we are called to love and to forgive each other, to open our eyes to see the pain that those around us are in, to open our ears to listen to how God is calling us to be of service to one another. I pray that we can experience the kind of love that frees us from the fear that binds us, so that we can live into the kind of freedom that Jesus came to share with us.

Jennifer Owens is entering her second year of doctoral studies in systematic theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism.

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One Response

  1. I feel saiftised after reading that one.

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