The Outcasts Among Us

This parish has a wonderful reputation in the archdiocese. We have good and holy priests, deep roots, a beautiful church filled with Catholic families, and numerous vocations to the priesthood and religious life. When I tell practicing Catholics outside “the Bubble” of St. Michael where I work and worship, they know this place and tell me I am blessed.

Many of you have had the same experience—so a few facts may come as a surprise. For example, did you know that any given fall, only about half of the parish’s school-age youth are enrolled in either the LIFT program or the Catholic school? Or that each year we see a spike in LIFT enrollment among families with children in the sacrament grades—second grade for First Holy Communion; ninth and tenth grade for Confirmation—followed by a drop of about 50 percent after First Holy Communion, and nearly 100 percent after Confirmation? This tells us two things: first, the number of St. Michael youth enrolled in religious education on a regular, year-after-year basis is probably closer to 40 percent, and second, many of the Catholic families in our parish come for the sacraments but form no abiding relationship with Jesus, the Catholic Church, or the Body of Christ—the community of the faithful—present here.

Something is missing, even here in this beautiful, life-giving parish.

I was blessed to make a silent retreat to Demontreville a couple weeks ago. During one of the meals, we listened to Fr. Greg Boyle recount his work among gang members in Los Angeles, and I was struck that these young men were searching for what we all want: a place to belong. That got me thinking: who are the outcasts among us here in St. Michael? Who, in our parish, is just looking for a place to belong?

Perhaps it’s the broken family who struggles to make connections because the kids are only here every other week. Perhaps it’s the single mom who can’t attend MOMs Group because she works long hours—and wouldn’t know what to talk to the other moms about anyway. Perhaps it’s the immigrant family who finds themselves awash in a sea of white, worshiping in a way that is as solemn and foreign to them as they may appear to many of us.

Or perhaps it’s the young family that’s just settling in: Mom’s a cradle Catholic; Dad is coming around—with two young kids and an infant, juggling work and family and faith, swept along in the rush of baseball games and birthday parties. They told the priest five years ago they would raised their children Catholic, but honestly, they don’t know where to start. Mass is a struggle. They’d like to get involved, but maybe they’ll wait until First Communion. Hopefully things will settle down by then.

Those of us who feel at home here are deeply blessed, but we can sometimes forget where we started. At one time—perhaps as children, perhaps as adults—we had basic questions about the faith we were afraid to ask. At one time, someone—a priest, a friend, a stranger—took an interest and nudged us toward God. At one time, we were all on the fringes of faith and could have tipped either way. To our great benefit we fell into the open arms of Jesus.

So let’s benefit others in the same way, recognizing that the best way to deepen our own faith is to follow Christ in spreading the gospel and making disciples. Let us look for the outcasts among us, invite them in, and walk with them up the narrow path to the Cross, and our salvation.

Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, August 23, parish bulletin.

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