Sarah’s Hope – An infertility retreat opportunity!

Who needs a retreat?

Who wants to go to Texas?

This is what Texas looks like in April!

I wanted to share this opportunity with anyone who’s interested in attending a weekend day retreat for those struggling to conceive or dealing with pregnancy loss.  This is seriously an answer to many prayers, so I hope someone finds this information useful or can send it to someone who would be interested!  Sent to me by a friend in Austin, Texas!

We are excited to announce the date of our first retreat for couples struggling to conceive or with pregnancy loss! You and your spouse are invited to join us on Saturday, April 28, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Schoenstatt Shrine in west Austin (225 Addie Roy Road, Austin, TX) at the Sarah’s Hope & Abraham’s Promise Retreat!

The retreat will feature discussion on topics related to Catholic fertility issues as well as the opportunity for reconciliation and a Healing Mass with Fr. Charlie Garza from Santa Cruz Parish in Buda. We are delighted and humbled that our Prayer Team will be praying for us throughout the day at Eucharistic Adoration. Let us know if you know of anyone who’s not officially on our Prayer Team who might want to take part in a holy hour for us on April 28th to pray for our intentions!

The day promises to be a beautiful one that will renew us on our journeys to parenthood, so please go ahead and e-mail us at SarahsHopeAustin@gmail.com or call (512) 736-7334 to register for the retreat. We’d like to get a headcount so we can plan accordingly. There is a $30 suggested donation to attend, and lunch will be provided.

If either you or your spouse are unable to attend, we’d still love to have either one of you, so please join us if either can make it.

Let us know if you have any questions! It is our sincere hope that you will prayerfully consider attending.

In Christ,
Cari, Erin and Jen

Please contact me or the email/phone numbers above for more information.

Here’s also more information about the monthly support group.

SarahsHopeFlyer

If you do end up going, it would be nice to hear how the weekend went so that we can incorporate some things into our group out here in California.  Thank you!

Not quite as good as a hug

As happy as I am for a blogger that announces their pregnancy, somewhere in my head (or blog reader) I (sometimes) eventually stop being as loyal a reader as I once was, mostly because their blog doesn’t offer that sense of support that I crave(d).

This isn’t a dis-invite (de-vite? unvite?  here I am making up words…) to stop reading my blog, I just wanted to provide a couple other blogs (outside of the Catholic bloggers) I had stumbled upon recently that I felt tremendous support from and maybe they will do the same for some others who need it.

 

Held.  So, so good.  A Christian network of women currently or who used to suffer from sub/infertility writing about their experiences (and the best part, they don’t tell you!  You just get to read their wisdom).  Very faith based, but with a touch of ART mentioned on occasion.  Such wisdom and you’re bound to cry, so you’ve been warned.  Some of us could probably write over there as well…

Life as two.  I found Thelma’s blog from the Held site because her pieces were so insightful.  When I followed it to her blog I loved it even more and consumed almost all her posts related to infertility.  Her bio, “I do not write this blog from ‘the other side’ of infertility. We were a family of two the day we were married, and it appears that the Lord intended for our family to remain that way. To my knowledge, I have never been pregnant.  We have seen the Lord quietly close all the doors to parenthood (ARTs, fostering, adoption) as we traveled this road and we stand here today as we did on the day we wed: a family of two…..I wish I could tell you how your story ended.  I can’t promise you a child at the end of your road.  I can, however, be witness to the faithfulness of God in the midst of the storm.  He is near, faithful and strong enough to bear you up through all of this.  Lean on Him, even when it feels easier to be angry with Him.”

If that didn’t make you cry, you have no soul.  I found her blog the week before we found out we were pregnant.  What a gold mine.

And on a lighter note…

Scrambled Eggs.  Found this after the NFPWorks blog mentioned it.  Mostly funny, well, as funny as you can get approach to dealing with sub/infertility.  I love the movie Dumbo when I was a kid!  And now I see the connection…

 

I still don’t know what to do about the Catholic Infertility Support group in California I wanted to start.  I felt that I was in such a position to do some good here (despite no one emailing me and saying ‘yes, sign me up!’) and then…well, I’m pretty sure no one wants a pregnant woman running the group.  I feel bad though because I know that although no one emailed me or started one already, there has to be a need out there and they’re just by themselves.  I’ve still thought about organizing it and being the moderator or something, but I guess we’ll just see how things play out from here.

Shocking

I just got off the phone with the Family Life Coordinator of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest diocese in the United States, which serves almost 5 million Catholics.

That’s like, an insane number.

And do you know how many Catholic infertility support groups she knows of?

None.  Not a single one.

There are support groups for widows and separated/divorcées, but none for couples suffering from infertility.

I’m still in shock, but realizing how desperate this need is.   Much bigger than I had any idea about.

So for anyone who thinks this is “just another problem” you can have that’s not any worse than any other problem, clearly it isn’t if we can’t even talk about it.

I’m still in shock.

Improvement

So I’m following my own advice and writing about a happy moment that happened almost right after I wrote that post yesterday.

I didn’t cry.

Maybe that doesn’t sound happy, but it was a big victory for me.

I didn’t cry while telling friends from another lab about our sub-fertility.

This is improvement!  Or maybe proof that the hype up is worse than the actual event.  Or proof that the angst is in getting comments, which usually happens when you tell moms or other people that like to give advice on child-rearing.

Lunch with another married graduate student and another girl from his lab.

“We’re going to start trying after graduation” I knew this.  They have been telling everyone this plan for almost a year now.   We are always quiet and smile and nod when this comes up. But this time he followed up, “Do you want kids after graduation?”

Hesitation.

Umm, yes.  Its just not always that simple.

“Well, of course.  But I mean…”

The whole conversation took me by surprise so there was really no way to respond when the girl continued “Why the hesitation.  Wait, are you pregnant? Are you going to try to get pregnant?  Wait, are you trying now??!” with anything but the truth.  But it came out easily.  Matter of fact.

Yes, we are trying now.  We have been for quite a while.

“Oh.”

And I picked up and continued the conversation to drown out the expected silence.  I think it helped that I wasn’t looking for consolation from them, like I have from other people.  I think it helped that they didn’t have the experience of parenthood to make them feel like experts in the matter.  It felt more like it was an exercise in sub/infertility awareness. Hey, it doesn’t always happen like you plan it. While everyone is concerned with not getting pregnant, its not always as easy at it seems.

My husband says I’m evolving. Ha!

Anyways, it was a small victory.

 

I think my happy moments look different now.

Underestimating our loved ones

I am one of those people that when someone is telling me a story and they digress into what they would have liked to say or what their real reaction was, I almost always ask “Well, did you say that?”  or “What did they say when you said that?” The usual response is, “Oh, well I really didn’t say that out loud, I just thought it.”   I realize how little we express what we’re really thinking. How do you expect the other person to know what you were thinking if you don’t tell them?  Since no one can read minds, you have to explicitly say what you’re thinking if you’re going to hold people accountable for their reactions. (Not that I always advocate saying exactly what’s on your mind, but I’ll leave that for another post…)

This is probably one of the reasons that I have not told everyone in real life about our troubles conceiving.  If they don’t know because I don’t tell them how I’m really feeling or what’s really going on, then I can’t get upset at their casual comments. In general, I try to abide by the “they only mean well” assumption to not take things personally.  Its when I feel they should know better than to say things like that that the relationship starts to feel damaged.

So after getting enough bad reactions or odd comments after telling people that we haven’t been able to conceive yet, I’ve decided to compensate by not telling anyone. That way, I cannot hold them accountable.  While most of my family is aware that we are trying and not conceiving, to my knowledge my husband’s family is not (unless they read this blog, of course, which now would be a as good a time as any to tell me!).   It is not that we’re purposely withholding this information so much as just not bringing it up first after my first couple go-rounds went so poorly.  My husband once asked how I can write on a blog for the whole world to see that we are sub-fertile, but can’t tell my in-laws?  Valid question.  I’ve concluded its all about 1) knowing my audience and 2) being OK with it myself.  I hope for the day where I can bring this topic up in normal conversation and not start crying.   Unfortunately, tears elicit attempts to “make it better” which, let’s face it, usually do not help make it better.

So while my defense mechanism of not talking about it has probably avoided some hurtful and/or embarrassing situations, it has also destroyed the chances of my friends and family showing how positively they can react.  In short, by assuming the worst, I may have underestimated them.

I’ve realized this because I told some good friends this past weekend what’s been going on.  It just came out, and I cried, and they hugged me, and they reminded me just how good and loving people can be.  Granted, this couple has dealt with their own fertility issues, different that mine but, still.  Perhaps it has made them more willing to just listen and love.  I haven’t felt this good after talking with someone in a while.

And this morning when I came to work, there were some freshly baked cookies on my desk from them.  So. Sweet. And tasty :)

So, yes, I will not always get the right reaction from people, even though they mean well.  But I am again reminded that when I underestimate my friends and family under the guise of protecting myself, it is possible that I am only preventing myself from being helped.  They cannot read minds and know what’s going on with me.  And who’s loss is that?

 

Do you tell people what you’re thinking/feeling always?  If you’re dealing with sub/infertility, have you told everyone in your life?  We all know about the bad reactions, but has anyone surprised you by their reactions in a good way?

 

An exchange of hope

I saw this picture today and thought, wow, I have a good looking husband did I really go to India?

Traveling is not something I take for granted and is something that I hoped and hoped for for so long.   I get giddy like a schoolgirl as soon as I plan a trip and quite literally bounce off the walls.  I always wanted to travel when I was younger and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of distant places, probably because my dad would bring back strange mementos from all over the world but pictures were few and far between. So I was left to dream.

Exactly 5 years ago I did my first (and only) international service trip.  I was thinking about applying to the Peace Corps after I graduated college and knew I needed to have more experience doing similar activities if I was going to commit to two years of it.  We were to go down to a tiny village in Nicaragua with a group called Engineers without Borders and install a solar panel at their school to produce electricity.  We’d also be performing a health survey and testing the household wells for contamination in order to plan the next trip.

I wasn’t Catholic at the time.  And it wasn’t remotely even on the radar. So imagine my surprise when I was looking back through pictures and found this one:

I’m the one chilling on top of the ladder installing wires in the church, right up next to a giant crucifix and a giant mural of Jesus.  A little foreshadowing, perhaps?  We were supposed to install the solar panel onto the school, but when we got down to the community, the residents told us they wanted it to serve their church instead.  This being a secular trip, I remember we all talked about it and eventually justified the change in plans because the church really served as their community center so we wouldn’t really be promoting their church.

I’m not lying when I said I developed a love of children on this trip.  My younger brother is only a few years younger and we never really lived around younger cousins, and although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting for neighborhood kids growing up, my experience with little kids was limited.  You know those people who just attract kids?

My friend reading "Huevos verdes con jamon"

Yeah, that wasn’t ever me.  That was always the other girl.

Kids didn’t scare me, I just didn’t know how to act around them.  But boy, these kids broke me down!

Helping me put together the solar panel

 

And I particularly love this one!

By the end of the trip they were flocking to me!

And then there were these most adorable little twins with strawberry blonde hair.  I was so shy around them but by the end I snatched one up because he was too adorable not to have a picture with.

I’d just met the hubs a few weeks prior to leaving on that trip and when I think back to that time, the feeling I get in my stomach is synonymous to the feeling I remember having when I first met him.  It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after our first couple conversations I had the distinct feeling that this man would change my life.

One of the last days on the trip we had a couple hours free in town and I wanted to send him an email to let him know I was thinking about him.  I asked our translator how to say “I miss you”.  Well, somewhere along the way I messed it all up and I proudly signed the letter “Te extracto mucho” which, all Spanish speakers already know, is definitely not how you say I miss you.  Its been our little inside joke ever since.

Anyway, that feeling that I get in my stomach, those butterflies of a new love, a new approach to life, and the feeling that you can go out there and change the world, all wrap up as one for me.  I’ve decided its the feeling of hope.  Before we got to the village, we thought we were going to change the world.  And we’d do it starting with this one community.   A few tests later and we realized how contaminated their well water was.  Bacteria and nitrates, it was no mystery why the rates of disease were so high.  We sat around contemplating what would be our next project.  A health center, a better school, clean water.  They needed it all.  How could we change the world if we couldn’t fix the problems in one village?

But we had to start somewhere.  We could give them a bit of electricity.  And the next time, a clean water source.  Although the basic civil infrastructure was what was lacking, engineered solutions could only skim the surface of what was really a political and sociological problem.  We worried if what we offered would have longevity.  Electric generators were common in the town and they powered tiny TVs and radios.  They could have easily used our solar panel for the same after we left.  Would our water system made out of PVC last or would they get tired of walking all the water to the town center to get clean water and just go back to using their contaminated well water?

Towards the end of the trip, it really hit us that all we had to offer was the idea that there was someone out there who was willing to help.  A hope of something that was greater than themselves.  Of course we could help provide limited tangible assistance as well, but we were unconvinced that that was the most valuable thing we offered.  Its frustrating, seeing a situation that you can’t change even if you really, really want to.

Of course the big surprise was that they offered us hope as well and planted the idea that we worried about all the wrong things.  How could they seem so happy, didn’t they know they had nothing?  Where were our children, our families? the younger women wanted to know, as they were our age and already had little packs of children running around their ankles.  A party they threw for us actually turned out to be a lengthy, fiery sermon about Jesus.  Too bad it was lost on us as only a few of us understood Spanish.  But the music and dancing later was universally understood as a celebration.

Soon after I returned from that trip I decided to go to grad school and study drinking water treatment.  With more education maybe I could help people on a larger scale.  Soon after that trip I also started attending Mass, which led to the start of my faith journey.  And soon after that trip I followed that butterfly feeling and started dating my now-husband.

My life really did change directions from that exchange of hope.

I wonder how anyone’s life in that village changed.

What I did for NFP week

NFP week is almost over and I realized I never wrote anything substantial on it!  I’m not feeling entirely inspired to write anything deeply personal, although if I did want to write something about how NFP helped me fully represent my feminist views, it would look a lot like this.  I did want to mention a few of the things that we’ve done over these past few weeks to celebrate NFP.

NFP Witness Talk

Of all the things I wanted to do on my birthday, this really was at the top of the list.  So high up there in fact, that we delayed ‘celebrating’ until another day so that my husband and I could put on the monthly NFP witness talk.  And I’m sad we didn’t volunteer to do it earlier!  The class is basically an information session on NFP geared towards advertising NFP and getting couples to sign up for the real class.  We give a witness talk about how NFP works in our marriage and then go over the basics of what NFP is.  This month’s class was packed.  Every chair was taken by a couple that had probably never heard about NFP, which is a lot of pressure on us to make a good impression.  As we did introductions it was apparent that everyone had either been dating for 10 years or was already married civilly.  I think we did a good job and we got several comments afterwards about how people had never heard of NFP and were so impressed by our talk that they wanted to sign up for the full class.  Just hearing that comment once was worth it!  And we were sure to mention the words ‘sex’ and ‘intercourse’  a lot (maybe too much?)!  We even met the manager of a local major restaurant and he wanted to invite us out for a free dinner.  Hopefully we’ll be able to cash that in before we move!

Some funny questions included:

“So how long does that ‘honeymoon’ period get to last though?” – (didn’t quite know how to answer, usually people ask how long they have to abstain, not how long they have to have fun!)

“Where do you have to stick the thermometer?” – (a classic…answer? your mouth)

Additionally, the hubs had bought cupcakes for my bithday and made the whole class sing me Happy Birthday before we would give them their certificates.  Cute?  Yes.  Abuse of our power?  Probably. 

Oh, and we even got our picture taken by this cute couple documenting their marriage prep process!  Super cute.

NFP Awareness Week Mass

This Mass was held last Sunday.  Although we weren’t able to go to the Mass itself because the hub’s family was in town (we had gone to Mass earlier and we had to say goodbye to them in the evening), we did head over there for the potluck portion.  It was a nice event, although there weren’t as many people there as last year.  We did meet up with another couple that is in the process of adopting so that was great to catch up.  We decided to find a table that there were no kids at, which at an NFP appreciation Mass, was extremely hard to do.  But we found a young couple we didn’t know and plopped ourselves next to them.  It turns out, they weren’t married but had just wandered over because they had heard the announcement during Mass and were curious what it was all about.  They weren’t even engaged yet, but it was nice to see a couple that easily could have been the hubs and I a few years back just looking into all aspects of married life, making this decision carefully.  We all went around and talked about how we met, how we learned about NFP, etc.  Again, it was great to remember (for me) that we do have a place to help others now, since if I had little ones running around I may not have had time to pay attention to that young couple and help them feel welcome (they did look a little like “What have we gotten ourselves into??).

Anyway, NFP week has come and gone, but I, like Elizabeth’s husband Heathcliff ;), think that every week is NFP awareness week!  Now excuse me as I prepare a packet of information for my doctor the other week who went on and on about how NFP doesn’t work.  I told him I’d send him a few of the studies that prove otherwise.  I have it all printed out, I just need to get it in the mail! 

Is that too crazy?!

Losing Relevance

Subtitled “Make new friends, but keep the old.” Ha!

My greatest fear when I was younger was being forgotten.

I think this stems from moving around while growing up and always being the new girl, without a place to really, truly belong outside of my family.  I was great at jumping in the conversation and making friends, but I always worried that once I moved on, people would forget me since I was never there that long to begin with.  And if they forgot about me, that would mean that it was as if I didn’t exist.  If I didn’t exist, then I didn’t matter.

I have grown past most of those issues, mostly due to the geographical stability that I’ve enjoyed for the past 8 years and having the chance to form lasting meaningful relationships, but I’ve realized that this is a continuous lesson I’ll have to face throughout my life.  Because its not always geography that changes our identities.

I was reminded of this as I talked to a close single friend recently.  Although we’re looking from two different angles, I realized how similar our perspectives are.  To her, it seems that everyone is changing their identity from “friend” to “wife/husband” and moving on, where from my view they’re all going from “married couple friends” to “parents”. And that’s a new identity, complete with drastic life changes.  Though dear, I find it harder to find things in common and make conversation with these friends.  “Oh yeah, morning sickness?  I’ve heard its bad…”  “Kids keeping you up late? Tell me about it.” So after a lifetime of me moving on, its my turn to be left in the dust.

I’m sure this is the same way she feels when I talk about my husband.   Yet from my perspective, my relationship with my single friends doesn’t feel as different as she described.  Was I being realistic?

Short answer, no.  I remember this happening once before, in 8th grade, when for the first time a close friend moved away before I did. I came to the realization that maybe I’d had it easy all along, being the one to move on. At least that way I could enjoy new experiences and meet new people without the constant reminder of the past.  There I was for the first time, missing my friend with evidence of an obvious hole where she had been amidst the same, familiar surroundings.  You have less time to mourn what you’re missing when you’re busy with new activities.  I know that when I would move, while I missed my old-location friends and loved to catch up when we could, the reality of how our relationship changed never hit me as strongly and I was not forced to deal with it in the same way as the one left behind.  I always saw my moves as inevitable (thank you, military) and thought our friendship was continuing in the only way possible.  I never really thought about the reality of what it would be like to deal with that obvious change on a daily basis.

This “moving-on” effect feels much more pronounced now that my personal ability to “move on” is stunted by the simple fact that God’s will is not my own and I am unable to change my circumstances (as I’m sure my single friend feels). I literally can’t move on and its not as simple as moving to the same location as my friends.  I can deal and I can find joy in different things, but I can’t move on to where they are.  It really amazes me how similar I imagine this “waiting patiently for parenthood” phase is to Purgatory.  Literally, I feel that I’m tasting a glimpse of what it must be like, watching other souls ascend without looking back (and why would you, you’re now in the light of God!) while we remain, with knowledge of the promise of what’s to come but still forced to bear this cross until its enough.

I often wonder how I will react if/when we get pregnant. I’m almost ashamed to admit that those two silly months where I thought we were (my first month – of many – with a 17 day luteal phase and that silly month I misread a pregnancy test only to get my period an hour later) that of the first few extremely happy thoughts I thought, one of the happiest ones was Thank GOD I’m leaving that awful, awful place!

How quick I was to leave those others behind, so quick to forget their pain and so grateful to be moving on.  But the joke was on me!  I’m still here, forgotten as those others happily ascend onto bigger and better things.  But how can I blame them.

A couple I met the other week said it the best:  The infertility club is the only club you want to get out of as fast as possible!

I don’t want children in order to play “catch-up” with my friends. That’s not my point.  I’m just realizing that being left out of relationships is another unfortunate consequence.  That I am slowly losing relevance with friends that were once close.  I just hope we’re patient with each other as we take on these new identities and are able to remember our similarities, in spite of our differences.  I hope I never become numbed to their challenges and unable to discuss them, though they may involve the very thing I long for. And I hope that at the same time my sometimes sullenness and thoughts on this subject don’t make them uncomfortable, drag them down and make them want to forget about me!

I’m forever grateful for the friends I still have things in common with and the new friends I’m making, even if we all want out of this club :)

Community at its finest hour

My husband is someone who prides himself on knowing everything about the area he lives in.  His special talent is high school trivia and one of the first questions he’ll ask you is what high school you went to.  The man knows every high school in Los Angeles.  He’ll ask not in an elitist way (like people who ask which college you went to in order to compare to themselves), but to find out where you’re from, because ultimately he doesn’t just know the high school, he knows the area around the high school, the things to do in that area and the culture of the people there.  He believes that where you’re from will give him a better idea of what experiences you’ve had and what values are likely to matter more to you.  It’s not a fool-proof approach – especially when he met me and I had lived everywhere! – and he understands that outliers exist, but what he’s looking for is something that matters to almost everyone: a sense of community.

When I met him, he had just moved to Texas for graduate school so the “What high school did you go to?” trick only worked for people from his hometown, er, metropolis.  So it was a cool trick but let’s face it, he only knew those high schools because he lived there for his entire life! That’s a gimmie.  Before long though, I realized that when he met people raised in our new city, he was asking the same question!  He’s lived here for much less time than I have and already he knows the ins and the outs of the city, (almost) all the high schools, the developing neighborhoods (useful when it came time to buy our home!), which restaurants the locals like to eat at, where a certain type of music comes from, etc. It might be quick to write this off as a weird passion (which I guess it still is) but he intentionally does this in order to build a sense of community with those around him and to feel a part of the community himself.

Having a sense of community and feeling like you belong is something that matters to everyone and I really enjoy this part about my husband since he can be a little more outgoing than I am.  He’s gotten us in touch with the city and as a result I’ve learned more about where I live than most people probably do in cities where they just go to school.  We feel like we can call this city our home now.

Apart from where we live, people find communities through their interests, like sports or other hobbies (like blogging!), or where you work or go to school.  Our desire to have a sense of community and belong to a group is natural, but sometimes it can overshadow what is true and good for us.  How many school age kids get involved in communities of ill-influence, with drugs or other dangerous behaviors, because they are searching for a sense of belonging and to fit it?  For as much as our community can support us and have the power to shape our lives in a positive way, it can work in the opposite way too.  Everyone knows that peer pressure is an extremely effective measure to get people to conform.  People with addictions who have friends suffering from the same vices can have an even harder time overcoming them.

A sense of community and bonding with others, while very important, cannot be the end all be all to the purpose in our lives.  There has to exist some objective measure by which we can determine if something (like a community) is a good or bad influence in our lives.  How can we determine that?  I love my sports and school communities, but when I was discerning my religion and faith in God, I knew I needed to look for something deeper than just a feeling of closeness with people. I already had other communities that satisfied my social needs, so ultimately if I wasn’t looking for truth in God, why have religion at all?

[Just to clarify, I’m not saying my faith shouldn’t include that (if it’s a community reflective of God’s loving nature, I believe the community will be striving to reflect that.  This is more of a what comes first, community or God.)  This can be hard to distinguish because while our Church is made of people who continue the work that Christ left on Earth, we are still just all sinners and we’re all working towards that closeness with God, so we will by definition be imperfect.]

Figuring out what is a “good” community is the hard part.  I see many churches that advertise the demographics of their congregation like the fact that their service attracts diverse groups of people, it must be good.  Or others that seem to do the opposite and claim a “small, close-knit Christian community” in order to almost foster a sense of exclusive belonging like a replacement for the perfect family relationship that everyone desires.

Along those same lines, I used to be concerned about the fact that a Catholic Church would be SO BIG.  Shouldn’t it be smaller and more intimate? That would make people feel better, feel like they were important.  But if the face of the world should be renewed by Christians, then why should we be limited to a small-close knit community?  Ideally there would be no borders, no exclusivity within Church walls.  Truth is truth, and the more people who know it, the better!  I’m no anthropologist, but from what I know about human nature its natural to want to break off into tiny groups in order to have a sense of identity and importance.  You can see this today on a college campus or in the political sphere where “identity politics” reign.  I do understand that these small groups can have tremendous benefit for educational instruction and social purposes (for example, educators have shown that smaller class sizes and higher teacher to student ratios are beneficial for learning).  But in terms of truth, it should be universal and open to everyone otherwise it’s not really true, right?  Ultimately it is a blessing that the Catholic Church is so large, that so many people have joined the mystical body of Christ.  By its definition the Catholic Church means universal, salvation for everyone, not-limited to just those of the original Jewish tribes.  Go to Mass and you’ll see all types of people, but to advertise statistics of colors and races of people would be limiting the scope of the Church and why it’s here in the first place.  It’s Christ centered, not “us” centered.

I remember the first few Masses I attended, the “sense of community” felt different from anything I’d experienced before.  Everyone seemed so quiet and focused on something.  I took that as acting cold and unfriendly towards me and other outsiders (self-centered much?).  I’ve realized that the feeling of community in a Catholic Church is different because it extends beyond ourselves. “Communion” in its truest sense isn’t limited to union with each other, but extends to Christ himselfEspecially during Mass.  Mass is a time to all come together to be “refueled” for our work in this world by contemplating and focusing on God and Christ in the Eucharist, not really to socialize with each other. There are other times for that.  This shift in focus to a communion with God rather than just each isn’t just a mental focus, it plays out in physical aspects of Mass as well.  I recently heard from a friend that during the Our Father prayer, the traditional way of standing is with your hands folded in prayer rather than the more modern trend of linking hands with your neighbor, which reflects more of a protestant influence (apparently my RCIA class wasn’t that thorough…). The explanation she gave was that while it’s great to love our neighbor and we should show outwardly signs of love for our neighbor daily as God commands us to, ultimately what connects us all is Christ in the Eucharist as children of God. This is what makes the Church what it is! We’re all connected regardless of our feelings and actions towards one another, despite the times that we don’t show love or don’t feel like showing love to our neighbor.*  Another example is during the wedding Mass, the couple stands facing Jesus during the ceremony (except for the part of exchanging the vows to each other)  to physically show who connects the couple and what the focus and purpose of the marriage is (to lead you closer to God).

It’s great that my husband can find common things to talk about with people because he’s interested in where they grew up. This makes for an interesting conversation starter and serves as a good way to build social communities.  I also love the fact that I have friends that play basketball together and a thriving young adult Church group who I can turn to in order to find strength in about our common struggles.  But I believe the only withstanding, truly renewable source of community with each other, with everyone, is to focus at the deepest level, beyond where you live,  what sports you like, or if you have a personality traits that fit well with mine, on what we have in common: our Creator, our innate dignity as human beings, and our salvation through Jesus Christ.

The love and spirit that we receive from our union with Christ is what overflows from us to allow us to start and have thriving relationships with others.

“You cannot give what you do not have” and as Catholics we believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  While that may not feel like what the rest of the world is telling us “community” should feel like, when we are all together during Mass in the presence of the Eucharist with all the angels and saints, it is truly community at its finest hour.


*[I’m still not entirely convinced of if that means it’s bad to link hands during the prayer. Since the Church is all about outwardly signs I don’t imagine that this tradition is set in stone and can’t evolve slightly, as long as we’re focused on Christ together and not distracting anyone.  Still working that one out.]