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Catholic Way: “Shopping for a Church? ”

6/24/2002 - 10 AM PST

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By Rev. Mr. Keith A. Fournier June 23, 2002

We do not "shop" for a church; the Church invites us to be a part of the Body of Christ on earth.

It was the last part of my Saturday morning "relaxation" ritual, reading the local newspaper. It began with a casual cup of coffee, through the front section, local news and then to the entertainment section called "The Daily Break". The entire front page of that section was devoted to a feature article entitled "Church Shopping: Finding the perfect place to worship is answer to prayers for many."

I decided to read the article- after first dismissing it cavalierly.

My first negative reaction was to the subtitle. I recalled the words of an old Pentecostal preacher I met when I was as a teenager, right before I came home to my Catholic faith. "Son, if you ever find the perfect church, don't join it" he opined, "it won't be perfect anymore."

How true.

I then reacted against the very premise of the main title of the article -- that we can actually "shop" for the Body of Christ. The claim itself misses the very understanding of who we are and what the Church is. In so doing it misses the very path to discovering the existential purpose in our present life. Finally, it reduces our participation in the very communion at the heart of the Christian life to one more consumer selection among many in the contemporary smorgasbord of our modern life-ugh!

As I reflected upon the article however, I realized just how important the topic truly was. It revealed a fundamental human experience, the search. We all identify with the search to “belong”, to have a place. Ultimately, the Christian claim is that we were made for God, and as St. Augustine said so well "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

We were all born from our mothers womb to be "born again" into the Church through another womb, the font of Baptism. The modern “seeker” movement and the very trend called "church shopping" is symptomatic of a deeper longing to belong to God.

However, there is much more to be learned from this article. Not necessarily in the way the author intended, but at a deeper level. It reveals the shallowness of some contemporary versions of Christianity. Though they act as a road-sign, they sure do not satisfy that longing for a home in God. As I read the article I was struck by how far we have wandered from the ancient Christian faith.

Perhaps what was most disturbing and challenging to me personally, as a Catholic Christian and clergyman, were the comments in the article from one of the interviewees named "Mark." He was portrayed as a "life-long Catholic" who moved from Buffalo, New York to study journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He had apparently joined this roving band of those searching for a "perfect" church by visiting more than a dozen congregations looking for "friends" and "soulful music." He started down the path after being encouraged by his classmates.

I am always happy to help people like Mark, or any other practicing or former Catholic (or inquirer) to understand the beauty of the fullness of the Catholic Christian faith. It is always a deep privilege for me to introduce other Christians (or re-introduce wandering Catholics) to the beauty of the Eucharistic liturgy, where the faithful are fed upon the rich Word of God and partake of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

What troubles me is when Catholics like Mark do not even understand the riches of their own Church. He is a perfect example of why we truly need the “New Evangelization” that the Holy Father has proclaimed, right within the Catholic Church. We often have un-evangelized and/or poorly catechized Catholics in our own ranks. We also have local parish experiences where some otherwise eager Catholics are falling through the cracks, missing what they truly long for-a full dynamically orthodox Catholic Christian experience.

I understand Mark's hunger for something more like what he "left at home" because I live in the same Diocese that he does and know the deep need for an authentic renewal in my own Diocese. However, he among all those who were featured in that article should understand that the Church is not something you “shop” for. If anything, it “shops” for you!

It is actually the Church that, in carrying on the redemptive work of the Master, seeks us out---not the other way around. "You did not choose me but I chose you…" said the One who is the head of the Church. (See, John 15:16).

I respect Regent University where Mark is pursuing a graduate education. It is an evangelical Protestant University founded by Pat Robertson. Its mission is to "train Christian leaders to change the world." I had a long and varied relationship with that University and with its parent organization, C.B.N. ...

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