Coming to Church But Not Spiritually Fed? – Survey Series #6

Corresponds to Questions 19, 27, 28, 31, 32, and 33 of the survey.

I really enjoy sushi.  It is beautiful food art that is at once pleasing to the eye and the palette and never fails to improve my mood.  I wasn’t always a sushi convert as the idea of eating raw fish and seaweed wasn’t really appealing at first.  But wise sushi connoisseurs introduced me slowly to the wonders of the sushi experience, beginning with simple, familiar flavors like cucumber and avocado, advancing slowly to the fully cooked California roll, adding in miso soup and wasabi when appropriate, waiting to introduce the raw fishes (salmon, tuna, yellowtail, …) and exotic sea creatures (octopus, sea urchin, abalone, …) until much later.  

Mmm… makes my mouth water.  Now a sushi connoisseur myself, it never fails that when I go out for sushi with friends or family, I always feel fully fed in body, mind, and spirit as well as more connected to my friends and family who shared the experience.

Mass, too, is an experience that bonds people around a family table and nourishes its participants in body, mind, spirit, and soul.  Having been formed as a mass-goer over a lifetime, with the help of many wise mentors who introduced me gradually to its mysteries, I now never fail to be fed by Christ in Word and Sacrament, even if I get distracted or the music or homily don’t speak to me.

How are all NOT fed?

The survey results across the Archdiocese indicate that not everyone who comes to Mass regularly feels spiritually fed.  While it is wonderful that four out of five respondents answered that their spiritual needs were being met at their parish (Q31), that leaves one in five respondents who aren’t feeling spiritually fed. Interestingly, most of these people still attend mass at least a couple times a month, some even weekly (Q7).  Here are some other related survey stats:

  • One in six report “spiritual needs not being met here” as a reason they or someone they know might not attend mass at their parish on a given Sunday (Q27)
  • One in four think “spiritual needs not being met” is a key reason people leave the church (Q19) – does it take one to know one?
  • One in four don’t feel like a valued member of the parish (Q32)
  • One in three don’t report being encouraged in their spiritual growth by someone in the parish (Q33).

Don’t forget, these are the figures for those who actually took the survey – how many more people would have said their spiritual needs weren’t being met if we had heard from those who didn’t take the survey?  Looking at your own parish responses to these questions, is there an opportunity here to reach some disconnected people already in the pews?

All this seems to pose the question: how is it possible to come to church regularly and not be spiritually fed?  Don’t we do so much to make our liturgies vibrant, our community welcoming, and our programs and events diverse and interesting?  We work so hard and do so much – how are people missing it?

What’s the focus – our effort or the people?

Perhaps the question should be less about our efforts and more about the people we are trying to reach.  For our efforts to bear fruit, they have to reach their target and be received.

  • Are we targeting the newcomer and the spiritual beginner? Like a sushi menu, is there something for every spiritual level from beginner to advanced?
  • Have we listened to what they hunger for? Do we know what they are ready to receive? (see the text responses to Q24, Q25 and Q26 on enhancing spiritual life for some starter ideas in your parishioners own words)
  • Can everyone find a comfortable connection point at some time during Mass, yet still be challenged to go a little deeper? Can everyone find themselves in the homily, from the old to the young, from the local to the immigrant, from the spiritually advanced to the spiritual beginner?
  • Do we return to the basic kerygma every Sunday to reground the veteran while keeping the Gospel accessible to the beginner?

I can’t help but wonder how I might never have come to enjoy sushi if it weren’t for those wise people who introduced me slowly to its delights, meeting me where I was and accompanying me on a culinary adventure.  Would I have come back for a second chance if my first taste was something like sea urchin that would have been so far beyond my ability to appreciate as a newcomer?  How many similar spiritual beginners are there in our church communities?

I have to admit that I don’t usually think about the newcomer at Mass and what role I might play in their spiritual journey.  But part of the personal missionary transformation Pope Francis and Archbishop Lori have asked all of us to undertake includes making that paradigm shift personally.  Maybe this weekend at Mass if I notice a newcomer or a spiritual beginner, I’ll think about a time I was a beginner at something and how I was helped along to become more advanced.  I’ll try to be open to the Holy Spirit who might inspire me with a way to help feed that person with something even better than sushi: Jesus Christ, God, Son, and Savior.

2 replies
  1. pascosi
    pascosi says:

    Christopher, great post. My wife and I also love us some sushi. Great analogy to helping spiritual beginners to grow.

    I think often times we “presume” that everyone who is at Mass is a cradle Catholic or is really genuinely converted… As Fr. Erik Arnold and Dave Nodar of ChristLife often say “presume nothing” when it comes to the people in our parishes or those who may come to a Discovering Christ course.

    We need to help all people – whether unchurched, de-churched, nominally churched, other religion, other denomination, veteran Catholic, etc. – to experience conversion which means “accepting by personal decision the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple” (mission of the redeemer, 46).

    Unless one experiences genuine personal conversion, one will not be “spiritually fed” as Mass. They may be nominally fed. But most essentially when we encounter Jesus Christ, even if the peripheral things are done poorly, the Word of God is always alive and active, and the Eucharist is always there for us.

    Also, I do think trying to welcome the newcomer is very important too. We really need a culture change in our parishes here where, with reverence for the worship space, do our best to love those around us with a simple gesture, a smile, a handshake…. I’ve try to do this in little ways with a smile or a quiet “hi, good morning” to the people sitting behind us as I enter the pew with my 4 loud children 🙂 Little things like that can begin making a big culture change in our parishes… which can open people’s hearts to hear and respond to the the Gospel, which is indeed much better than sushi!

  2. Alexandra Danter
    Alexandra Danter says:

    Beautiful reflection! I particularly enjoyed the “gastronomic angle” to exemplify the process of spiritual nourishment: ” I’ll try to be open to the Holy Spirit who might inspire me with a way to help feed that person with something even better than sushi: Jesus Christ, God, Son, and Savior.”

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