By Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick
“St. Mark the Evangelist,” the cantor rings out while children and their parents file back in the large, suburban parish.
“Pray for us,” the congregation echoes back, as we prepare to welcome a new member. A dark-haired, sleeping baby girl is about to be awoken with the waters of baptism. I recognize her parents as fellow parishioners, though I have never met them.
After the baptism takes place, the priest carries the newly baptized child, now dressed in white, to the front of the church; as he walks, he says this is the first of four times she will come down this aisle in white – the first at baptism, again at first communion, later for marriage, and, at the end, for her funeral.
“This” aisle, he says. Not “an” aisle, at “a” church, but “this” aisle, at “this” church — the aisle I was about to walk down for the first time, as a bride, after reluctantly becoming a parishioner where my parents had joined after I left for college.
His proclamation offered a vision of parish life that contrasted sharply with my own experience: I was baptized at one parish and received the second grade sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Communion at another — and I attended another church, in another state, in between; during grade school, we were members of the school’s parish, but left due to distance as we outgrew the school; high school and confirmation brought our family to another parish, where life was centered on college kids rather than families. That parish, too, was left behind for one which was more suited to family life.
My own history of parishes is in no way unique; indeed, it is typical in our time of extreme mobility to change parishes with moves, whether cross-country or cross-city.
Sometimes, too, we need to switch parishes when, for whatever reason, the current one is not nurturing the spiritual life of the family. But what happens when this is the default, rather than the exception?
What are we missing when we no longer hope that our children belong to the same parish community all their lives, entering their life with Christ in baptism at the same church where their funeral Mass is said?
We lose a community: one who may not always like you, but that will bring you a meal when there’s a death in the family or a new life. We lose a sense of belonging to others beyond our own family, and we lose the sense of obligation to contribute to the life of the Church that goes with it.
Finally, we lose a sense of the universality of the Catholic Church. Universality is, paradoxically, found in the particular. It is through a particular parish, the instantiation of the universal Church in our own neighborhood, that we see the diversity of the Church, where we worship beside those who we seemingly share little in common.
Differences in age, life circumstance and ethnicity abound, yet we hold in common — quite literally — Jesus Christ, who we receive together in communion.
Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance writer and columnist for the Sooner Catholic.