What is your parish doing for the person on the margins? That’s today’s question to reflect on. I was having a conversation with a friend about the upcoming synod and the preparation the Holy Father has asked each Diocese and in turn parish to do. Listen to those on the margins. I’m not sure everyone is seeking these people out though because we have a hard time seeing them. So let’s start with: Who do I mean when I say “people on the margins”?
- The single person
- The widow
- The new mom who can’t figure out how to bring her kids to Mass and not get stared at when they misbehave or make a noise or get squirrly as all children do
- The person without a home
- The man who just lost his job
- The child grieving their parent’s death (no matter their age)
- The student questioning their sexuality and identity
- The newly initiated Catholic who thinks everyone knows more than they do and even though they were just initiated they don’t really belong
- The person living with a visible disability
- The person living with an invisible disability
- The woman with early onset Alzheimer’s
- The wife who’s husband has died and can’t go to Mass without missing him terribly, so she doesn’t
- The husband who’s wife doesn’t believe anymore
- The woman who’s husband says “if you want to take them to church, fine by me, but I won’t walk in there ever again”
- The person who’s friend thinks they hate them because the church doesn’t let gay people get married
That seems like a long list, but it’s not exhaustive. Maybe you’re thinking these people aren’t sitting in your pews. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news … you’re wrong. Some of them are there every week, others haven’t been there in years.
I got to thinking about this after reading this reflection on single life from Joan Watson on her sub stack. As a late-30s single woman I felt seen in a way I don’t most of the time in the Church (check out the comments on there for more my thoughts). I haven’t left the Church. I attend Mass regularly. I have a deep relationship with the Lord. And also I feel invisible a lot when I go to Church.
Society and the Church seems to overlook singles, especially women. And not only people like me, but people who identify as any of those I listed above. The world doesn’t see us for who we really are.
Then we go to Church, and we’re invisible there too. The world says there’s no place for you … and then the space where there’s supposedly “room for everyone” ALSO acts that way.
If you’re single, the solution is to “get you married.”
If you’re a parent of wiggly little ones, the solution is to teach you how to discipline them at Mass.
If you’re grieving the loss of someone, the solution is to sign you up for a grief group.
The thing most of those people I described have in common though is that they can feel lonely, invisible, or like they just don’t belong. And these feelings are reinforced by the people they go to church with rather than fulfilled with connection and belonging.
We preach “Jesus is here to satisfy your loneliness. To fill that God-shaped hole in your heart.” Then we, the Body of Christ, ignore you because we don’t know how to sit with you in your loneliness, your grief, your confusion, your heartache, you disappointment, your despair.
So let’s go back to the beginning. What is your parish doing for the person in the margins? How are you sitting with people in their suffering, their pain, their confusion, their “unconnectedness,” and their lack of feeling like they belong?