We call faith a practice, as if there is a formula we can follow, day after day, to hone our skills so that we may live like Jesus. I understand this concept. Truly, I do. When we practice something, we undoubtedly get better. Except that sometimes our practice stops working. When that happens, we need a change, a jolt, to move us through the stagnant waters and back into the river of life.
My faith practice was in danger of failing when the news broke, yet again, that the rule upholders of the church were also the rule breakers. I felt myself inching away from the church, in need of space, and then the pandemic hit, providing the jolt I so desperately needed.
In those early days, away from the pews, I let myself question who, truly, was in charge of my faith practice? Is it the priest I love or the priest who chastised me in the confessional? Is it the Bishop I admire or the one who let atrocities continue under his watch? Is it the parish community? Is it Mother Mary? Is it me? Is it God?
I used to play tennis. When I was young, I met weekly with my coach. He knew the sport, but, more importantly, he knew me. We moved through the game, week after week, at a pace that was right for me.
One day, we sat on the bench for nearly the entire hour long lesson. I was having a difficult week, which had very little to do with the game of tennis, and everything to do with being a teenage girl. My coach could see that forcing practice on me that day would be counterproductive, so instead, we talked. That was the day when I first understood that a great coach is more than an expert in their field, they are students of humanity.
From that day forward, I practiced better under his guidance because I knew that he cared about me personally, not only about how well I progressed in the game.
If this translates to faith, and I think it does, a good coach who cares about us is critical to a successful faith practice. The question foremost in my mind during quarantine was: who exactly is my coach?
What I discovered in this forced hiatus from the pews is that there is no single coach in the church, but, if we are willing to look, God provides a plethora of assistants.
In my searching, I found a treasure trove of faithful beauty. I found people who pray the Rosary daily on Instagram, giving me a space to join in prayer with Our Lady. I dusted off my long-forgotten Liturgy of the Hours and spent months fumbling through Morning Prayer on my back patio. I picked up prayer books from various authors and discovered new ways of calling out to God. I even found a person who helped me regularly integrate the Ignatian Examen into my life, and she isn’t even Catholic.
Most importantly, I found a community centered on Catholic Social Teaching. Finding these people on Instagram has given me a renewed sense of purpose and linked me with a community that supports a part of my faith practice that was floundering. They have become invaluable, helping me remain focused on specific ways to love God by loving God’s people.
During a time when church leaders feared our practice of faith would languish, mine grew.
What our church fathers seem to have forgotten is that our desire for God never ceases. What we need in our faith practice are coaches who are not so focused on how well we follow the rules of the game, but who care about us personally.
Now that we are easing out of the pandemic, I am back in the pews, but it no longer feels like an obligation. That hour each week feels like a conversation with my head coach, God, about how much he loves me and I love him.