“Ask a Priest: What If It’s Hard to Adjust to the Church Abroad?”

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Q: I was raised in the Catholic monoculture in Ireland. The faith was so ubiquitous I didn’t even know the name of my own religion until I was about 11 — I never needed to know because everyone was the same. We all went to Catholic schools, and Mass attendance was and still is high where I’m from. In Ireland, you trip over churches, there are so many. And Mass is quite accessible since it is usually only 30 minutes long. It’s very easy to access or to drop in. I moved to England and went from being in the over 90% of the population, to less than 10%. There are far fewer churches, and also the services are so different they feel almost like a different religion. The Masses are also much longer — over an hour long, and mostly just liturgy rather than the priest’s interpretation, which is a big deal in Ireland. The crowds are much older too, and since it’s a minority you only really get the serious devoted types and not the young moderately liberal Catholics like me. I have no interest in joining any groups because I’d find them a bit weird. I can’t relate to the Church over here and not really sure what the best thing to do is. – G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It might help to step back and ask why anyone would join or stay in the Catholic Church.

Ultimately, Jesus should be our reason. He who suffered and died for our redemption also established the Church as a means to help us grow in holiness and reach heaven.

Good homilies are a plus at Mass, but the most important thing is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ truly present — and he desires that we are able to receive him at communion.

I mention this because it’s helpful to keep an eye on the ball. Whether the congregation is old or new, whether the homily is short or long, it’s still the same Eucharist at the heart of the Mass. And it’s still the same Christ who speaks to us through the readings and prayers, etc.

Perhaps growing up in a “monoculture” meant that you did things without always learning the deep reasons behind them. This can happen. We go with the flow.

Now that you have to go against the flow (secularism runs deep in England), you find yourself questioning more things about the Mass and the Church. That’s OK. Our Lord gives you an intellect, and he hopes that you use it to understand the faith better, so as to live it better in whatever circumstance you find yourself.

For now, you might want to be sure to dedicate time to pray each day. Stay faithful to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. And try to dedicate some time to studying the faith more in-depth.

There are lots of resources out there. A few books/resources that might help:

Fundamentals of the Faith, by Peter Kreeft

Theology and Sanity, by Frank Sheed

Surprised by Truth, by Patrick Madrid

— The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

You might want to search for a young Catholic adults group in your area that suits you. It’s easier to live the faith when you have a network of friends who share the faith. And if you can’t find it, think about forming one, such as a Bible study group.

Also, you might look to get involved in pro-life work, or attend lectures by Catholic speakers, or even consider doing a mission (either in England or abroad). An Internet search might connect you with the right folks … including expatriates from your homeland.

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