I realized something about myself over the last few weeks: I made church an idol.
Church has become a place of strength for me, a place where I went to find God's presence, hear God's word, eat of His body and blood, engage with others in ministry, and receive the essential wisdom and guidance that I needed to be a disciple.
None of those are bad things, and all of them enrich your faith, until you place it on a pedestal. When you do that, it confines your view of how God is working in all the areas of your life, and it narrows your experience of God's presence in your life. It can even prevent you from doing God's will.
God is bigger than church. Church is an instrument through which He works in our lives.
I realized I had made church an idol and had grown too attached to it when two things happened in my life: 1) I started to feel tempted to church shop when what I felt a church became dry and arid. 2) I began to realize just how much God was speaking to me in every other area of my life and not just the Sunday homily at Mass.
So I took these to prayer and I asked God what He was trying to reveal to me.
Then on one particular Sunday, I went to a different church for Mass, my old parish. Again, I felt dry and uninspired - so clearly, it wasn't just the church. At Communion, I noticed a young woman I knew personally who is battling cancer with her family. It was the first time I saw her wearing her wig. As I caught a glimpse of her in deep prayer and her two beautiful little girls playing on the pew, my eyes were filled with tears and I felt overcome to pray for her and her family.
What I expected from Mass - wisdom, inspiration, and consolation - was much different than what I received on that particular day. I received an opportunity to pray for someone I knew in need. That was God's will for me at that particular Mass.
The lesson is: Sometimes our expectations of God get in the way of Him working in other unexpected ways.
Recently, my spiritual director told me that I had come to the next phase of spiritual life: the phase in which God begins to remove consolations and we must walk by faith alone. This phase is intended to deepen our faith and remove our expectations of God's gifts so that we can more freely give of ourselves and do His will.
And let me tell you: this is not a fun phase of the spiritual life!
But here's the glimmer of goodness in it that I've found: God's presence is not just found at church. God's presence is found everywhere: at home, at work, in the community; with our families, friends, coworkers, and social groups; in nature, music, words, books, and media.
When we expand our view of where God is present to us and how He is working in our lives, we start to notice that He's with us everywhere.
And that's the only consolation we really need.