“This is the Place”: Mission Territory, An Uncomfortable Place to be Catholic

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By: Rachel LeMelle, Columnist

“This is the Place,” Brigham Young said as he looked across the Salt Lake Valley. Most people think that when you’re from Utah, automatically you must be LDS or Mormon. However, I’m sure you can imagine the astonishment of some when people meet me and find out I’m not only a Catholic from Utah, but someone strong in faith, as well as in love with it enough to pursue it as a professional degree, and therefore possible career.

I find it funny how some people can’t imagine a Catholic community, let alone a strong one surviving in Utah, especially speaking of how close in location we are to what we Catholics in Utah call the “LDS Vatican,” being that the Cathedral is located right down the street from the downtown temple. However, it just shows how little truth assumptions and stereotypes actually do tell of reality.

Now, because I work with the Diocese, volunteering time when I can to help my Utah Catholic family, I write from a slightly different perspective than that of a parishioner in mission territory.

One day at lunch, I asked my best friend, a seminarian being ordained a deacon this spring, why he had chosen to serve the Church in Utah’s Diocese of Salt Lake. His answer, ironically, was that “something was telling him that this was the place.” Definitely the will of God, no doubt, but here too, one can probably imagine the surprise on my face as I tell him that it’s the same thing Brigham Young said as he looked across the Salt Lake Valley, seeing it as a sanctuary and headquarters of the LDS Mormon Church. Utah itself has always been mission territory and a thriving place for religions, speaking from my Diocesan standpoint, even if as Catholics we are a minority.

We’re a minority. This fact often sparks the curiosity of others because some think that the LDS Mormon Church intimidates, overwhelms,or even suffocates the state of Utah. Again, the stereotype shows little of reality, speaking of little truth. My biological mother is LDS, and I grew up attending services once a week when I was with her for visitation, as my parents are divorced. I have tremendous respect for the LDS Church and in speaking of them, I do not wish to offend anyone who is of the religion, including many of the friends back home that I do have who are of the LDS faith.  In all honesty, there’s much society in general or even other religions, in the name of ecumenism, as Latter-Day Saints do, on a basic level,practice, good, wholesome, family values,and carry standards which can help everyone to become good and holy people.

In being a minority, identity is prospered and deeply protected. For Catholics in Utah, we thrive as a minority. I love our mission Diocese, as it follows true Apostolic evangelization through example and witness. In my, and through the leadership of the Diocese, I see a community rooted in the identity of the Catholic Truth and faith. In being a minority, strength starts and grows with showing people who you are, which most fittingly in our Catholic tradition and faith, is rooted in Christ’s mission of love through humble example. However, I say this with the fact that the church is run by imperfect human beings in mind., that  Through the Truth of the Church, founded by Christ, we know that we have a fallen nature, and leaders in the church from time to time can be subject to failure in sticking true to the true, sacred, mission of the Church. This is where help and partnership of the lay or brother clergy come in, helping lead those who have strayed, back to the True mission of the Church,based in God’s love and not in politics. Strength is found in the identity of who you are. Not only as Catholics, but in our identity of being Catholics in Utah; this identity is based on geography, resources such as our world-renowned Madeleine Choir School, people, culture, and mission territory.

Although I believe, canonically the Diocese of Salt Lake is no longer considered a “mission diocese,” we still live in a highly  secular and religiously diverse in the country, possibly the world, having our Diocese be located in the Vatican equivalent of another major religion. Therefore, the Diocese and the people do still see it as such; to us it is still a thriving “mission diocese,” so much so some  priests can drive 2-3 hours on Sundays for required ministry.

Since moving to Washington, the head of the Catholic Church in the United States, in my personal experience, it has been harder to be Catholic. I believe I mentioned this in my other blog post about how location can affect prayer and your relationship with Christ, adjusting to new things, places, and ways in which to worship, adore, and pray,but since  I’ve been used to being comfortable in a place where it’s uncomfortable to be Catholic, that now I’m uncomfortable in a place where it’s more “comfortable” to be Catholic. Even in the District of Columbia, I wouldn’t be considered a minority in being Catholic. Even that too, culturally, has been a shift and thrown me off. I’ve had to become aware of falling into the temptation of just because communally I’m worshiping with many who are also strong in their faith, or devout in practice, doesn’t mean that I can’t just stop putting effort into my own, individual relationship with Christ. Even though as Catholics we are one body, our relationship with Christ is our own, uniquely individual, intimate, etc.

Being Catholic in Utah I had no choice to invest in my own relationship, because there isn’t as strong as a community of Catholics in number or population, who practice daily or as regularly as have convenience or make effort to in other predominantly or majorly catholic areas. Being Catholic in mission or more secular areas is based primarily on how much effort you are willing to put into your own relationship with Christ, because first and foremost if you had a relationship with Him, it was your own. You own it. I knew how to do this in Salt Lake, I knew where exactly I needed to be if I needed to go somewhere to worship Him or adore Him. I knew if I needed to go visit my cathedral, rather than in my parish one day because I knew how y locations can affect and matter spiritually. Each place and the things, people, art, music, culture, etc. that come with them is different; even if only slightly differing they each meet different aspects of my spiritual needs. For example, being enraptured by the beauty of the Choir School children for which I can only hear at the Cathedral, reminding me of the angels in heaven and Communion of Saints, and the mere fact of how Christ allowed for such created beauty. Beauty made which in turn’s only purpose is and should be in glorification back in love of Him. Finding my own sacred places that mean something to me, or help me spiritually, finding the things that help me deeper into relationship, even though I live in a Catholic environment and the resources are more numerous than what I’m used to, even some of the resources given doesn’t fit to me, nurturing to my spirituality or liturgical preferences, all which people have differences in too. Each person has spiritual needs that are met or reached in different ways, just as each relationship with Christ is uniquely different. This is why comparison to others’ relationship or devotions can harm, because it is expecting something unrealistically to be expecting. However, if you look at others’ relationships, devotions, adoration, etc. as or through an example, without falling into the temptation of comparison, this can nurture, as we are shown possibly in some new ways of how to grow as we always should be, being drawn deeper into mystery, as well as relationship, and love. Intimacy happens here. His individual, deep love for you is felt here. Being in a new place, adjustment takes time to become comfortable again in your relationship with Him, then seeing more of where to grow, or how to know Him, yourself, and others better.

When most people hear I’m from UT, the typical response is the question of if I am Mormon, and I love being able to go back to my identity of saying I’m a Catholic. I love being able to show people who I am, who we are as Catholics, hoping to lead them deeper in relationship with Christ as an example to help others, possibly even helping them  become better people. With this Catholic identity I hope to help them grow in holiness,alongside and in Christ’s name. We are each other’s morality, helping one another to grow as better people, citizens, as well as family or community in Christ, as we are called. Being Catholic in Utah is different, and at times hard, but in all reality, can’t everything in life be hard from time to time? Life can be full of bliss, but it isn’t bliss. Which is where grown can occur. However, there can be similarities and a lot of times where being a minority can be advantageous too, such as in politics, where there’s little separation of church and state in Utah. Both religions, on some occasions, work towards the same end goals on social justice issues, whereas having political leaders who understand the undeniable importance of moral ethics in regard to politics can help to what’s morally, and humanly right. I don’t really enjoy talking about politics that much and stand as an independent so I will leave that there. I only wanted to provide an ecumenical example where both religions can work towards for the same good, as well as just course of action for the good of our humanity and each other.

Through my Diocese, I too have a mission heart, one rooted in identity, in hopes to come back to serve and lead people deeper into relationship with Christ, letting them find purpose, hope, and most of all feel the true, authenticity of our Savior’s Love for which one has to be uncomfortable and vulnerable to believe in. Similar to any other relationship when feelings for the other, as well as when love and care for them develops. The best part too is that even though no relationship is technically “safe” in terms of stability because it requires vulnerability and revelation of one another as time continues and two grow in relationship, relationship with Christ is one where effort in the relationship will always be worth it. Even if one can’t feel it every time one prays or worships, etc. It’s part of the growth in a relationship. He will always love you, but through loving in return, we give of ourselves, being vulnerable, but there’s nothing in the world more worthy or deserving, as well as rewarding, to love than God. I can promise you that. He loves you, He’s with you, He’ll guide you. He doesn’t abandon. We only don’t understand Him fully always because we can’t. In time through revelation we learn more, we grow more, we love more, and we come to know Him and His will more as He works with our desires. As John the Evangelist proclaims, He truly is, “the Truth, The Way, and The Life.” Jn 14:6. My mission heart follows His will in this especially, as I study in hope to one day return to Salt Lake, spreading the Truth of Gospel that proclaims true love, helping others closer to Christ, and to know Him through the mystery of relationship in Him.

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