In August 2015, I started attending Mass again after a few years of practicing my Catholic faith on and off. Before making my return to the “source and summit of the Christian life,” I wasn’t exactly living, shall we say, according to the Ten Commandments.
My return to Mass was one of the most significant transitions of my life, from how I dressed to how I spent my free time — everything changed, including who I spent time with.
Finding a new way of life
Most of my friends at the time had the same interests as Past Me, which primarily consisted of enjoying time spent at bars.
When I stopped going out so much, the dynamics of some friendships changed, as you would expect. My friends wanted me to take shots, but I was staying home for the first time in my life and enjoying listening to Bishop Barron podcasts. I loved my friends and didn’t hold anything against them — I was the one making major life changes.
Since I didn’t really have any friends who were interested in hearing about my revived spiritual life, I started spending a lot of time alone. I went to Mass by myself, I listened to podcasts in my room, and I left the bars early to go home by myself. As an extremely extroverted person, this was one of the biggest changes for me.
At the same time, I was discovering an amazing life in Christ. I felt fulfilled by what I was doing and never questioned that it was the right thing to do.
Still, I never failed to notice the row of young adults sitting two pews in front of me at every daily Mass — and that I was not one of them. While I knew this group was not intentionally ignoring me, I couldn’t help but wonder if they could tell that I had been away from the Church or didn’t approve of what I was wearing to Mass.
Mostly, being alone turned out to be the perfect thing as I worked on my relationship with God and getting my life (physical, mental, and spiritual) in order. If I had been distracted by a new group of friends, I’m not sure I would have worked on my prayer life or other spiritual practices as much as I did.
Asking for help
For about three months, I enjoyed this solitary period of growth in my faith. But then, I felt like it was time to take things to the next level.
On a whim, I emailed the associate pastor at my parish. Father Chris was a young guy who was quick about daily Mass and not intimidating. I told him I wanted to talk about my vocation, because I thought that sounded important enough for him to take the appointment. Really, I wanted to find out what else I should do to grow in my faith.
He agreed to meet and when we sat down, I blurted out my life story over the previous three months. I told him how and why I had reconnected with my Catholic faith and asked him if he knew a prayer that I should be doing to figure out what God wants me to do next.
“So, who are your friends?” he asked.
Taken aback, I responded as honestly as I had felt for the past three months. “I don’t have any,” I explained, trying to laugh it off. “Well, I don’t have any that I can talk to about my faith,” I clarified. It’s not that my bar friends wouldn’t have listened to me talk about this topic; I just didn’t feel comfortable doing so.
“Hmm,” he said. “We should do something about that.”
My heart exploded. Throughout the conversation, in the back of my mind, I had been thinking about my longing to make friends, but intentionally not bringing it up.
And then, like he could read my mind, Fr. Chris knew exactly what I wanted most. He asked me if I was open to him connecting me to some other young women at the parish. I could barely contain my excitement.
We talked about a few other spiritual things, and he ended our meeting by giving me the Thomas Merton vocation prayer. I walked out, unsure of what to expect next.
Connecting with a community of faithful friends
As I found out later, the next day he walked into his friend Tina’s classroom at the local high school to tell her about me: “You need to be friends with this girl. She’s not weird, I promise.” They looked me up on Facebook and found the teacher had a mutual friend, Melinda, who was in her Bible study group. Together, Fr. Chris and the teacher asked the mutual friend to invite me to Bible study.
When Melinda asked me to get coffee, I was mildly surprised but not suspicious. When she invited me to her Bible study’s Christmas party, I marveled at the chance to make new friends but didn’t learn about all the planning that went into making this happen until months later.
I was extremely nervous as I walked into a stranger’s house for the event. I knew one of the 20 girls there, and even my extroverted self was a little intimidated.
It turned out to be a super fun night. I hadn’t hung out with churchy people since high school and was honestly amazed at how “normal” everyone was. Better than normal, actually. These young women were fun, friendly, and there was wine. I couldn’t believe it.
They invited me to attend an actual session of Bible Study after Christmas — an invitation I gladly accepted.
It only took a few months for me to fall in love with these girls. They didn’t care that I hadn’t picked up a Bible in years, and while they were intrigued by my past away from the Church, no one judged me for it. They seemed genuinely happy to have a new friend, and I was in constant disbelief of it.
These women revived my social life and showed me a world of fun that wasn’t going to leave me with regret when I woke up the next morning.
Having community makes a difference
Every day, I thanked God for this gift of beautiful, inspiring women in my life — the kind of community that I had heard of but never imagined being a part of.
I came to fully realize this gift one day at daily Mass later that winter. I got there a little early (something I didn’t normally do) and sat in my usual pew. One of the girls from my Bible study, Caroline, came and sat down next to me.
She was one of the people who, for the past several months, had been sitting two rows in front of me. That was the first time I had someone to sit next to at Mass. Caroline didn’t come to sit with me out of pity — she did it because we were friends.
How many times do we pray, asking God for something to happen in our lives, and actually expect to get it? Personally, not often.
When I think back to those three months of mostly being alone and praying every day for a friend, and when I now think of the most amazing women I am exceptionally blessed to call my friends — I am overwhelmed with gratitude. (It could honestly move me to tears, but I tend to get emotional about spiritual stuff.)
I asked Fr. Chris recently why he asked me about having friends that day. He told me, “Because I don’t think I could live the faith without friends.”
In my case, it’s not that I couldn’t get to where I am now by myself; it just would have taken a lot longer and been a lot less fun.
The group of women that I am blessed to call my friends have helped me in so many ways — from introducing me to reading the Bible to navigating life and relationships to teaching me to love wine! Most importantly, they taught me that the Christian life extends far beyond the Mass; it truly touches every aspect of life and cannot be lived to the fullest if kept private.
Taking a leap of faith to attend that Christmas party and participate in Bible study was one of the best decisions I have ever made. And now, every day I get to thank God for the gift of friendship and community.