I am going to write this post as though I am writing it just to you, someone who at one point was attending a Catholic parish but drifted away.
I know you felt a spiritual void. You wanted to attend church somewhere because deep down inside, you know you need God and you need to be spiritually nourished somewhere. I can remember well the day I left the Catholic church. I felt as though I was entering a brave, new world. I thought the Catholic church was a relic, an ancient behind-the-times structure that needed a complete overhaul. And no matter how many songs we sang from the Gather hymnal, or how many 'modern' services I attended, I knew I was missing out on something.
I'll never forget the day I attended an open house for an all-girls Catholic high school. My parents were considering it among the choices and I dutifully took the entrance exam. Even back then, it shocked me to see their version of a "chapel." I stepped into the room, filled with seats. I can't remember kneelers. But what I do remember is the utter blank space where the tabernacle should have been and a very abstract piece of art on the wall that was supposedly the crucifix. Except Jesus Christ wasn't anywhere to be seen. In fact, I nicknamed it "The Chapel of the Big Plus Sign." I even said to my parents (in my most indignant fourteen-year old way), "Do we worship a Big Plus Sign? How is that supposed to remind me of Jesus Christ and what he did for me?"
The nuns at that school wore regular clothes to feel comfortable, which made me uncomfortable. The other high school we looked at had older nuns still walking around in full habit even though some of the younger nuns had modified theirs. The chapel was gorgeous and looked just like a little chapel should, right down to the old wooden pews and kneelers. I liked it much better.
However, during those years of being stirred into a hazy spiritual milieu, something happened that I didn't count on. I lost my understanding of Catholicism.
You may be in the same boat. I don't know. But something happened in order for you to move from the Catholic church to that non-denom you now attend. Maybe it was the parish's boring worship, or its cold architecture. Maybe it was a domineering priest or nun. Maybe it was a bunch of rules you didn't understand or cared to follow. Whatever it was, it led you to push away because you felt something better existed "out there."
In all fairness, to contrast what is "out there" with what you had "in here," within Catholicism, you need to understand thoroughly what you have left. Do you? I didn't. I thought I did, but I didn't.
The one thing I noticed in every church I attended was whether they celebrated communion or not. How it was treated. The frequency of that celebration. What happened if a church practiced communion regularly?
Most of the non-denom churches I attended did not celebrate communion. And even when they did, something was missing. It has taken me a very long time to discover what was missing, but I think I know now what it was.
Jesus took the bread and said to His disciples, This is My body, given for you. Do this in memory of Me. I know that many times I believed in remembering, but I didn't believe it was actually His Body and Blood. Have you read the Gospel of St. John, chapter 6? It is very interesting. In verse 53, it says: Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (NIV) Then Jesus goes on to show us exactly how it is that we can eat His flesh and drink His blood. Through the Eucharist.
Since returning to the Catholic church, I have marveled at the maturity of faith that so many Catholics have. The maturity I'm talking about was in short supply within the non-denom churches I attended. This maturity is even in short supply in many of the more "modern" Catholic churches.
Could it be possible, that the maturity I see is directly linked to how a church views the Eucharist and believes it to be the True Presence of the Body of Christ? Words to ponder, indeed.