+ Hail Mary…
As human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, social creatures of a rational nature, we are made for and called to communion, communion with God and communion with one another. The calling to communion with the Lord is of course primary, while communion with our fellow man only finds its fullness in and through communion with the Lord. We are united to one another precisely through being united to Christ, which is why the Church Fathers teach that the Eucharist makes the Church. Communion with the Lord beckons us, prepares us, enables us to be in communion with others, most especially with our fellow members of the Body of Christ, that is the Church. Communion calls to communion.
And so the Church in her God-given mission is concerned with both of these. With unity in one Lord who calls us to unity in one faith and one baptism and to a shared life in Christ. Remember the Lord’s two greatest commandments: love of God and love of neighbor, the new commandment he gives: love one another as I have loved you. Remember what our patron St. John teaches: that no one can love the Lord whom he does not see if he does not love his brother whom he can see. The Lord has made us for communion and calls us to communion.
In making us and calling us so, the Lord has placed a deep desire within us for Communion. Often this is what brings people to the church or back to the church when they find that nothing else satisfies, that what the world offers is not enough. And yet so often, sadly, I think this is also what leads people to leave the church when they feel they aren’t being nourished or when times of trial and desolation come, when their faith falters, and they aren’t supported by a community of believers. They find another group of friends who offer companionship even if those same friends lead them further away from their God who at the moment seems so far or so uninterested.
And recognition of this reality is what leads me to introduce today several new initiatives and opportunities that I hope will enrich the life of our parish, strengthen our faith, lead to greater commitment and involvement in parish life, deepen our relationship/our communion with the Lord, and help build true fraternity/true communion within our parish community.
Before I do that, let me reiterate a few major points that I have made in previous pastor’s conferences and provide some context for these next steps that we will be taking.
First, remember our parish mission: The mission of St. John’s is the mission of the universal Church, which is the mission of Jesus Christ: to foster and nourish faithful discipleship of Christ for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. In initially outlining this mission of our parish, I also mentioned that it is accomplished in a variety of ways. You can review my remarks in previous pastor’s conferences to refamiliarize yourself with those.
The first steps toward achieving our goals, which comprise the first of at least 5 main phases in my pastoral plan for the parish, was, as I mentioned, to strengthen foundations.
This first phase of Strengthening Foundations included the following core aspects:
- Increased Confession times
- Removing Liturgical Silliness
- Having Adoration/Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at least weekly
- Focusing on the Basics/Central Truths of Faith/Sacraments in homilies and religious education programs
- Teaching a Catechism Class for Adults
- Building Cultures (Eucharistic, life, vocations, evangelization, hospitality, stewardship, family)
- Emphasizing the Centrality of the Lord’s Day
As part of this phase, we reworked the curriculum for Sunday school, youth group, and RCIA. A few liturgical changes were made. I have given basic straightforward homilies with simple messages focused on the central messages of the faith.
I hijacked our adult faith formation program, which to it’s credit at the time was offering some quite in depth topics such as a course on “the hermeneutical lens through which we ought to read the Pentateuch,” however, I shifted back to basics and taught a Catechism class where we went front to back through the Catechism. We had a number of initiatives/programs/events aimed at building those cultures which together comprise a truly Catholic culture. I believe we’ve made great progress in these areas and have accomplished the chief goals of this phase.
Therefore, I would like to introduce the next phase in my pastoral plan for the parish and highlight the constitutive elements of that phase.
As you may intuit from my opening comments, the next step for us as a parish is becoming a people of Communion, who pursue deeper communion with God, who maintain strong bonds of communion with each other, and who, with the parish as the center of our community, invite others into communion with us.
The core elements of this phase are as follows:
- Vibrant meaningful activity
- Discipleship Groups
- Healthy Social Events
- Christian Service centered on the Works of Mercy
- Good Public Presence as the Catholic Church
- Good Communications
- Pastoral Visits to Family Homes
The challenges of Covid delayed a formal start to this phase but we have already embarked on a number of efforts in pursuit of these goals. In working to deepen Communion with God we started about 1.5 years ago having Cor Jesu nights where once a month we have solemn adoration of the blessed sacrament. This in addition to of course maintaining our long standing practice of having exposition of the blessed sacrament every week from Tuesday morning until Wednesday evening.
In working to foster greater parish community:
About 4 years ago now I created the position of communications director to help with communication both within and without the parish community. I have recently spoken to staff, to the pastoral council, to the finance council, and to various other ministries within the parish in regards to having vibrant meaningful activity, how we ought to “do things that matter” and remember why we are doing what we are doing. I have already heard lots of good feedback on the implementation of this mentality.
We have also recently revamped the Parish and Community Life committee which will have a number of new activities (e.g. we had the first of our family dinner nights which will continue in the future). They are currently planning our fall fest parish picnic which is coming up in just a few weeks. And again there will be a number of new events and activities throughout the year.
In terms of what’s still on the docket, what will be newly coming with this phase, I’d like to introduce three new practical elements:
First I am glad to announce that we are now able to allow access to the adoration chapel 24/7. A code pad has been installed on the chapel door and I will give that code out to parishioners who may wish to come at various times of the day and night to pray before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This way the chapel remains secure while also being accessible at virtually all times.
Secondly, we will be launching an initiative that consists of having small groups, which we will call Discipleship Groups open to the entire parish. We have had several groups of this sort in years past but mostly in a fashion limited to particular demographics. Now these discipleship groups will be open to everyone, and I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to join one. The groups will generally meet every other week, typically at someone’s home with snacks or a meal available. Some will be more straightforward Bible Studies, some will approach various topics such as prayer examining various types of prayer or schools of spirituality or challenges of Christian parenting, some will be more of a book club, where the group reads a spiritual book together and goes chapter by chapter. The idea is to give an opportunity to grow in one’s faith outside of Sunday mass, to appeal to those who might not be quite as interested in attending a catechism class taught by the priest, and to help build community and fraternity. I have done training with the leaders for these groups and we will be launching those very soon. Again, I encourage everyone to join one!
Lastly, in trying to make myself more available for casual conversation and for visiting families homes, I have decided to try to keep open at least 3 Thursday evenings a month for visits with families. In canon law, church law, pastors are called upon to make regular visits to families or groups of families. Beginning this month I will reserve at least several Thursday evenings a month for this purpose. Families or groups of families will be able to schedule a visit from me. It would be wonderful to share a simple meal. This would also be a fitting time to ask for the blessing of your home. So I encourage families and groups of families to call the office and extend that invitation by choosing one of the available evenings.
Again, the purpose of the various initiatives of this phase are to help form us into a people of communion who together pursue deeper communion with God and with one another, so that together with the holy ones, united in Communion, we may progress toward Christian perfection and the fullness of life in Christ.
Glory be… +
+ Hail Mary…
Having now been here at St. John’s/St. Mary’s for 2 years, I once again want to address the parish, as I did last summer. At that last Pastor’s Conference I spoke about my first impressions of St. John’s, gave a bit of a spiritual assessment of the parish, and ultimately laid out a vision for the parish. I spoke particularly about strengthening foundations and building certain cultures, cultures which collectively will amount to what can rightly be called a Catholic culture.
Today, in the interest of continuing that work, I want to address a few issues that I’ve seen and also introduce a few things that are on the horizon for us as a parish.
First, there are 3 particular issues that I want to address today.
The first is very important, especially in that it regards the 3rd commandment and an essential obligation that we have as Catholics. I’m speaking, of course, about the Lord’s Day. To get straight to the point: Quite frankly, we have far too many people who give far too little devotion and attention to the Lord’s Day.
Pope John Paul II, just over 21 years ago, promulgated his apostolic letter titled Dies Domini, the Lord’s Day. In it he writes about the 3 essential purposes of the Lord’s Day and therefore the obligations that come with it, in order to keep it Holy.
First is, of course, our grave obligation to attend Mass on the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation where we must attend Mass either on Saturday evening or, better still, on Sunday itself. We come to Mass, first and foremost, as a duty. Not to be entertained or to feel good or simply because we feel like it that day. We come together as the Church, as God’s family, to worship God as is His due, as the One who created us and sustains us in life. We also come to thank him for all His blessings, we come to ask for and receive what we need. We come to be nourished in word and in sacrament. God knows we need that; God knows we need Him, which is precisely why He commands it of us. If we’re not coming to Mass every Sunday, not only are we not fulfilling God’s command but we are so much worse off for it.
Secondly, the Lord’s Day is also to be a day of rest. Just as the Lord rested at the completion of creation, so also are we to do. We shouldn’t fill up our Sundays with all the work we didn’t get done during the week or with unnecessary frivolous activity. It should be a day of rest and recreation and a day spent with the family.
Thirdly, the Lord’s Day is a day for works of charity. Call or visit those who are sick or alone. Help those who could use your help.
Again, the Lord’s Day has these 3 essential purposes:
It is a day on which we must worship the Lord by attending Mass, it is a day for rest, and it is a day for charitable works. Recapturing the Lord’s Day as the heart of our week and as a day set aside, a day unlike other days, is key to revitalizing both parish & family life.
The second issue that I want to briefly address is Preparation for and departing from Mass. As I’ve said before and as I’ll say again, our participation in Holy Mass is the most solemn and sacred thing that we do in our lives.
Silence and a renewed sense of the sacred are things that we need in order to prepare for and conserve the graces we receive at Mass.
Sometimes we simply have far too much noise in here before and immediately following Mass. I’m not speaking about greeting someone, or parents directing their kids, or babies crying or anything like that. Having a lively environment is good. I’m speaking about useless chatter, lots of idle conversation, especially here in the nave of the church, right here in the pews.
Again, preparing for and departing from Mass is like going up to the peak of a mountain and coming down the mountain. Those moments right before and right at the end of Mass are precious moments.
Before mass is a time to prepare our souls for what we’re about to do. What a beautiful practice, almost universal, to come into the church and kneel for a few minutes of prayer before mass. Wonderful.
Let me recommend something to the whole parish today, do that right at the end of mass too. As soon as the recessional hymn is finished, kneel down for 30 seconds and thank God for what you’ve just received. I would love for that to develop as a custom at our parish. We don’t have to race out of the church. Don’t immediately start talking to your neighbor. Wait until you get to the vestibule to start talking about what you’re going to have for dinner/lunch. Take a few seconds, conserve those beautiful graces, and let this sacred space be a place of silence and reverence.
The third issue that I want to address today is in regards to knowing the Catholic faith. It is so very important, especially in modern times, to know our faith and know it well, such that we can defend it when challenged and teach it, that is hand it on to others. There are lots of people here today who either do not know their faith or who do not know their faith well enough to defend it convincingly and share it effectively. And, of course we can all stand to grow in our knowledge of the faith.
Praise God you are here, praise God for your faithfulness and commitment over the years, praise God for all the ways he has worked in your life and in your heart, and praise God for the ways you have responded to that. Now we need to take things to the next level.
And that brings me to the first and main thing on the horizon for us that I want to introduce today. This Fall, for at least the next year, I will be taking over our Adult Education Classes which follow the 9am (precede the 11:30am) Mass on Sunday. I will be offering a course on the Catechism, I’ll be teaching the classes myself, and we’ll go through the Catechism - front to back. Once again, with the purpose of learning our faith well so that we can defend it and share it effectively. I want for as many as possible to attend these classes. It will be offered during a convenient time, but of course will still require commitment on our part. However, I am convinced that this is something very important for this parish to thrive. In these times, we simply cannot afford to be complacent or ignorant of our faith. Growing deeper in our faith is essential for every Catholic, no matter how young or old, no matter how long or short a time we’ve been Catholic, and it’s one of the primary ways in which the Lord continues to inspire us to enter more deeply in our relationship with him and enables us to be evangelists, witnesses to the Gospel here and now. I will mention more about this class in the coming weeks, and encourage everyone to prepare to give that extra time and effort to something so very important.
Another thing on the horizon for us is that we will soon finally be getting underway with our exterior renovation of the church building. I first announced a little over a year ago that due to the deterioration of the bricks on the exterior of the church and faulty workmanship when the church was built, we will have to strip the bricks off the outside of the church and re-brick the entire exterior wall. We have the majority of the funds necessary for the project saved and set aside, but we’ll likely be taking out a short-term loan to cover the rest of the cost. We’ll have a number second collections next year in 2020, asking for contributions to assist with that. Those will be instead of the monthly building fund collections which are now only quarterly. The building will be re-bricked to match St. John Hall and will look very nice, so even though it is unfortunate that we’re having to do this on a building only a few decades old, it will be exciting to have a renovated church.
There are two other initiatives that will be kicking off in the near future here that I won’t be introducing today, but that, again, I think are important for our parish’s future and that will have a very positive impact on parish and family life.
Although all of the things that I’ve mentioned today:
And so I ask that we make these commitments as we continue, with God’s help, to strengthen our foundations and build a truly Catholic culture.
Glory be… +
First Impressions and Laying Foundations
+ Hail Mary…
In seminary, about 2 or 3 times a year, all of the seminarians would gather in the auditorium or chapel for what was known as a rector’s conference. The rector, the priest in charge of the seminary, would come in, open with a prayer, and proceed to talk about… well… whatever he felt like talking about. There was always a nervous excitement when the head honcho gathered us all to speak directly to us and to speak his mind.
Sometimes, it was to make a special announcement, sometimes to educate us on something he considered very important, sometimes it was a sharp rebuke, a real challenge, a kick-in-the-teeth, if you will.
Today for this... Pastor’s Conference… I would just like to offer a sort of "State of the Parish" address. You’re getting off easy this time.
As I complete my first year as Pastor here at St. John’s, I have reflected quite a bit on the past year, and want to offer an examination of the life of our parish.
Let me begin by saying that overall as a parish we’re in good shape, we have lots of room to grow, but we’re in good shape.
I attribute a lot of that to the generosity of so many parishioners here, those who have been here a long time as well as those who are only here a short time, and to the focus on the family. I have really been impressed by the generosity of our parish and by the emphasis on having strong families.
I also attribute a lot to the leadership of Fr. Gregory. My sincere thanks to Fr. Gregory. I believe he brought a real stability to this parish, a stability that was desperately needed. In many ways, he righted the ship, he steadied the course, he held the fort. And I sense that was very much needed.
With that said, I think that often when there has been a pastor who keeps things going calm and steady, it can be the job of his successor to shake things up a bit and keep things from becoming stagnant.
It is good for a parish to be at peace, to have stability, it is very important. But a parish can’t be allowed to become complacent. We don’t want stagnation, which is the malaise of so many Catholic parishes throughout the world. When water is stagnant all sorts of subtle dangers creep in. The same is true of a parish; it can become susceptible to spiritual disease, to spiritual infection, it can become a home for all sorts of weird, subtle but dangerous things. We want to keep that from happening.
Also, it is good once stability has been established to really start looking to the future, to real, authentic growth and development. This is true in all sorts of aspects of life. It is true in the spiritual life as well.
And that requires vision, a vision for what our mission is and for what the final goal is.
The mission of St. John’s must be the mission of the universal Church, which is the mission of Jesus Christ: to foster and nourish faithful discipleship of Christ for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. It can be nothing else.
This is accomplished in a variety of ways: through Prayer, Celebration of the Sacraments, Religious Education, Evangelization, Service, Community Involvement, Social Events. But, most of all, it is accomplished by building up a truly Catholic culture that keeps this overall mission in mind and works toward the goal of establishing and maintaining a vibrant, authentically Catholic parish, that is active and has a lively spirit. Parish life must be liturgically focused and centered on the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of Christian life.
We may never reach that goal, but as long as I’m here, we will pursue it day in and day out. That is my vision, my mission, my goal, and I hope it will become our parish’s vision, mission, and goal.
Before we can really get going with all of this, though, first we need to strengthen our foundations.
And what I mean by strengthening the foundations is: emphasizing the basics of the faith, interiorizing the basic goodness and positive message of the Gospel, establishing a deeper personal relationship with God, and building up those cultures that I spoke about in my very first homily here: a culture of life, a Eucharistic culture, a culture of encounter, a culture of vocations, a culture of hospitality, a culture of stewardship, a culture of family, a truly Catholic culture.
These foundations need to be strengthened, because before a parish can be a holy parish it first needs to be a healthy parish. And you know, priests gain a lot of insight into the health of a parish in a lot of different ways: by what we hear in confession, by how people receive communion, by how people enter and leave the church, by how hard it is to find volunteers, by how comfortable/respectful people are around priests, by the quality and appropriateness of conversations, and through a lot of other ways.
As I said, St. John’s is in pretty good health, but we’re not in the best of health; we are in good shape, but we have lots of room to improve. This is the work of years that I have laid out, and over the next two years or so, we are really going to focus on these things. I will make these comments available within the next week or so, so we can be focused and work on these things together. After that, we can really start to hit our stride.
May all that we do be for our good, for the good of all, and for the glory of God.
Glory be… +
If you missed a Catechism class,
you can hear them in our YouTube channel.