+ 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… +
If you missed a Catechism class,
you can hear them in our YouTube channel.