One of the most difficult things to decipher in talking with prospective new parishioners is where a person or couple or family is in their faith journey. Sure, they may all be Catholics, but what that actually means changes from person to person.
Let’s say a couple comes in that want to get married. They are both Baptized Catholics. But even though they have a Baptismal certificate, and proof of First Communion and Confirmation, that still tells me nothing. People with those documents can come from a fervent, very Catholic family or from a family that is more culturally and ethnically Catholic.
So I often give an illustration to the couple. The Church is a big circle. You are definitely in that circle, but where are you in that circle? At the center, the faith-life is vibrant; people often in the center go to daily Mass and take every means available to learn more about their faith. Being Catholic satisfies the deepest quest of their hearts and is very much a part, if not the totality, of their identification as human beings.
The further you go out from the center, where everything you hope for is found, the less active and real the faith-life of the Catholic Christian is. For some, they are Sunday Church goers and they may go to Confession once a year, but are not hungry for more knowledge about their faith. They pray, but in a haphazard way.
At the next outer ring of the circle are those who come for major Holy Days and may attend a Catholic Wedding or Funeral.
At the very outer-most rim, holding onto the edges of the circle, are those who never think of their Catholic Faith, do not even go to Church on Sundays, but may just darken the doors of the Church on Ash Wednesday. These still identify themselves as Catholic and they have been Baptized, so they have the graces of the Sacrament at least positioned for possible use, but as yet their adherence to the faith is still only nominal.
I see my role as Pastor and Shepherd to encourage everyone to move closer to the center of the circle where Jesus is in all His splendor, beauty and power. Everyone, including myself, can move closer to that center since the circle of grace is vast and spacious. As we move to the center, we will become more and more satisfied, yet wanting even more and more of the delight of the Lord.
When you have tasted of this, even for a little, you not only want more, you want others to experience the joy and meaning of being alive in Him. The Scriptures become one’s own story, the Sacraments are wellsprings of abundant life, and the Moral Life no longer a burden but a privilege in witnessing to the goodness of God’s love. As it all comes alive for us, we want our loved ones to have this feeling. We want to share it even with those
we do not know or even love. How can we hoard what is so wonderful? It is what the world needs most to better reflect the reign of God.
The sadness I feel the most is when people are offered this and politely decline because of time commitments or the demands of their busy lives. Sadly, also, there is no motivation to share it with their children. So, while all medical, educational, and primary needs are dutifully met, what is left to give to the children is what is the most important—their ongoing relationship to God placed at the center of their lives.
A parish is not a service station where you come to fill up on the Sacraments as needed. A parish is not only where you go to Mass on Sunday. A parish has to be more than that. It is a faith community where we grow closer to the Lord together. No one gets to heaven alone! We are in this together! As we celebrate the Sacraments and share our faith, we become what Christ has called us to be: His Body and His Presence in the world.
Remember what Jesus said to Saul (who would soon become St. Paul) when he appeared to him during the height of Saul’s persecution of the Christian people: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? Christ’s identification with the Church is powerful, visceral and real. When we come together for Mass, we put on the mind of Christ through the Word of God and we consume the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. What does that add up to? We become the Body of Christ in Astoria and the world!
This is what a parish should truly be.