As preparations continue for me to transition to St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s at the end of June, a couple of people from there have asked me about my “hopes and dreams” for the parish. It is both an understandable and a good question. However, at this time I do not have an answer specific to St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s. While I know the parish as the church I attended before entering seminary, I do not know what the strengths and weaknesses are of the churches today. Thus, I want to go with an open mind and no specific set plan.
Does that mean I do not have any “hopes and dreams”? Of course not. I hope to help people come closer to Jesus. I hope to help the parishioners engage in the life of the parish (see my article from last week “A Question to Ponder” about what it means to belong to a parish). I also think of how we used to live in a society where Christian values were fundamental to the values of general society. Today we find ourselves in a society that is losing its Christian foundation. This changes how we interact with the world (see my March 2021 article “We Need to See as God Sees”). While we may find conflict between our Catholic values and those of the world, we must continue to love all people as God’s children. As Fr. James Mallon writes, “We will not be effective channels of God’s love to the world if we are angry at the world” (Divine Renovation Beyond the Parish. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press. 2020, page 59).
Returning to the question of “hopes and dreams”, it is important for us to have “hopes and dreams” for a better world. We need something to inspire us, something to strive for. For example, how many people have been inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Thus, it is important to have a vision of what we seek to do (ultimately, God’s will). The implementation of a vision is dependent on the current life of a parish. What are its strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities are there for growth and what threats (challenges) stand in the way of growth? This is not for me to decide alone. It requires input from staff, councils, and parishioners.
I wrote above about how our Christian morals are no longer foundational for secular society today. We have moved from a time when our faith shaped the world to a time when the secular world is shaping what people think our church should believe. Some people think that our Catholic Church teaching is outdated and in need of updating. What we need to do help people understand not just what our Church teaches but why (see my 2020 article “Answering Those Who Think Faith is Irrelevant”).
In creating a vision of our hopes and dreams, it is important, even necessary, for us to ask ourselves what of Church should we be. I wrote an article on this very question almost four years ago. I think what I wrote still applies for my general vision of what the Church should be. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi describing the Church, “She exists in order to evangelize” (14).
Does what I wrote in this article this mean money isn’t important? No, the money funds our ministry of evangelization to share the gospel. I will give the time needed to care for the finances and administration of the parish (included in this is good communication). However, money is not the point. Leading people to Jesus is. That being said, if we lead those already attending church to a deeper relationship with God and they will strengthen their support in giving of their time, talent, and treasure. We must also seek to evangelize those not coming to church to a relationship with Jesus. If we are successful in doing this, they too will give of their time, talent, and treasure to support our mission.
Likewise, we can spend a lot of time caring for our buildings. Our church buildings are important. A beautiful church can help people see the beauty of God. I will give proper time to the buildings. However, the buildings are not more important than the people.
I ended my article, “What Sort of Church Should We Be?, with a list of five areas churches should focus on. Before commenting the five areas, a brief word about priorities. These five areas are not of equal importance. This is where I need to learn the current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each church. These shape the priorities.
The first of the five areas in the article is faith formation. Our faith formation programs for our children and youth are very important. I am already in dialogue with the staff at St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s to ensure these programs continue. Faith formation for adults is also a vital part of evangelization. I understand that St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s already has some opportunities for this. I will be adding my own part here, hoping to offer presentations/discussions on various aspects of our faith (see http://www.renewaloffaith.org/what-s-new.html on my website to see links to recordings of recent presentations I have done).
The second area in my list of five is Eucharistic Adoration. I am happy to know that St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s already has Adoration on the First Fridays of the month. I will encourage people to use this as an opportunity for prayer.
The third area in my list is Small Christian Communities. Here, I have to admit I have not started this in any parish, partly because of time, and partly I have been uncertain exactly what format these groups should take. I think St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s has some history with this. I will pray that the Holy Spirit help us build upon this.
The fourth area is welcoming presence. I remember when I attended St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s being greeted each Sunday at the door with a warm smile. This is important. How do we welcome people into the life of the parish beyond one hour of worship at Mass on Sunday?
The last of the five areas in my article is use of social media and the web to share the faith. St. Mary’s/St. Ben’s already has a parish website and a Facebook page. May the Holy Spirit guide us to use these well in our mission to proclaim the gospel.
I hope this article has begun to share a vision of my hopes and dreams. I end by inviting everyone to pray for all parishes who are preparing for a change in priests and parish leadership.