I’ve been in my “new” parish for 3 months, today. During those three months I’ve been listening to hear what the parishioners think are some of the priorities for us to address. That’s most important first thing a new pastor should do, listen. Listen to learn the needs of the folks he’s sent to serve. Listen to where God is already present and at work in the parish. Listen to the stories of the parishioners tell about their individual and parish “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” (#1, Gaudium et Spes) so that the pastor can make them his own and reveal how Christ is present in the midst of their everyday life revealing the Kingdom of God (cite further paragraph #4, Gaudium et Spes).
There have been several needs repeatedly expressed since I’ve arrived. That need is to bring back to regular attendance at Sunday Eucharist members of our parish that have drifted away over the past several years. Some have been going to other parishes for Mass. Some, apparently, have wandered off to other ecclesial communions. Why, I wonder? Again, the voice of the people I’ve heard speaks about not being nourished by the liturgical celebration that was available to them at St. Mary. Others mention dissatisfaction with a particular pastor or some perceived slight by the community. This is not to blame any of my predecessors or former parishioners. People will go where their hungers are feed. I am very much aware that I will probably be the cause of some folks leaving the parish, over time, for not everyone will respond to my particular way of being priest or preaching. What gives me pause is that often I am mentioned as the reason some parishioners are hopeful that those who have wandered away from our Sunday gathering will want to return. I hope I am channeling Jesus Christ and not just an entertaining presider and easily understood homilist. For if I preach myself, the parish and I am lost. I often remind my parishioners that they are the church, and that their actions and words will be the reason people will stay. Maybe I can play a part in re-forming this parish as a vibrant worshiping community, but I am not the church. Priest and PIPs (People In the Pews) are the visible sign of the Body of Christ, the Church, who gives praise to the Father and proclaims the Kingdom of God is among you in Trenton.
So, my attention was grabbed by an article authored by Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, whose column appears in our Diocesan Newspaper, The Messenger. In a recent article “The Preciousness and Joy of a Whole Number,” he looks at the parable of the woman who loses a coin and diligently searches for it, giving a party when she finds it that costs more than the price of the coin. Father’s interpretation instructs his readers that the number 10 coins implies a kind of “wholeness,” a completeness that is broken when one coin is missing. He goes on to suggest that when Catholics are missing from the Eucharistic Banquet on Sunday, we are not whole, not the fullest and best expression of the Body of Christ we are by baptismal vocation called to be. It needs to be the task of every Catholic to diligently, persistently and methodically seeking to bring back to the table our brothers and sisters and new Christians, so that the Eucharist can be the extravagant celebration of the love of God revealed in the dying and rising of Christ.
I hope my parishioners get the message. I pray that, together, we’ll be able to have a successful search and have the extravagant celebration the parable speaks of.