I don't mean to brag (well, maybe a little), but I'm pretty sure I'm a member of the best Catholic parish in the world. That's a pretty hefty claim, I realise, but I think I can back it up! For one, we have an amazing, engaging, and brave parish priest. He's willing to do things that he know may not be popular, because he knows it's right. His homilies are engaging, and he has no problem speaking difficult truths from the pulpit. He also has no problem letting us know that he's not the reason our parish is incredible. You can have an actual Saint at your parish, and you still might not be a happening parish filling the pews and drawing new people in. Having a great pastor is only one piece of the puzzle. Our priest recognises his primary job is to bring us the Sacraments, teach us about our Faith from the pulpit, and, very importantly, to nurture parish leaders who can raise up an incredible community outside of our Sunday Mass. Which leads to my real point. Yes, we have an incredible parish priest. He's got a vision for what our parish can become and is working so so so hard to help us make that happen, but in the end he's putting it in the hands of the laity to get the job done.
When we moved to this area and started attending this parish, I was a little nervous. We'd been going to a very lovely parish downtown with a pastor who we consider a very close friend and were liking the parish in principle. We didn't participate in any parish activities because we were already commuting to get there and didn't see anything that really jumped out at us. I was also struggling with the idea of going to the Church that was actually in our area because my Dad is a public figure there, and it's an amalgamation including my childhood parish. Not that I don't love my Dad, but he casts quite a shadow, and is there anything worse than having no one know your name except for as "So and So's daughter"? Despite my misgivings, we thought we'd come for one or two weekends to feel the new place out. If nothing else, it would be nice to check out the swanky new building! The first impression, which has turned into a lasting one, was that this is a vibrant, welcoming parish. Strangers smiled and welcomed us on the way in. Folks introduced themselves out of nowhere when we sat down. And no, they didn't have that lean and hungry look some people get when they see a young family at Church (quickly! Young people! Start signing them up for stuff!). They didn't recognise us, so they wanted to make us feel at home. Some folks who recognised me from my particular childhood parish (the new parish is an amalgamation of 3 smaller parishes) came over and welcomed us back with no judgements (sometimes when you've moved to a different parish, people kind of assume that they you left the Church altogether... haha). Simply just happy to see us! And boy are they welcoming of kids! Your kids screaming his or her head off? That's okay! That's what kids do. Can I help you at all? What a joy to see your family here!
After a few masses, we were hooked on this new parish. We found the particular mass that worked for us, and actually managed to get ourselves a regular spot. It took another couple of months before we really go involved, but after a while people gently invited us (and in the case of my Dad, much less gently) to join a few activities. I took Alpha last year, and this year I'm helping to run it for Young Families in our parish. (Don't know what Alpha is? You're missing out friend! Run to your local parish and if they're not carrying it, they should be!). Our Alpha class turns into a faith based playgroup when we're not running the course, which means we have year-round fun, support, and growth in our faith. Based on the inspiration of my experience during my 4th pregnancy, I started a little ministry called Food for Families that brings ready to cook meals to young families who are greeting a new baby. I've also joined the Baptism Formation Committee, the Pro-Life Committee, and just this past week the Welcoming Committee (a new committee to help people who are new to the parish feel welcome and comfortable). All stuff that's right up my alley, and none of it so taxing that I'm pulling my hair out. And no one MADE me do any of it. I just feel so energised by our parish that I WANT to do it! And it isn't just me! My husband joined the Knights of Columbus, which has him out and about quite and bit, joined the Pro-Life Committee with me, and started doing a retreat series called Moment by Moment, which is a 30 Day retreat stretched out to be once a week for 30 weeks. I think it's fair to say he's loving it to.
The most incredible thing about this parish is that there's really something for everyone! We've got Youth groups, bible studies, faith formation, grief support, playgroups, movie nights, fun activities like knitting or Ukrainian Easter eggs, and just about anything else you can think of! It's so much that we have a person who specifically coordinates all our volunteers! Our parish bulletin is so packed with real activities each month that we're trying to upgrade to a bigger format so we can actually tell folks about everything going on! Our parish is living proof that if you raise up good leaders, they'll go out and raise up more good leaders, and so on! We're all working together, growing together, praying together, and spending a lot of our time laughing. With the strength of God and our desire to come closer to Him individually and as a community, we drawing new people in and helping people find faith, re-learn their faith, and grow in their faith. When you look back across the Church during Mass, it's hard not to notice a lot of shining faces with their eyes fixed on the Cross. Our parish, its staff, parishioners and pastor, are working hard to become a little foretaste of Heaven so compelling that we ignite a fire of Faith so strong we could catch the whole world on fire. Every time I feel the flame of my Baptism growing dim, I can depend that there's someone in the parish who will share their light with me, and help me grow back into a raging inferno of love for Christ.
And that's the kind of parish we could all use.