Dear parishioners. Two words go through my mind: thanksgiving and unity. The greatest gratitude goes to Christ. But among other small things, I am grateful that parishioners supported me and the parish last year. A year ago we started to ask for a little more money in each and every collection, “an extra two dollars.” The results became apparent that everyone did chip-in a little more, since we met all our income budget goals for the year. And to boot, we just did the small “Gift of Time Campaign” to restore the church clock in Barton and ended up with enough donations from parishioners, with a generous alternate bid, that this project is about to be completed, and we can immediately move on to other parish projects.
I am grateful for several recent successes for our parish school. After three straight years of decreasing enrollment, we increased slightly this year. Now – big news here – just when we secured some excellent grant monies, and had just launched a celebratory fund-drive to collect 120 donations of $120 each for our 120th school anniversary, an offer has just been made to double each and every donation through next school year to a total of $120,000 matching funds!
Yet while I am thankful for all this, and many have been pleased with how things are going so far, the unity of the parish is a concern that the Lord has put on my heart. Young Catholic families do not feel united to their parish or their pastor enough to make “going to Mass” a high priority. Those who are in fact dedicated to their Sunday obligation to God, may not think it is a priority to aid the parish in roles of service. These are of course symptoms of a lack of unity with Christ. Yet one way to remedy this is to pay attention to the unity of the body of the parish, and distinguish its different parts for the best use for each.
I believe that, in the future, it will be important that the laity show a greater example of coming to the Mass “together as one body,” rather than demanding that priests and future pastors “make the rounds” to do a multiplication of Masses under the pretext of keeping a familiar “parish feeling” at every little church. Our priest shortage is getting too acute for this and the Eucharist is incomparably more important than any such priorities. This will continue to be a slow transition, but obviously there are both challenges and opportunities here even now.
I suggest that it will be beneficial to make St. Paul’s Church and St. Paul’s School the central focus of the parish in the upcoming years. On the one hand there have already been more resources given to our parish church and school in Barton Village, by the very choices of our donors and benefactors. On the other hand, that has not translated greatly into a unity of devotion. Yet a center of devotion will be good if we find small ways to build it around St. Paul’s Church and the parish facilities where the pastor lives. Our other parish churches must retain a distinct role, and it is still possible to integrate the unique qualities of each church into a greater unity and a particular center. I think we do well to acknowledge this trend which might be seen as mere “consolidation,” yet be intentional about picking the ways in which it may continue. This would not mean that we make some “retirement plan” for our other parish churches. It would mean that we think of subordinate and supporting ways that the other churches add uniqueness to the whole parish, without dividing loyalties among too many priorities. What is the unique character of St. Theresa’s Church or St. John Vianney Church which could be emphasized for the spiritual good of all who attend Mass there? Is there one thing that can be done at Masses or separate from Masses in our smaller churches without getting lost in a calendar of events? We must think carefully about whether we are presuming that the best contribution of a particular church or particular community within the parish is to provide more of the same, just “another Mass option.”
In terms of “consolidation,” an immediate suggestion might be, why not celebrate only two Masses for the greatest feasts of our faith, Christmas and Easter, both in the central and biggest church of the parish? Why not use the combination of ministers and resources to make great liturgies with the greatest numbers possible to join in the one vigil or the one holy day Mass in Barton? This indeed would be a separation from people’s “usual church” or “favorite time to attend.” But it would be fruitful if it was intentional for the unity of the parish.
This is one major suggestion, but I hope there are many other suggestions and alternate suggestions which can identify ways that “parts of the body” can serve the unity of the whole, and also highlight the most important functions of the body of the parish.
With all of this said, put your faith in the divine mysteries of Christ, and do not ever take them for granted. One confession. One Eucharist. One chance to go before the Lord in the Tabernacle. These are worth the whole world.
I pray to have the best dispositions as we all come together as a parish, and consider all these things. May the God of peace make us perfect in holiness. May he preserve us to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fr. Tim Naples