Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 State of the Parish Report

Homily for the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Each year on the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, I like to give an overview of the life and ministry of our parish, something of a State of the Parish Report. It is good every once in a while to step back and look at where we are – both at the successes and challenges of the past year and at the hopes and dreams for the coming year. First, a look at where we are and where we have been.

There are currently 1,172 registered households in our parish comprising approximately 3,368 people. Forty-five of those households registered in our parish during the past twelve months. During that same time period, since July 1 of last year, we have baptized 31 infants, married 15 couple, welcomed 9 adults into the Church through the RCIA, and celebrated 21 funerals. In looking over recent years, our baptisms were down this year, but we had almost twice the number of weddings as the year before. We are blessed to have a good number of young adults and young families in our parish, bringing us much life and vitality.

But, of course, a parish is much more than statistics. Among many highlights of this past year, we welcomed a new youth minister and part-time youth ministry assistant to the parish staff. A new Christian Service Commission was formed to help coordinate the many service ministries sponsored by our parish. A new Evangelization Committee was also formed and is currently in the process of evaluating the ways we spread the gospel both within and outside our parish. During the year, we sponsored a very successful Lenten Reteat for the Parish. We hosted a concert commemorating the 40th anniversary of the installation of our pipe organ. We welcomed back several priests who have been associated with the parish over the years to celebrate the Year for Priests. We also hosted four seminarians from Saint Meinrad School of Theology as part of their parish ministry formation program. In our school, we installed several interactive white boards, bringing the benefits of the latest technology to our classrooms, and we held our second annual Kingdom Builders’ Dinner, raising over $23,000 for need-based tuition assistance for our parish school.

But in my reflections, there were three clear highlights to our parish life over the past year. Last September, we launched the new One Church, One Faith Total Parish Faith Formation Program. The centerpiece of this program was Week One, an inter-generational evening of food, faith formation, and prayer held on the first Wednesday of every month. We averaged around 200 parishioners of all ages at these Week One gatherings, and plans are already underway for the second year of this program. Last October, our parish rejoiced as my predecessor as pastor, Bishop Paul Etienne, was named bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Several hundred people joined together to celebrated with him at a Mass and Thanksgiving Feast in November, and then around 50 parishioners made the journey to Cheyenne for his ordination as a bishop. Around the same time last fall, construction was completed on our new baptismal font and renovations to the church sanctuary, vestibule, and entry ways, all made possible by the Legacy for Our Mission Capital Campaign and financial gifts designated for this purpose. It certainly has been an exciting and productive year here at OLPH. But where do we go from here?

There are a few very clear projects that we are working on for the coming year. This fall, we hope to complete the final phase of renovations funded by our Capital Campaign – the renovation of the music area here in the church. The funds have been received, and we are currently finalizing the architectural drawings for this project. During the coming year, we will continue to work to expand such ministries as evangelization, youth and young adult ministry, Christian service, and health ministry – all of those groups are hard at work developing goals and plans specific to their areas of focus. This fall, we plan to hold a 40 Hours Devotion – forty hours of Eucharistic Adoration, with Masses and education focused on the prayer and worship life of our community. Later in the year, we will begin education for the new translations of the prayers we say at Mass, a transition that will be coming to all Catholic churches in the English speaking parts of the world in the fall of 2011. And we are currently beginning talks to bring back the Main Event in February 2011. The Main Event served as our major parish fundraiser for many years. After a two-year hiatus, we are hoping to bring it back this coming winter. Two parishioners have agreed to co-chair the event, and they are looking for volunteers to serve on the committee – if you have an interest, you can see me after Mass or send me a message.

But even more than our plans for these specific ministries, now seems to be a significant time to look at the overall vision and direction of our parish. A year ago, we concluded the implementation of the ENVISION parish planning process, which had identified five priority areas for parish ministry. As beneficial as any of our parish ministries and be in themselves, they will eventually flounder if they are not part of a larger plan. So we must continually ask ourselves: How do we intend to build God’s kingdom in this particular parish? What should be our areas of focus as we worship, spread the gospel, form one another in the faith, and serve the needs of our community? It is time once again to begin thinking about a strategic plan for our parish. In the short-term, two initiatives have already begun to help lay the groundwork. As a way to continue to get to know parishioners, I have opened up much of my July calendar to share meals with parishioners in their homes. After announcing my availability in last week’s bulletin, I now have only five dates still available in July – if you are open to having me join your family or friends for dinner, give me a call or an e-mail. Once the July dates are filled, I will continue to make time available into the future. During these meals and conversations, I hope to hear from you your ideas, dreams, and plans for the future of our parish ministries. We are also in the process of redesigning all of our parish communications, beginning with designing a new parish and school logo. Eventually, this redesign will affect everything from our parish website to the newsletter to the Sunday bulletin to letterhead and business cards. That’s happening right now. But beginning this fall, I have asked our Pastoral Council to begin a more formal process of strategic planning to help us prepare for the future ministry of our parish. This is an exciting time for our parish community, and I look forward to involving the entire parish in this process. But first of all, we must ask for God’s guidance and the prayers of Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, to guide our ministries and our service for the building up of His kingdom. So as we celebrate our parish feast this weekend, may that be our prayer: that God bless this parish and strengthen each of us to follow His voice, wherever he may lead.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why be a priest?

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Zechariah 12.10-11, 13.1 Psalm 63 Galatians 3.26-29 Luke 9.18-24

This weekend, we officially mark the conclusion of the Year for Priests, declared by Pope Benedict to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. What the Holy Father hoped to accomplish during this past year was a renewed appreciation of the gift of the priesthood, both for priests themselves and for the Church as a whole. And at the same time, we hope to help young men today to see the priesthood more and more as a worthy calling and to help them open the ears of the hearts to learn if God is indeed calling them to this vocation. And so the question must be asked: why would a young man want to be a priest today? In a world so focused on personal accomplishment and material wealth, why be a priest? In a Church that has been wounded by the actions of a few men who have abused their priestly role, why be a priest? In a culture so focused on marriage and family, why be a priest?

Certainly the priesthood is but one vocation among many. As St. Paul reminds us today, when we are baptized, we are clothed in Christ, and there are many ways to live out our baptismal call to holiness. In one sense, the value of the priesthood is in its equality with the other vocations. It is not better to be a priest than to marry, it is not better to be in religious life than to live a sacred single life. When God calls, that call is a good thing – whatever he calls us to do. But the question still remains, if all vocations are equally important, why be a priest?

To answer that question, we need to know what the priesthood is as its own unique vocation. The priesthood is not a job or an office – it is a way of life. As priests, we structure our days so that we are serving not ourselves but serving the needs of others, whether in celebrating the sacraments or visiting the sick or teaching the faith or spending time with God in prayer. As priests, we have the humbling task of walking with people during their greatest joys and sorrows, always reminding them that Christ walks with them. As priests, we speak words that are not our own, words that come from the mouth of God himself as sins are absolved, lives are joined together, and ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

Many people think that the priesthood is a lonely vocation – we have no wife or children, no family to go home to at the end of the day. But we do have a family, we have a parish family; we have good friends both within the priesthood and outside the priesthood. The calling of the priesthood is a call to live in relationship with God and God’s people. The calling of the priesthood is to keep eternity ever before our eyes and to help guide people to heaven, one by one. Of course, we priests can’t do that alone. We do this together with all the baptized, working side by side to build God’s kingdom here on earth in order to reach God’s kingdom in heaven. It is an awesome responsibility, to be a priest, but it made possible only through the grace and strength of God.

So why be a priest? Because if that is how God is calling a young man to spend his life, then God will give him what he needs to fulfill the role. Why be a priest? Because our world needs public witnesses to holiness, our Church needs the sacraments, we all need people whose lives are dedicated to reminding us how much God loves us. Why be a priest? Because it is a life of true joy and fulfillment. Why be a priest? Because God calls, and we must follow.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Story as Creed

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Samuel 12.7-10, 13 Psalm 32 Galatians 2.16, 19-21 Luke 7.36-50

People often ask me what we as Catholics believe. But even more that what we believe, people often want to know how our beliefs impact the way we look at the world, how our beliefs guide the way we act and the decisions we make. It’s an important question, and it deserves a complete and honest answer. The most basic statement of what we believe as Christians is laid out in the Creed – belief in the Trinity; belief that God made everything that exists; belief in the Son of God who became man and who suffered, died, and rose from the dead; belief in the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in one baptism, and in eternal life. Christians have been praying this Creed in their liturgies for almost 1700 years. But that is just a beginning. For what we believe as Catholics, we could look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a great resource that explains in detail Catholic teaching on the creed, liturgy, morality, and prayer. But for a different perspective, today’s gospel reading can give us a good overview not only of what we as Catholics believe but how those beliefs influence our outlook on life, the way we treat other people, and the way we look at the world. Virtually every significant point of our faith can be found in this story about a sinful woman and her encounter with Jesus at the home of the Pharisee.

This story has one person at its center – all the action and conversation is focused on the man named Jesus. So it is for us – everything we do as Christians is focused on Jesus Christ, the one we believe to be the Son of God. And like both the Pharisee and the sinful woman, we want to be near Jesus – we want to structure our lives so that we are in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That individual connection is crucial, it’s central to our faith – but it’s not everything. We also encounter Jesus in the midst of community – we get to know him, not by ourselves, but along with other people who are on the same faith journey. So it is in this story from Luke’s gospel – the people we hear about in the story do not have one-on-one encounters with Jesus, in isolation – they encounter Jesus as part of a group, and they learn from one another as well as from the prophet and teacher. Simon the Pharisee could not have learned about forgiveness without the presence and actions of the sinful woman and Jesus’ response. In our lives as Christians, we strive to develop both a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God – everything we do is about him.

But there is more we can learn from this story. Our Christian tradition places a great emphasis on hospitality – we strive to be welcoming to all people, friend and stranger, just as the sinful woman welcomed Jesus with her tears and oil. We have a special concern for the outcast and those in need – people who are separated from mainstream society for whatever reason – the poor, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner – we strive to see Christ in all people and to honor his presence in them. And we know the importance of forgiveness. We are a Church of sinners who want to be saints – but most of the time, we are sinners. We trust in the compassionate love and forgiveness that God shows us, and we try our best to show that same forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us. And everything we do comes sooner or later to a table. Jesus was never far away from a meal during his ministry. And we Catholic Christians are never far away from the supper of the Lord, the table of the Eucharist, where we are fed and nourished by Christ himself.

It’s not a creed, it’s not a catechism, but it seems to me to be a pretty good summary not only of what we believe but how we want to live. Day by day, we make Jesus the center of our lives – both personally and communally. We strive to be welcoming to all people. We have a special concern for those who are in need. We know that we are sinners, but through God’s grace and forgiveness we want to be saints. And along the journey, we are strengthened at the table of Christ’s Body and Blood. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church, and we are proud to profess it by the way we live.