Sunday 30th, OT – A
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
I wonder how you would respond to this question I am about to ask you. It a question about something that affects all of us; even multiple times in a single week. But even though it affects each of us, we usually tend to see it from the vantage point of our own individual needs. This reality affects each of us differently in the different stages of our life. But precisely because it affects every one of us it must simultaneously respond to all of our needs while still responding to each individual’s need particularly. Sounds kind of like a riddle, doesn’t it.
So how would you respond to this question: “What it the purpose of the Catholic parish?” “Why does this parish, St. John’s, exist?” “What is the parish supposed to be so that it can meet all it’s parishioners needs, including my own particular needs among them.”
You see, a parish is a complex reality. Like a machine, perhaps like a car, it is made up of hundreds of independent parts that work together for a common purpose. In fact the point of this homily is to show you how complex it is and to invite you to play a part in it. The Catechism calls a parish:
“…a stable community of faithful a within a diocese whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd by the bishop.” (Glossary)
So according to this definition the purpose of a parish is ‘pastoral care.’ (we will return to this point at the end of the homily) But in terms of today’s Gospel I would say that the purpose of a parish is twofold: to foster the love of God and the love of neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As I mentioned last week we are in the period of Stewardship renewal within the diocese of Wichita. In that homily I explained the definition of stewardship. But stewardship isn’t practiced in some sort of void. Rather it is directly tied to the life of this Christian community that we call a parish. So in order to understand the point of stewardship you must also understand the point of a parish.
Here at St. John’s we have a statement that we find on our pamphlets and street posters that captures our sense of mission. This statement is, “Sharing life in Christ.” I think the stark simplicity of this phrase carries with it all the power of the two great commandments, to Love God and neighbor, but also captures our purpose as a parish. We are called to “share life in Christ.” The way in which we share life in Christ is precisely through our active stewardship of time, talent and treasure. It is, in fact, the job of our stewardship committee to invite people into this active life of the parish, which we will be doing in a few weeks.
But the purpose of our parish is not only concerned with its active members. Remember a quote I’ve used before, “We are called to be fishers of men not keepers of the aquarium.” The purpose of this parish is not only to serve the needs of those who are coming or those who are signed up on our parish roster. Certainly this is a central part of our mission. But it is not the totality of that mission. We are not merely an aquarium as if we are called to be closed in ourselves. No, the second side of our mission, “Sharing life in Christ,” means sharing that life with those who are inactive or those who need to hear the Gospel. Our parish exists both to care for those who are members as well as to invite those who are distant.
I think it is important for us to realize that our parish community does not yet have an organized method to bring the Gospel to the unchurched. We need to pray about how to apply St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading to our parish, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded fourth…in every place.”
Let me ask the question again: What is the purpose of a Catholic Parish? We can find and answer in our Catechism. Catechism 2179 says the parish has four purpose:
1. “It is the place where all the faithful are gathered for the Sunday Eucharist.
2. It initiates the Christian people into liturgical life:
3. it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine;
4. it practices the charity in good works and brotherly love: (1567; 2691; 2226)
Notice that the first two points, the Sunday celebration and the initiation into liturgical life, have to do with the love of God. The second two, teaching doctrine and practicing charity, have to do with the love of neighbor. So the life of stewardship can be seen as the active practice of the love of God and neighbor in the shared life of this community.
So stewardship for the love of God in the life of the parish begins with the Sunday celebration. Like I frequently say, “The God who himself is a community of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, desires to be worshipped in a community of persons. There are so many ways to participate in ministries at Mass: lector, gift bearer, greeter/usher, sacristan, server, cantor, choir, instrumentalist. Each of these ministries is a participation in the active worship of our Triune God. But this Sunday celebration continues throughout the week with daily Mass, Liturgy of the hours, 40 hours of adoration and daily rosaries. Even those persons who are homebound or are in nursing homes receive communion every weekend from parishioners who take it to them.
Stewardship for the love of God in the life of the parish continues with initiating people into the liturgical life. This initiation finds its most explicit expression in RCIA where people enter into a process of becoming full members of the Catholic faith. As a matter of fact, the documents of the Church teach us that the process of RCIA is the basic format for all religious education on a parish campus, whether that is with youth or adults. This initiation into liturgical life is also found in our sacramental preparation programs for baptism, first communion, confirmation and even marriage preparation.
When we speak if initiating people in to the life of a parish we cannot ignore the importance of hospitality especially after Mass. Our time after Mass is a key moment for our community in welcoming others into the life of our parish. I strong encourage you not to speak to the same people, or the same family members, that you usually do after Mass. Always seek to invite someone you don’t know into the conversation. Remember, new faces are people who are here for a reason. Maybe they’re here simply because it’s convenient since they are on their way into Wichita. Or maybe they haven’t been to Church in a very long time and your hospitality is a sign of welcome and an encouragement to become part of a community that really is “Sharing life in Christ.” If you are new to our parish, don’t be afraid to hang around a while and shake a few hands. We want you to feel welcome here.
But stewardship in the life of a parish is not only focused on love of God, it is also focused on the love of neighbor. Another purpose of our parish is to teach Christ’s saving doctrine. Did you know that St. John has approximately 640 souls or 210 households. It is the mission of this parish to ensure that it is center of faith formation for every one of those souls. But not only those 210 households, but also for those persons in our parish boundaries whose conversion is yet to happen!
Catechism 2226 reminds us that, “the parish a privileged place of the catechesis of children and parents.” So St. John’s teaches “saving doctrines” in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program, CCD for grade school, chastity formation for our 8th graders and CYM for our high schoolers.
But among all the ways in which we teach the faith the most important is our adult education programs. Did you realize that the Church teaches that adult ed is centrally important to the life of a parish. One document states:
“Adult Catechesis is not at the periphery of the Church’s educational mission but at its center. It is essential to who we are and what we do as Church (GDC 20, 59; NCD 188; TJD 43; SLF 157; ACCC 25.”
We have many adult ed opportunities whether it is joining us on Sunday mornings in the parish hall, taking part in the Easter Triduum retreat or joining us in Lent on our overnight trip to the Monastery. Whether you are young or old I strongly encourage and invite everyone in this parish to take part in some form faith formation. It is in fact the purpose of our parish.
Stewardship for the love of neighbor in the life of the parish also includes the practices the charity in good works. This takes us back to the beginning of this homily where the purpose of the parish is pastoral care. The point of St. John’s is for each of us to share in one another joys and griefs, failures and successes and to encourage one another in the love of the Lord. Whether it is visiting the sick or those in nursing homes; helping out at funerals or funeral vigils; or joining a group such as Altar Society, Daughters of Isabella or the Knights of Columbus;. Or it could be participating in acts of social justice by volunteering at the Lord’s diner or helping out when a local family has an emergency. We are called to “Share life in Christ.” This is our mission as a parish! This is the point of a parish.
A parish is a community. This is why we have the parish dinner on December 29th, Fireside chats in our neighborhoods, workdays on our campus or we join in the Clearwater fall festival. The point of our parish is to be a community, to “share life in Christ”. I wish you could see the great conversations the Wednesday night youth have when they gather in the rectory basement after classes!
So what is the purpose of a Catholic parish? It is to share in the love of God and love of neighbor. For us here at St. John’s this means, “Sharing life in Christ.” We do this in our Sunday celebrations, our sacramental initiation, our religious education or our community events. We are called to “Share life in Christ” both with those in our parish as well as those who have fallen away from the faith. A parish is a complex reality. But it is a reality that affects us all in many ways. Please be active stewards in this parish so that we can share the love of God and love of neighbor for the salvation of souls.