August 24, 2013 – Continuing Change

I thought I would begin this week by commenting on the joint Mass we had with St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove this past Saturday.  I want to thank the parishioners at Ellis Grove for being such gracious hosts.  I think some folks were just expecting maybe a cookie and a glass of punch following Mass, and instead we were treated to a full-blown spread.  Of course, rarely have I been to a Catholic function where anyone went home hungry (lol).  Nonetheless, we were welcomed very warmly by our neighbors, which I am very thankful for.  We had a very good crowd for the Mass, although the fear some had that the crowd would be so large that chairs would have to be set up in the parking lot didn’t quite materialize.  As is usually the case at Mass, there were still spaces in the FRONT pews (lol).

Of course, the real purpose of the evening was for people to get to start to know each other a little better as we continue to form our partnership.  Fr. Gene did a great job in explaining why it is necessary for us to begin working in partnership, and also detailing some of our future plans.  It is necessary for us to continue to move forward because we have two progress reports that must be turned in to the diocese – an initial report next month and a final report in December – as to what we will do when we have only one priest ministering in our partnership.  This is not a question of if, but a question of when.  If Fr. John at Sparta, who is here as a visiting priest, is called back to his home diocese, or if Fr. Ben is assigned to a larger parish, or some other event occurs that forces the departure of a priest, then we must have a plan that will kick in at that point.  This plan would include a revised Mass schedule, a plan to combine ministries, finances, and committees, as well as other things.

In the meantime, our parishes will continue to do joint activities together.  Fr. Ben and Fr. Gene will once again have a pulpit exchange in September and October.  We will have joint penance services during Advent and Lent.  We have also discussed the possibility of February 15, 2014 as a date for a joint Mass here in Chester with a dinner and dance afterwards.  We have invited the youth of Ellis Grove to join our CYO in our activities.  We may in the future begin to celebrate the Holy Days of Obligation together.  I’m sure there will be other things we will do together as time goes on.

One of the observations I made last Saturday was that many of the parishioners from our parish were socializing with the Ellis Grove parishioners because they already knew each other, whether by friendship, family ties, or other means.  This step we are taking certainly has a “fear factor” involved with it because it is something new.  However, as Fr. Gene pointed out, we are all Catholic by virtue of our beliefs, and the nature of Catholicism is that it is universal.  There is no reason that we should not be willing to work together and share our resources to more effectively evangelize the gospel message.  If we keep an open mind to the process, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the right path, we could be opening new opportunities that we never would have thought about before.  Let us pray for continued guidance and cooperation as we proceed into the future.

Along the lines of who attends what parish, there was an article from Our Sunday Visitor that caught my eye yesterday.  The author threw out this question: Is it better to attend your geographic parish or a parish that you feel comfortable in?  The stance on this has certainly changed over time.  In the olden days, leaving your parish for another parish wasn’t equivalent to leaving the church, but it was close.  My grandfather lived his entire life on Shawneetown Trail, which would have been very close to the Ellis Grove church.  However, as a child he attended St. Mary’s in Chester, and he continued to do so most of his life.  That was “his” church.  I still think many older folks still have that same attitude.  They feel a sense of “ownership” with their parish.  They contributed for so many years to that place, and that is in a sense “their” church.

Folks of the younger generations, however, I think in many cases have no problem attending a parish that is not necessarily in their geographic area.  It may be because Mass times are more convenient, or the Masses are shorter somewhere else, or other reasons.  Nothing is really said about this anymore because, I suppose, at least in view of the Diocese, they are going to church somewhere.  It may be a “faith-saver”, as a matter of fact, if someone chooses to a church outside their area because they feel it is more compatible.   However, as the article indicated, is someone who attends another church because they are comfortable there missing the whole point of community?  The mission of a parish isn’t about “how good it makes me feel,” or about entertainment value.  It is about me associating and caring about those who may not be like me, yet are still brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The declining number of clergy, which necessitated the Diocesan Renewal and Restructuring Plan, will result in a declining number of choices folks will have to attend Mass.  For example, if someone wants to attend Mass on a Saturday evening, they will have to go to this church or travel a great distance to find another Mass.  As was mentioned before, this is an opportunity to show our true Catholic faith, to welcome in those who are apprehensive about a particular church.  Doors to new opportunities are opening, and it will be up to us whether to enter in, or to close them.

Have a great week.  Stay cool.  Peace.

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