Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Let’s face it, if you live in an area with an abundance of Catholic Churches as we do in northeast Ohio (though somewhat less in recent years) you can shop around a little bit to find a parish that is a fit for you. In the past you were pretty much stuck with the parish in which you were living along the same manner of being stuck with the family in which you were born. Today it is the practice to “adopt yourself out” to any family, sign up, and call it your home parish.

One of the things that we are discovering is that people find us on the Internet and come to check us out. We are not exactly on the beaten path and so having a website we are discovering is quite a boon for Roaming Catholics. One of our young families that moved into the parish not too long ago is now moving away to follow a job. *sigh* The way they found us was doing a Catholic Church search online and one Sunday we were next in line for a visit. Fortunately for us they landed here and nested. Now that they are moving, one of the first things that they are doing is searching online for a new spiritual home in their new city.

This trend makes me sit back and ask the question, “What makes a good parish.” I had a phone call the other day from someone selling something and they were telling me about their home parish. They went on quite at length about all the things that were happening at the parish and what a wonderful place it was and that every priest should spend some time there to know how to run a wonderful parish. Not once were sacraments mentioned.

At a recent diocesan meeting a guest speaker made the comment that if we want to compete with mega churches it is not matter of establishing one or two more ministries, but 20 or 30. I about choked on my overly sweetened coffee. My hero for the day stood up and said that we will never be able to do quite that much – nor should we. We should concentrate on what we do well – should be doing well anyway – sacraments and education. Then whatever we can do after that is icing on the cake.

Nobody joins the Catholic Church. I would discourage it if they tried. You don’t join the Catholic Church like you join the local gym that has all of the services you want. It is not the goal of the Church to entice people into the pews because we offer the most and best set of programs in town. Rather than joining the Church, you become the Church – you become responsible for the ministry.

So if you walk around your community and you see something that needs attention and think, “The Church should be here!” then realize that YOU ARE the Church and that you should then do something. If we blame the Church for not being present, we to some extent blame ourselves.

In this city we have licensed persons standing on street corners asking for money. There are all kinds of debates as to what a person should do. Give? Don’t give? One man from this parish decided it was neither a good idea to ignore them nor throw money at these people. These options did not seem like a Christian attitude to him. So he made it a point to go and talk to a number of these persons and offer to help them go from business to business and put in applications. Nobody took him up on it, but he did it. God bless him.

Now, the role of the parish is first to give that man in this ministry that he performed the opportunity to engage Christ, primarily through the sacraments, to give him the grace and the conviction of spirit that he needs to go out and be Christ for the world. The second role of the parish is to provide instruction in the faith that helps form his conscience and instruct him in Christian living. If the parish is capable, it would then work with him to give him the structure, credence, and possibly the pulled resources of communication, the gathering of likeminded individuals, maybe space, and other kinds of support needed to perform his ministry – all depending on the ability of the parish.

This has been the glory of the Church for two millennia. Many of the greatest movements in the Church were started just this way. Religious orders that did such great work did not start out as official Church institutions. Mother Theresa decided one day that should could not take one more day of seeing poor people neglected on the street and so started her ministry that evolved into an order. Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini began ministering to poor immigrants coming to the United States and an order was sparked. St. Francis decided on a life to live and was joined by others who liked what they saw, began an order and reformed the Church. In our own diocese a group of Catholics decided that there was a great need for apologetics and the now the group is so large that they are in need of seeking permission from the bishop to continue.

Is there something to which you are called? Does you parish celebrate the sacraments well? Does it provide opportunities to learn? And then, if it is capable, will it offer support. It seems to me that these are the signs of a good parish.


Adoro said...

Excellent post!

A good parish is one that helps you to grow in holiness through her sanctifying work; the sacraments, the liturgy, and spiritual formation.

We are called to be holy, for this earth is only temporary; a good parish helps us to look to eternity, our final destination for which we were created.

All too often, as you point out, we hear of having to "compete" with mega churches. I just sigh when I hear that; usually those statements are made by people with almost a pelagian view of salvation: we have to do it ourselves, and if we aren't big enough, then we have to do more!

Yes, there is a time for "doing", but first we must learn who we are in the face of God and realize he doesn't need us, but calls us to participate in salvation history. That doesn't mean competing with mega churches, but rather becoming fully who we are. God will send souls into the Church, into a life of constant conversion, constant renewal, and that glow of holiness will in turn attract even more souls.

The Church doesn't need more apostolate, but rather, to focus on what we DO do well, as you say, Fr. V.

I could go on but this will be a topic of tomorrow's deanery meeting (it always is) and I'm getting a headache just thinking of it again....

Anonymous said...

So glad to hear your voice in these matters, Father. My family has noticed this trend to multiply ministries and, exciting as the new outreaches seem, I don't agree with the approach. If 30% of registered parishioners attend Mass every week, it initially seems like a good idea to give primary effort to bringing the other 70% in. What good-hearted pastors sometimes forget (ignore?) is that a large percentage of the attending 30% are still just "pew warmers." Many of them reject Church moral teachings, live no differently than the secular world and still continue to approach the altar with a heart cold to Christ. Established ministries are filled with lukewarm Catholics who feel good about being "involved." So many of the hypothetical 30% are sick and is folly to expand on such a foundation. An increase in numbers does not logically lead to an increase in holiness, just an increase in activity.

Pat said...

Thanks, Father, for expanding on this topic. Great food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Father V -

I feel pretty confident that my newly-merged parish celebrates the sacraments well, and we are working on getting better educated as Catholics.

We are newly-merged, and one of the first things our new pastor changed was the daily Mass schedule to make it convenient for more of us to attend. He also added Sunday confessions to our usual Saturday confession schedule. Shortly thereafter, he started an adult Bible study. The list goes on, but you get the idea. I really do not know where he finds the time for all of this in addition to everything else he does, but I am very grateful indeed.

When some of us wanted to improve the condition of the rectory (which had become pretty dumpy over the years, as you pointed out not too long ago in this blog), he politely told us that he thought we should spend what little money we have on structural improvements to the church buildings and on religious education throughout the parish.

I don't know what I did to deserve such a wonderful parish and such terrific priests, but I am enjoying it. In fact, we parishioners worry about our priests running themselves into the ground with all the work. I hope Bishop Lennon leaves both priests with us for a few years at least, because I think they are absolutely first-class. I can't imagine other priests going to the trouble of taking such good care of us (with respect to you, of course!)

Best wishes from Downtown

Anonymous said...

This is what turns me off . . . . somebody asks "how do you like Father Valencheck?" . . . or what do you think of a priest who wears a cassock? . . . or why were there no flowers on the altar today? . . . I go to church to worship, and I don't care whether the priest has a beard or not.


Trevor said...

@ Anonymous (So glad to hear…) – I’m not sure what you are trying to say, but I’ll speculate. I was fairly recently part of the “70%” and then moved to the “30%”. In the beginning of my “30%” status I would have been considered in your eyes a “pew warmer.” All the while I have been apart of other ministries within the community. This being said, it were those ministries and outside of mass activities that brought me to mass. Some people have a different approach towards their path to becoming closer with God. It doesn’t necessarily begin with coming to mass weekly and when those people do come to mass, whether they are “pew warmers” or not, they should be embraced. They are in the presence of holiness and how ever long it might take for them to leave the “lukewarm Catholic” status and move towards a place closer to Christ, so be it. “Just an increase in activity” is not something to discard. That increase in activity will lead to an increase in awareness, faith, and ultimately salvation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for responding. I certainly didn't mean that the 70% should be ignored or that activities within a parish community are fruitless. Like you, I have also been a member of the 70%. I was also a "pew-warming" member of the 30% for quite a while. I'm not slinging mud by using that term, simply using it to identify a group of people (of which I have been a part) who come to church bodily but leave their hearts at home.

My point was not to write off the 70% but to highlight the fact that the 30% are, in many cases, still largely uncatechised, spiritually separated (living in a habitual state of mortal sin), and not interested (or maybe even aware) that they need conversion (as all of us do). When we focus on the numbers primarily, the individual tends to get lost.

I have a strong feeling that you did not come closer to God because of an activity, but rather because of a relationship/s. As I said, adding activity does not increase holiness. But imagine the possibilities in a community if the 30% experienced profound and lasting conversion. The parish (including the friends and family included in the 70%) would be transformed.

btw, I love community outreach. I love the idea of reaching out and inviting people back to church. I just don't see mega-churching as the best way to do it. Father V really expressed my reservations best.

Trevor said...