Dear Followers of Jesus,
In today’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48), Jesus invites us into the non-violent and compassionate love of the Father. Jesus challenges us to live in the perfection of the Father. This perfection means that we strive to live out the characteristics of the Father such as forgiveness, love, kindness, tenderness and fidelity. This is our model of conversion, our change of heart toward God. This perfection is not our human notion of living without mistakes or error or chaos. Jesus tells us that faith is a path, not a quick solution. Faith is a journey, not a fast answer. Faith is living in the heart of God. We move toward the perfection of the Father in love and faithfulness.
We are not perfect, and we each know and experience that in our daily lives. We make mistakes, we see other’s errors, and we are often caught up in chaos. Sometimes it feels like chaos is our constant state of life. We are so busy with what we have to do and accomplish that we don’t take the time to experience the beauty that is around us, in the warmth of people we encounter each day, in the serenity of the amber hues of a sunset over the mountains, or in the caring touch of comfort from a loved one.
As a parish, we are working to take small steps on our faith journey to experience the beauty around us. And to do that, we have begun hosting dinners with small gatherings of parishioners. We are seeking your often unspoken thoughts and your honest feedback on how we are fulfilling our mission “As a prayerful Catholic community of service following Jesus’ message of hope and salvation, we make God known, loved, and served.” You have told us about the things we do that you value and about the things we do that frustrate you. This week and next, I’d like to share with you some of the feedback we have received and some of the things that we will be doing in response to that feedback.
We start our dinner conversations by asking people to introduce themselves and their connection to the parish, and one theme rises to the top. People are connected with our parish because of the sense of community they feel in our churches. Whether attending Sacred Heart, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, or Holy Rosary, people feel as if they are a part of a family. Our parishioners value the relationships they have developed, sometimes over years and sometimes only over months, with the people sitting near them in church. We can count on the friendships we have developed through our churches.
Yet many parishioners feel we are not as welcoming as we could be. As one dinner participant questioned, “We welcome the poor, but do we welcome each other?” We have wonderful greeters who offer a smile, a warm hand of welcome, or an uplifting embrace as we enter the church. But once we sit down, we sit with people we know, we talk with people we know, and we socialize with people we know. We greet people as Mass begins, but do we engage with them? Perhaps to create a truly welcoming environment, we could ask the names of people we don’t know, we could inquire about their families, and we could invite them to join us after Mass for conversation, or for coffee and donuts.
In addition to getting to know each other, several parishioners have suggested that we educate each other on our many ministries. We have dozens of ministries supported by a vast cadre of volunteers. But do you know much about those ministries? Most people don’t. Several parishioners who have participated in our Tuesday dinners suggested that at the end of each Mass, we regularly feature a parishioner who is involved in one of our ministries.
Following on that suggestion, in the coming weeks you will see parishioners from each of our ministries presenting at Sunday Mass. They will talk about the important work of the ministry and how we, as parishioners, can get involved. What a wonderful communication tool this will be, and what a wonderful way to showcase the positive work we are doing to help make our church and our community better for all those who come to pray with us and all those who come to us for service. Consider participating in one of the many ministries we offer, and consider inviting one of your fellow parishioners to join you in that ministry.
Jesus is calling us to accept the reality that faith is a journey, not a fast answer. As a parish community we are walking the path of our faith journey together. That path is not always a straight line, and it often has challenging hills and rough terrain. But if we take our time to find the solutions in our path of faith, we will be able to maneuver the path’s hairpin turns, and we will cherish and appreciate the beautiful vistas that open before us as we crest a hill or reach level ground.
Our faith journey is only as rich and as deep as you allow it to be. So next time you see someone at Mass who you don’t know, take some time to talk to them and make them feel welcome. And when you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands, think about helping support one of the many parish ministries – you’ll know more about those ministries from your fellow parishioners who share their passion at Mass.
Please continue to share your thoughts, your praises, and your concerns with us. As we pursue our mission, as we worship together, and as we serve our community, we will stumble. But by open, honest, respectful conversation, we will pick ourselves up and move toward the perfection of the Father in love and faithfulness.