In my lifetime I have moved around a significant number of times and my wife and I have belonged to 17 different parishes. We can say without any reservation that in ever diocese there is that one parish everyone wants to be part of, with the best liturgies, the best music, the best pastor, most engaged parishioners, and so on. Those kinds of parishes are highlighted in the book “Intentional Discipleship” and “Divine Restoration.” They are known to be vibrant. I know we belonged and were active in three such parishes. The sad truth is there were only three and the rest of the 17 parishes were functional but not vibrant.
The problem with being in any parish is in its becoming complacent. There is a truth I discovered in my working life as a General Manager, in my personal life and in my spiritual life and it is you can never stop trying to get better. The moment you stop seeking to be more of what God desires your parish to be you will stagnate and then decline. This is a spiritual truth we need to heed and make it a point to always be open to allowing God to continue to change us and direct us.
Yet most of us find a place of comfort in practicing our faith and it is there that we feel like we have done all God requires of us. We are good people, faithful people offering our service to others. We give our parish our time, our money and our talents and we believe we have done our part. This is why so many parishes are functional instead of being vibrant – we are satisfied without being challenged to seek more of what God offers us.
Is this all that is required of us as believers? What more can be required of us?
God has a different way of looking at what we need to be doing. He challenges us to do take another step toward him, to do something out of our comfort zone and something we believe is impossible for us. Why do you think Jesus asked Peter to get out of the boat and walk to him on the water? Why do you think Jesus told the disciples “feed them yourselves” as they worried about the 5000 hungry followers surrounding Jesus? Jesus constantly challenged the disciples each and every time they thought they had discipleship figured out.
It was not just so they would believe who he claimed to be because of his power. It was so they could learn something about what they could accomplish if they listened to and trusted Jesus.
I believe in my heart that this lent God is doing more than challenging you and me to grow spiritually. I believe he is challenging the entire church to wake up and seek his heart. It should not be just a few parishes in every diocese that are vibrant. God desires this for all his people. What are you doing in your parish? What resistance to change are you fighting? Can you open not only your eyes but also you heart to understand God wants you to serve your parish in a new way?
It is an interesting set of readings have today as we are challenged to go forward this Lent not as individuals trying to grow closer to God but instead as an entire community growing closer to one another and to God. Just as Adam and Eve were tempted we too are tempted. Our temptation is to stay in that comfortable place where we feel good about how we practice our faith. The truth is our temptation to stay as we are is no different from Adam and Eve’s temptation – not listening to what God desires us to do is disobedience no matter what form that disobedience takes.
Where this Lenten journey of yours is going to take you and what difference will it make in your spiritual life and the life of others is yours to discover. God told Adam and Eve that everything he created was under their dominion and they were to care for it. Your parish does not belong to your pastor or his staff – it is yours and God is challenging you to take care of it and make it flourish.
The scriptures are clear about how God created us and gifted us with something for the good of everyone else in this community. Paul in Ephesians says “we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus for the good works he has prepared in advance.” Each man, woman and child is gifted with something God implanted in you for the good of the community.
What is the percent of the total families registered actually support your parish? You will be surprised because in most parishes that number is around 30%. How many individuals are involved in active ministry in your parish? You will be surprised to know it is less than 2% of your brothers and sisters are giving of their time and talent?
It is your parish so what is it you are doing to help it grow and flourish? I am willing to bet your choirs would welcome more members or your PSR program would welcome more teachers. Who is serving the members of your parish who cannot leave their homes or living in facilities? I could list an entire page of things that need to be done in a parish and so can you. How to you get more people involved and how do you get those in ministries to welcome them.
Take this first week of Lent and allow the Spirit to lead you and minister to you as he did Jesus in the desert.
Listen to the Spirit as he speaks to your heart about how you can serve your parish.
Then ask the Spirit to give you the courage to listen to God’s call to give your heart, mind, strength and soul to transform your parish into a place where people live their faith instead of practice their faith.