Photo by Bruce Stidham, The Mirror
A caption caught my attention in the May 7-15 edition of Our Sunday Visitor, “How to make our Catholic parishes vibrant once again.” Although it highlighted the reality of disaffiliation of Hispanics with the Catholic Church, it gives the reality with which every generation of immigrants has had to deal—the danger of secularization. Having left their homeland, especially in small towns where the parish church was the center of activity, and finding themselves in major metropolitan areas, the ties to the parish church are weakened and traditional practices such as cemetery visits, daily visits to the church, and other parish devotional activities are no longer practiced, leading to a weakening of the faith.
The article then goes on to give some suggestions. Does your parish ring the church bells at morning, noon and evening for the Angelus? This is the reminder that three times a day, “the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” And just hearing the church bells raises our minds and hearts to God. Is the parish church open during the day for people to visit? Of course, security needs to be addressed, but I think it can be done. For those parishes that have a school or a PSR program, are the parents invited to pray the rosary in church while waiting to pick up the kids? Could morning prayer be offered for those who come for daily Mass? Does the parish celebrate 40 Hours according to the schedule put out by the diocese? And while the family rosary is highly encouraged, what about gathering at the home of a Catholic neighbor to pray the rosary together?
To quote from the article, “It might be thought that efforts focused on community rather than evangelization might not be worth the effort, but they are critical to building vibrant communities. Card nights, bocce clubs, picnics, and a host of other things that were part of parish life 100 years ago are part of the answer to our “epidemic of loneliness.” Some of my fondest memories of parish life was the annual Watermelon Festival held at my parish, St. Cecilia. Yes, something as simple as a Watermelon Festival! There was a German band and of course a beer garden along with hamburgers and hot dogs and watermelon! When I look back on it, it was pretty simple.
I recently studied the results of a study from the Institute of Politics at Harvard where they mention a “collective emptiness” amongst our young people. Some 47% of those aged 18 to 29 have felt depressed or hopeless. And 46% of them reported “little interest or pleasure in doing things.” Finally, the survey discovered, “the loneliest people are also the least religious.” A couple of months ago, the Holy Father told a youth group in Italy, “Put down the phone and look at each other.” It seems as if many have lost the art of conversation, the art of interaction, and find it difficult to even shake a hand or look somebody in the eye. As our parishes strategize on how to move from “maintenance to mission,” we don’t have to over-complicate things. For example, I was recently able to be at St. Peter the Apostle Parish, Joplin, for its feast day. After the Mass, there was a simple picnic held under the trees. Again, it was pretty simple and it was impactful!
As part of the parish phase of the Eucharistic Revival, I offer the following suggestion for every parish in the diocese: how about a study of Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter, “On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church?” That could be taken one chapter at a time and spread over the course of an entire year. This would be a great way to increase awareness of the Eucharist. The National Council of Catholic Women has created an easy study guide, available on its Website at nccw.org. Additionally, Formed.org has a small group program called “Presence;” Dr. Edward Sri has Published, “A Biblical Walk through the Mass,” which would be great for a “book club” situation or small group. I’m looking forward to the release of a seven-week small group study put out by the National Eucharistic Revival Committee, to be released this summer to assist parishes this fall or the following spring. With so many resources out there, please, please focus on the Eucharist in all parish-based adult education programs.
“Oh Sacrament Most Holy, oh Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.”
Published in the July 07, 2023 issue of The Mirror.