The Beauty of Parish Life

by Kim Long

Recently I began to reflect on what God used to get my attention over 30 years ago when “becoming Catholic” began to go from a wild exotic notion to a path God put me on. The carrot on the end of God’s stick was something called “parish life,” and it intrigued me beyond measure.

The idea of people united under the banner of a common belief and the care bestowed upon one another seemed ideal. I was reading Fr. Andrew Greeley’s novels at the time, and his descriptions of the seamlessness between the parish and the lives of individual families reminded me that God isn’t left behind when we exit the parking lot on Sunday. I wanted that. I searched for it. And like most things we seek, we find… eventually. Thirty years later my view has altered very little, parish life is still a vital part of my Catholic experience.

I recall the first time on my journey toward Catholicism that I experienced the joyfulness of belonging. Picture this scene: a young mother of three on an early spring day, young children in tow, bringing donations of individually wrapped candy for the parish Easter egg hunt, dinner napkins for the St. Joseph Altar, and cakes for bingo – a then time-honored parish fundraiser, to the Parish Hall. The unity, the oneness I felt in that moment was crystallized in one word “Catholic.” Never underestimate the experience of “belonging.”  That feeling has been a great teaching moment for me as I have grown into parish life and shared my own experiences with other new Catholics: some through the RCIA process, others simply new to the area and the parish.

As I began to focus my thoughts in this direction, I found this statement on the USCCB’s Parish Life website: “The parish is where the Church lives.” This is the kernel of truth I found in those novels so many decades ago.

Psalm 133:1: See how good and pleasing it is for brothers to live together as one. 

Already we have an outline. In our “me” world, we are encouraged to want “me” time, encouraged to think solely along the lines of the individual rather than the whole. While my faith encourages me to go broader and think about how my actions affect my family, my parish, my community, parish life gives me a lived example of what life can look like when my focus is more outward than in. When I walk through the doors of the church building on any given Sunday it is good and pleasing to greet and be greeted and to just be with people who I may not see socially, but there in church we are offered another glimpse of the passage from the Our Father: “On earth as it is in heaven.”

1st Peter 2:9:10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light. 

Togetherness

God has called us, claimed us for His own and the parish is where we join together. The parish is home to God’s marvelous light in so many ways. The Easter Vigil experience is one of the most obvious moments where we move together, literally from darkness to light. That experience can certainly be re-lived on a regular basis as we help one another in our small day-to-day actions. Each time we see candles on the altar we are reminded we are not alone, that the light of Christ helps us in the darkness, even in the darkness we pray no one else can see or feel. When someone in your parish reaches out to you or you to them, remember we are each going forward both in and toward the light of Christ.

Philippians 2:4-7: Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. 

Worship

On Holy Thursday I experience one of the most profound of these times. In the rubrics, 12 men represent the apostles, but in our parish, it has become a sweet moment of impromptu reconciliation and kinship between parents and children of all ages, between spouses, siblings, neighbors, and strangers. It is one of our most Christ-like moments, one which has been scripted on our hearts and souls, directed by the Holy Spirit. The choir sings, “the Lord Jesus after eating with His friends washed their feet and said to them, do you know what I your Lord have done for you? I have given you example so you also may do.”

Hebrews 10: 24-25: Rouse one another to love and to good works.

On the USCCB website under the heading Parish Life, there are many listings. I looked at “Call to Family, Community, and Participation.” There it says: “the person is not only sacred but social.”

Many parish celebrations have an element of rousing whether it is cooking together, baking thousands of cookies, preparing receptions, celebrating our various and rich cultures, or celebrating our unity in a particular way during that Holy Thursday Mass. It is also seeing families remove tags from the Angel Tree or tie knots on a quilt, offering pra

yers for a person experiencing sickness. We pray together in adoration and the Rosary. We gather for Mass, begin the modern version of the “prayer chain” by texting one another, donate what we can and are called to help our Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The list goes on and it varies from parish to parish as we vary in our own lives. What is unified is that we are living out our Gospel missio

n by being strengthened in participation in the sacraments, and in the sacramental life of the Church. In that strengthening we are taking ourselves and our faith out of the church building, out of the parish hall, out of the PSR classrooms and bringing it to those among us who can no longer be present due to illness, immobility or even memory issues.

Bumps in the Road

Lest I make parish life sound like one big happy road trip, I want to stop here and say it is not always. Exhausted people are asked to go the extra mile; families whose budgets are stretched to the breaking point may feel they have no worth since money is not plentiful; sick people can become invisible; liturgies can seem unfulfilling; homilies and inspirational messages can fall flat – the list goes on. For every good thing about parish life, there is a counterpoint.

Here are the contradictions I have learned living, working, growing and being invested in parish life:

•  Parishes are inclusive; they are exclusive.

•  Parishes are exhausting; they are exhilarating,

•  Parishes are friendly; they are not.

•  Parishes are fulfilling; they are draining.

•  Parishes are where we live out the Christian life in the space between openness to God and our desire to carry out His will.

Finally Ever After

1 Peter 3:8 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

Parish life is the glue which helps hold us all together, the example of the lived reality of “on earth as it is in heaven.”

For all its failures, human error and ego, for all its foibles and warts, I would never want to live without it. Parish life is the life for me, and the parish is where the Church lives!  •

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