Reflection on the state of the Parish, the Church, and Our Society
Someone asked me recently, “when do you think we will get back to normal?”. The question has been on our collective mind ever since we felt the growing dread of an approaching pandemic in the beginning of the year. With the uncertainty of how much and for how long the response to this public health crisis would be, how many people would become sick or die, and how we could recover in a way that would benefit everyone and hurt the least amount of families, compounded by the recent illustrations of the failures of our society to protect and respect all lives, in particular the lives of minorities that have been living with systemic racism and xenophobia, the question has taken on a whole new reality. So, my answer may have shocked the person asking. “I hope we never go back to normal.”
A sliver of the reason for my response is a reaction to nearly 3 full years of constant change that has become the hallmark of our Parish Family: Hurricane Irma’s Impact, the Transformation of our Parish Campus, and now the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, the deepest part of my soul cries out that now we have the opportunity for our Parish Family, our Church, and our Society to look in the mirror at who we were at the outset of this watershed moment and envision who we should be. Whether it is due to outside forces, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, or our own introspection, we have all been thrust into a position of caring for, and respecting, everyone around us. For many of us, having to don a mask, or respect the distance between ourselves and the person next to us, or even not going where we want to go, may be the first time in our adult lives that we are putting that word into action with our every waking moment. Of course, we care for and love our families and friends, and most of the time put their needs above our own, but we are now asked to do the same for every human being around us, strangers and even enemies alike.
As Catholics, we are called to respect all life in all forms, but that has usually been focused on the unborn, or some esoteric concept of loving thy neighbor. When Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes, he did not say “Blessed Are All”. He called out to those that were most downtrodden in society and lifted them up. We must do the same for people of every race, ethnicity, and economic status. We are called to live our life in service to others and that should be our new “normal”.
There are concrete changes we can be making now in our society, in our Catholic Church, and even here at our own parish of Saint John the Evangelist. Here are a few of those changes for your contemplation and discernment:
Dismantle Systemic Racism and Structures
Equality must be created and that can only occur when “equal under the law” is pervasive in our voting structures, our financial environments, and our social structures. Most importantly, active anti-racism must be pervasive in all our hearts. We must look at every facet of our culture and institutions and find ways to make them “color-blind”.
Focus on the Mission
There is no doubt that this world-wide pandemic has showcased both the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic Church. The hierarchical structures and top-heavy environments quickly found themselves without the base support and direct engagement of the people and local service organizations when everyone was told to stay home for their own safety. From that vacuum of the loss of “normalcy”, many parts of the Church, in particular the Parishes, were able to quickly adapt and find ways to reach out both technologically to the faithful and through critical services needed even more urgently during the crisis. Food, clothing, shelter. Welcoming and loving, not condemning and exclusion. Now is the time for the Catholic Church to reshape its focus to the Mission of our Faith. The Mission that Jesus gave us, and that Pope Francis has articulated so eloquently: A Field Hospital to Meet Those Most in Need:
The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.– Pope Francis 9/19/2013
Social Teaching and Justice as the Core of Action
Just as Respecting Life is a core of all Catholic belief, protecting the most vulnerable of our world from the unborn to the migrant to the prisoner to the aged, Catholic Social Teaching should be the framework for our actions in the world. Built off the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s focus on Social Justice, our seven themes of Social Teaching must be the foci of every Catholic’s actions during their time on this planet:
- Life and Dignity of the Human Person: The sacredness and dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, must be preserved, protected and defended. There are well-defined ways to accomplish this theme, like anti-abortion prayers and actions, but there are more challenging components too, like anti-war protesting and pro-gun control legislative support, that go to the core of protecting all life. We must balance all these actions for our society to become life-affirming.
- Call to Family, Community, and Participation: How we organize our family and our society should always be focused on creating the common good and well-being of all of us, not just for those in power or with influence.
- Rights and Responsibilities: While we all have the right to life and liberty, those rights also come with responsibilities to care for the most in need and for all others in our society. We must be active and engaged in the world around us, not just “consumers” content to sit back and let others solve the problems of our society.
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: We must work to remove the divisions between those with and those without actively by putting the needs of the most vulnerable of society first.
- The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers: The economy works for the people, not the other way around. That means the rights of a positive, safe, healthy, and productive work environment at every level of society must be provided. Opportunities for work need to be provided to all and that work should provide dignity and fairness of labor.
- Solidarity: Every racial, ethnic, national, and socio-economic division should never supersede the fact that we are one human family of brothers and sisters. We should never allow fanatism or xenophobia to separate us from other members of that family and we should always be looking for ways to improve our peaceful and loving relationships with every person on Earth.
- Care for God’s Creation: The respect and action we show towards all members of our human family should also be spread to the rest of the natural world. We need to care for the fragile resources of the planet, working for improving our footprint on this world and protecting it for our future generations.
Parish Family of Saint John
Outreach Core Mission
We have shown through these challenging years that the essential mission of Saint John can and will withstand anything that can be thrown at it. From losing the church to a hurricane, to temporarily closing our doors to protect all our safety and health, we simply adapt and continue to spread our Good News to the community. Our food pantry support never missed a beat during these years and has even increased with the Simple Gesture Program. Our Parish Family transitioned easily to Masses in our Ballroom and Gym when we closed the church for repairs, even providing 8 different locations on campus for Easter Services, serving every single person who attended on that most Holy Day. We did not miss a single Mass during the COVID-19 Response, with our streaming service kicking into gear the very next day that we were required to close the doors to public Mass. We must continue to plan, flex, and respond positively to any and all changes that occur. It is a testament to our Parish Family that we have been so successful during these times already and I know we can continue to do so together.
No Reserved Pews
One mindset that has been challenged during the Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic Response is that “we have always done it that way”. Clearly, every facet of our church, from the places where people can sit to the types of activities available at church have radically changed. Some of these changes may be temporary, others may be permanent. We must all work together with new concepts and new structures. It will be much easier and more collaborative if we approach our Parish, our activities, and our environment with the mindset that we are looking at everything like it is new. That could mean we are only having 9 children in each Faith Formation class, spread out over the entire campus with multiple timeframes and days a week, rather than “we have always had class on Wednesday at 5:30”. It could mean increasing our virtual activities, like concerts, while holding off on programs that could cause further health concerns.
Increased Participation in Ministry
The physical, social, and physiological challenges of these years of crises here at Saint John has illustrated several gaps in our church’s capabilities, especially when it comes to Ministry. It has also shown that there are more and more people that would like to assist our church with our programs as they reconnect with their faith. As with the rest of the Catholic Church in the US, most ministry work is accomplished by 5-10% of the Parish Family, and a vast majority of those individuals are in the “Experienced” age group (65+). Of course, that creates a significant loss when those “at-risk” are also those that do a majority of the work of the Parish. We need to do a better job of reaching out and then including all ages of our Parish Family. There needs to be a wider set of individuals and families in ministry as well. From catechists to Lectors, from Saint Vincent DePaul caseworkers to Front Desk volunteers, we have a substantial need for service from our Parish Family.
There are few chances in this world for radical and complete transformation, and I believe we are on the precipice of one of those moments. We can all look inside ourselves right now, see how we used to behave towards one another, and improve ourselves for the betterment of the entire culture and world around us, ensuring we never go back to “normal”. Please join me in comprehending the gravity and urgency we must act right now, for our Parish, the larger Catholic Church, and our Nation.
Our Parish Family has witnessed and experienced tremendous growth and change over the last several years. This is a call to you, sitting in the pews or at home. It is time to prioritize your faith in a tangible way, providing stewardship (time, talent, and treasure) to and for our Parish Family of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church. It would be nearly incomprehensible what a positive impact our Parish Family could be capable of doing for our society if we mobilized all 6500 of us to do God’s Work here on Earth.
Please contact our Office with your desire to put your faith into action! God Bless You and All You Love!