The Vision of a Parish, Part 2 Ideas

A Catholic parish, in line with Catholic tradition, should seek to do all things excellently. How does a non-profit become an incredible non-profit?

  • By having a vision, grounded in the mission Christ gave to the disciples: “Go out to all the world and share the good news.”
    • The good news is Christ, his friendship with us (“I no longer call you servants”), the Sacraments (“Do this in memory of me.”), and the call to sanctity (“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”).
  • By having a strategic plan to implement that vision.
    • Through small groups, through availability of the sacraments, by absolute integrity among clergy, staff and volunteers to practice what they preach, through going out into the hovels to find guests for the wedding feast.
  • By having business procedures that are clear, well-stated and professional.
    • We have been personally harmed by a parish administrator who disagreed with my husband’s job description and altered his time card. Employees were not instructed on how to present a complaint. No chain of command is discussed.
    • My husband was also fired without a warning. A three step plan should be in place in every parish that consist of a verbal warning (issued in memo), a written warning, and termination (with exceptions for grievous cases,).
    • I was hired as a receptionist as a young adult, without training, given only a binder to direct me in how to provide resources to those who came in for food, shelter, or bus fare.
  • By operating with transparency, professional and financial, with a clear process of clergy and staff accountability made clear to staff and volunteers.
  • By being plugged into the community, forging community partnerships with other non-profit agencies.
    • Staff and volunteers should be well versed on what other resources are in the community. This will help unburden the parish that operates alone.
    • Clergy should meet monthly or quarterly with other pastoral leaders in the community.
    • Parishes should have visible participation in city events such as community fairs, annual food festivals, and parades.
    • The parish should seek ways to advertise parish events throughout the city.
    • Parishes should offer free community events such as potlucks, rummage sales that benefit the families running their own booths, and craft fairs. Fundraising is important, but there should be a distinction between fundraising events and events meant to benefit parishioners. Both are possible, with a community focus.
  • A parish and its leaders should be open to innovation. Giving youth and young adults meaningful roles, reaching out to young families who may have much to give, but little time to give it, tapping into the incredible resource of single adults who have the intelligence and maturity and time allowance many young parents do not.
    • There are parishes where new ideas are not respected, the core group of parishioners have become a clique. This is the most closed approach I can imagine and evangelization will fail.
    • At every level people, volunteers and staff should be informed
      • Through the parish website, social media, weekly bulletin
      • Through “Agency” meetings that include all volunteers and staff members
      • Through “Program meetings” for staff only and individual ministries respectively.
      • At each level, everyone should be informed that their comments, and input are welcome, with collaboration as a core strength of the parish.
    • Given the state of Catholicism today and the struggle many parishes have in financing their project, parishes should seek ways to earn revenue that does not rely solely on donations.
      • This can be done through savings and interest, partnerships and smartly renting land or facilities if the parish has such resources.
      • The parish should never compromise it’s Catholic identity, but relying on the freedom of speech make visible its identify in the facilities it rents.
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A failing business or non-profit is the one that people or clients walk away from and have the feeling the proprietors wish they would never have come in, the salesperson who seems like he cannot be bothered with a sale. Many Catholic parishes, overworked and under-organized are at risk of presenting this message, not the message of evangelization.

It is a new time in the Church, a time of trial and a time of great fruitfulness. George Weigel’s phenomenal and practical book, Evangelical Catholicism, provides some framework for the reform needed in this Church, particularly in American Catholicism.

In some ways, it seems, we need only to care: to care about the quality of music, the beauty of the sacred space, the upholding of tradition and the openness to what that Church is about today, to the work of evangelization. If we truly care, we can create a plan.

With an energy spike, other projects have taken off – Behold, Antoinette Moms!

Some recent time ago, my energy spiked. It’s been rather insatiable. There has been the energy to do things for our home, but an intellectual energy as well. This was in part satisfied through my summer position, interviewing and writing for the marketing department. But other projects have been brewing.

My desire for a stronger community continues to grow. A stronger community for myself and my family, and a stronger community that the Catholic Church is part of. It is a tragedy when the local Catholic parish has done nothing to reach out to the town it is situated in. Too many churches open their doors and expect the people to simply come. Or they have events to encourage and create friendships or projects for those who attend their parish. It becomes a nice little self-satisfied microcosm. Perhaps it will do some pro-life work. But where are the trenches?

We don’t see the individuals, desperate for direction who enter those office doors. We don’t hear about them from the pews on Sunday.

But we need too. In fact, we need to go out into them. We are in a mission field and the Church is the hospital. How can we care for those who are ill or wounded if we never go out to find them, into the hovels, as Mother Teresa did? There are traces of it here and there, but I have yet to see a parish that partners with other local non-profits. If Republicans complain about too big government doing too much for the people and the people accepting too much from big government, then make the churches bigger, stronger and provide more, gasp, social outreach.

Why have the priests and parishioners I talked to never heard of the amazing non-profit where I have worked off and on for the past seven years. In part, it’s my fault, never following through on promoting it. But really, shouldn’t every youth program know about the temporary shelter for teens that provides crisis counseling and family advocacy. Or the family resource centers that hold ESL classes, help people complete paperwork for food stamps or aid for bills or the forms for health insurance? There isn’t enough information being spread around. I’m not sure I believe the local parishes are looking outward enough.

I’m seen touches of it, of course. On youth minister took the teenagers out to feed the homeless. They loved it of course, because teenagers and young adults are zealous beyond compare if we just give them the opportunity to do so. But what else, besides partnering with pro-life organizations are we doing?

So it’s been on my mind. Therefore, I’m beginning a mom’s group in my town. The goals are to provide support, fellowship and formation for mothers in the area, pointing out without reserve that mothers of any walk of life are welcome: married, divorced, never married, abandoned, with children long gone from home, with children who were never born, with newborns and toddlers. There will be play dates at the local park because we need to create third places, those centers in the community where people gather together spontaneously, like the bar in Cheers or Luke’s in the Gilmore Girls. We won’t do that if we don’t ever go there to begin with.

There will also be family potlucks. Too many demographic specific groups serve only that group. It never opens up to a wider group. It never utilizes the incredible gifts of that group to serve the community. Teens feeding the homeless certainly does, but how many Catholic youth groups have regular and consistent service projects? Not enough. So family potlucks because if anyone in the world tends to be other focused, its mothers. It’s the feminine genius after all.

So beyond the temporary support provided by monthly meetings or play date, family potlucks can provide opportunities for free social activities at the parish that are not fundraisers, and help families get to know each other in that soclal setting.

I also would like to see an annual yard sale hosted at the Church, where each family has their own table, proceeds benefiting the family. Some parishes may object because they are cash strapped, but families, often, are too. It’s marketing. Provide things that benefit the consumer and the consumer will come back. “The Catholic Church is a place that understands, where we can be who are, perhaps, as poor as we are. We don’t have to pretend we’re not in need of a little extra cash to paint that room or pay that bill. The whole person is welcome here.” Imagine if ordinary people said that.

I’d like the group to provide concrete support by advertising meal planning websites to the entire parish when a member of the parish has a baby or has a child who is ill or who is grieving.

And I’d like the group to also keep track of important days for members of the group and in the parish. Telling a kid happy birthday when it is some time around the play date. Giving a lady a rose at an evening meeting to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Offering prayers when a day of remembrance, such as the death of a spouse or child rolls around. Seeing if she needs anything when an anniversary of a divorce comes about. Taking into account the whole person. It’s on her mind, and we can be there for her.

So that is the vision! I’ll write more on the patronage soon.

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The need for moments of transcendence

Have you ever experience a moment of exquisite beauty?

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You walk into a building, a piece of music, and have to catch your breath.

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You look around you, bewildered at the sight, pause and take in the sounds that are foreign and yet familiar.

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You feel your heart lifted, your thoughts quiet, your soul settles on a higher plane. These are the effects of transcendence.

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We need to experience moments of transcendence from time to time. Is not life bitter? It rains, the clouds overwhelm the visual appeal we may or may not have achieved at in our homes. The crumbs on the floor, the clean and dirty clothes scattered throughout the preschool kid’s room after she has learned she can move her chair, climb up, and empty and all the contents of her dresser; the crying, yours and your infant’s; forgetting to take our the garbage can; wiping noses, rushing to wipe the nose before the toddler uses his hand over and over and over again; stepping unintentionally in puddles (when it’s intentional that is okay). Life is muddy, mundane, monotonous. Fish spend every waking moment looking for food. What else have we?

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We need to be reminded we are not merely men, not merely animals. We have souls, spirits, like the angels and can be lifted up to where the angels are. Why else do we need God? The animals worship God by their very existence. They are not aware. We need something more. It is not enough to just show up and bless him with our presence (he’s just happy I’m here). No! We need to turn out thoughts, our mind, out intentionality, because we are, unlike the brutes, able to will) to God. We must give to God.

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How can I be drawn to give this gift of myself and my spirit if the liturgy merely inspires the brute and not the spirit? Modern liturgical music and architecture are designed so we feel comfortable. Words anyone can sing, therefore no one sings. Melodies that take us back to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Homiletic anecdotes I read in a chain email eighteen years ago when the Internet was up and coming.

But if I walk into the Church building and it is other-worldly, meaning it reminds me of a place not of this world…Heaven, I am reminded that there is more to my life than the again and again of life and family. My life becomes imbued with a sense of wonder and transcendence. It becomes easier to move through the tasks at hand with the recent memory of that moment in my mind. Just as it is not enough to have only heard sweet nothings from my spouse on our wedding day but never again, I need frequent reminders because I am human. Why begrudge each other that? Are we afraid that because we have lost a sense of transcendence that others will not be drawn to it. Did the devil creep when we whispered to ourselves “I feel so small.” Did he creep in and add “because you are nothing” and then block any of the beautiful thoughts that could follow that, “I am nothing, but yet God still cares for me, died for me, created me, protected me.”

It is happening in some places. New churches are being built. Times are changing.

I live in a predominantly rural area. It is common for inhabitants of rural areas to instinctively find the arts superfluous. My father agrees every child should learn music because he believes what he read that learning music early on enhances one’s ability to learn the other subjects. But at the same time, he can say schools should only teach the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. So while our family is being blessed by attending a parish that actually wants my husband’s musical gifts, the memory is still fresh of encountering again and again a “what’s-the-point” attitude from two parishes where he was previously employed.

What’s the point? Perhaps we need to experience more of it in order to know it.

Demanding Catholicism

I was struck by Elizabeth Scalia’s article considering the appeal of Islam and Mormonism to many Latinos who are converting from Catholicism to these other and very different religions. She asks if perhaps Catholicism is not demanding enough of its patrons. A very interesting question, indeed.

Some time ago, I posted an article on the function of mass and the overemphasis on “welcoming” as an unnecessary focus in the America church. At the end I added: One final thought: as Americans, there is also a particular benefit to owing something to Someone, because we’ve been told for so long that all that matters is what we want and the virtue of rugged individualism, but that is a post for another day.

I never revisited this topic until today when Scalia’s article struck the cord.

We have an abundance of choice in America. You may hear older Americans lament the long-passed days of there being three television channels, two types of toothpaste and one grocery store from which to stop. I searched for toothpaste on Target.com and found 186 results. However, we are not happier with more choices.

Research has shown that people on average are less likely to decide when they are given many options from which to choose. Scalia astutely points out that “when you leave people to find something ‘personally meaningful’ to do, they often settle for what is new or capricious or vapid, or all three. Or they do the easiest thing of all, which is nothing.” So what do we want?

The concern in days past was that people would simple follow the motions if given too many rubrics and commands. This can happen. However, when there are clear boundaries and obligations, it is easier to see where a person stands with his or her commitment. He has given himself to the practice and must stand by as he bears public witness in his practice.

I believe this is good for Americans. Studies tracing narcissistic leanings have found the current generation of young people is more narcissistic than previous generations. It continues to increase. Bullying is on the rise and contrary to popular belief, bullies tend to have an overinflated sense of self. The self-esteem movement has created a climate in which we receive, get what we want, because feeling good about who we are (and subsequently what we have) has become an American virtue.

Out-of-control breathing is a symptom of a panic attack. Controlled deep breathing can counteract that symptom. It has a host of other benefits, this is an obvious one. A sense of entitlement, as well as a sense that I make the rules for myself because as a narcissist no one knows what is better than me, is a symptom of a deep problem in our society. A remedy that can target this symptom, as well as provide a host of other benefits is being indebted, committed and demanded of by a higher authority.

Some find it through the military, others through family. Church life can provide it as well, but only with authoritative leaders and practices. Why would it help?

Because of our need for self-donation. Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self. A commitment to that external thing, the body of Christ, draws the person outside himself. He seems smaller in the face of something bigger that requires all of him: his time, resources, and love.

Fewer individuals than before serve in the military. More than half of American families experience brokenness. Of the families that stay together, how many practice the compelling values that link one’s heart with a lifelong strength? Rural communities in many places have given way to larger cities, anonymous apartment or suburban dwellings. More than ever, the woman or man in America can live, only associating with those she or he chooses. Endless food options, endless music or television options. We are no longer tied to this or that thing that others are also tied to out of necessity. It is those ties which help create culture. Not all of America is like this, but I find it very true in much of California. Unsavory weather links Mid-westerners together. In this part of California where the one weather ailment we experience is heat, there is less communal suffering. Many simply retreat indoors when the heat strikes.

If parishes remain strong in their traditions and revive some old traditions to feed this need, they can become a constant in the American sea of change. A sense of obligation could bind Catholics together, identifying them in this foreign land. You can find that on Ash Wednesday, the one time of year where we put our Catholicism on display in the secular world. Creating more fasting and more feasting would do it as well.

But it will have to adapt in order to oblige. Churches and the parish one is committed to are no longer walking distance. If we were obliged to pray the stations every Friday in Lent, but without the sense that it must be prayed communally at 7pm in Spanish and English, it might be more successful. If church buildings were unlocked or accessible that might help as well. I don’t know what it would be like to be part of those demands, but I think it might be at the very least interesting, if not compelling.

The additional masses some hold on Holy Days of Obligation are a must. What about stricter fasts? One meal and two snacks with plenty of dispensations does not often look like a fast. Holy Days of Obligation, which are meant to be great celebrations could hold festivals routinely at the parish. In this format perhaps people actually participate, because its free, potluck-style, and family oriented. Some cultures are better at this than others. There are people who would argue this could be more successful than attempting to reach out to particular demographics, because it is more a inclusive and natural setting.

These are just ideas. It takes a lot of work to implement them. It’s easy for me to sit here and write them, then sit back and say “that was nice.” When I wrote the piece on mothers participating in book clubs and reading literature, I had that reaction. Then a friend expected me to get one going. So now we’re doing it. I don’t know what first step forward is, but let’s look for a way to take it.

Middle Class Illusions

How do American couples make it work? By working. The income gap between those on the lower rungs of the income ladder and those on the higher rungs has been increasing over time and is now the greatest that we’ve seen.

Yet we haven’t shed our sentiments about the American middle class and making it. We get educated, go to college and start looking for a mate. If you’re Catholic you may throw a year or two of “discernment” in there, which means, for some, wandering around waiting for God to tell you what you are meant to do, and for others, active exploration of the priesthood or religious life. Quite likely we all went through a little of both stages, I think.

And then if God calls you to marriage and you meet the mate of your dreams (or your greatest compatibility, perspective changes depending on your personality) then you date or court, engage, and tie the knot. My guess is that at this point it is common for both spouses to start this adventure off with two jobs, two incomes. Readiness and ability to have children varies by couple, of course.

A heavily criticized trend when the economy took a nosedive was the bad habit of Americans to live outside their means. Did anyone else out there grow up with a family that praised middle class lifestyle, saving, preparing for retirement, owning a home, not overusing credit cards? So let’s suppose you’ve played it smart, got married, and lived totally within your means. You’re achieving your dreams. It works great.

So supposing you’ve followed the standard path, the ideal path. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…

Now what? We’ve set ourselves up with a lifestyle that requires two incomes but then a baby comes. Now either it goes down to one income or one of those incomes get seriously depleted by childcare expenses…or…the extended family gets involved.

There are many different experiences out there. In my upbringing, nether the concept of the grandparents watching the grandchildren nor was one parent staying home imaginable. Paid childcare was the option that fit the image of middle class lifestyle with which I was raised. Because you have to keep working in order to save for retirement and buy your own home, right? You have to do it independently, on your own two feet, right? Owe nothing to anyone.

 

But now, as a family, we aren’t doing it this way.

For the perspective of my upbringing, we are flipping it on its head. I work half-time. My husband works half or three-quarters-time. One of us is always home with the kids. His goal is to have enough students to provide all our income. I’m not sure yet what I want to do. We rent. But we rent from my parents who bought a second home, so it’s like our home. Is this uncommon? An Indian friend tells us in his culture it’s quite common. It is not so common here, although anyone I talk to who is my age agrees its fantastic because in our professional fields at our age owning a home and having kids is a pipe dream.

How is society structured? With the nuclear family far away from the extended family, living their life, making their decisions, finding fulfillment. We move to big cities, art and culture, have one or two children and make a decision to stop there and celebrate ourselves and the life we’ve built up. It was counter-cultural to me that we should choose to come back, live in a small town and be happy. Our lifestyle isn’t possible because our life is intertwined with my parents. They are a regular part of my children’s lives.

And its’ neat.

So we are low income, but it doesn’t feel like we are because we have help and resources located within the larger family network.

For many Americans, this is impossible. Which is why I found this article by Artur Rosman so fascinating, calling parishes to step up and fill in the gaps left by absent or distant extended families through free childcare, food and monetary assistance. Tying that together with this concept of the “lying in” period of women postpartum assisted by community women or family members and the whole lifestyle, to me, makes sense.

Without this help I just can’t see how a family can raise their children and be able to see them more than just an hour or two each day and on weekends. It’s sounds difficult and painful to me.

I also grew up in surrounded by conservative Republican messages. It is hard to me to empty my mind of the criticisms of receiving free handouts. But I have to. Because I see that we are happy, terribly happy and feel a sense of balance I imagine is lacking for those who have to go the other route of doing it all on their own. I don’t think we were meant for that, but unfortunately it’s been held up as a virtue to do so. The rugged, individual, isolated American. It’s something we desperately need to learn from other cultures during those diversity seminars and celebrations.

Let’s build a better community. Let’s use the Church to do it. And let’s accept help knowing it doesn’t have to hurt our pride because it’s in us integrally to be part of a community. The middle class is a fading illusion. And the happy family? There’s still hope for that. I do believe there is. But it takes a village to make it work.

 

Postscript: please note: I am not in any way calling on the government to step in and be the extended family. If family in Washington State can’t do it, I just don’t think there’s any way strangers in Washington D.C. can do it without reducing the person to an object/number and diminishing their dignity.

The Christian Mission

Since this devastating persecution of Christians and other non-radical-Islamic-terrorist/thinking persons began in the summer I’ve been posting a number is articles from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com. I’ve never gotten a comment on these articles. Perhaps it is because the topic is too gruesome or upsetting, perhaps it is because clicking a “like” button just isn’t the right thing to do, perhaps because people don’t want to think about it, like contemplating death.

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I just don’t know the reason. More recently, I posted this:

“Is anyone hearing about the slaughter/exile of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit? I feel like I’ve only heard about it twice and today the message was we should be more concerned with what’s happening here at home, which while that is important, with everyone plugged into their own personalized digital world, it seems like a little global awareness of our fellow man could be a good thing for us.”

Only one person responded. She wrote “I heard about it once.”

Next she posted this on my page as food for thought and I thought it was very good. To summarize: the internet floods us with news from the minute to the magnitude, from what happens in my no-stop-light hometown to New York to Nigeria to the Kardash ians. We can become so passionate of what’s happening over there that we fail to feel for what is happening here. Live locally he says. Do not be telescope Christians, as Peter Kreft says, with only our sights and sighs set on what happens far from neighbor. Here is my response:

I agree with what he says. I really do. I think we can live too much of our lives on the internet. However (if I could italicize that word I would) I think no matter where we hear about ISIS, internet/newspaper/pulpit, the awful thing is that as Christians are we suffering for our brothers and sisters? Do we hurt knowing the reality that they are dying in the name of Christ? Being exiled or sold as slaves? We should hurt for our fellow man, our local fellow man, we can’t bleed for every cause, but God help us, can we tear away from the leisure and entertainment to care that a massive persecution is taking place? Those places are relevant to us. The Church, the place of the ancient Church is relevant to us. We are one Body and all that jazz. Christ is being crucified, and nobody is talking about it (or so it seems). This is not the same thing as Cardinal Dolan or Fulton Sheen’s cause or celebrity gossip. It’s not even the same as Israel and Gaza. They are Christians! They are our people, our heritage. I heard more about the movie on the Mexican persecution than this one. Are they not just as much our people as the people who lived during through the Cristeros war are our people or the people of those whose families or are themselves from Mexico? We share the same Blood in Holy Communion. They are our people! And so my brother and my sister are being killed because they are in my family. Yes, there are people dying here, people on drugs, people committing suicide, and I care, I really really do, but this strange silence about ISIS…”

The author here makes some great point on a similar path as mine. She says “We must stand witness to these our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying for Him. We must. It is our charge, our call and duty. It is our vocation before God. We must write about them and develop a literature for them as the Jews did for those who died in the Holocaust. Because this is another holocaust. It is the holocaust of Christians in an entire region of the world.”

So why the silence? What if it is because the question that arises is, what can I do about it? And quickly the devil answers, nothing!

Today I read this, Ephesians 3:13-21: Brethren: I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which are for your glory.

If we are remotely alert to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we should not be overcome. We should not held in fear for the fate of non-Muslims or Sunni Muslims or moderate thinking Muslims here in the US. We should not lose sleep. Our thoughts should not be consumed.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.

We must pray for them. In all we do, we must pray for those suffering. Yes, those for suffering locally and those suffering in far off lands. We are called to pray for the innocent. Pray for strength, pray for endurance, pray for an end to this terrible, horrific thing.

That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In this old translation, these words sound so lofty. The Christians he writes to are shocked at his suffering, they are overcome and he tells them not to. He says to use the scandal of his sufferings to deepen their prayer, their faith, to find strength in what he endures. When we hear about someone enduring, somehow, it gives us to the strength to endure more. When we hear about them starving, we can be thankful for this meal we have. When I am home with my children I experience an acute awareness of their existence. They are always on my mind because I must be mindful of them for their well being. I can carry an awareness of my brothers and sisters in the Middle East in this way, praying for them, allowing it to deepen my gratitude and my charity towards my neighbor. Each man on the stret is Christ to us. If I want to help those suffering there, I can help those suffering here and offer that sacrifice as a prayer for the safety and survival of those persecuted.

Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

And it will not be in vain…

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Why not preach about that?

Comfort, give comfort to my people.

What is the function of mass? Depending on what generation of Catholic you are (if you are Catholic) the answer to this question will vary.

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Some say the function of the mass is evangelization or to build community. The importance is to reach out to others, to make the mass accessible to others. This will shape the direction of the physical components of mass, the smells and bells if you will. There will be an emphasis on cultural fitness of particular properties of the mass.

Some express that mass is primarily the vehicle through which we receive our Lord in Holy Eucharist. Mass is how Jesus comes to us. Confessions will be offered more readily so that there are no obstacles to receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Cardinal Ratizinger, we read the mass is what we give to God. It is our duty. As such one attends closely to the rubrics developed through tradition regarding how those smells and bells should be used and ordered.

The mass is also the un-bloody representation of Christ’s crucifixion. Here the mass becomes solace to the suffering. What of the weary Christians in Iraq, fleeing for their lives from the ISIS? They reach the church, crowded, ill, hungry, thirsty. Perhaps they walk farther in looking for a little space to lay down and sleep, longing for a sense of safety. They hear the priest saying mass. Wandering over, they sit, they pray, they offer their hearts, their longing, their anger, their gratitude that they are alive, their desperate prayers for those left behind. The smell of incense lifts their hearts, reminds them that some things are the same now as they were when they had homes. My God, why have you forsaken me? Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Into your hands, o Lord, I commend my spirit.

The mass is all these things and more. This wedding feast of the Lamb cannot be separated and divided up in the function and benefits we receive. I believe it is primarily what we give to God. But what if I believe that because of where I stand culturally? It is the last thought, that mass as a place of comfort for Mary and John on Calvary, that makes me consider that God uses the mass to bring us to him from wherever on the path we may be, personally, communally and culturally.

Yet what we believe we need is not always what we truly need. Of late, I have pursued a conversation on what I believe to be an over-emphasis on the welcoming aspect in liturgical music. In an effort to make mass welcoming, and make the music accessible for those who do not read music, over time sacred music in many local parishes has been dumbed down. The popular mass setting used in this diocese is remarkably similar to the theme of My Little Pony. There seems to be a pathological fear of changing the mass setting because then people won’t know how to sing the ordinaries (as if no one could memorize the words without the music or as if the churches were in chaos before 2011 when our bishop requested the parishes use one of these three settings to help limit confusion with the new translation for parishioners).

What if, here in the American Roman Catholic Church, we do not need the emphasis to be welcoming? What the emphasis on welcoming is really a guise for comfort. Is the concern more that people should feel comfortable?

A growing generation of Catholics seem to long more for truth and the other-worldliness of the mass. Mass takes us from the mundane into Heaven. Here we see the truth. Here is clarity, not the mess of marketing and technology outside the church. We long for architecture that forces us to whisper, because it just seems too sacred (and too ambient) not to. American culture and progress seems, to me, obsessed with comfort. We avoid suffering at all costs. I think perhaps the over-emphasis on making people feel welcome, comfortable, at the expense of art, music, and architecture, at the expense of what we give to God, is a product of the American emphasis on comfort.

In Gothic times the churches were built to make the individual feel small, to direct his eyes to Heaven. I believe the newer generation of Catholics are looking for this. We need this. Here in America, we don’t need more comfort or more gratification. We need to be reminded we are sinners, that we are the pinnacle of creation and image God himself, but that we are terribly ungrateful sinners in need of his mercy. We need to be opened to the greater Church, the suffering Church, the longing Church. We are not home yet. It might help us to be reminded of that.

If we focus on the mass as pointing us to heaven rather than making us feel at home here in our church buildings, people will actually feel more at home. For all our choices and comforts, we are less secure, more depressed more anxious. The call of technology places us in a constant state of the “now,” of trends, of progress. Yet we are all the more unable to focus on the details, we are distracted. It’s difficult to meditate with the hum of technology all around us. We need a place we can step away from it all.

We must be careful to avoid the errors of thinking that comes from our cultural or personal weaknesses. The same can be applied to an overemphasis on outreach, on rubrics, on so many things, but I chose to address this issue of comfort because it seems ubiquitous here in America.

One final thought: as Americans, there is also a particular benefit to owing something to Someone, because we’ve been told for so long that all that matters is what we want and the virtue of rugged individualism, but that is a post for another day.

Self-sustaining parishes

I was struck several weeks back to hear that a local parish rents out part of their property to a radio station and from the monies they receive in this arrangement, were able to pay for building repairs without touching their operating funds.  It brought to mind the monasteries that are self-sustaining and produce some product, which they sell to the public.

The first thought: how important to support those businesses. What better place is there to put our money and what better products could be bought?  We are lovers of mystic monk coffee and another religious orders’ products were brought to my awareness (http://summitdominicans.3dcartstores.com/). I think the products look amazing and the pricing is very good.  Is it not better than supporting the massive salary of a CEO or despicable advertising methods, which seek to manipulate our view of ourselves and the world, or worse, actually degrade women and men in their presentation?  We so often buy cheap as if cheap wasn’t made possible through dishonest pricing or labor.  Those companies are out to make a profit and if profits aren’t increasing the company is failing.  We have all the technology to do produce in ways and produce products that will do significantly less damage to the environment than in the past.  Religious orders seek to support their way of life, it isn’t for profit, it’s for the glory of God, and producing a good, honest product is how they can do their work well, how they can work with virtue.  We can often find this when we buy locally, whether from a religious order or not.

The second thought: what if diocesan parishes sought to be self-sustaining?  This wouldn’t be possible in the same capacity of a religious order since there are few people who live at a diocesan parish.  I see it achieved through two means: (1) if priests lived simpler and (2) making use of the property and grounds at their disposal.

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(1) If priests lived simpler.  Pope Francis inspires this thought.  He has brought up the issues of clericalism in our churches.  As Archbishop he cooked his own meals and took public transportation (common in Buenos Aires, not so common in rural Stanislaus county).   Why do priests have servants (cooks and housekeepers)?  Because not all men can cook and clean?  I want to honor our priests, but if Christ came poor, a carpenter in Nazareth, priests should live like those in their parish.  Is it to free up their time to be able to serve the parish more?  While I do not harbor an ardent desire to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, there is a certain peace achieved in the act; and in cleaning I can feel the effect of my labor on my environment in satisfying ways.  Priests are men and if they can live a more balanced lifestyle they will be better men.  Many priests maintain hobbies to maintain their sanity.  This would be part of that.

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(2) Making use of property.  Parishes could be more savvy in how they use their property, whether renting it for receptions or other businesses. But also this: imagine this experiment: a parish happens to have ten acres donated to them or just own that much property from the old days, or even less, may just two acres.  What if a few volunteers or employees from the parish began a garden or planted larger crops, such as fruit trees.  Not only could the products feed the priests living at the parish, and be sold (either to a separate company or through a fruit stand) but labor would need to be hired to pick the fruit.  The homeless man or woman who comes to the door for a sandwich can be given dignified work for the season.  It doesn’t tax the wealthy of the parish but can bring together the great and small in the endeavor.

It’s just a thought, and just two examples of what could be done.  In small parishes under poor management, the wealthy feel bled but not fed.  There is a lack of community.  The parish turned in on itself, becomes sick, as Pope Francis warns us will happen.  If the parish looked outward, focused not on gaining volunteers but on serving the community and evangelizing the culture; not focused on who they can ask for donations but what can the parish produce to give to the poor, I think mighty things would happen.  I believe this is part of the New Evangelization. I am so grateful for Pope Francis to take on this new step in the journey.