By Father Frank D. Almade
In 2002 the romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” starred an unknown actress, Nia Vardalos, who also wrote the Academy Award-nominated original screenplay. She got financing of $6,000,000—a modest amount in Twinkletown numbers. Critics were so-so toward the movie, but audiences loved it. Within six months it grossed over $368,000,000—61 times budget.
Three years earlier a shaky, scary first-film pseudo-documentary, “The Blair Witch Project,” hit the screen. Made for a paltry $750,000, with no marketing budget, it took in $250,000,000—333 times budget.
These are incredible numbers. Most Hollywood (and Bollywood and independent) movies are lucky to gross three or four times their budget.
How did “Wedding” and “Blair Witch” do it? Word of mouth. I was working in a diocesan office when “Greek Wedding” came out, and remember one of my staff raved about it. So I went to see it. It was laugh-out-loud funny, so I told all my friends about it. Word of mouth.
What does this have to do with the price of fish (as my dad would say) or with your parish?
My classmates and I recently celebrated our 42nd anniversary of priesthood. Each of us has our own vocation story and each features someone (a parent, grandparent, teacher, parish priest, aunt, friend) who told us about priests—what they do, who they are, how they minister to people in the name of Jesus. They were the “word-of-mouth” to us, sharing their faith and their love of the priesthood and the Church.
Our vocations did not come as thunderbolts from heaven. They came through ordinary people, faithful Catholics, whom we knew and trusted. Their witness opened up our imaginations to the possibility that God was calling each of us.
We are surrounded by ads: on the Internet, television, billboards, trucks, shirts, buildings, stadiums, even airplanes. But none of these merchandising vehicles is anywhere near as powerful as the homey words of your best friend’s recommendation.
This is my invitation to share what you love with someone else. Share your love of God, of Jesus Christ, of the Church, of your parish, of the Catholic priesthood, of the vocation to married life or single life or volunteering or the diaconate. You don’t have to worry about convincing anyone to do anything. All you have to do is share.
Tell someone about your love of the Eucharist, and invite them to come to church one time. Describe how a priest helped you in a time of need. Pass on what you learned by volunteering at a school or CCD program. Use the power of “word of mouth” to advertise your parish.
Like the sower of the seed in the Gospel parable, you never know what kind of ground your word of testimony will land on. Rocky and dry, or on fertile soil where it takes root and flourishes?
We need healthy, holy priests. Tell a young man you that you see these qualities in him, and that he should think about discerning a vocation to the Catholic priesthood. We need younger, enthusiastic volunteers. Let someone know how serving others in our parish is a wonderful way of following Christ. We need loving and faithful married people. Witness to the power of the sacrament of matrimony in your family.
Right now, my merged parish has five priests and three deacons. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, say, 20 years from now, because of your word of mouth, five more priests and three more deacons emerged from today’s parishioners to serve the next generation? What if, in five years, the number of active parishioners doubled? How about if the holiness and outreach and singing and prayer of your parish became an inspiration to every Catholic church in western Pennsylvania?
Crazy, right? No less crazy than two small movies which made 61 or 333 times their budget — all because of word of mouth.
Father Frank Almade is the pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish.