Envisioning parish life

Faithful Chronicles

By Father Frank Almade

Ten years ago, I flew to Tokyo, Japan, to officiate at the wedding of my cousin John, and the love of his life, Kayoko, in the chapel of Sophia University. I have vivid memories of an unfamiliar culture: foods I had never seen; the blazing neon rainbow of signs in Japanese characters; the sheer volume of people on sidewalks and jammed into subway cars; and masks.

Yes, masks.  Almost everyone on the street wore a mask.  This was 10 years ago, before awareness of coronavirus, or H1N1.  I wondered why they did so.  Because of germs, I was told.  People packed tightly in together in hi-rise apartments and office towers respected the risk of catching a cold or the flu.

This memory returns as I ponder what parish life might be like after we have tamed the COVID pandemic.  I know, we are not anywhere near that point.  But, blessedly, many of you have already received, or are scheduled to receive, a COVID vaccine.  That is a vital step toward ending the pandemic

When that happens, how will parish life change?  Allow me to speculate about several ways we may practice our faith differently.

First, we will have a renewed appreciation for the Eucharist.  Could anyone have imagined what happened a year ago, when the bishops temporarily suspended the obligation to attend Mass?  No.  But the bishops acted to protect lives.  When church doors closed, live-streamed celebrations of Mass allowed people to hear the Word of God and open themselves to the grace of the sacrament, even if distantly. However, it is an imperfect solution.

We are not called to worship in isolation from our sisters and brothers, much less in pajamas with a cup of coffee nearby. Most of us know that deep in our souls.

As we move forward, I believe that our appreciation of the real presence of the Real Presence of the Eucharist will increase.  We should never take for granted that the wonder of gathering in our churches to receive the Eucharist.

We will affirm the teaching of the Church that Christ is present in our midst when even two or three are gathered:  Christ present in the Word of God proclaimed; Christ present in the Sacrament consecrated by the priest and consumed by the people; Christ the Real Presence in the tabernacle; and Christ present in the baptized and confirmed members of his body praying together.  Christ is really, really with us in the Eucharist.

Whether or not everyone returns to Mass, those who do must surely have a deeper appreciation for Christ’s presence to us in the Eucharist.

Second, we look forward to again holding parish festivals, fish fries, and all manner of social gatherings.  In the past, most of these were fundraisers for the parish and its many ministries, for evangelization or social outreach.

While we will continue these fun activities, their primary purpose must become social — praying, celebrating, mourning, deepening relationships, working on projects, just enjoying each other’s company. 

Fundraising will need to become a deliberate act of each individual and family.  We see this already, many generous parishioners send their parish contributions to the office even though they cannot come to Mass.  This is Christian stewardship.  This is thanking God for all he has blessed us with, giving back to his Church a certain and substantial portion of all we have received.

Each of us must become a loving, grateful and generous steward of God’s gifts.  A few do it by tithing, others by putting bequests in their will.  Most do it by their weekly, monthly or quarterly donations.  We can’t wait for the next fundraiser.  Christian giving is a spiritual discipline that we must practice as regularly as prayer, as a similar act of daily faith and love.

Third, before the pandemic we were all guilty of labeling our brother and sister Catholics.  I know I have done so.  We say, “He’s a fallen away.”  “She was divorced.”  “He’s a traditionalist.”  “She’s a radical liberal.” 

That was wrong and is wrong.  Such labels are harsh and negative.   None of us is or ever will be perfect Catholics.  All of us are sinners.  That’s why we call ourselves “practicing.”  We try to move toward holiness as Christ wants.  I hope the pandemic helps us to reject harmful labels, and treat every baptized Catholic with the respect due a child of God.

Circling back to Tokyo, I do see us wearing masks for quite some time to come.  Not because we like it, but to protect each other. Time will tell.  In the meanwhile, take every opportunity to grow closer to Jesus in devotion, in generosity and in love for our sisters and brothers.

Jim Judkis photo