Saturday, May 9, 2015

HOMILY - Sixth Sunday in Easter Year B (2105)

I recently started a new job with Mount Carmel Medical Group. Earlier this week, I was invited to sit in on a meeting – as I continue to my learning curve about healthcare and the Mount Carmel hospital system. The meeting was about whether a set of doctors that we wished to employ aligned with the mission of the organization, which by the way is an unapologetically Catholic hospital. This was a particularly uplifting moment as I was feel a bit overwhelmed by the new job responsibilities and the challenges of being part of such a large corporate entity. Here was this big organization battling competition, budgets, regulations, and bureaucracy and still made sure that its most important decisions were in-line with its mission. Our first reading makes me think that Peter must have had a similar mission-discernment moment. Our first reading tells bits and pieces of really one of the most important developments in the early Church: the realization by early Church leaders that: “God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” I have no doubt that the Apostles fully embraced Jesus’ great commission to: Go Forth and Make Disciples of all the Nations. However, for most, the “all” meant Jews and those who converted to Judaism. Peter was no doubt on fire with the Holy Spirit to spread the Gospel to Jews and convert them to Jesus. It seems obvious to us now, but I can also understand how Peter may have been so focused, determined and passionate in his ministry to the Jewish people that he could miss the bigger mission at hand. We do the same in our own lives, right? At our job, we can get so focused on completing tasks that we easily forget why we are doing what we do. The same can happen in marriage, where we get so distracted by other things that we forget the promises we made to our spouse on our wedding day, or even the love that brought us together. This is also true in our parish life, where we get so entrenched in spaces, programs and persons that we forget what the true purpose of a parish is. Pope Francis reminds us that: “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.” It was during a two-day conference – the Amazing Parish conference – that I attended a few weeks ago that I had this mission-discernment moment of what our parish life should be. I was with Father John, Kathy and Ed Price, and Julie Carmona from OLP, along with representatives from 22 other parishes from the Diocese of Columbus, as well as 75-80 other parishes from across North America who were there to learn how to build an amazing parish in spirit of Pope Francis vision for parishes. [As a quick aside, the Catholic Foundation sponsored all of the Columbus Diocese parishes to attend this event, which was both very generous, and a statement of their commitment to parish life in our Diocese.] The big take-away for me from the conference was: that while we have a great community here, quite unique and wonderful in many respects (which I did not need to go to this conference to find out), we are not the parish we need to be or can be. So I want to take a couple of minutes to share with you what I learned, what we, as a parish, might become, and to invite your participation. What the Amazing Parish model envisions is a transformation of parish life – a total paradigm change in the role and purpose of the parish – to move from MAINTENANCE TO MISSION. The Amazing Parish model has three foundational principals. The first is prayer – we will need to constantly pray to God to know his will and for the help to know him, love him and serve him. The second is a leadership team that Fr. John will form to serve as advisors to him in this transformation process. The third foundational element of an amazing parish is a clear vision and plan. In large part, this is already done for us. Our parish exists to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission: to “Go forth and Make Disciples of All Nations.” And Jesus already gave us the values to guide not only our lives, but to running a parish: to love God and to love others as today’s Gospel and Second Reading beautifully remind us. So the vision and action plan that we create for Our Lady of Peace, will be based on these principles and it will be what informs and guides what we need to start, stop and improve. The building blocks for an Amazing Parish being with the Sunday Experience. This is the source and summit of our faith and our week, and we need to improve it. The folks at the Amazing Parish conference encourage parishes to focus on three things: music, message, ministry – in other words: hymns, homily, and hospitality. As you can see from this weekend’s bulletin we are already working on a greeter ministry, and soon we will have a new music director to fill the vacancy left by Linda’s retirement. And, I commit, for my part, that while my homilies may not be 3-5 minutes, they will break-open the Sacred Scripture we share and move us to grow deeper in love with God. A second building block for an Amazing Parish is Compelling Formation. The advise we received was to start with the study of Sacred Scripture; we are blessed with many option that we will fully explore. The bottom line is that we need to better know our faith, so that we can share it with others and even defend it, if we need to. Small Group Fellowship and Discipleship is another building block of an Amazing Parish. We have already experienced the power of small groups in our parish – for example with That Man Is You, the Lent and Advent Scripture Sharing Groups, and a Prayer Shawl ministry. We will need to create more opportunities for us to experience Catholic fellowship and that support our mission to spread the Good News. And this leads to the final building block of an Amazing Parish: we need to be a parish with Missionary Zeal. This is probably the most foreign and uncomfortable for us modern, American Catholics, but is ultimately what our faith leads us to do. We are called to evangelize and discipleship – to know and share the Good News of God’s great – unconditional, all merciful – love for us; and to live the example Christ gave us by what we say and do in community with others. As complex as this may sound, it is actually quite simple: we need to move from a parish in maintenance mode to a parish fully engaged in forming and empowering disciples. If we can do this, then the things that have historically been the focus of parish life – Sacraments and charity, finances and facilities – will prosper – I am confident of this. We are going to take our time to create the vision and action for OLP. I want to make sure that it is not something that just ends up on a bookshelf somewhere, but instead is one that is transformative. In the coming months we will be asking for your help, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, we need your prayers. Please pray for the success of this effort. Please pray for Fr. John and the leaders of this effort – that they have the courage and wisdom necessary to lead this transformation of our parish. Pray also that you may be open to change, especially if you are called to take a new, greater or different role in the parish. I will conclude with this story. Last weekend, we baptized a fourth generation parishioner. The first generation, great-grandmother, who joined the parish in the 1950’s could not believe how few people were in the pews. She kept saying how surprised she was to see so few people, and how surprised her deceased husband would have been. I envision in the near future that our pews will be full because this will become even more than it is now a place of welcome and belonging, a place where we are all fed spiritually, and a place where we are equipped and empowered to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. May God bless you and this parish.